Why do we want to tell you this story today? Well, today is our Confirmation Day as a church. For those of you who are new to the Christian walk, in many Protestant denominations, not all, children are baptized near birth. Their parents claim them into their faith. But later, when they are close to be grown, they are offered the opportunity to claim their place as a full member of the faith family. That is confirmation and today was our day of confirmation as a congregation.
Today, Pastor Cheri, on behalf of the Village Church family, claimed our place as a fully formed and chartered church. Not just of one denomination but of two. We are now a union church of the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church.
But for you to understand our walk, we want to share with you how we got here. It’s been an incredible walk, some even in our family haven’t heard the whole tale, but today is a good day to bring the “younger members” of the family up to speed on the story of the family.
Several decades ago, as her husband I’m going to keep myself out of trouble but not being specific, Cheri Holdridge graduated from Candler Seminary at Emory University in Atlanta. Wanting to do ministry in the city, she choose to accept an invitation to join the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church. For those who don’t know Methodist geography and structure, pastors are all members of an annual conference, a geographic area, led by a bishop. West Ohio is the Western 2/3 of the state of Ohio. For a young pastor who wants to serve in a city, it’s great because there are several large to middle sized cities including Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton and Toledo.
Cheri was sent to first serve as associate pastor of a suburban Cincinnati United Methodist Church at Forrest Chapel UMC, in Forrest Park, Ohio. In the Methodist Church pastors are appointed by the bishop and sent where the denomination needs them. So, she was next sent to Christ Church UMC in Findlay. As always, she was looking for ways to serve those who were on the margins. While there, with a team and $500 she started a Saturday night, contemporary worship service, the Back Door Coffee House, whose house band, the Third Floor Band does the incredible Blues Christmas Show we have hosted several times.
While there, Cheri was recruited to the West Ohio Conference’s New Church Start Pastor’s Academy by a great friend of the Village George Howard. George Howard now works for the global arm of the denomination, but then he did development, helping revitalize older churches and start new ones. At first, believe it or not, Cheri resisted. I’m not going to be a church planter she said, “I don’t want to work that hard”. Well, George convinced her to do it anyway as she was doing what is known as a turn around, or revitalization, then and the principles were surely similar.
In 1999, Cheri and I started our family with Rebecca and it was decided that having Kurt drive 30 minutes north from Bowling Green to his job in Toledo, and Cheri driving 20 minutes south from Bowling Green to Christ Church UMC was probably not a good idea. But the West Ohio Conference had a plan, they wanted Cheri working on another turn around, Central UMC in Toledo.
Central UMC is the oldest Reconciling Ministries Congregation (a group of Methodist Churches who believe in the full inclusion of all, including the LGBTQ community) in Ohio and one of first 5-10 in the nation. It needed a fresh start. So, Cheri was moved there at the end of her maternity leave. She ended up serving as it’s longest serving pastor and helped revitalize it.
Now, in the meantime, Cheri had served on a number of national organizations including the Church Within a Church Movement. There she reconnected with friends, including Paul Nixon, who has served as her coach during the process of creating The Village.
Let me now let her tell the story some. This comes from what she read at our service today, so for a bit, here’s Cheri’s voice:
In 2006 I began prayer walking in the city and dreaming of a new church, a progressive church that would be a home for people that had felt excluded from many more established churches.
A vision for a church called The Village began to emerge – a church where people care for one another. It takes a Village to raise a child and this new church would raise a new generation of Jesus’ followers. We are an inclusive church with a commitment to the Reconciling Ministries Network of the United Methodist Church and the Open and Affirming Ministry of the United Church of Christ. LGBT people find a home here. As do persons in recovery and persons dealing with mental health challenges.
The values of our new church would be as simple as ABC: authentic relationships, a balance of prayer and action, and compassion for people living on the margins.
We got our start with weekly worship in October of 2009 in the historic Colony restaurant at the corner of Monroe and Central, with the support of two denominations: the United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ. There we had our first baptisms, we started the first transgender support group in NW Ohio. We had a rally against bullying; and we hosted Thanksgiving Dinners, to name a few of our ministries.
In the Spring of 2012 we moved here to the Maumee Indoor Theatre. Here we have thrived, hosting Blues Christmas on several occasions. We produced the show “Next to Normal” about a woman with mental health challenges in order to raise awareness about those living with mental illness. And we rehabbed a home belonging to two of our members. We had our first confirmation class and today we charter as a congregation of the United Church of Christ and United Methodist Church.
We are a church known for authenticity, inclusion and courage. We have come a long way in five years and our future is bright. With God’s help, our best years are ahead of us.
That’s Cheri’s version of the tale, with Kurt’s editorial comments in the parentheticals.
Today, we take our first steps as an adult church. We boldly begin our journey, having been blessed with the support and prayers of the United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ. Two churches who have fought for justice for centuries. Whether it was John and Charles Wesley who started the Methodist Church, as an off shoot of the Episcopal Church in England due in part to exclusion of the poor. To the early Congregational Church members who helped win freedom for the slaves who were held on the Amistad. To the United Methodist Women who have fought for inclusion and peace through the last century. To the churches of the Open and Affirming and Reconciling Ministries Network who work today to ensure the fully inclusion of the LGBT community in our congregations.
So, here we are, having made our choice and ready to take our first steps as a grown up church. What’s next? Well on September 13th, we’ll be moving our worship time a little later to allow us to bring in some great music. Our relatively new Prayer Group will continue to meet on Wednesday evenings and is going strong. Theology on Tap is still going strong, but switching to meeting the 2nd Thursday of the Month at 6:30 at Shawn’s Irish Tavern, 4400 Heatherdowns Blvd for some fun and discussion. And that’s just what you would have gotten from reading the program this weekend, the weekend we need to do our confirmation and having served about 60 gallons of ice cold water and about 20 pounds of candy at Toledo Pride this weekend. So, you don’t even see anything about our teams going out to feed the hungry, etc.
Come join us some time. We’re changing the world at the corner of the Anthony Wayne Trail and Conant Street in Maumee. And as we say in worship every Sunday:
We are the Village Church. When we gather in community we remember that God is with us. We know that we are imperfect people who make mistakes. We give thanks that God loves us anyway. In this community we practice patience, compassion, and forgiveness. When we leave this gathering, we go out to share God’s healing love with a broken world. We are Jesus’ instruments of hope in our world. We are followers of Jesus and we can change the world!