Finals week is always hard – with the impact of test scores on student grade point averages, and the realization that friends will soon part ways for the summer.
Looking to provide momentary relief from the stress, the congregation of New Concord United Methodist Church (Southern Hills District) invited Muskingum University students to attend a free Pancake Study Break at our church the night before Finals Week.
Seventy students enjoyed the pancakes, sausage, and coffee served in fellowship hall from 10:00 p.m. until midnight. The study break was inspired by conversations in an adult Sunday school class that was reading the book Not Safe for Church by the Rev. Dr. F. Douglas Powe, Jr. and the Rev. Jasmine Smothers.
One highlight from late in the evening was when a few students requested we pray with them. A few other students also took the opportunity to leave prayer requests in a box we set up for them. Several students told us how much they appreciated the study break.
The leftover food was delivered to Christ’s Table in Zanesville. We are planning to host this event for the students next year, too.
*Bethany Kelly is a member of New Concord UMC and was one of the volunteer servers at the pancake study break.
“It’s a big, big house with lots and lots of rooms.
A big, big table with lots and lots of food.
A big, big yard where we can play football.
A big, big house. It’s my Father’s house.”
Lyrics from Big House by Audio Adrenaline
This song is one of my favorites from camp, but more about camp later. For me it is a favorite because it talks about home, and how people come together, and will come together, in our Father’s house. This summer I added one room, returned to another, and shut the lights off in another.
Nearly three and a half months ago I drove into downtown Steubenville not knowing what to expect as I was beginning an internship in an environment a world apart from what I have known my whole life. Southeast Ohio is filled with hills and views I do not get in Northeast Ohio and economic challenges far different from suburban Cleveland.
Despite my hesitation, I pulled into the parking lot of Urban Mission ministries (Ohio Valley District) ready to take on this journey experiencing the mission and non-profit sphere of the Church. Every day brought a new, eye-opening experience. Each person I met, worked and interacted with made it my best summer yet. From the very first day, I was welcomed into the community with open arms. Serving alongside fellow Christians who continue to see the possibilities of spreading the love in a city was encouraging. It pushed, and pushes, me to live a life with a mission to be a person of possibility, to listen with compassion, and to serve with love.
Four years ago, I spent many Sunday mornings listening to Rev. Dave Scavuzzo plug into his sermons information about a ministry for children in the foster care system. It peaked my interest because I grew up in a home with a roof over my head every night, food on the table or in the fridge, and a loving family who supports me in everything I do.
Royal Family Kids Camp (RFKC) reaches out to kids who grew up far differently. It serves 32 children in the Cuyahoga County foster care system that folks from Strongsville United Methodist (North Coast District) bring to camp. RFKC spreads the concept of a safe home and safe people to others. At the end of the week, there is a talent show where individual campers or groups of campers can show off their talents to all of camp.
Three years ago, one camper blew us all away. Throughout the week, we had sung Gold by Britt Nicole and this particular camper wanted to sing it for the talent show. His family, or small group, encouraged him to go for it. Once Thursday evening came around, however, there was some stage fright, so his counselors ended up covering him up with a blanket while he sang on the stage. When the song was over, he came out from under the blanket, welcomed to a standing ovation and so much love. Now coming back this year and seeing the shy young boy I met three years ago with a huge smile on his face every day, laughing every day, and overall being outgoing was an amazing welcome back to the RFKC room in our Father’s house.
I have been attending East Ohio Camps for nearly 15 years and this year I shut the lights off in my camper room. Seven years ago, I pulled into a familiar place for a not so familiar space. I went into the gates of Lakeside Chautauqua for a new camp experience, to me, for a week of Lakeside Institute. Lakeside Institute is a high school- and college age-camp and quickly became a non-negotiable week of my summer, but this summer was my last year as a camper. This camp is where I learned to love myself for who God created me to be, where I found Christ, and where I can look around and say this is what Heaven is going to be like. As I turned the light off in this room this year, I looked around our closing circle and saw each person as someone God placed in my life over the course of the past seven years for a reason. I saw each person as someone I cannot wait to share the big, big house, table, and yard with when we are called to our Father’s house.
Home can mean so many things to all of us. To me it is a place or space filled with people who walk alongside me while I continue to discern where God is calling and leading me in ministry and how He wants me to help others experience home. As of right now, each room of my Father’s house I have experienced has helped me discern I am called to pastoral ministry in some capacity. In the coming years, and for the rest of my life, I will be adding more and more rooms that I come in and out of, and adding more and more people to invite “to come and go with me to my Father’s house.”
*Emily Sheetz is a junior at Indiana Wesleyan University studying Community Development and Honors Humanities pursuing ordination in The United Methodist Church.
“This church has meant a lot to me,” Ida Campbell reflected.
Standing in Beallsville United Methodist Church (Southern Hills District), she looked around and said, “I have been blessed by coming here.”
Campbell and 50 other people ignored the single-digit January temperatures and made their way, one last time, to the church on the hill.
“It’s a bittersweet day. This United Methodist church has been in service for 197 years to the Beallsville area, doing God’s work, helping people, and telling them about Jesus,” said Joseph Fox, chairperson of the trustees and a church member since 1978.
“We’re down to about a half dozen people supporting this church right now so we just can’t keep the church going because we don’t have the money to do it,” he said.
Church Treasurer Charles Paine has spent his entire life at the church. “I was baptized here and it’s the only church I’ve ever known. Unfortunately, we ran out of people. It’s the circle of life.”
Campbell knows that problem all too well. It was the closing of her previous church, Beallsville Church of God, that brought her to Beallsville UMC shortly before Pastor Jean Cooper was appointed in 2012.
“In just the few years that Jean’s been here the church has added multi-media presentations and started a Saturday night service. They were bold in trying new things,” said Southern Hills District Superintendent Gail Angel.
“They’ve maxed out their capacity in the most vital ways to reach out to young people and to new people in the best way that they could,” she said. “They haven’t lost their spirit and they haven’t lost focus of what their mission is in the midst of not knowing what their future would be for so many years.”
“It takes courage and prayerful discernment for a local church to decide to close its doors when it has been determined that ministry is no longer sustainable in a particular building, location or community,” said Bishop Tracy S. Malone, resident bishop of the East Ohio Conference. “We honor their courageous decision and celebrate their many years of faithful witness and service, and we remember their legacy of faith.”
In December, the congregation, and the Steubenville community, said goodbye to Simpson United Methodist Church (Ohio Valley District).
“Simpson UMC had a 143-year presence that was honorable and admirable in the Steubenville area,” said Pastor Ivy Smith, who was invited back to preach the final sermon at her home church.
“I learned much through this church. In fact, what I use today in my ministry came from my years here at Simpson in youth ministry, musicals, vacation bible school, and so much more,” she told the congregation. “Even though we stand here today saying goodbye to this church, God is still good! And God won’t stop being good when we end this service.”
She and Cooper reminded their congregations that the legacy of a church continues long after its bell stops ringing in the steeple.
“The closing service for a church should be pure celebration and joy. For to release a church building is a life-changing experience. But you can rest assured that God will walk every step with you in the newness,” Smith said.
“Death comes, but we are promised the resurrection,” Cooper said. “Death has finally come to this body called the Beallsville United Methodist Church, but there is a resurrection, there is hope, there is a continuation and by practicing love, faith, hope, encouragement and peace it will continue in whatever congregations we find ourselves in.”
Pastor Jim Jensen, who began his ministry at Beallsville UMC in 1995, returned for the final service to deliver this message: “Today is a celebration of life, a celebration of all that this church has accomplished, don’t forget that as you move forward. Take the energy and the spirit with you when you go to your new church.”
Many members of the Simpson UMC congregation now worship only a couple of blocks away at Finley UMC, while those who worshipped at Beallsville UMC will transfer to their sister church, Jerusalem UMC.
“We’re very fortunate to have a church a few miles up the street that we can go to,” Paine said. “So thankfully the United Methodist presence will continue in this community.”
The congregations of Beallsville UMC and Simpson UMC are not the only ones who have had to make the difficult decision to close. Each June at Annual Conference, the Cabinet leads delegates in a litany to remember the ministries of churches whose memberships have voted that year to close the church.
The legacies of these 25 churches have been celebrated over the past five years:
Bethel UMC (Canal), Bracken UMC (Southern Hills), Brownsville UMC (Southern Hills), Conotton UMC (Ohio Valley), Delphi UMC (Firelands), Eden Chapel UMC (Mid-Ohio), Everals UMC (Three Rivers), Harmony UMC (Mid-Ohio), Hendrysburg UMC (Ohio Valley), Homer UMC (Three Rivers), Holy Trinity UMC (Canal), Kipling UMC (Southern Hills), Lancaster Chapel (Ohio Valley), Locust Grove UMC (Southern Hills), Marion Heights UMC (Mahoning Valley), Massillon Wesley UMC (Tuscarawas), Mingo First (Ohio Valley), Mt. Olivett UMC (Southern Hills), New Hope UMC (Ohio Valley), Oceola (Mid-Ohio), Oehlhoff UMC (North Coast), Rinard Mills UMC (Southern Hills), Sandusky Salem (Firelands), Smithville UMC (Mid-Ohio), Trinity UMC (Southern Hills)
“When a church closes it means that God has a different form of work for people to do,” Angel said. “People will take the light that they had gathered in their church and they will join with other sources of light and hope somewhere else to become a miracle rebirth.”
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.