Fitchville UMC – A Holy Spirit Summer

The Heart of a Small Church – Part 2

By Rev. Timothy McCollum

Fitchville UMC (Firelands District) is a small church on Rt. 250 about halfway between Ashland and Norwalk. Many folks have driven by it, few have stopped. This is farm county, so it can feel spread out and sparse, besides one other church and a gas station. Our entire township has a population of just over 500. Our church has just about 50 attendees on most Sundays and I’m blessed to serve this church that is often trusting and often willing to see where God is leading. It didn’t start out this way, but God has been working on us together. And after a few years down the road, the church has been experiencing God in some interesting ways. But, that doesn’t really tell the story of our summer…

By early spring this year, I was looking forward with both anticipation and anxiety about where our little church would be heading.

It has been a really different year for us.

In the spring, we rolled out our spiritual formation pathway with a preaching series that took us through the entire Easter season. It took us almost 18 months to put that together, and now it’s real.

Then, summer hit.

And, that’s where things became interesting.

We spent the entire first part of the year working through Richard Foster’s book “Prayer” in our Sunday small group. It has been changing the way we pray. Moving from prayer to the Holy Spirit using “Forgotten God” by Francis Chan is further opening our hearts to chase where God is leading.

This summer, we preached through a sermon series based around the 12 Steps that are used in programs like AA. We had three couples that started attending during that series, each with their own stories, and each have been moved by what’s been taking place. I can actually remember one Sunday seeing a young man looking uncomfortable in the pews, only to find out later that God was speaking to him directly that day.

This year our church became the primary sponsor for the New London High School Cross Country camp.

One day, while talking with Keith Landis, the coach of the high school cross country team, we found out that there used to be a yearly cross country camp. Coach Landis mentioned how he missed the camp, that it was a real blessing to the team. He said that school insurances and coverage issues simply made it too difficult to continue the camp. The church jumped in and said, “What if the church was the sponsor? We have insurance, and we could use it as an outreach to interact with the team. We could even help provide meals!”

Next thing you know, we were sponsoring a local Cross Country camp with 30 kids and eight adults. Eight church members helped open the camp with the first meal of the week along with leading devotions. They made a point of sitting with teens they didn’t know during the meal – all of a sudden, one of the teens who was not regularly part of our youth was heading to Alive with our youth group.

Did I mention it was our first year going to Alive?

Youth involved in a card challenge.
Youth participate in a fun card challenge.

It’s been a year in which one of our youth gave their life to Christ and another, who had avoided youth activities, committed to participate in our youth group more often.

Pastor and adult get wet and dirty
It just isn’t VBS, unless the pastor (left) gets dirty!

And then, just like every other summer, Vacation Bible School happened. We were concerned about low attendance, as many churches have been struggling. But, we were praying. The Sunday before our week started, we became aware that three other local community churches would be hosting their VBS the same week. By the end of the week, we realized that were actually five VBS programs in the area that week. But we had been praying. We had committed to trust God on the matter. And we were overwhelmed. By the second day, we were trying to find extra adults to help. Our VBS that had averaged 35 in 2017 had grown to 50 in 2018.

What’s next?

Before the summer is over, we are hosting a Prayer Walk through our local school building on Sunday, August 26, two days before classes officially begin. We have posted it as an event on Facebook. The stats came in, and our Facebook reach had grown by 46,000% by Facebook’s calculation. It just makes me chuckle to read that. We went from one person reached to 460.

Yet, none of this has been us. We’ve had a part, but God has been the greater part. The Holy Spirit is running amok at Fitchville UMC and we have had so many people be a part of it. We are amazed at what God is doing. We will soon be headed into our fall season, which we know will slow down to more comfortable routines. But we continue to pray that the Spirit of God will continue his transforming work in us and in our community.

We didn’t start out this way together, but this is where we are now. And we are eager to see what’s next.

*Rev. Timothy McCollum is pastor of Fitchville UMC.


Note:

Whether in a quaint, rural setting or in a bustling, ever-changing urban area, every church has a unique story to tell. Each works with its own story-line and parameters with its blessings and challenges.

East Ohio Conference is seeking to find more defining stories among our churches. What is yours? Contact us @ sue@eocumc.com.

Stay tuned for The Heart of a Small Church Part 3: A Three Point Ministry Team, An Interesting Relationship 

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.

Heart 4 The City Designated as a Mission Church

By Rick Wolcott*

Welcome to Heart 4 The City sign

“This church means a lot to the community because a lot of people need help.  It’s a blessing to have the church here,” said Geraldine Williams about Heart 4 The City United Methodist Mission Church (Canal District).

What began on February 22, 2010 as an outreach center for the Goodyear Heights community, sprouted from Northampton United Methodist Church (Canal District), is now a stand-alone congregation of the East Ohio Conference.

“Heart for The City has been designated as a mission church,” said Bishop Tracy S. Malone.  “It is an intentionally diverse and multi-generational faith community that is reaching a mission field that is underserved and has limited resources. This community ministry is extending the love and invitation of Christ through its worship and strategic offering of programs and services that are meeting tangible needs.”

Heart 4 The City Consecration Service
Heart 4 The City Consecration Service

Williams was one of 109 people who attended the consecration service for the church on Sunday, July 16.  So was Kenneth Hayes.

“We’ve been coming to the pantry but this is the first time our family has come here for a service.  We have six little kids and we came because the people are good-hearted people, Christian people,” he said.

Pastor Brett Bartel Preaching
Pastor Brett Bartel Preaching

“For us to be recognized and affirmed as a United Methodist Church with a set pastor means the world,” said Pastor Brett Bartels, who has been appointed to the church.  “It means we now are accountable for our influence and our impact in this community around us.

Pastor Brett Bartel's Children's Message
Pastor Brett Bartel’s Children’s Message

“We’re called to this community and we have to plan accordingly so that we can be united with this community in mission and in ministry so that we might share God’s love and invite people to know Jesus personally,” he continued.  “There is no greater joy in this world than being part of what God is wanting to do here and now.”

Bill Ellis said the church is a special place to many.  “When you come through the doors of this church, you feel different.  I know I feel closer to God when I am here,” the church’s head usher said.

One of many ministries of Heart 4 The City is Community Day, held the third Saturday of every month.  On that day, residents can get a free lunch, buy household items and clothing for a minimal charge at the community store, visit the food pantry, and get a haircut.

Heart 4 The City Prayer Wall
Heart 4 The City Prayer Wall

“What excites me about this church is that you interact with the community,” said Dan Kearns.  “This is not about white middle class coming together.  This is about people of all different cultures and races coming together with needs, not just physical, but for God.”

Everyone at the church knows Kearns as the man who makes the popcorn.  Some grab a small bowl of the tasty kernels on their way into the sanctuary so they can munch on them during the service.  Others wait to enjoy their treat until the time of fellowship right before the sermon.  Bartels instructs parishioners to use those five to seven minutes to introduce themselves to, and visit with, others – all while enjoying popcorn, donuts, coffee or tea.

“One of the things that tugs at my heart about this church is that in a small group of people you have this eclectic group of folks.  Some are homeless and some are corporate lawyers, yet in that small mix of folks people know each other by name, they care about each other, they ask about each other, they’re willing to do for one another.  It’s a beautiful picture, a small picture of heaven,” Bartels said.

Kileigh Su Leads Worship at Heart 4 The City
Kileigh Su Leads Worship at Heart 4 The City

“This church is super authentic.  We don’t have a matched set of what we do every Sunday, we just go with the flow,” said Worship Leader Kileigh Su.  “We are here to meet people’s needs. It’s awesome!  As a family we love it.”

Community Day is just one way that the church touches the lives of the community.  It also hosts archery, biking and fishing clubs in the summer, as well as Wednesday Club that provides Bible study, gardening, crafts, games and field trips for older elementary-age children.

Heart 4 The city Good Soil Garden
Heart 4 The city Good Soil Garden

The church and community also work together in the Good Soil Garden, which last year had 40 crops that produced 2,100 pounds of vegetables.  Some were distributed through Heart 4 The City and the rest were donated to a neighboring community program.

“My conviction is that every church ought to be like this.  Every church ought to look like it’s neighborhood, and reflect what’s going on in its neighborhood, otherwise we’re the church on the hill that’s irrelevant that no one knows about, that’s too inward-focused,” Bartels said.

“So we try to be tied to the community, whatever that looks like, whatever that sounds like, whatever is going on, we want to reflect that in a positive way that draws people to Christ so that we can make disciples,” he said.

“Heart is very unique in that it is a United Methodist community center that also has a worshipping community.  I am excited about the potential for ministry opportunities that the new designation for Heart 4 The City will offer,” said the Rev. Ed Peterson, Canal District superintendent.

“We want to finish what we start,” Prayer Leader Alisa Stinson told the congregation during the consecration service.  “We want to be a presence in this community, at this address, that says ‘the Lord is here please come, no matter your baggage no matter  your lack of baggage, whatever you have whatever you don’t have, please come.’”

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