Growing Arts Ministry Births Modern Baptismal Font

By Rick Wolcott*

Baptismal fonts often have ornately designed exteriors, but their interiors are usually not visible to worshippers in the pews.

“I want to be able to see the water,” said the Rev. Steve Stultz Costello, co-pastor with his wife Cara of Faith United Methodist Church (Tuscarawas District) in North Canton. “In seminary we talked so much about the power of images and symbols and that what we say and do in worship should all speak of God’s abundant grace and love, and of what we believe and have come to experience in Jesus Christ.”

Faith UMC has a growing arts ministry that invites people to discover their creativity and provides opportunities for them to use their talent.  In May, Stultz Costello asked five members involved in the arts ministry to design a new baptismal font for the church’s modern worship service.  It would replace a glass bowl from the kitchen used for previous baptisms in the Family Life Center gymnasium.

Jim Benzing, Wes Bullock, Al Martinsen, Suzie Thomas, and Aaron Vaughn knew they needed to create a font that was both beautiful and portable.  It needed to be big enough to look natural in the large temporary worship space, but small enough to fit through hall doorways and to be stored in a closet during the week.

“Art by committee is dangerous because everyone has their creative ideas and a flow for how they work,” said Benzing, who previously created a cross with molded hands and feet that is on display at the church and was on stage in Hoover Auditorium during Annual Conference 2011.

“The collaborative process could have gone south quickly but everyone was very patient and we ended up working well together,” said Vaughn, who has painted some of the wall murals at Faith UMC.

“If it had been up to me it would have been a pair of hands holding up a globe bowl, but we had a lot of different discussions and a lot of different directions,” he said.  “We talked about spiral springs, square structures, round structures, and flowing water with plumbing and lighting.”

The team chose the final design after looking at drawings of five different options.

Artists behind font
Al Martinsen, Suzie Thomas, Aaron Vaughn and Jim Benzing pose with the baptismal font they created with Wes Bullock (not pictured)

“Everyone’s eye went to this one.  It’s like the other ones didn’t even exist.  We were at such opposite directions for a long period of time, and then this was exactly what everyone wanted, not saying that God didn’t have a part in this, too,” said Martinsen, who has created paintings for the church in the past.

The baptismal font is 19 layers of ¾-inch Baltic Birch plywood glued together and sanded smooth, with a cross-shaped arm that holds a custom-designed glass bowl blown at Akron Glass Works.

“The one time we all met before my renewal leave, Jim mentioned they could use plywood and everyone was very hesitant.  But Jim could envision how plywood could look beautiful,” Stultz Costello said.

“There’s motion in it, there’s a flow, and you get that feeling using just wood,” Vaughn said.  “I think that’s pretty cool!”

“For something wood it definitely looks alive,” said David Coombs, who attended a late-November discussion with the artists as part of the church’s Wednesday Night Faith Connections that combines food, fun, faith, and fellowship.

The base is made of cherry wood with lacewood used to accentuate the cross.  The four sections around the cross were designed to hold prayers written by parents of those being baptized.  Burned into the wood lids of each of the prayer chambers is this verse: “By the abundant grace and overflowing love of God we are cleansed of sin and made whole in Christ.”

“I think it has been fun seeing people’s reactions to the baptismal font because everyone sees something different.  We’ve heard it’s a swan.  We’ve heard dove.  Some people think it’s a wave,” said Kathy Schmucker, Faith UMC spiritual formation director.  “For me, the first time I saw it I was in the back of the Family Life Center and it was in the center of the worship space and I saw this big letter C and an arm saying ‘come to me.’”

The reach of the baptismal font project extends beyond the walls of the church.  Donna Benzing, Jim’s wife, works with Guatemalan immigrants in the community.  They are using scrap wood from the font in bracelets that they make and sell.


Prayer Circle

Before concluding the evening with the artists in a prayer circle around the baptismal font, Stultz Costello had one final message.

“I believe when you gave yourselves over to this process that God saw this unformed substance, all the parts and you allowed yourselves to discover what that may be and what it might become and I just celebrate you for that,” he said.  “But I have to confess, I never imagined it would turn out this good.  It’s amazing!”

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

Life as a Boy Scout Chaplain: Why I Spent Two Weeks in a Tent

By Rev. John Partridge*

I just spent two weeks living in a tent, sleeping on a cot, walking farther than I have in decades, taking really cold showers, and I probably had one of the best times of my life doing it.  For two weeks in July, I served as a chaplain, along with about 76 other pastors (including just about every denomination and faith you can name), at the National Boy Scout Jamboree which is held every four years at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in Glen Jean, West Virginia.

Rows of tents house Boy Scouts, staff and volunteers
Rows of tents house Boy Scouts, staff and volunteers at the 2017 National Scout Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in Glen Jean, W. Va. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

While many people have heard about the Jamboree, many have questions about what a chaplain does and why the Boy Scouts would need so many of them for a single event.  Honestly, I asked myself the same questions before I went, and while some of the answers are simple, others take a little more explaining.

The easiest question to answer is why the Jamboree would need almost eighty chaplains.  Simply put, scouting has always regarded the spiritual life of its members to be an important value regardless of faith and with something over 28,000 scouts and 6,000 staff converging on the Summit for two weeks, this small city needed trained pastors to provide spiritual care.  As members of a sub-camp staff, my tent mate Michael Lavoi (a Mormon chaplain) and I were responsible for a “congregation” of more than 20 sub-camp staff as well as 2,000 scouts and their adult leaders.

Rev. John Partridge (right) with Boy Scout Jamboree chaplains2
Rev. John Partridge (right) with Boy Scout Jamboree chaplains.

As staff members, we helped out in registration during the busy arrival day, helping to carry mail, or wherever an extra hand was needed.   And, although the first few days were easy from a pastoral perspective, after everyone started getting tired we were called upon to help scouts, and adult scout leaders, mediate personal conflicts.  There were young people who were homesick, some that were in fights, leaders who knew about a death in the family of one of their scouts but whose family asked that they not be told, there were threats of suicide, thefts (yes, it happens even in the Boy Scouts), and everything else that happens when people live together.

But that isn’t all we did.

Chaplains took turns working shifts in the basecamp medical center so that one of us was either present or on call so that we could encourage the doctors and nurses but also to be on hand to provide comfort to scouts who were sick or injured.  We took turns offering worship opportunities, not only on Sunday, but every morning or afternoon.

Each scout had the opportunity to earn a special “Duty to God and Country” patch during the jamboree, and one of the requirements to earn it was to meet with their chaplain and talk about what their “duty to God” might look like in every day life.  That meant that many of our daily “office hours” as well as our evenings were spent meeting with individual scouts, or entire troops, to discuss subjects of religious significance.  Often, as we met with these young people, and shared meals with them, they asked other substantive questions about God, religion, faith, and other things.

Of course there was worship.  The first Sunday we were there, before the scouts arrived, we held a Protestant service in the back of the dining hall and had somewhere between 300 and 600 staff in attendance.  A week later, the Protestant service was held in the stadium and, while we met in the pouring rain, there were still probably two or three thousand in attendance.  Afterward, the United Methodist chaplains hosted a communion service (open to everyone) on Brownsea Island near the stadium.  That service, officiated by West Virginia Area Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball, was attended by 200 or more and the communion elements were served by the 15 United Methodist chaplains alongside United Methodist scouts who had volunteered to help.  As I returned to my tent from our communion service, I noticed that the rain had finally stopped, and that may have contributed to the increased attendance (probably 5,000 or more) at the Catholic worship service which followed ours at the stadium.

Bishop Steiner Ball, Rev. John Partridge, and Scouts
Bishop Steiner Ball, Rev. John Partridge, and Scouts

It’s worth noting that the Summit is enormous and covers 14,000 acres and adjoins 70,000 acres of National Park Service land in the New River Gorge National Park.  That means that nothing is close to anything else.  A walk to the bathroom is a quarter mile round trip.  A visit to the medical tent is a mile.  A trip to the stadium or to the chaplains’ headquarters can be two miles one way, and if you hike up to the top of Garden Ground Mountain to visit the Scottish games or the pioneer village, its at least three miles, all up hill, one way.  Over the course of two weeks, I walked about 75 miles and my partner, Michael, had hiked well over 100 miles.

But being a chaplain isn’t all work.  In two weeks you have the opportunity to live with, and share your life with, your fellow staff members.  Some of these scouters return every four years and request the same arrangements so that they can work together again.  There’s a chance to encourage young people and to build relationships with people of other faiths, and people from other states and other countries.

Not only was the jamboree attended by participants and staff from all 50 states, but also from 58 other nations.  Our leadership tried hard to make sure that staff members could get some time off and see some of the activities in and around the Summit, and although there isn’t enough time to see everything, as you visit you find yourself among young people from around the world.  While I didn’t get a chance to ride the half mile long zip line (the “Big Zip”), I did get a chance to climb a rock wall, navigate the treetop high ROPES course, and ride through all of the mountain bike courses.

Remember that while the Boy Scouts in the United States is mostly for boys, ours is one of the only countries where that is true.  All of the international troops are coed, as are the older youth from the Venturing, Explorers, and Sea Scout programs in the United States.  And so, while I was invited to participate by the United Methodist Men, whose office includes our official United Methodist scouting representative, there is a desperate need for female chaplains as well.  Out of all the chaplains present, only one was female and, since our denomination is one of the few who ordain female clergy, the United Methodist Church has the opportunity to fill this need.  Chaplains and other staffers at the Jamboree ranged in age from their 20’s up to well into their 80’s.

My two weeks at the Jamboree were probably some of the hardest and yet some of the most rewarding, and fun, that I have ever had.  They are indeed, memories that will last a lifetime.  But the next Jamboree is in four years and the United States will host the World Jamboree at the Summit in two years.  Whether you are clergy or laity, male or female, young or old, you have gifts and skills that can be used to encourage and bless the next generation of young people from around the world.

Think about it.

You should come.

*Rev. John Partridge is in his 6th year as pastor of Trinity Perry Heights UMC in Massillon (Tuscarawas District).

We are One at World Methodist Conference

The World Methodist Conference, a once-every-five-year global gathering of the Methodist-Wesleyan family, met Aug. 31-Sept. 3 in Houston.  The theme, One, was organized around four sub themes – One God, One Faith, One People, One Mission.

Several clergy members from the East Ohio Conference were among the nearly 2,000 people who attended the 21st World Methodist Conference.  Below, they share how the conference has impacted them and the effect it will have on their ministry.

Rev. Matthew A. Laferty, a missionary assigned as pastor of the English-speaking UMC of Vienna, Austria:

“In Christ there is no East or West,
in him no South or North,
but one great fellowship of love
throughout the whole wide earth.”
– Joe Oxenham, 1908

Jim Humphrey and Matt Laferty
Jim Humphrey and Matt Laferty

“At times I’ve wondered if Joe Oxenham’s hymn In Christ There Is No East or West is true, given that our experiences of Christianity can be provincial. Certainly we understand cerebrally the existence of global Christianity, but we have too few opportunities to experience global Christianity or witness it manifest. That is until you participate in the World Methodist Conference. As I looked across the plenary hall, I could literally see people from every region of the world.

“Since 1881 Methodist and Wesleyan Christians have gathered at regular intervals to praise God, share in prayer together, search the Scriptures, fellowship, and learn from one another. The World Methodist Conference is a Methodist/Wesleyan ‘family reunion’ of 80 churches.  Some are worldwide churches like The United Methodist Church, the Nazarene Church, and the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Others are regional or national churches like the Methodist Church in Southern Africa and the Methodist Church in Malaysia.  Still there are united churches with Methodist roots like the Uniting Church in Sweden and the United Church of Australia. The conference is best described as the UMC General Conference (minus all the legislation, politics, and fighting) hyped up 10 times on steroids.

“The theme of the conference was ‘One’, a timely subject for United Methodist attendees.

  • Professor Ted Campbell from United Methodist-related Perkins School of Theology challenged us to remember our history and to explore the essentials of our unity. Campbell’s lecture provoked us to trace our historic biblical and theological expressions of unity and pushed us to reimagine our oneness in churches.
  • Bishop Vashti McKenzie of the African Methodist Episcopal Church gave a rousing sermon on ‘One’ by placing the Christian imperative love at the center of our individual and communal lives. ‘What does your love look like?’ she asked. For McKenzie and conference participants we imagined The O’Jays hit Love Train as an apt metaphor of our Christian witness; the conference broke out singing ‘people round the world, join hands, start a love train, love train.’
  • Grace Imathiu, a United Methodist pastor and Kenyan native, retold the parable of the Prodigal Son and His Older Brother as a story of reckless, extravagant, and lavish love.

“The power of the conference experience is not its vibrant worship, powerful Bible studies, and thought-provoking workshops – though it does help – rather it is the meeting and sharing of relationships across our Methodist/Wesleyan confessional connection. By sharing stories over a meal, holding hands in prayer, dancing in worship together, and waiting for coffee at breaks, our sense of the unity and richness of the kingdom of God grows. Our lives are transformed as we see and hear about others’ lives transformed. And for a conference focused on ‘One’, unity is incarnational as much as it is biblical, historical, and theological.”

Armando and Debbie Arellano with Jim Humphrey and Bev Hall.
Armando and Debbie Arellano with Jim Humphrey and Bev Hall.

Rev. Armando Arellano of East Shore UMC (North Coast District):

“I was expecting, and looking forward to, fellowshipping and connecting with the diverse children of John Wesley coming from different cultures, customs and traditions and yet made ONE in Christ. This worldwide gathering is the embodiment and manifestation of John Wesley’s claim, ‘the world is my parish.’

“While I was at the World Methodist Conference I was fed by powerful and thought-provoking messages; praise and worship spoken and proclaimed in many languages; and Bible studies from a different perspective and context that truly nourished my spirit and my soul. It was a glimpse and foretaste of heaven.

“The one aspect of the conference that I am bringing home to East Shore UMC is the importance of diversity.  One of the workshops I attended talked about the nature and leadership qualities of the early churches in Jerusalem and Antioch. Diversity is one of the foundations of the church from the day the church was born. Diversity in all aspects is part of the DNA of the church. When our churches do not reflect the mosaic or diversity of the population in the community, then ‘Houston, we have a problem.’  It means that we have not done enough to make disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Rev. Bev Hall of Pleasant Hills UMC (North Coast District):

“The World Methodist Conference renewed my faith in relationships, especially in the context of our global community. For example, on Friday, I sat with a woman from South Africa. We connected and I found out that her husband died a few months ago. We prayed together and shared our contact information. The church I currently serve sends books on grief to those who have had recent losses. I asked if she would be interested and her face lit up! So I’m sending her our grief books.

“We are ALL human beings, with the same needs and desires. Most of all we need to know that God’s love is real.  Flying home, I sat next to a woman from Puerto Rico whose husband is in the Cleveland Clinic. Even though we didn’t speak the same language, we prayed for him and I agreed to see her and visit him. Love was the only language we needed!

“Pastor Rudy Rasmus, from Houston, led our worship on September 1. His sermon was based on the parable of the Good Samaritan. He said, ‘Love crossed the street and something happened!’ The next day, Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, a Bishop from the AME Church, preached on Mark 2:1-12, the story of the four friends bringing the paralyzed man through the roof to help him meet Jesus. She asked us, ‘What does your love look like?’ She reminded us that ‘love is an action verb and that our actions need to demonstrate love in real and tangible ways.’ Then Rev. Dr. Harold Good, a native of Northern Ireland, reminded us that Wesley’s mandate for the Methodists was that we need to ‘love alike’ and not all ‘think alike.’

“How can we be ONE in a world-wide connection? The answer is LOVE. Love God and love our neighbors. Inspiring? Yes! Simple? No! Doable? Oh YES! What will I do now? Go and visit Jose at the Cleveland Clinic. What does YOUR love look like?”

Rev. Jim Humphrey of New Philadelphia First UMC (Tuscarawas District):

“This was my third World Methodist Conference (attending previously in Durban, South Africa in 2011 and in Seoul, South Korea in 2006).  I also attended a World Methodist Council meeting in London in 2013.  I find traveling to these world destinations so enlightening, broadening, and illuminating.

“The World Methodist Conference gathers every five years to unite in our Wesleyan and Methodist heritage.  There are 80 Methodist communions represented from over 130 countries, all branches of one single family tree planted by John and Charles Wesley.  To realize that Wesley’s influence has spread all over the world it has been said ‘the sun never sets on the Methodist Church.’  I was impressed with the thousands of people who gathered in Houston to share that uniting Methodist heritage, even in the midst of our diversity and differences.

“The worship was so inspiring, uplifting, and so inclusive with a special emphasis on young adult participation.  The keynote and plenary speakers were literally ‘world renowned’ Wesleyan leaders of our church who gave us such insights that we could apply to our local church and to the general church.

“At breakfast, at lunch, at every break, and at our workshops we had the opportunity to share and strike up conversations with Methodist leaders and bishops from around the world.  Those opportunities for conferencing in the midst of diversity are what we need in our world and especially in our church today.”

The 22nd World Methodist Conference is scheduled for August 2021 in Gothenburg, Sweden.