Grandparent Ministry Offers Support to those in Need

By Rick Wolcott*

For 100 years Ontario UMC (Mid-Ohio District) has been active in school ministry.  To celebrate the milestone, church leadership invited all 215 employees of Ontario Local Schools to an in-service day luncheon last August.

In meeting with the district superintendent to plan for that lunch, the Rev. Peg Welch inquired how the church could best help the school if it received grant money it had applied for from the East Ohio Conference.

“She said that one of the biggest problems they had was the number of grandparents raising kids because the parents of the kids – their own children – are out of the picture, mostly because of the opioid crisis,” Welch said.  “We have three in our own church who are raising their grandchildren so I was aware of the need.  But I did not know that there are an estimated 4.2 million children across the United States being raised by kin.  It’s an enormous problem.”

Welch says that school districts don’t always know exactly how many children are being raised by grandparents because none of the school forms ask the caregivers filling them out what their relation is to the child.

“Estimates in the Ontario Local Schools is that as few as two and as many as four out of 10 students are being raised by kin – 20 to 40%,” she said.

“The word needs to get out.  We don’t believe that people know what is going on,” said one grandparent who is now raising his grandchild.

He and other adults who find themselves in the unexpected role of parenting grandchildren and kin meet at Ontario UMC monthly during the school year.  On this night, 10 adults and 12 children, between four and 13 years of age, attended Grandparent Night at the church.

“There’s nothing out there to model so we tried a couple of different ways that didn’t work before we finally hit on a successful formula,” Welch said.  “We meet in the evening because some of the grandparents are still working, and we provide a meal and child care, so the grandparents can be here in the first place.”

“Ontario United Methodist Church and the Ontario Schools work collaboratively, year-round, to provide quality services to children and families,” said School District Superintendent Lisa Carmichael.  “We’re truly blessed to have this unique partnership.”

A one-time grant from the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church helps fund the program, which is promoted online, on flyers distributed by the school, and on the exterior signs of the church and the schools.

Meeting around table with grandparents and support group

The Thursday evening meeting is co-led by Welch and Ontario Schools Social Worker Amy Kurtz-Nagel.  Those attending the meeting have opportunities to tap into resources, as well as tell their stories – which is therapeutic to the person sharing and informative for those who are listening.

“Coming here I learned that I am not alone, which is so helpful to know,” one grandparent shared.

“When I first heard the superintendent talk about grandparents raising their grandchildren I thought ‘what a shame they don’t get to be grandparents, they miss out on the fun parts because they have to be parents.’  I had no idea that that was the least of their concerns,” Welch shared.  “They’re fighting their own children for custody.  They are fighting the courts and even the agencies that are supposed to help them.”

Several adults at the meeting echoed the disappointment shared by one grandparent who said, “I thought the job of Children and Family Services was to protect the kids but they have come out and told us that their job is to reunite the children with their parents – even if they’re not fit to parent.”

“The courts tell you that security is needed in a child’s life, but when they and Children and Family Services are part of the problem – by taking them away from loving environments – they don’t get that security,” another added.

“How do you give a child the security they so desperately want without going broke?” another asked.

“A lot of people can’t afford taking over and trying to raise their grandchildren. My savings are gone just to pay for child care.  It’s what we are all facing,” said another grandparent.

“I don’t want a reward for raising our grandchild, but I don’t want to be penalized, either,” said another.

They spoke about the children they are raising with love and pride.  But they also acknowledged that the kids have frequent nightmares, feel abandoned, have anger and behavioral issues, and constantly seek the approval of others – problems that children their age should not have to face.

“They long for chaos,” one grandparent confided.  “They don’t want it, and they’re sorry after they cause it, but that is what they are used to in their life.”

“Their needs are enormous and I am finding that this is some of the best ministry I’ve ever done outside of the church because there’s nobody else meeting those needs,” Welch said.

“The grandparent ministry has made a positive difference in the lives of several Ontario families,” Carmichael said.  “It provides a sense of community, a sense of knowing they’re not alone.  Grandparents openly share their challenges, without judgement. Many have shared with me that they appreciate having this forum to engage and talk freely about their concerns.”

Grandparentsm kids and mentors eating in at tables in the gym

“The children feel normal when they come here for the meeting,” said one grandparent.  “At school they get picked on because they aren’t being raised by their mother or father.  But here that isn’t an issue because all of the kids are being raised by grandparents.  They can talk with one another and share their feelings.”

Two of the grandparents have begun attending Ontario UMC with the children they are raising because of the way they have been welcomed on Thursday night, and Welch shared that the church youth group has doubled in size since Grandparent Night began last fall.

“This is a valuable ministry and I’d love to see more churches launch groups,” she said.

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

Farming Experience Leaves DS with New Perspective

Rev. Néstor Nazario
Rev. Néstor Nazario, Mid-Ohio District Superintendent

by Rev. Néstor Nazario*

It has been a month since I have been in the Mid-Ohio District as District Superintendent. During the month of July, I have had the opportunity to worship on Sundays mornings at several of our congregations, including the privilege of singing in a choir of retired and active ministers, and filling in as a drummer during a contemporary worship service.

I have also had the opportunity to listen, read about, see and/or participate in some of the diverse ways we as a church are expressing God’s love toward the community we are called to serve. I have heard from pastors and chairs of some of the district committees about what we have done in the past, are currently doing, and are planning to do in the future to be an agent of God’s transforming love in the world.

I have learned from Mission-Insite that the population in Mid-Ohio is expected to hold steady, that it is very homogenous racially, that the divide between blue-collar and white-collar occupations is closely split, and that only 17% of the population consider worship attendance to be important. Forty-four percent of the population consider themselves to be spiritual but not religious. That means that they are currently meeting their spiritual needs of relating to God or a Higher Power, to others and to self through other means other than organized religion.

Don Burdsall
Don Burdsall, Mid-Ohio District Lay Leader

Knowing that Mid-Ohio has a lot of farmland, I thought it would be a good idea to experience firsthand what farmers do. When I found out at Annual Conference, that our District Lay Leader, Don Burdsall, had farmland, owned horses, and would bale hay in the summer, I volunteered to help as a way of getting to know the people of Mid-Ohio.

Sure enough, the call came, the date was set, and out to Cardington, Ohio, I drove to bale hay with Don. Little did I know, that I would be considering that experience to be my initiation to Mid-Ohio after the dust had settled. I must say it was an eye-opening experience in many ways.

It was arduous work. Stacking bales of hay while keeping your balance on a wagon being hauled by a tractor, that is also pulling a hay baler machine, is no easy feat. (It took me a while to get my sea legs back.) After stacking 108 bales of hay at approximately 45 lbs. apiece, I welcomed the respite as we transported the hay to the barn to be stored in the hayloft. Once there, Don set the hay bale elevator to begin the upload. I had to unplug the machine halfway through our load to catch my breath.

Even though I lost my eyeglasses while being consumed by this task, I got a glimpse into all the challenging work farmers do, year in and year out, to make a living. It gave me a new appreciation and understanding of who they are and what they do. It also made me think about how little do we know about the people or groups of people with whom we don’t interact or relate with. We naturally tend to set up barriers between them and us.

If we want to be a vital and growing church in our communities, we need to widen our circles of interaction to include other people. We need to start relating and interacting with the 83% of un-churched people. We need to get to know them and become their friends first, so that they may experience God’s love through us. Who knows? Maybe after that they may explore meeting their spiritual needs through our communities of faith.

It is amazing what hay baling can make you think about. I just hope Don’s horses don’t eat my eyeglasses.

* Rev. Néstor Nazario is the District Superintendent for the Mid-Ohio District of the East Ohio Conference

Hurricane Matthew Continues to Impact Lives

By Rev. Ash Welch*

The 10th Beatitude: “Blessed are the FLEXIBLE, for they shall BEND and NOT be Broken!” That was our motto during the Mid-Ohio District disaster relief trip to assist with the continuing recovery from Hurricane Matthew.

We had to be flexible with our departure: two flat tires and a dead battery before we left caused a slight shift in plans as we left with a team of six people for Tarboro, North Carolina. The area sustained a lot of damage last October from the former Category 5 hurricane.

Once we got on the road, the trip was excellent, perhaps the best this team leader has ever had, and I’ve been on about 20 mission trips.  Our work was toward the end of the “mudding out” second stage of healing for the area flooded by the Tar River after the storm surge and rains of Hurricane Matthew.

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We worked for a week on two manufactured homes and a church basement. The work involved removing flooring and insulation that was still water-logged months later, and pounding clean the stucco walls in a hall beneath the church. It was hard work for our small team, but each worked according to their ability and strength under the supervision of the UMCOR staff with the North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church.

On our trip we were blessed with amazement and amusement.  On our first day we saw a 1,000-pound pig named PIG-PIG, and mid-week we went to see the Whirligig Park in Wilson, North Carolina.  During our stay, St. John UMC housed us and fed us lunch and our district superintendent, the Rev. Karen Oehl, fed us gourmet suppers.

God blessed us, as we blessed others by being the hands and feet, and the heart and mind of Christ. And, we practiced flexibility!

*Rev. Ash Welch is chairperson of the Mid-Ohio District Mission Committee, and pastor of Galion St. Paul United Methodist Church.