“Enough is enough!” Students Protest to Change Gun Control Laws

By Rick Wolcott*

“Alyssa Alhadeff, student, age14
Scott Beigel, teacher, age 35
Martin Duque Anguiano, student, age 14”

Outside Berea-Midpark High School, one by one the names were read of the 17 people killed during the Valentine’s Day shooting inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

massive group of students bow heads for moment of siklence
Moment of Silence Prior to Walk at Berea-Midpark HS

Berea-Midpark students joined thousands of others from schools across the country when they walked out of class on the one-month anniversary of the deadly shooting to protest the current gun control laws.

Berea-Midpark HS Walk for Change

Gathered near the memorial garden before their march around the school, Ben, a Berea-Midpark senior, told his fellow Titans, “take out your phones, take pictures, take videos, use the hash tag enough is enough, show people that we are no longer sitting back and letting things happen.”

“Today is all about the students and has been organized by them,” said Berea-Midpark High School Principal Vincenzo Ruggiero.  “Ben and the other students have been phenomenal in the planning of this march.  This is a student movement and our role has been to support it.”

“Nicholas Dworet, student, age 17
Aaron Feis, football coach, age 37
Jaime Guttenberg, student, age 14”

Berea-Midpark HS Students Walk for Change
Berea-Midpark HS Students Walk for Change

Clergy and laity from the United Methodist Church of Berea (North Coast District) stood in the school parking lot, watching the protest and praying for the students participating in it.

“The issue of gun violence that prompted today’s walkout is one that our community and our congregation is concerned with and I think it’s always important for the church to show up and be a witness for what we believe when there’s an issue that impacts our neighbors,” said UMC Berea Senior Pastor the Rev. Nathan Howe.

Rev. Nathan Howe, Don Moody, Rev. Carrie Antczak, and Claire Powell
Rev. Nathan Howe, Don Moody, Rev. Carrie Antczak, and Claire Powell

“As a former educator and school principal, I feel this is a really critical issue for our students to undertake because of their safety,” said Claire Powell, a lay member of UMC Berea.  “Hopefully they can be able to make a statement to the country and to the lawmakers and the NRA that there needs to be tighter gun control laws so that these incidents of gun violence will stop and children can feel safe when they go to school every day.”

“I think there is value in supporting the youth of our community and the causes that they believe in.  I think we need to stand with them and to pray for and with them,” said UMC Berea lay member Don Moody.

Ben was encouraged that members of the community were present for the walkout.

“It makes me happy that people have come out and are supporting what we are doing,” he said.

Student Protest at Youngstown Chaney HS
Student Protest at Youngstown Chaney HS

Outside Chaney High School in Youngstown, students also began their walkout by reading the names of those who lost their lives in the Parkland shooting.

“Chris Hixon, athletic director, age 49
Luke Hoyer, student, age 15
Cara Loughran, student, age 14”

Rev. Abby Auman, Mahoning Valley District superintendent, was in attendance offering prayer and showing her support.

“It is important to show the students that adults care about them and their safety, and that The United Methodist Church stands with them in calling for reform,” she said.  “I don’t know how Columbine wasn’t enough.  I don’t know how Sandy Hook wasn’t enough, or Chardon, or any of the other mass shootings enabled by AR-15s.  So if these high school students are ready and willing to stand up and say that gun ownership in America does not have to be an all or nothing proposition, and that their lives matter more than unlimited and unfettered gun ownership, I’m willing to stand with them and support them however I can.”

“Gina Montalto, student, age 14
Joaquin Oliver, student, age 17
Alaina Petty, student, age 14
Meadow Pollack, student, age 18”

“It was amazing to see so many students stand up for something,” said the Rev. Kelsey Orosan, pastor of Richard Brown Memorial and Trinity UMCs in Youngstown, and associate pastor of Boardman UMC.

Lucy Smith and Rev. Kelsey Orosan
Lucy Smith and Rev. Kelsey Orosan

She and Auman credit Richard Brown Memorial UMC members Penny Wells and Lucy Smith with organizing the Youngstown walkouts through their work with Sojourn to the Past, which takes students on a journey along the path of the Civil Rights Movement through the American South.

“The Sojourn students led the charge at all three Youngstown high schools with thoughtful and thought-provoking speeches that called students to take specific actions.” Orosan said.

In Youngstown and in Berea, students sent many messages on this day.  With their feet, they walked in protest of current gun laws.  With their hands, and the stroke of a pen, they registered to vote, giving them the power to make a difference at the polls.

“I’m encouraged by the students wanting to use their voice to share what’s on their hearts in the ways that they are peacefully protesting and making their concerns known to lawmakers,” said the Rev. Carrie Antczak, pastor of Christian formation and outreach at UMC Berea.  “I want to support that the students are doing what they can to change the world that they live in.”

“Helena Ramsay, student, age 17
Alex Schachter, student, age 14
Carmen Schentrup, student, age 16
Peter Wang, student, age 15”


*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church. 

A Sweet Way to Learn About Jesus


By Rick Wolcott*

A chance to walk through Peppermint Forest and along the Ice Cream Sea attracted 365 children of all ages to Vienna United Methodist Church (Mahoning Valley District) the weekend before Christmas for a chance to play a life-size version of Candy Land.

Players colored their own gingerbread game piece, collected their game cards, and made their way to the start square.  One-by-one, they took turns drawing a card and moving to the corresponding colored rectangle on the floor.  Along the way, they collected candy from Gumdrop Mountains, Lollipop Woods, and many other sweet attractions.

The goal for players was to reach the Candy Castle.  There, Santa Claus, seated next to a manger, told children the story of the candy cane and talked to them about who Jesus is.

“I think this is beautiful.  It’s awesome the amount of work that was put into it,” said Jen Farr, who came to Candy Land with friends.

Pastor Mary Prior said that the idea for the life-size game came three years ago during a conversation with Music Director Rachel Spak.

“We were saying that people don’t come to cantatas anymore and they’re really not interested in Christmas programs.  Rachel came up with this idea and I said, ‘go for it!’”

“I saw something similar at a library a few years before that and thought it would be fun to do at the church,” Spak said.  “It’s been awesome getting a lot of different people here because most of them are not church members.”

“Offering a quality event at no charge during a very expensive season has been our best means of outreach,” Prior said.  “Parents were very appreciative that the Candy Land experience was free, and thanks to TV coverage this year, we’ve had people come from areas of Warren and Youngstown as well as from closer to the church.”

Now in its third year, Vienna UMC Candy Land continues to reach the unchurched.

“We heard a little girl and her mom talking as they were walking out,” Prior said.  “The mom asked the girl, ‘What did you learn?  What did you like?’ and the little girl said, ‘I learned that Jesus died for my sins.’  Isn’t that cool?”

“My son is 4 years old and he is just starting to discover the beauty of Christmas and learn about what it means,” said Angela Betrosky. “I saw the ad and just had to bring him.  It’s been great to be here today.”

“This is fun.  I like it,” said 9 year-old Zoey.

“My wife and daughter go to church here and I know Pastor Mary from out and about because she does a lot of stuff in the community and with the schools, so I came here today to support them,” said Tarin Brown.  “It’s great to see so many people who don’t go to church here come to take part in this.  It means a lot to the community.”

“I’m proud of Vienna for being a church that constantly seeks new ways to connect with its community so it can share the love of Christ,” said Mahoning Valley District Superintendent the Rev. Abby Auman, who brought her family to experience Candy Land.  “Volunteers clearly poured a tremendous amount of effort into making a magical experience for kids, which feels like love when you walk into a transformed fellowship hall.”

“It’s been a breath of fresh air in the church because people are working together while doing something different and something new.  We have a young adult in charge who empowered everyone to be creative and to do their own thing,” Prior said.

Spak said sketching the layout and planning how to construct each of the lands begins in early November but because fellowship hall is used so much the construction window is very tight each year.

“We’ve had about 15 people here each day the past two weeks making sure everything would get done,” she said.

Prior said the labor is not done just by members of the congregation.

“The other churches in town help us promote Candy Land.  We all work hard together to bring new people to Christ through church.”

Plans are already underway to add Rock Candy Canyon to the life-size Candy Land game in 2018.

*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.

The Extravagant Generosity of God

By Rick Wolcott*

Since being assigned to serve as the resident bishop of the East Ohio Conference, Bishop Tracy S. Malone has been intentional about listening to, learning from, and connecting with pastors and churches across the conference.

By spending full-days in all 10 districts, meeting one-on-one with many clergy and lay, participating in conversations with ministry teams and at committee and board meetings, the bishop has seen and heard the joys and the concerns of the conference.

She has observed that our communities are feeling the impact of poverty, crime, and addiction, and that too often our churches have to choose between spending dollars in mission for those in need or spending money to maintain aging buildings.

In the midst of these struggles, there are reasons for hope.  During her visits, Malone has seen and heard countless examples of God’s generosity exhibited in the ministries and the mission work of East Ohio Conference churches and agencies.

The bishop’s most-recent visit was with the leadership and the residents of Copeland Oaks (Mahoning Valley District), one of the health and welfare agencies of the conference.  The vespers service sermon she preached there, “The Extravagant Generosity of God,” centered on the woman at the well, as told in John 4:5-42.

“What I love about this text is that it truly shows us who Jesus is.  It shows us how far reaching, how extravagant is the generosity of God’s love,” she said that evening from the Bennett Chapel pulpit.

Click on the video above to view Bishop Malone’s sermon, “The Extravagant Generosity of God.”

John wrote that Jesus, weary from his travel, stopped to rest in the Samaritan city of Sychar.  That decision shocked the disciples because Jews and Samaritans did not associate with each other in Jesus’ day.

“Our Lord, thanks be to God, on so many occasions in his ministry chooses an odd place to stop to witness to the glory of God’s love, and thanks be to God that he also stops in the odd places of our very lives,” Malone said in her sermon.  “There’s a climactic moment in this text.  Here, while at the crossroads of his own spiritual journey, with a woman, a Samaritan woman of questionable repute, he makes himself known to her.”

For the first time in the Bible, Jesus reveals himself as the Messiah.

“The woman at the well became a woman made well because she was in the right place at the right time and Jesus extended to her the extravagant love and the grace of God.  That’s just who Jesus is, and that’s just who he calls us to be,” Malone preached.

At a time when people are hurting, disillusioned, and angry, the ministries of our East Ohio Conference churches offer hope by proclaiming the good news that all things are possible through Jesus Christ.

That’s a message worth sharing.

*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.