Background Checks Available through East Ohio Conference

The East Ohio Conference is now able to run basic, affordable safe To request a background check on behalf of your congregation (or district), please send two (2) emails as described below.sanctuary background checks for volunteers and staff in your church.

  1. Email to Gary Jones –

Subject Line should read: “Background Check Order for <name of person applying>”

In the body of email include the following with clarifications as suggested:

“Please issue a background check on behalf of <church name> for <name of person applying> who is applying for a position as <xxxx>. This is a volunteer/potential employee.  (Indicate which).  An invoice for the cost of the background checks should be emailed to church name, treasurer, email. [give info]”

The following searches are requested: [indicate which one(s)]

  • $ 12 Basic (use for staff or volunteer positions. Also used for VIM/ERT mission teams)
    • National Criminal Database Search
    • National Sex Offender Registry
    • Search SSN Verification & Address History
  • $ 12 Search AKA Also Known As. (Use for background with Maiden Name – one for each marriage)  This is strongly recommended for persons married less than 5 years.
  • $ 12 County Criminal Search (Fee for each county searched. Most counties charge additional fees.  These fees will be billed separately to your local church)  This is strongly suggested for persons living in the current county less than 5 years or persons with several moves in last 10 years. This is also strongly suggested for persons employed by the church.
  • $ 12 MVR Driving History (for volunteers and staff who will be driving teams or transporting children)  This will indicate DUI, vehicular homicide, insurance or frequent tickets
  1. Email the person applying for the position

You can include a personal introduction followed by the text below that you should copy/paste into your email.

The position you are applying for requires a Safe Sanctuary background check. This background check must be originated by us. A copy of a background check ordered by someone else does not fulfill our legal responsibility to exercise appropriate supervision.   The online background check will come from “The East Ohio Conference” even though our church has requested it.

To begin the background check process, use the following link:

On this East Ohio Conference webpage you will click Local Church then Safe Sanctuaries then Proceed. 

The authorization includes very broad agreement and “hold harmless” statements.   Please review your Social Security Number and all other information carefully before submitting. Typing errors in social security number, phone numbers and other information will create “alarms” resulting in concern about the background information provided. This will require additional review and increase the cost of this application.

The cost of this is being paid for by <enter how you will fund this, your application fee, training fee, our church budget>.

If you have questions about this process, please contact Rev. Gary Jones, Director of Spiritual Formation, East Ohio Conference.

330-499-3972 ext. 120  or


Service by Machine

“Your call is important to us.  Please continue to hold for the next available representative…”

Don’t you just hate hearing that– over and over and over and over again.  I’ve been hearing that on the phone a lot these last couple of weeks.  Aren’t you glad God doesn’t answer prayer by machine?  Or are you one who DOES feel like God answers by machine, as you have a hard time pointing to instances of answered prayer?

The longer I’m in ministry, the more I don’t understand prayer, yet the more I know that prayer works.  HOWEVER– if your prayers are as generic as a child’s bed time prayers: “Now I lay me down to sleep… God bless mommy and daddy, and the whole world…” how will you know when it is answered?  You’re not one of the billions who are starving, you (most likely) have a job, you have a roof over your head and shoes on your feet– you’re already more blessed than 80% of the world, so God IS answering your prayers!  Are you helping your children to see how God is answering those prayers?

I ran across a book the first time I was in Iraq, “The Power of a Praying Husband,” with companion books, including “The Power of a Praying Wife,” “… Parent” and more.  Key to that collection is the theme of being very specific in your prayers, and in doing so, it is easier to see when they are answered.  Of course, like any good parent, God’s answer is sometimes “No” or “Not right now” or God answers in totally unexpected ways.  We often pray for healing from illness, yet illness and death are a part of life, and the answer may be a “healing” that comes in death.  Since I ran across that book, I often end my prayers with the phrase “Thank You, Lord for HEARING our prayers, for ANSWERING our prayers, and give us eyes to see HOW you are answering them today.”

So while “Now I lay me down to sleep…” may be a good way to start off a child in a life of prayer, I hope it doesn’t end there.  After all, how many of us are eager to dive into a hearty jar of baby food for dinner when we are adults?  Our physical food changes as we grow– so should our spiritual food, and how we talk with our Father in Heaven.

Think about your prayer time, and that of your children.  Are your Prayers helping you in your Presence with God?  Are you offering up your Gifts to God in Prayer?  Are you using your Prayers in Service to others, “interceding” in prayer for others?  Are your Prayers a Witness to your faith?

One of our church folk was telling me about cues for prayer that he uses throughout the day for prayer– when he sees a UPS (“Brown”) truck, he prays for Rev. Brown; when he sees a food that he knows is a favorite of someone, he prays for that person; when he sees a Bob Evans restaurant, he prays for Rev. Waller (a former pastor who made it known that was his favorite restaurant).  Such cues can lead us into prayer throughout the day and every day.

If you have wonderful stories of how you see God working through your prayers, share those stories to bless others!  If you seem to only be getting an answering machine in your prayers, maybe you should try a different number– try a different way to pray.

More discipleship resources by Dr. J. Richard Lewis, at Smashwords

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