As she approached graduation from MTSO in 2008, it was Nancy Day-Achauer’s intent to return to the West Coast, where in a previous career she had been assistant to the general counsel of Dignity Health, the fifth largest not-for-profit hospital system in the country. A United Methodist, she hoped to become a pastor within the California-Nevada Conference.
“I fully intended to go back to California,” she said, “but when I graduated, there was already a two-year waiting list to get a first appointment that would only be part-time.” So she decided to stay put, transferring to the West Ohio Conference.
In her adopted home state, Day-Achauer has forged a ministry unbounded by the walls of the churches she serves, seeking to tackle community challenges others might choose to steer around. Most visibly, she has enlisted congregations and community groups in the effort to combat opioid addiction, an unofficial role that became official in July when she was named director of addiction ministries for West Ohio’s Capitol South District.
Day-Achauer said Capitol South District Superintendent Tim Bias approached her with the idea: “He said, ‘What if we just created this position? You would go around to churches and help them create programs to address the epidemic.’” In addition to the half-time addiction ministries role, Day-Achauer is pastor of two congregations, New Horizons UMC on the southwest side of Columbus and Harrisburg UMC. “You’re not a real Methodist preacher if you can only do one church,” she deadpanned.
After earning her Master of Divinity degree from MTSO, Day-Achauer served York Center UMC, followed by Ostrander and New Dover congregations in a two-point charge. In 2012, she was appointed to St. Mark’s UMC on the West Side of Columbus, where she oversaw a congregational transformation and emerged as a prominent social and political advocate for an often forgotten part of the city.
During her time at St. Mark’s, it went from an Anglo congregation to being 50 percent immigrant Hispanic, 5 percent African and 45 percent Caucasian. Not long after Day-Achauer arrived, the West Ohio Conference – noting that almost half the children in St. Mark’s after-school daycare were Hispanic – approached her about hosting a new Hispanic congregation. The congregation responded with an alternative vision.
“My church said, ‘We don’t want a tenant. We want them to be a part of it’,” she said. “We’re in a multicultural community. We should be a multicultural church.” With a motto of “One church, two languages,” St. Mark’s began holding a traditional early Sunday service in English, followed by a contemporary service in Spanish. On Christmas Eve, the two styles and languages were blended. “It was a wonderful mash-up.”
The area surrounding St. Mark’s struggles with myriad challenges. Large businesses have left the West Side, replaced by a casino that’s done little for the neighborhood. There is also a widely held perception that political leaders have other priorities in other parts of town. Within that challenging environment, Day-Achauer was appointed to the city of Columbus’ Westland Area Commission. Engaging with other West Side leaders, most of them secular, she began to focus on one issue above all others: “We noticed that all of our challenges could be linked to the opioid epidemic. We’re not going to fix the other stuff if our core problem is still rampant.”
Soon Day-Achauer was working with the Ohio attorney general’s office and connecting with sheriffs and hospitals. She joined the Franklin County Opiate Crisis Task Force, which spawned the Franklin County Opiate Action Plan. She spoke at the plan’s rollout event in June 2017 and now serves on three subcommittees: prevention and education, harm reduction and public health, and faith-based community engagement.
“I started going around to churches and community groups and giving the ‘Opiate 101’ education so they can see what churches and community groups can do to be engaged in making a difference,” she said. “There are actually all sorts of things they can do. They just don’t know it because nobody told them about the variety of options.
“If your church has a great children’s ministry, you could create an after-school program for kids whose parents are active users, so these kids have a safe place to go after school. Maybe you’re great with older-adult ministries. We have so many grandparents who are taking care of their grandchildren due to the epidemic, and they are overwhelmed. They could use a hand. Maybe what you need to do is create a grief-support program, so that people whose loved ones have died or are actively using can come together and have support. Maybe if you’re a super-small church, you just make your church available to programs that other people run.”
Beyond her work around the opioid epidemic, Day-Achauer has confronted other issues on the West Side. In 2017, she was part of an effort to found Jordan’s Crossing, a resource center for the homeless. Now she is lobbying Franklin County and the organization Age Friendly Columbus to help offer senior resources to an area sorely lacking them: “No senior center. No go-to place for information. Nothing.”
“The answers they have for senior services in other parts of the city don’t work in impoverished communities,” she said, noting that the senior services option recommended by Age Friendly Columbus has dues that can run up to $700 a year. “Poor people need the same services, but they will never ever be able to afford that.”
Day-Achauer believes the area she serves deserves more representation at City Hall, and she’d like to provide it. “Nobody even remembers when somebody from the West Side was on City Council,” she said. “I am campaigning to be appointed to the next open seat.”
She was a finalist for a recent open seat, and while she wasn’t chosen, she said the process “got me an opportunity to spend an hour talking about what I cared about to the entire City Council.”
For now, Day-Achauer serves in her many other roles, inspired by Matthew 25:35-36: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
“If Jesus were here today,” she said, “Matthew 25 would say, ‘I was addicted and you helped me recover.’”
Methodist Theological School in Ohio provides theological education and leadership in pursuit of a just, sustainable and generative world. In addition to the Master of Divinity degree, the school offers master’s degrees in counseling, social justice, theological studies and practical theology, along with a Doctor of Ministry degree.