Connecting on the Go

Appointments, work schedules, kids’ activities. It appears that our days and evenings are filled to the brim on a weekly basis. Cars are jokingly referred to as “mobile offices” as many people are in their cars so often traveling from stop to stop, picking up children from activities, getting groceries, and going to a meeting. “The amount of time the average driver spends behind the wheel each year is equivalent to seven 40-hour weeks at the office,” says Jurek Grabowski, research director for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.* For many, one of the first things to get the red pen scratch out on the calendar is church whether it be a Bible study, a church meeting or even a fellowship event. A phrase heard often within the church walls is “Those millennials, they are just on the go all the time”. This is true, but let’s be honest, it is not just millennials.

Being a busy working mom of aging parents, I understand the “busyness” that life brings. I, too, have found myself deleting things off my calendar. These are the “me” things and at times it has included church activities. I wanted to connect with others through the church and connect with God on a deeper level through study, but after working an 8 hour day, making dinner and getting through homework or a band booster meeting, I felt like I didn’t have the time or energy to get into my car and drive to the church to feed my soul at the end of the day. I wanted to climb into my pajamas with a cup of hot cocoa and sit on my comfortable couch. After talking with others, surprisingly, not just millennials, I found out I was not alone. There were others that required the need to have time to find comfort after a long day that had developed into a longer week. But yet, my soul needed fed and comforted as well.

Two years ago, my sister invited me to join her women’s bible study as she felt the topic would be beneficial to me. I was excited to study God’s word with my sister and then I remembered that there was 421 miles between us. I wasn’t certain how this was going to work. Then she explained it was a Facebook study. We would each read our directed bible passages daily along with the book we were studying. We chose a time in the evening that the activities and meetings of the day would be over and would connect through a closed Facebook group open only to those who were in our study group. We had people from several different states join in. There was a bible study leader who opened in prayer and directed our questions so that we could dig deeper into the material. We, the participants, would type our responses and support other group members in their responses. The thing that reached me deeply as the study progressed would happen after the 3rd week. While doing our daily reading, we began to post questions and thoughts on our closed group Facebook page almost daily, not just during our designated meeting time. We began to support each other in “real time” through prayer requests and answered prayer. We were able to check in daily with one another to support and kindly offer accountability to actions our study called us to. Too often as the week passes in a traditional church bible study, our accountability to our group may wane only to be revived as we walk through the doors of the church and we never hear the answers given through our prayer requests.

I wanted to see if my experience could be transferred to my traditional-generational church. We have been offering online Facebook studies during lent and advent for a year. Though they do not have the number of attendees of some of our traditional Bible studies, the participants loyally attended this group that has been designed to provide a study opportunity that allows them to connect with God alongside other people, while still allowing them the flexibility to attend from where ever they may be. Sometimes they connect via their laptop from their couch, some days they connect through their phone while waiting for their children’s karate class to end and others have offered thanks that they were able to attend while in the hospital or while on vacation. God told us to “Go and make disciples”. With His people on the go, sometimes we need to go to where they are – whether it be in their home, a parking lot, a hospital or a Caribbean island. Our goal for 2017 is to take this concept to the next level by offering a video chat style or study. This is a big tech step for many of our members so we will be phasing it in slowly.

We recognize that fellowship and gathering together to study God’s word is important. We continue and will continue to offer in-church and in-home studies and that will not change. But we are striving to reach out from the traditional formatted studies and classes to connect people with God and others from where they are – whether it be for a moment or for a mile.

*Johnson, Tamra, “Americans Spend an Average of 17,600 Minutes Driving Each Year.” AAA NewsRoom. N.p., 06 Sept. 2016. Web. 27 Dec. 2016.

submitted by Stacy Becker, Director of Christian Education at Willoughby U.M.C.

Common Language

Over the last several months, various groups in the conference have been reading and discussing the book, “Membership to Discipleship: Growing Mature Disciples Who Make Disciples” by Phil Maynard. This is being done in an attempt to create a common language for us as we move forward with our mission of “making and maturing disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the World.” The Spiritual Formation and Christian Education Committee is about half way through the book and we have had some lively and fruitful conversations at our meetings.

The product description from the Cokesbury website sums up the power in this little book very well with, “Get clarity on what a disciple is, how disciples grow, what kinds of relational support work at different points in the journey and create a core curriculum that helps people reach the vision cast for maturing disciples. Best of all, discover in fresh new ways the power of John Wesley’s process for growing maturing disciples.”

In the introduction to the book, Maynard says, “…The way back to authentic discipleship, surprisingly, may not lie with the latest bells, whistles, or interactive video. The best path forward may be a return to some of the foundational practices of the church’s history. It is less about reinventing the wheel and more about remembering where we came from and how to exercise muscles we let atrophy as we got a little too comfortable in the La-Z-Boy of church life as we’ve known it,” His book is less about some shiny new thing that will solve all our problems, and more about pulling together a clear understanding of what we are all working towards – helping those God brings across our path towards maturity in Christ.

If you want to know more about Phil Maynard and his work, check out his website – I encourage you to read along with us and join the conversation. If you stop by my office, I may have a copy of the book for you to read.


Rev. Gary Jones
Director of Spiritual Formation
East Ohio Conference

Theological Worlds

On April 20, 2017, the CEF chapter in East Ohio Conference is hosting a workshop on “Theological Worlds.”  Rev. Lisa Withrow, who serves as the Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs and the Dewire Professor of Christian Leadership at Methodist Theological School in Ohio, is leading the presentation.

Author W. Paul Jones’s Theological Worlds research provides an alternative to our polarized thinking about faith:  conservative vs. liberal.  He also explains in his writing how there are actually FIVE different theological worldviews instead of two.  These varied understandings about how we approach faith and the life of the church help leaders navigate conflict, languages of faith and differences in what people find meaningful in their Christian lives.  Rev. Withrow will unpack this work in light of the congregations we engage with today by helping participants identify their own theological worlds, and the worldviews of those whom they serve.  Lively presentation and discussion will be the order of the day.

The gathering will be held at the East Ohio Area Center, 8800 Cleveland Avenue NW, North Canton, Ohio.   It will begin at 9:30 a.m. and concludes at Noon.

Burying the Alleluia, A Lenten Spiritual Practice

Faith’s worship planning staff is introducing our congregation to the Lenten spiritual practice of burying the Alleluia this Lent. While the practice of burying the Alleluia might be new to Faith UMC, it is an ancient Christian tradition practiced in many faith traditions. Read on to learn more about this Lenten spiritual practice.

Alleluia is a word heard throughout the Christian world regardless of language. Alleluia is the Greek and Latin form of the Hebrew word Hallelujah, a word meaning praise the Lord. In the Western world, Alleluia came to be associated with the celebration of the most important season of the Church year, Easter. The association of Alleluia with Easter led to the custom of intentionally omitting it from liturgy during Lent.  It’s a kind of verbal fast, not with the intention of depressing the mood of our worship services, but instead to create a sense of anticipation and greater joy when the familiar praise word returns on Easter morning.

Burying the Alleluia is a Christian custom that dates back to medieval times. It is rooted in the practices of liturgical churches that refrain from reciting their usual “Alleluia!” after the Gospel reading during the season of Lent. The intention of this practice is not to be archaic or dismal, but rather to be a practice that enriches our spiritual lives as we anticipate Easter.  Lent is a season of preparation in which we prepare for Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday. Alleluia is a special word used to jubilantly proclaim Jesus is risen! The practice of burying the Alleluia invites us to refrain from using this word during Lent so we can save it for the special celebration on Easter.  The intention is to let the word rest so that when it reappears on Easter we might hear it anew and experience the joy of Christ’s resurrection in renewed and meaningful ways.

Burying the Alleluia is not about abstaining from praising and expressing our love and devotion to God. Both secular and religious traditions have customs that if celebrated every day would no longer be special (Singing of Happy Birthday, Christmas Tree, etc). Saving the singing of “Happy Birthday” for birthdays and decorating a Christmas tree for Christmas helps us to know those are special times of celebration. The same can be true for burying the Alleluia.

How might the practice of burying the Alleluia during the season of Lent, to reserve it for use on Easter morning, enhance our celebration of the resurrection of Christ on Easter?

Burying the Alleluia is a practice that helps worshipers of all ages recognize the transition from one season of the Church year to another. The practice of physically burying the Alleluia is especially meaningful for children. In connection with the ancient tradition of ‘Burying the Alleluia’ for the season of Lent, the worshiping community at Faith UMC will bury the Alleluia throughout our worship to reflect the focus on introspection, reflection, and waiting during our Lenten season. We will be singing the Doxology to an alternate tune which lifts praise to the Triune God – sans Alleluia. We will await to uncover the Alleluia on Easter, the celebration of our risen Lord.

Look for the return of the Alleluia on Easter Sunday to be a celebration of great joy! Until then, let us use this season of Lent to not just focus on the joy of Christ’s resurrection, but to reflect on the life of Christ and the great sacrifice of love Jesus made on the cross for us. Instead of the Alleluia, let us focus on living and loving as Jesus has taught us. Let us focus on God’s love as we remember Jesus on our journey to Easter this Lent. Let’s anticipate celebrating anew when the Alleluia returns on Easter morning!

Lord Jesus, It is our joy to sing and say ‘Alleluia’ in celebration of your love. But we don’t want to take your love for granted. So, during the days of Lent, we say good-bye to “Alleluia” so that we may take it up anew on Easter. Amen.

(Prayer adapted from




submitted by Kathy Schmucker, Director of Spiritual Formation, Faith UMC in North Canton

Large Group/Small Group Faith Formation

Light bulb moments – that moment when we just know that something has “clicked” for one of our young disciples.  I have seen more of these moments in the past couple years using the large group / small group format, than I ever have with another format.  I’ve also had more parents report kids singing worship music at home, remembering what they learned at church, and developing better spiritual discipline habits.

Now what makes me think it’s the format? Certainly, I most credit God’s grace and the dedicated loving leaders we have, but I also believe that the format we use on Sunday morning creates a unique atmosphere for learning and faith formation. Here’s why:

  1. It doesn’t look or feel like school.

It’s the weekend, no kid wants to be in school.  Frankly, a lot don’t want to get out of bed. So that’s why we don’t call our program “Sunday School”, or let it resemble anything of school. There are no tables or chairs in our space either.

Large Group / Small Group usually starts with Large group and allows kids an element of entertainment within a lesson.  Curriculums vary, but most can accommodate either provided or added video content, skits and drama, object lessons, and more.  We like to vary the way we share the Bible story with our kids so that no matter what their favorite is, they will get a taste of it throughout the month.  Also, it allows video content to be a “treat”. Kids love participating in drama, and object lessons (tried and true!) are still a great memory-maker.

Small group doesn’t feel like school at all.  With a small group leader having no more than eight kids in a group, kids are given real individual attention – something they seldom get at school. Leaders become trusted friends, not teachers.  Real honesty develops within the group.

Most curriculums call for very little “arts and crafts”.  We add a little bit in here and there for our kids who need hands-on time, but we also let this slide a bit, in favor of having more time for discussion.  Kids “recall” what they learned in large group, but also “reflect” on how it applies to their life.  When time consuming crafts are left out, there is more time for this. But we always find an occasion for glitter! 😉

  1. It allows time and space for worship experience.

This format lends itself easily to including a worship experience.  Whether you add music before the large group lesson, or between large group and small group, or both (If you have a longer time to fill – bless you!), kids have an opportunity to be formed by music.

How did our ancestors learn their theology? Through hymns.  How can our kids learn and be formed by theology? Through worship music. This of course means to be careful what you choose, and be ready to answer off the wall questions about lyrics (Wait, you’re already in Children’s ministry – you know what I mean!).

We also have an offering during this time and a child-appropriate communion service once a month. We have also done a service of remembering their baptism during this time.  Two points here: 1) Kids deserve an opportunity for these acts of piety – now. 2) If kids never get a chance to participate in these things now, why do we think they will value them later?

If your kids don’t have a regular opportunity to worship with the “big people” of our church, having some element of worship in your program becomes essential.  And this format may help you make worship feel more natural and authentic.

  1. It provides “relational depth”.

This is the wonder of small group particularly.  With more individual attention, kids get a chance to form deeper relationships with their leaders – so choose them wisely, as always! In addition, there are more leaders in the same space.  If a kid doesn’t connect well with their grade level small group leader, they might with another leader they see at large group, or with the lesson leader in large group.  There are multiple leaders in this format, which is a real gift to our kids.

  1. It suites various learning styles and personalities.

Introvert? No problem – you can hide for a bit in large group before being encouraged to share.  Extrovert? There’s a small group leader that is enthused to hear your thoughts!

Can’t read well? No problem.  There are plenty of other kids to do it. Love to read in a big group? Plenty of spot lights available!

Can’t sing? No problem, just turn up the music and let kids dance. Love to sing? Give them a mic!

There’s really something for everybody!

Now you may be thinking, wait, isn’t this just for larger churches? What about if you only have twenty kids?  Well it really could work for you.  Twenty kids spread about by age can feel pretty lonely, and honestly awkward for kids.  But put them in the same space, and it’s more fun.

Also, you can get away with less work for your leaders. Assign one leader to lead Large group, and then 1 leader per 5-8 kids for small group.  Your Large Group leader gets a captive audience and then can relax and just jump into a small group.  Your small group leaders have very little to prepare and focus most on relationship building and shepherding kids through the Bible lesson.  No prepping crafts – just prepping their hearts.

Ok, ok, so you can tell I’m a fan? I am.  But here’s why: I have kids who tell me they are praying more, reading their Bibles more, and talking with their parents about faith more.  That’s so exciting! And… I even had a kid tell me they turned down a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese to come to church because it’s so fun.  I’m not kidding. Praise God!

By Rev. Carrie Antczak, Deacon



Thinking outside the box…

“I Don’t Have to Do What They’re Doing”

There are some people who make a difference in your life. For me, Eleanor Roosevelt has always been one of those people. She once said, “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” It’s that philosophy along with the scripture verse “let all that you do be done in love (1 Corinthians 16:14)” that guide my heart when planning Christian Education events. So, how do take the passion within your heart and use it to grow your Church? Simple. You don’t think outside of the box, you get rid of the box.

I’m a Christian Education Coordinator at an inner city Church. So, my issues may be different than yours. However, we all want to grow our Church. We all want to the opportunity to plant more seeds. So, when I said NO to vacation bible school, you can imagine the faces on my Christian Education Committee. What? No, vacation bible school. Gone!

Instead, we hosted an art camp that ran the week our local school district was on spring break. Art Camp uses music, song, visual arts and media, drama and storytelling, and movement and game-playing to enter into Bible study around a particular theme. This year’s theme was praise. The result? 5 times more kids then we had at vacation bible school last year.

How did we do it? I went and asked members of the congregation. You’ll be surprised at the discoveries you’ll make. It’s like digging for gold! I was pleasantly surprised at the talents that they were willing to share with the children and our community.

By not having a box, I was able to “define” art loosely. Who knew we had a mom that was a black belt? She gladly did a demonstration with the kids during our movement segment of the day. Let me tell you, they loved it! She brought her different belts and weapons to show the kids. She made it a memorable hands-on experience. We also had a dad teach an animal alphabet in American Sign Language for part of our visual arts segment. The kids couldn’t stop talking about it!

Every day was different. Every day was a surprise. They couldn’t wait to see what the new day brought. Don’t be afraid to try something new! What do you have to lose? Nothing! But, you have everything to gain. Let your heart and God’s grace guide you. If you do it out of love, you will be rewarded!

By: Brandy Draper, Christian Education Coordinator at First UMC of Akron

Safe Sanctuaries Videos

Are you looking for help with starting conversations around Safe Sanctuaries®?  The long-anticipated videos are now available on the Discipleship Ministries website.

Safe Sanctuaries® is a “social structure that is consistent with the gospel” (¶122) allowing our sanctuaries, classrooms, mission encounters, camps and retreats, and all spaces where we gather to worship and serve God to be places of trust. These videos may be used as a series to introduce the more difficult aspects of Safe Sanctuaries®, individually to open up conversations in small groups or during training, and as a way to share information with the congregation as a reminder or in the midst of a crisis.

Also, for local East Ohio congregations where streaming a video could be an issue, there is a DVD of these videos available in the East Ohio Conference Media Center.  You can contact Susan Arnold,  Media Specialist, at 330-499-3972 ext. 139 to schedule use of the DVD.|date&sortDirection=desc –