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.

Congregation Prays for a Christmas Miracle

By Rick Wolcott*

Extinguishing flames
Moving to the basement
Stripping the sanctuary
Purifying the air
Peeling off the soot
Cleaning every surface

These are just some of the obstacles the congregation of University Circle United Methodist Church (North Coast District) would have to overcome in just 35 days, if it wanted to worship in the sanctuary on Christmas Eve.

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