Wednesday, August 31, 2016

8 Ohio churches (and a question with a prize!)

Anointed Gates Church, Collinwood Village, Ohio
Anointed Gates Church, Collinwood Village

New Life Cathedral, East Cleveland, Ohio
New Life Cathedral, East Cleveland

Linden Life Fellowship, Columbus, Ohio
Linden Life Fellowship, Columbus

Calvary Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio
Calvary Baptist Church, Findlay

Buckeyes for Christ, Columbus, Ohio
Buckeyes for Christ, Columbus

Evangelical Church of the Sanctified and Lighthouse Christian Academy, Columbus, Ohio
Evangelical Church of the Sanctified, Columbus

First Presbyterian Church, Maumee, Ohio
First Presbyterian Church, Maumee

St Paul's Lutheran Church, Maumee, Ohio
St Paul's Lutheran Church, Maumee

Win a prize! In which of these church buildings did Mindy hide under the pews? Make your guess in the comments or on Facebook. If your answer is correct, we'll send a postcard to whatever address you provide

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Mosaic Ministries, Toledo, Ohio

As the tuition prices of major universities continue to spiral upward, the good news is that Baby U is still free. In fact, people are paid to attend, with such incentives as diapers, formula, clothes, books, and gift cards. I assure you, BU is a real place, unlike PU, which is not.

When our children were young, we told them that all we knew about parenting we’d learned from Parents University. If we did anything wrong as parents, it was obvious that Old PU was to blame. Occasionally, we let it slip that our grades at PU weren’t the best and perhaps one of us didn’t actually complete our course of study. Our kids now say they knew we were joking, but back in the day I think they might have bought into it.

Amusing stories from our past aside, Baby University is real. It is an outreach of Mosaic Ministries in south Toledo, Ohio, with the goal of educating new parents and parents-soon-to-be in life skills, child rearing strategies, nutrition, and other important topics and skills. Mosaic ministers with the very poor local residents, many of whom have never had or witnessed examples of good parenting.

Low income children enter school with many disadvantages. Studies show they are behind middle class students in learning development by sixty percent, a margin that is difficult, if not impossible, ever to overcome. Baby U tries to encourage parents to bridge that gap with such simple steps as reading to their children for as little as 15 minutes a day.

Baby University is the beginning of Mosaic’s “Transformation Pipeline” for kids and adults. Mosaic has begun a partnership with the Toledo Day Nursery, one of the nation’s oldest preschool entities (established in 1871). Soon there will be preschool classes on the Mosaic grounds. Another important ministry for kids is the Beauty Project that teaches pre-teen and young teen girls that they are more than their outward appearance. For others, the ministry also helps people obtain their GEDs, and this fall there will be a class on finances for adults.

But if all Mosiac did was provide educational opportunities, that wouldn’t be nearly enough for the director of the ministry, Pastor David Kaiser or for his wife, Kelly, who’s the director of Baby University. Their primary mission is to see a spiritual transformation of the community through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so worship and Bible study are vital ministries of Mosaic.

We were able to attend both a Tuesday night 5:30 worship service and the 5:00 pm Sunday worship service. Both services are followed by meals and a grocery distribution. Some people certainly come for the food, but some certainly did not. One young woman explicitly said, “I didn’t come for groceries.”

Pastor David asked, “Did you just come for Jesus?”.

“Yes,” she said with a smile.

The Tuesday night worship was conducted by folks from a nearby Methodist church. Sunday’s service was conducted by long time friends of the ministry. Though Mosaic is under the auspices of the Southern Baptist Church, many different denominations contribute to the ministry. The current building was purchased by Presbyterians. We talked with the pastor of a Lutheran church who had sent volunteers. The ministry has a broad base of community support.

On Tuesday nights, there is a Bible study following worship and the meal. Men and women meet for separate studies, and I (Dean) I went to the men’s study, where we talked about the importance of studying God’s Word. (Chris, the leader of the study said we need to “put our heads in God’s washing machine, the Bible”.)  

Mindy was impressed with the transparency of the women in her study who mentioned God at work while asking for prayer in difficult situations. One woman said, “God is freaking awesome.”

Tuesday and Sunday aren’t the only times food is available; breakfast and dinner are served throughout the week at Mosaic (or at another church, Vision, down the street, which several people mentioned attending as well). Mindy and I were there for a few meals, occasionally serving and sometimes just eating. There were parents with kids as well as couples and single men and women. Friends greeted each other and joked together. I chatted with one man who told me about his work landscaping during the summer and fall. I asked what he does in the winter, and he said he would do snow removal once winter gets started. A friend of his came and sat with us. (I was impressed when the friends exchanged an examination of each other’s arms, apparently to check for track marks. For people struggling with addiction as for the rest of us, that kind of mutual accountability is important.)

There are certainly struggles unique to this kind of ministry, and I talked with Pastor David about some of these. David had had a career in business before he took over this ministry (then called Western Avenue Ministries) in 2007. Previously, Pastor Don Bethan and his wife, Betty, had ministered to their community through the Western Avenue Baptist Church. When David came in, it became an independent ministry.

“This ministry isn’t for everybody. For instance, there was a five year old student that was sent out for testing for ADD. The results came back that the kid had STDs instead. If that doesn’t really upset you, Christ probably hasn’t called you to this ministry. But if upsets you so much that you can’t come back to work the next day… This ministry probably isn’t for you either.”

On Saturday afternoon, I went with Pastor David and representatives from a number of different churches in the area for a prayer walk through one of Toledo’s more notorious public housing complexes. I was told that one wouldn’t want to venture there alone or at night. We brought a cooler with bottles of water for residents and Otter Pops for kids. We would stop and chat with folks walking or sitting on their front steps. We offered to pray for people, and many accepted the offer.

I talked with a woman named Renita. She recognized David from attending a session of Baby University. I asked her what she had learned at Baby U. She said she learned it’s possible “to have a foundation for raising kids.” She said most people around her didn’t, but she wanted that for her kids.

I told Kelly about the conversation and she was glad to hear it. “Though I’d rather have heard she was reading to her children fifteen minutes a day.”

In this kind of work, it seems change comes slowly. But with God’s grace, it does come.

Tuesday evening
Service Length: 24 minutes
Sermon Length: 9 minutes
Visitor Treatment: no distinction between visitors and regulars; we were greeted by name because we were expected.
Our Rough Count: 53
Probable Ushers' Count: no ushers (and we didn't hear how many got groceries or dinner)
Snacks: chicken, potato salad, roll and butter, water, Hawaiian punch (and a bag of groceries for those who wanted it)
Musicians: acoustic guitar (man), vocals (2 women), percussion box (man)
Songs: "As the Deer Panteth for the Water"
"Bind us Together"
"Get Down"
Miles to church: 327 miles
Miles from start: 35,761
Total 2016 Miles: 35,465
Church website:

Sunday evening
Service Length: 58 minutes
Sermon Length: 22 minutes
Visitor Treatment: This time, they let Dean talk.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: We had dinner with David and Kelly after church, then breakfast the next morning, with some email correspondence about this post.
Our Rough Count: 55, with as many as 30 waiting in the hall
Probable Ushers' Count: 92 people signed in (some were individuals, and some were couples or families)
Snacks: again, dinner was served with groceries for those who wanted them
Musicians: acoustic guitar (man)
Songs: "Your Grace Finds me"
"Here I am to Worship"
"How He Loves"
"Amazing Grace/My Chains are Gone"
Miles to church: 5
Miles from Start: 36,034
Total 2016 Miles: 35,738
Church website:

Monday, August 29, 2016

6 facts about Mindy's native state

Welcome sign at Ohio border near Lake Erie
1. The state motto, "With God all things are possible," is the only state motto taken directly from the Bible (Matthew 19:26).

2. Ohio has the 10th largest highway network in the United States. It's within a one-day drive of half of North America's population.

3. Eight Presidents considered Ohio their home state. Seven of them were born there, four died in office, two were assassinated.

4. Columbus, the capital, is near the geographic center of the (kind of) heart-shaped state.

5. Although the state takes its name from the Ohio River, very little of the river is within the state's borders.

6. Ohio's flag is the only non-rectangular state flag. It's a forked pennant with a stylized buckeye. Sadly, we didn't see it flying in many places.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Vermont Churches (one's a museum, but they still let us in)

Trinity United Methodist Church, Montpelier, Vermont
Trinity United Methodist Church,

Ferrisburgh Center United Methodist Church, Vermont
Ferrisburgh Center United Methodist Church

Richmond Congregational Church, Richmond, Vermont
Richmond Congregational Church

At this church, the pastor is the only person allowed to park in front of the dumpster. Why?

Round Church, Richmond, VT
The Round Church (no longer used for regular worship services)

Round Church interior. Yup, it's round.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Living Hope Wesleyan Church, Waterbury Center, Vermont

There are certain facts and figures we include every week in our church posts: songs sung, sermon length, estimated attendance, etc. Another statistic is whether we have heard from the church by the time we post the post. We usually try to post Tuesday morning, so it’s perfectly understandable that usually they haven’t. But we knew this week we probably would, and we were right.

The pastor of the church, Jeff Fuller, mentioned Sunday morning that he e-mails everyone in the church on Sunday afternoon. He sends an e-mail to people who were there to thank them. He e-mails people who weren’t there to let them know they were missed. So, yeah, we heard from Pastor Jeff long before you saw this post.

What makes this a little more impressive is that Pastor Jeff works part-time at Living Hope Wesleyan Church in Waterbury Center, Vermont. He works full time with Journey Mentoring, a community based Christian organization that works with school systems in Vermont schools. They provide caring relationships between adults and students in 5th grade through seniors in high school. The organization works closely with Washington County Mental Health and the Vermont Department of Children and Families.

People in the church certainly appreciate Jeff. A dear (okay, it can be said here, pretty awesome) woman named Laurie started coming to the church because of the teaching, but also because she felt her teenage son could relate to Jeff’s energy and engagement. Her friend, Dennis, began coming to the church because of Laurie. He, as a former Catholic, was pleased that he could bring a cup of coffee into the worship service. But he soon appreciated that, frankly, Jeff’s sermons weren’t boring.

Jeff occasionally brings some drama to the sermons. One Easter he dressed as a thief on the cross; after Muhammad Ali, died Jeff dressed as a boxer. On the Sunday we were there, he brought his son on stage and gave him some phoney slaps to the face as an example of what we shouldn’t do. (His son was not harmed, as one could tell by his genuine grinning.) Cindy, another regular attender who’s had some challenging church experiences, appreciated Jeff’s positivity and cheerfulness.

But working part-time at the church means that other people need to step up. We arrived in Waterbury on Wednesday and attended the Wednesday night prayer meeting. Sharon Fuller was in charge (Yes, that is Jeff’s mom. More on that in a bit.) Since we were attending the prayer meeting (it’s not particularly common to have visitors for prayer meetings), people asked us about ourselves. They asked where we were staying. We had a lean to at a local campground for the evening, but the campground was booked for the rest of the week. So we said that. And we were offered a place to stay from three different people. We found that hospitality pretty impressive.

The prayer meeting was followed by what the congregation called Life Group. It was a Bible study reviewing and discussing the Scripture used in the sermon on the previous Sunday. Over twenty people were there for the discussion, led by Jeff. Twenty might not sound like many people at some churches, even on a Wednesday night. But not many years ago, twenty people would be a hoped-for number on Sunday morning.

I talked to Melanie, who grew up in the church. She went off to school, and during that time, the church was struggling. Family conflicts were hurting the church. At that point, Melanie came back to the church. She hoped that with so many people leaving, someone returning would be an encouragement. And she came back to pray for the church.

About this time, a new pastor (Jeff’s immediate predecessor) came to the church. He did what they tell you not to do in seminary: he made a number of fairly major changes in his first year, because the changes needed to be made. He didn’t care if he ruffled some feathers, and his tenure was short. But after he left, Jeff was able to come into a much more healthy situation.

There still are a number of related people in the church (Jeff’s mother, Sharon, is on the Council). But this inter-relatedness is acknowledged in a healthy way. In fact, on the website it reads, “When we say that when you’re here, you’re family, we really mean it. Really. That’s due in a large part to the fact that so many of our members are related. But it’s due even more to the way that Jesus has made us a part of HIs family.”

The church is looking to provide opportunities for people to spend time together, outside of worship. Mindy attended a Saturday morning craft event for women, young and old. There were announcements for a golf event on Tuesdays, $9 for nine holes (which is a pretty sweet deal).

visitors receive maple syrup at Living Hope Wesleyan Church, Waterbury Center, Vermont
And I have to say we were made to feel quite welcome by a number of people in the church. The church is working on creative ways to reach out to the community. They recently celebrated Christmas in July (creeping into August). The congregation had been generous in their giving, so the council decided they should give back to the community. They gave people in the congregation $40 to give to someone who they thought would be encouraged by the gift. In a time when some have the impression that churches are always asking for money, they wanted to be giving back.

I was impressed by Pastor Jeff’s concern for the community. Since he grew up in the area, he has a number of friends from his days of playing and coaching sports. He has a number of friends that don’t go to church. So he posed some Facebook questions about spiritually and church. He’s been challenging the congregation to consider how they can reach out to those without Christ.

And the church has been growing. A few years ago, twenty to thirty people might attend Sunday worship, and now the numbers range from fifty to eighty. (That does include children. Kids stay in for the hour service, though they are given “Kid Packs,” with coloring pages centered on the lesson to keep them involved.)

This growth will be a challenge in the days to come. The church seating has just about reached capacity, and there is only one restroom. There is discussion of another service or renting another facility. Though some might worry such changes will interfere with “the family feeling,” Jeff sees the importance of reaching friends in the community who are lost and hurting.

Jeff mentioned a Christian friend of his was pretty upset about the Ten Commandments being removed from the local public schools. Jeff tried to encourage his friend with the fact that those same schools had reached out for mentors, so Christians were being invited into the schools. Living the out the Word of God would have more of an impact than any plaque. It was encouraging for us to see the people of Living Hope living out God’s Word.

Service Length: 59 minutes
Sermon Length: 14 minutes
Visitor Treatment: We were made to feel very welcome, first at prayer meeting, then at Life Group, at the home where we were guests, and on Sunday morning. Visitors are given a brochure about the congregation, a pen, and a small maple-leaf shaped bottle of maple syrup.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: text message from Jeff early on Monday morning
Our Rough Count: 51
Probable Ushers' Count: 70
Snacks: coffee, water, muffins during half-hour fellowship time before worship service
Musicians: vocals (2 women, 1 man)
Mandolin (man)
Electric guitar (man)
Keyboard (woman)
Percussion box (man)
Songs: “Here I am to Worship”
“Your Grace Finds me”
“How Deep the Father’s Love for us”
“We Fall Down”
Miles to church: 15
Miles from start: 34,673
Total 2016 Miles: 34,969
Church website:

Monday, August 22, 2016

6 fun facts about Vermont (now with ice cream!)

1. The name Vermont probably derives from les verts monts, (French for "the green mountains"). The Green Mountains run north and south the length of the state.

2. It's the only state with no buildings taller than 124 feet (around 11 floors).

3. Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, located in Waterbury just off Interstate 89, has a really fun tour that includes free ice cream.

4. Vermont has consistently come up as the least religious state in Gallup polls. In 2015, only about 22% of the people surveyed considered themselves "very religious."

5. Also in 2015, the state was the leading producer of maple syrup.

6. New Hampshire, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island are smaller by area.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Does your church have a "Police Not Welcome" Sign?

Mike usually fell asleep during my sermons, and that was okay. It was about twenty years ago; I was serving as interim pastor at the Santa Rosa Evangelical Free Church. I knew Mike, a police officer, worked a graveyard shift Saturday night, and yet he managed to be in the Sunday morning worship service. I tended to preach too long at the time, and Mike may be the only person who really benefited from the long sermons — he got an extended nap time. Mike came to mind recently, when I had the opportunity to meet with Kate Braestrup, a chaplain with the Maine Warden Service and a best selling author. We met in a pub in Camden, Maine.
For the last 25 years, she’s had a connection with law enforcement. Her first husband was a Maine State Trooper who was killed in an on-duty auto accident. Her daughter currently serves in law enforcement. Needless to say, she’s invested in the subject.
It’s always a bit daunting to write about good writers because I wonder if anything I write might be written better by the subject of my writing. (For instance, Kate would no doubt have done a far better job with the previous ungainly sentence.) But I write on, partly because in this time when police officers find themselves in the center of public controversy, I believe the Church needs to consider how we can best minister to these men and women.
So I asked Kate, “How can a church best minister to people in law enforcement?”
“Well, first of all,” she answered, “don’t have a giant Black Lives Matter banner hanging in front of your church.” Kate had mentioned earlier in the evening that something she finds quite desirable in a church is people with a diversity of political and ideological thinking. This kind of banner seems to proclaim, “we welcome people who think about this issue the way we do,” even if another sign that reads, “All Welcome.” Since many in the BLM movement consider the majority in law enforcement racist, such a banner certainly might dissuade a police officer from coming to that church.
I asked Kate what other things might keep a police officer from coming to church. She mentioned that some churches, especially more liberal congregations, “make a big deal about bringing a gun in church.” Churches sometimes designate themselves as “No Gun Zones.” They need to be educated that, for a police officer, the gun is part of the uniform. If you say they can’t bring a gun in the building, you’re saying they can’t come into the church.
She went on to say that churches should be educated on the role of law enforcement in society. “Especially in theologically liberal denominations, police are misunderstood.” She find this most unfortunate because, “It’s good for a church to have police officers around, and good for police officers to go to church.”
I asked her how churches benefit from have police officers. “Police officers are natural theologians. They have to deal with practical issues of theology in their day-to-day experience such as why bad things happen to good people and the problem of evil.” They aren’t dealing with abstractions, but reality. She mentioned her daughter’s work combating child pornography, a very concrete manifestation of evil.
She suggested it would be a good thing for pastors to go on ride alongs with police officers so that the pastors can get a very different perspective on the community than they’re likely to get in their normal vocational pursuits.
I asked her how police officers benefit from church. She said that police officers “deal with people at their worst on a day-to-day basis. At best, they’re dealing with people having a really bad day. It’s good for them to be around people at their best. We are all at our best at church. We may have just been yelling at our kids, but we’re all smiles when we get inside.”
I’d like to interject a kind word for hypocrisy. As Mindy and I have traveled the country, we’ve heard many bemoan the horror of hypocrisy in the church, and we’ve heard plenty of stories about the church being the residence of phonies. And we agree: it’s important that there’s clarity in the church about the sinfulness of each and every one of us. But there is also something to be said for presenting a smile and cheerful greeting to others even when we’re hurting, because it’s not always about ourselves.
Back to Kate.
She also said that police officers might even find encouragement in the church announcements. There are many problems officers see in the community that they can’t address as part of their job. But it can be encouraging to hear that, for instance, people are feeding people or providing activities for neighborhood kids. It can help officers realize that somebody shares the burden they feel for the community.
I mentioned sleeping Mike to Kate and asked if churches should try to adjust their schedules, perhaps offer more services to meet the needs of the varied schedules of those in law enforcement. She said that was probably a losing battle, since many officers have a constantly revolving schedule that’s impossible to consistently match. She also said that it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing if it was hard to get to church. Often churches that demand the most are more successful.
She said that even when officers can’t make it to worship services because of their schedules, they often appreciate knowing that a church ministers to their family. Childcare in particular can meet a felt need of families with the sometimes demanding schedules of those in law enforcement.
In Galatians 3:28, the Apostle Paul wrote that in the church “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, not is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” These days the church should not be about those who believe the philosophy of Black Lives Matter or even Blue Lives Matter, or about community activists or police officers, but the Church should be simply people who love and follow Jesus.

(This piece originally appeared as a Members Post at

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

14 Maine churches from the outside (and one from the inside)

United Baptist Church, Saco, Maine
United Baptist Church, Saco

St Paul's Episcopal Church, Brunswick, Maine
St Paul's Episcopal Church, Brunswick,

Berean Baptist Church, Brunswick, Maine
Berean Baptist Church, Brunswick

Monroe Community Church, Monroe, Maine
Monroe Community Church

Grace United Methodist Church, Bangor, Maine
Grace United Methodist Church, Bangor

St Thomas Anglican Church, Ellsworth, Maine
St Thomas Anglican Church, Ellsworth

St Savior Episcopal Church, Bar Harbor, Maine
Saint Savior's Episcopal Church, Bar Harbor

Bar Harbor Congregational Church, Bar Harbor, Maine
Bar Harbor Congregational Church

Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, Bar Harbor, Maine
Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, Bar Harbor

St Andrew's Lutheran Church, Ellsworth, Maine
St Andrew's Lutheran Church, Ellsworth

Congregational Church of East Sumner, Maine
Congregational Church of East Sumner
Bible Baptist Church, Hancock, Maine
Bible Baptist Church, Hancock

Ellsworth Community of Christ, Maine
Ellsworth Community of Christ
as promised: inside St Thomas Episcopal Church,
Windows inside St Thomas Episcopal, Camden

more windows, same church
St Thomas Episcopal Church, Camden, Maine
And the outside: beautiful stone tower, beautiful half-timbered walls, beautiful pointy steeple. all in one building.
St Thomas Episcopal Church, Camden