Dear Members, Friends, and Partners of the Christian Church in Ohio,
Blessed Holiday Greetings from your Regional Church Staff and Regional Church Council! We pray in this week between Christmas and New Year’s you know exactly how much we appreciate you and hold you close in prayer. As Romans 12:5 so simply and confidently reminds us, “so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” While the sinews of the body have been strained and the weaker members are hurting even more, this year has reminded us nonetheless that we are interconnected by covenant love, and those bonds of faith are stronger than anything the world brings that could threaten to pull us apart. Thank you for staying connected in community.
The year that is getting ready to close - 2021 - was more challenging than any of us could have expected, especially since 2020 was hard in epic ways. Yet the challenges continued, as new variants of the deadly COVID-19 virus spread across the globe expanding the sickness and death we had prayed was on the wane; the deep divides of politics burst open on January 6th and still continue to simmer unpredictability not far under the surface of our nation; tragic instances of inequities and injustices based solely on race, skin color, gender identity, and nationality seemed only to have intensified; weather disasters persisted farther into the colder months than ever before in our collective memory with horrific and unimaginable consequences; and the general exhaustion of navigating the shifting tides of culture and technology that seems to push the church as we have known it farther and farther to the margins of irrelevance wore us to exhaustion. But we have made it intact, even if bruised and tired. I know with absolute confidence that the Regional Church has made it through this year because of your prayers, your steadfastness, your gifts of resources and volunteer time, and your deep faithfulness and trust. For this we are profoundly grateful!
Because of you and your support, this last year…
- We concluded our time with the four visiting Regional Ministers on a very positive and resilient note for they served Ohio well for two years. Thanks to Rev. Allen, Rev. James, Rev. Phelps and Rev. Spleth, for all they did to help sustain our congregations, pastors, and lay leaders and guide our Council, Committees, and Commissions!
- In March you called a new Regional Pastor and President (me!) for which I will be eternally grateful. Together we shared in a joyful (though lengthy!) Regional Church Celebration and Installation Service on October 23rd, led by our General Minister & President, Rev. Teresa Hord Owens, which we held both in person at Gender Road Christian Church in Canal Winchester and online (complete with Digital Deacons)! May God guide and sustain me in this vital ministry at this most critical time in our history.
- Fifteen local congregations that were in the Search & Call process called vibrant and gifted pastors to serve them as Interim or settled Pastors and at least sixteen more are in the process of discerning, interviewing, and calling their own new pastoral leadership.
- We are caring for and assisting clergy in-between ministry settings with as much responsiveness and support as we can, whether by offering counsel, prayer, or technical advice, writing their Regional References, providing creative ways of communicating like our virtual “Regional Minister Search & Call Meet & Greets,” or simply by walking alongside them as they discern their future calling.
- We continued networking and supporting our ordained and commissioned clergy, both through our monthly Zoom Clergy Calls and monthly Congregational Leaders Mailing. We also expanded these efforts by offering a COVID Memorial Service especially designed for our chaplains, as well as gathering our retired clergy virtually, which will continue into the new year. Plans are in the works to expand our networking and support of chaplains as well as with young clergy.
- The Commission On Ministry Team 1 met with and nurtured eighteen persons on the journey towards ordination and concluded the process with five of those discerning that they were, indeed, called by God for ordained ministry and had fulfilled all the requirements of our Policies and Criteria for Ordained Ministry! Four have been ordained: Rev. Lisa Reshad, Rev. Paul Bomeli, Rev. Ali Miguel, and Rev. Kenneth Oswald. The fifth, Naomi Calkins-Golter, will be ordained January 8th. Team 2 nurtures and cares for dozens of Commissioned Ministers and Team 3 ensures all our clergy are connected, cared for, and maintain the highest standards for ministry.
- Your Regional Church Council, under the able leadership of our Moderator, Candis Wilson, and with fully functioning Commissions, Committees, and Teams, provided strong and streamlined governance while also having honest and productive conversations about the challenges and the future of the Regional Church.
- Our Finance Committee has begun meeting monthly and has worked diligently to not only insure that our Regional Church finances are managed responsibly, but to provide full transparency of these finances (see last week’s letter from Gladys Davis, our Treasurer, for an in depth review of the year’s financial position.)
- We held a short but encouraging Camp & Conference Season and have planned a longer but still cautious season next summer, and the Camp Christian Committee completed a comprehensive look at its governing documents, and now turns to our policies and procedures, counselor training, and membership.
- We called a highly skilled and deeply caring Campsite Manager in Tom Bowerman-Jett who has completed not only a regular maintenance schedule, but also a list of necessary capital improvement to guide us in ensuring our camp and conference center is sustainable for the long haul. Plans are in the works to hire a Camp Christian Food Service Director as well as a new and expanded slate of Camp Ministry Associates for the summer.
- A Pool Exploratory Committee was formed and has begun doing the important background research on what it might mean for us to have a swimming pool again at Camp Christian, the number one requested improvement! This will be very carefully considered and held alongside other capital needs for the camp as well as the entire Regional Church’s financial stability.
- Our cadre of wise and remarkable Regional Elders are working hard and dependably in their volunteer but crucial roles across the state. A new and expanded covenant outlining the role and responsibilities of Regional Elders was approved by the Regional Church Council. Trust, confidence, and vision are slowly but surely being regained in local congregations, in Districts, and throughout the entire Regional Church.
- We are working more closely with our ecumenical partners, especially the Ohio Council of Churches under the leadership of Disciples clergy person, the Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan, Jr. and the Heartland Conference of the United Church of Christ, under the newly called settled Conference Minister, the Rev. David Long-Higgins, working together in fresh and innovative ways that will mutually benefit each organization.
- We have improved communication with our monthly all-Region newsletter and have stepped up our work on promoting, particularly through social media, the ways in which individuals and congregations can support the mission and ministry of the Christian Church in Ohio, particularly through our three primary means of support: the Disciples Mission Fund, the Renewal Initiative, and the Christmas Offering.
And these are but a few of the aspects of this past year that invigorate me!
Finally, I must note that 2021 would not have been manageable (or nearly as joyful as it was) without a most talented and hard-working staff. Certainly, prior to my being called as Regional Minister, along with Candis Wilson and the four visiting Regional Ministers, our small staff was the glue that kept the Region together. I have the distinct privilege of serving alongside the extraordinarily gifted, eminently reliable, and always good-natured Jennie Stoddart Bernard as our Regional Administrator. Beginning in April we were joined by Tom Bowerman-Jett as our Campsite Manager. For much of the year I also had the honor and delight of working with Rev. Alan Dicken, our Regional Program Director, Bruce Bowerman-Jett who provided food service for our camps, as well as our amazing crew of seven Camp Ministry Associates for the duration of the season. I count as one of my favorite gifts this Christmas the ability to work with such wonderful church leaders.
There is much more to be done, most certainly, and we will get to it! But for this holiday week we are all taking a rest and seeking God’s redeeming love, imagined and made real at Christmas, and the rejuvenation that comes with each New Year’s celebration. May you, also, take some time to breathe deeply, allow the joints and muscles of the body – yours and the Church’s – to heal and prepare for what lies ahead. And, with our faith firmly set on God alone and our trust in Christ made stronger and reliance upon the Holy Spirit fully intact, we will begin 2022 with even more grace, more energy, and more possibility than ever before! And may the words of the Prophet Isaiah be true for us as well, “but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Rev. Allen V. Harris, Regional Pastor & President, Christian Church in Ohio