On a perfect autumn day, members of the extended MTSO community came together to honor distinguished alumni, celebrate the career of a remarkable leader in the church and seminary, and give toward a new scholarship.
Festivities began Sept. 28 with a service of thanksgiving in the Alford Centrum honoring recipients of the Mount Alumni Awards. (See story below.)
The day continued with a luncheon honoring MTSO Bishop in Residence Judith Craig. Guests were invited to donate to the newly announced Bishop Judith Craig Scholarship Endowment.
Many gave and pledged to the scholarship that day. Donations still are welcome. For more information and the opportunity to donate, visit www.mtso.edu/craig.
Karen Cook, Jeffrey Hodge, Virginia Lohmann Bauman and Alan Morrison received the John and Ruth Mount Alumni Awards for Distinguished Service, the school’s highest honor for graduates, during Alumni Day Sept. 28.
Cook (M.Div. '03) received the Mount Award for Parish Ministry. She serves on the pastoral team of the United Methodist Church for All People and as director for the Community Development for All People Training Center in Columbus.
“Karen embodies gracious, grace-filled, focused pastoral ministry that is rooted in social justice and engaged with the needs of the world,” said April Casperson, MTSO vice president of institutional advancement, who presented the award. “She is visible, respected and heard within the denomination.”
Hodge (M.Div. '08) received the Mount Award for Specialized Ministry. He serves in New York as pastor of Pennellville and Oswego Trinity United Methodist churches and the principal of J. Hodge Consulting, which does church and community development consulting. He also has served as secretary of the Upper New York Conference of the United Methodist Church.
“Jeff’s call to serve in ministries of compassion and justice, both within the United Methodist Church and in the gathered community, reflects the awareness of social issues that is embedded in the education found at MTSO,” Casperson said.
Lohmann Bauman (M.Div. '06) received the Mount Award for Parish Ministry. She is senior pastor of St. John’s United Church of Christ in Columbus.
“It is a central task of Virginia’s ministry to encourage and empower our churches to live in community in such a way that, despite our differences, we are changed by love,” Casperson said. “Virginia’s service in vibrant pastoral ministry and engagement with the community reflects the world-changing call MTSO places upon its graduates.”
Morrison (M.Div. '90) received the Mount Award for Service to MTSO. He is pastor of First United Methodist Church of Monongahela, Pennsylvania, and has served as a trustee of MTSO since 2010. From 2005 to 2012, he was business manager of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church.
“MTSO is thankful for Alan’s work in the church and the world,” Casperson said. “His spiritual gift of administration has served the church well and his thoughtful, pastoral presence is welcome in churches across the connection.”
The Mount Alumni Awards were created in 1990 to recognize graduates of MTSO who have achieved distinction in ministry and in service to the school. The award program was created by the late John Mount, a founding MTSO Board of Trustees member, and his late wife, Ruth.
Alethea Botts leads her church in living out its mission statement
It’s a point of some pride in Pomeroy, Ohio, that the Meigs County courthouse on E. 2nd Street once earned a mention in Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Set into a hillside, the structure has a ground-level entrance to each of its three stories.
Two doors down from the courthouse is the New Beginnings United Methodist Church, where Rev. Alethea Botts (M.Div. ’13) has been practicing ministry on several levels since her appointment in March of 2014.
Botts said that when she was first sent to Pomeroy, a village of 1,800 people just across the Ohio River from West Virginia, her well-meaning friends in Central Ohio greeted the news with some distress.
“People would say, ‘Oh my God, you be careful, Alethea,’” she recalled. They feared for the well-being of Botts and her husband, Thomas, in a town with limited diversity, and a church that had never been served by an African-American pastor. However, Botts, who served two rural congregations prior to the Pomeroy appointment, was less concerned about racial dissonance and more concerned about “building relationships” – and her faith has been rewarded.
“While I understand the basis for some of the concern,” she said, “I have to tell you, I’ve been embraced by this community wholeheartedly. I’ve not had one challenge with anyone. I continue to share that with people to their amazement. All is well in Pomeroy.”
“I have found a loving congregation wanting to be very community-focused but needing some leadership to really expand their vision and mission,” Botts said. The biggest challenge she and her congregation encounter are the issues of deep poverty and widespread drug addiction in the second poorest county in Ohio.
The church’s mission statement is “Bringing New Beginnings to All People,” and Botts has prodded her parishioners to think about what that really means. “Where are we bringing new beginnings to all people? Who are all people?” she said. “It’s one thing to say it. It’s another thing to live it out.”
“At MTSO,” Botts said, “I learned to meet people where they are. We don’t come neatly packaged.” She has led her congregation’s effort to meet others where they are, both literally and spiritually.
Within the church, Sunday morning services have evolved to blend contemporary worship songs with the traditional hymns the congregation had always sung, to ensure that all people have their worship needs met. There’s also an evening service one Sunday each month that “belongs to the congregation,” Botts said. It focuses on blended worship songs and testimonies but no pastoral preaching.
It’s outside of the church, though, that New Beginnings is living out its mission most visibly. A monthly free community dinner, which the church has hosted for some years, is occasionally served off of the church grounds at Pomeroy’s Mulberry Community Center.
“Not everyone is going to come to our church, even for a free meal,” Botts said. The bond between New Beginnings and the community center has been strengthened in other ways. The church holds its Tuesday morning prayer circle at the center, just prior to the lunch hour. The prayer group stays for lunch and engages with the people of the community.
A community vacation bible school, which formerly rotated yearly among several churches, now is held at the center and administered by New Beginnings. And instead of nightly sessions for one week, New Beginnings holds a three-hour VBS with a nutritious meal one day each week in July.
“This way, we get access to the children for a whole month,” Botts said. “So when I’m in the grocery store, I have kids from the community coming up to hug me or shouting, ‘Hey, I know her.’”
This past June, at the United Methodist Church’s West Ohio Annual Conference, Botts and New Beginnings were presented with the One Matters Discipleship Award, which recognizes a church that replaces zeroes on its annual rolls of baptisms and professions of faith with positive numbers. New Beginnings celebrated 14 baptisms and 20 professions of faith in 2014.
Botts is aware that some worry about a focus on numbers, but she sees them as useful indicators of goals accomplished and the fruit of the efforts on the part of a congregation to reach its neighbors.
“You won’t see changes in those numbers if you just stay inside the walls of your church,” she said. “When you go into the community, into the nursing homes, and you go to the Friday night football games, you begin to make contact with people and build relationships.”
While she is pleased when new members are welcomed into the church, Botts recognizes the ability and the necessity of the church to touch the lives of those who might never enter its doors. Each week, she visits with workers at the thrift store within the Mulberry Community Center. She sees those visits as valuable relationships even though those individuals aren’t presently inclined to come to church any time soon.
“These individuals get to experience the love of Christ right where they’re at,” she said. “That’s the beauty of the prevenient grace of God, an indication that God goes before us in all things, and that God will come and visit us right where we’re at.”
“If there’s a hallmark of my calling in ministry, it is the building of relationships. It’s about taking time to hear another person’s story. Once you build those relationships, then you get the privilege of sharing Christ.”
Vanderbilt's Stacey Floyd-Thomas to deliver Williams lectures
Vanderbilt University faculty member Stacey Floyd-Thomas will deliver two Williams Institute lectures on womanist social ethics at MTSO. She will speak at 7 p.m. Nov. 3 and 10 a.m. Nov. 4 in the Alford Centrum. In addition, she will lead a community conversation in the Alford Centrum at 1 p.m. Nov. 4.
The events are free and open to the public. No registration is required.
The Nov. 3 lecture is titled “Seen but not Heard: Living at the Intersections of the Color Line, Culture Wars and Complex Subjectivity.” The Nov. 4 lecture is “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Growing Edge of Womanist Ethics.”
Among the issues confronting U.S. society is the generational divide, which tends to deem the younger generation and underrepresented people “a problem.” Key within this development is the moral conflict that has resulted from the separation of concerns for race, religion and education from the aims of justice and social change.
Drawing attention to the ongoing culture wars, Floyd-Thomas’s lectures will address this shortcoming through a critical examination of universal principles, institutional will and individual ability in society’s quest for the development of complex subjectivity amidst social crisis.
A full news release about Floyd-Thomas and the Williams Institute is here.
Petersen chosen as delegate to international food conference
In early October, Milan, Italy, hosted an international throng of people to whom “slow food” means something different and better than a lackluster trip to McDonald’s. Among them was Tadd Petersen, manager of farm and food at MTSO’s Seminary Hill Farm.
Petersen was among a select group of 14 U.S. delegates to a four-day event called Terra Madre Giovani – We Feed the Planet, sponsored by the Amsterdam-based Slow Food Youth Network. The meeting brought together 2,500 participants, most of them young adults committed to providing healthy, sustainable food to a hungry world.
As a delegate, Petersen had his fees and accommodations covered by the conference. He traveled to Milan with fellow delegate Christopher Fink, assistant professor and chair of the department of Health and Human Kinetics at Ohio Wesleyan University.
“I was nominated by Dr. Fink as a young entrepreneur farmer who’s attempting to change the food system,” Petersen said. As a delegate, he was able to connect with similarly committed people from 120 countries.
“We would just get together round-table style,” he said. Discussions covered many of the issues young farmers confront. “Land access is a big issue. Capital is a big issue. There was a lot of focus on food waste. That’s a hot topic right now.”
“Forty percent of the produce in the U.S. is wasted,” Petersen said. “There’s a whole movement on preparing ugly vegetables.” So-called “ugly vegetables” are otherwise healthy, tasty vegetables that don’t look perfect and are therefore rejected by many groceries and restaurants.
Petersen found himself in a few healthy debates: “There are a lot of young food entrepreneurs focusing on, ‘Let’s feed people.’ But how do we do that in a way that’s sustainable? There’s an undercurrent that there’s almost a fear of making money, like it’s bad if you run your farm like a business.”
“The problem is, so many of them get started with grants or other start-up funding, but two or three years down the road they don’t have any more funding, and then it just goes away. And that, I think, is what is unique to us at Seminary Hill Farm. We’re trying to be sustainable financially.”
His time in Milan left Petersen invigorated and gave him a new appreciation for the strides Seminary Hill Farm has made in less than two years of existence.
“I guess you always go into those things thinking you’re going to meet people who are really doing it right and think, ‘That’s the model,’” he said. “Then you come out of it thinking, ‘Maybe we’re ahead of the curve.’”
Mike Graves leads 2016 Schooler Institute on Preaching
For centuries, preachers were told that exposition of the biblical text was the most important and sacred task of preaching, helping listeners understand the scriptures more fully. In recent decades, the emphasis has shifted more toward storytelling, especially narrative styles of preaching that promise to move listeners, viewing sermons more as events than dull lectures. What’s a preacher to do? How does one decide?
Together we will wrestle with the dilemma: What is the most important word in contemporary preaching, story or exposition?
MTSO’s Schooler Institute on Preaching will be led by Mike Graves, the William K. McElvaney Professor of Preaching and Worship at Saint Paul School of Theology, a United Methodist seminary in Kansas City.
Also contributing to the Schooler Institute will be Valerie Bridgeman, associate professor of homiletics and Hebrew Bible at MTSO.
The institute will be held Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 8 and 9. Thanks to the generosity of the Schooler Family Foundation, it is offered to the public without cost. MTSO is offering one CEU credit for a $25 administrative processing fee. Advance registration is required.
Learn more, view a schedule and register for the Schooler Institute here.