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 –

Getting Started…

The Conference Spiritual Formation and Christian Education Committee is launching a “Resources for the Journey” blog focused on “connecting people in United Methodist Churches with Wesleyan Education and Spiritual Formation resources.”   Our plan (and hope) is to post something new every week.   On alternating weeks, we will post one week focused on “tools for the journey” – pointing people towards resources available around the web – and the other week will be guest bloggers from East Ohio focused on “it worked for us” – sharing an experience that they had in their church, what they are doing that is working, what resources have been invaluable, etc.

Our hope is that between these two areas of focus, we will be giving folks working in spiritual formation in local congregations a place to find ideas and resources, as well as creating a network of folks serving in spiritual formation in East Ohio as we share ideas and support with each other.