Congregation Continues Its Mission to Change the World

New Philadelphia First United Methodist Church (Tuscarawas District) celebrated Pentecost on May 20 by holding its annual Change the World Sunday.  The day began with the normal three celebrations of worship combined into one 9:00 a.m. service.  Rev. Jim Humphrey preached from James 2, putting faith into deeds and actions, and commissioned the congregation to go out into the world and put its faith into action.

Parishioners selected from more than 16 service projects.  Some built a wheelchair ramp while others demolished the interior of a house for Habitat for Humanity.  People also chose between tilling soil and planting a garden for an area group home; working with the County Board of Developmentally Disabled making gift mugs; and visiting elderly in area care centers.

One group went to the county juvenile attention center, interacted with the youth, and cooked a homemade pizza lunch.  Another group filled out thank you notes and appreciation cards for area police officers, fire fighters, and military personnel, and wrote words of encouragement to inmates in the county jail.

Volunteers worked at the Dover-New Philly Area food bank.  Youth potted flowers and delivered them throughout the community. Children pulled weeds and raked yards for the elderly.  The area group home for girls assisted in grooming animals at the county humane society.  All workers received a homemade lunch.

This is the sixth consecutive May that New Philadelphia First UMC has organized a Change the World Sunday.

“In 2017, well over 150 church and community volunteers completed over 20 projects,” Humphrey said.  “We believe that the church is the body of Christ alive and at work in our world. On this day, we simply encourage intentional acts of serving others as an expression of our faith and God’s love.”


Church Choir Director Retires after 73 Years of Service

By Rick Wolcott*

Juanita Woods with Cake

“You are our ‘Shining Star!’”

Those words, written on balloons in the Greentown United Methodist Church (Tuscarawas District) fellowship hall, express the congregation’s love for Juanita Woods.

Friends and family gathered after the final service of 2017 for a reception to celebrate Woods’ retirement as choir director, a position she has held on and off for 73 years.

Raised Lutheran, Woods joined the choir at what was then Greentown Methodist Church shortly after she was married because her husband had family members who were active in the church.  Thus began a life of service that, over the years, has led Woods to be, among other roles, choir director, children’s choir director, camp counselor, junior church leader, Sunday school teacher, and Bible study facilitator.

Juanita speaking“This church has filled my life,” Woods said.  “I’ve always felt needed.  I’ve never felt I’ve been anybody special, I really haven’t.  I’m here to do things and if there’s things to do, I do them.”

“I’ve been in the choir ever since I can remember but I also remember Juanita being my camp counselor, she was my junior high youth leader, and she directed my children in junior choir,” said Carol Lavy.  “I just can’t imagine being 94 years old and still doing the ministry she is doing!  She’s our backbone.  We are blessed.”

“Juanita’s a special person and a strong leader.  It’s more than just music that she has taught.  She’s taught Jesus and lived Jesus for the people.” Pastor Carolyn Nichols said.  “When I came here last year and was told we had a 93 year-old choir director, I started looking for a 93 year-old woman and I never found her.”

George Manos can attest to that!  He says it’s hard keeping up with his mother-in-law.

“We’re from Pittsburgh and one day I couldn’t get her on the phone at home so I kept calling.  Finally, she answered and I said, ‘Mom, where’ve you been?’ She said, ‘Well I was ringing the bell for the Salvation Army at Wal-Mart.’ I said, ‘Mom, you’re 94!’ and she said, ‘yeah, so what?’”

Director singing“In my mind I don’t think I’m 94,” Woods said.

After singing a solo during her final service as choir director, Woods joined her daughter, Karen Manos, and Nichols at the front of the church for a brief celebration of her many years of service.

Manos told the congregation that as children she and her sister grew up playing in the church basement as their mother held choir practice upstairs.  She later sang with her mom in the Canton Civic Opera for 30 years.

“Music should have been Mother’s middle name,” she said.

Juanita with Pastor and daughter“We love you Juanita not just for the music over all these years but also for your love, the way you have cared for the children that you taught to sing and the adults that you have been with through Sunday school and Bible study, and the way you have touched so many lives,” Nichols said.

“I feel speechless,” said Woods before blowing a kiss of appreciation to the congregation.

Her final act as choir director was leading worshippers in singing Happy Birthday to organist Steve Dallas, a long-time friend who will succeed Wood, and will now serve as her choir director.

“Speaking for the choir, we’ll be mighty glad that she’s going to be singing with us,” said Sherryl Kostolich.

“She’s a special lady,” Dallas said.

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

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.