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Toward Columbus: Southern Ohio diocese moves forward in mission

By Richelle Thompson
5/16/2006
[Episcopal News Service]  The Diocese of Southern Ohio, which will host the Episcopal Church's 75th General Convention when it meets June 13-21 in Columbus, stretches from the foothills of Appalachia to the verdant fields of corn and soybeans, from the vigor and hustle of metropolitan cities to small Ohio River towns where everybody is family.

The people and churches of Southern Ohio are as varied as its geography. Among the nearly 30,000 Episcopalians in Southern Ohio, there are those who are high church and low, conservative and liberal. Among the 80+ congregations, some are celebrating 150- and 200-year anniversaries in stately church buildings while others gather in rented rooms or converted pole barns for worship.

From this rich soil, the Diocese of Southern Ohio planted seeds that took root in the establishment of Forward Movement Publications, the World Council of Churches, and Episcopal Relief and Development.

Today, the diocese is planting new seeds, from nurturing vocations to starting new congregations to opening doors for outreach and social justice.

One way the diocese seeks to be faithful to God's word is to raise up people who are discerning a call to ordained ministry. Beginning with a summer camping program and continuing through college and adult formation classes, vocations and the ministry of priests and deacons are discussed. Nearly 80 people are in the ordination process, many of them younger than 40. More than 35 vocational deacons serve both in the world and in the church.

The diocese planted five new churches in the past decade and continues to come up with new and creative ways to spread the Good News. Some congregations offer after-school tutoring, temporary housing for the homeless, food pantries, and recovery programs.

Through the William Cooper Procter Fund, the diocese has given millions of dollars to support ministries around the world, from assisting soup kitchens to helping establish the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center to providing aid to refugees in the Sudan.

Among the tools and programs that the Diocese of Southern Ohio is using to move forward in mission and ministry are:
 
Anglican Academy

The Anglican Academy is a ministry of adult education and formation in the Christian faith for clergy and laity in the diocese. It was part of the vision of the 8th bishop of Southern Ohio, Herbert Thompson, and continues to flourish under the leadership and support of Bishop Kenneth Price.

The Anglican Academy includes the Diaconal Studies Program, a three-year curriculum of courses and spiritual formation designed primarily for persons seeking ordination to the diaconate. The Anglican Academy inaugurated the Southern Ohio Lay Leadership Initiative (SOLLI) to identify and train people for increased participation in leadership roles in their congregation and the diocese, and in their ministry outside the institutional church. The nationally known Education for Ministry program (EFM) is also part of the academy's offerings. A lay coordinator supervises the program, and numerous mentors in the diocese conduct the weekly seminars.

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Bexley Hall Seminary

For almost two centuries, Bexley Hall has been preparing leaders for the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Bexley Hall was established as a seminary on the frontier in Ohio. The people of Bexley continue to believe that God is always calling the church to reform while remaining true to the essentials of 2,000 years of traditions.

Beginning in the 1820s, Bexley Hall held its first classes in Bishop Philander Chase's rectory office at St. John's, Worthington, Ohio. Eventually, the seminary moved to Gambier and the campus of Kenyon College in Ohio. In 1968, it moved to Rochester, New York, but the seminary returned in 1998 to Bexley, Ohio. Bexley Hall is living out the Call to Common Mission through its partnership with Trinity Lutheran Seminary.

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Cluster/regional ministry

The diocese has explored creative ways to minister within smaller communities. Four congregations in the eastern part of southern Ohio form East Central Ohio cluster (ECO), and the Northern Miami Valley cluster straddles two dioceses -- Southern Ohio and Ohio -- and includes three churches. Economic realities aside, the theology of cluster ministry calls members to live out their baptismal covenant and take seriously that all people -- not just ordained clergy -- are called to carry out the ministry of the church. The ECO cluster has taken that notion a step further with an innovative lay preachers group. Lay people from the different congregations meet monthly to work on their sermons together and regularly preach on Sunday mornings.

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Communication

Carrying out Jesus' command to "Go forth and make disciples of all nations," the diocese developed a comprehensive communication strategy to better connect churches to the diocese and each other -- as well as to share the Good News to its communities. In addition to using new technology to increase communication within the diocese, Southern Ohio established a visitors' website. The diocese also launched a marketing campaign with direct mail, posters and banners for churches, as well as advertising on billboards, buses and movie theater screens and on TV and radio. The ad campaign has won awards from both secular and religious organizations -- and was developed almost entirely by volunteer marketing professionals. In addition, the diocese developed a partnership with FedEx/Kinkos to make customizable direct mail materials available at a wholesale cost.

Community of the Transfiguration

The Community of the Transfiguration, founded in 1898 by Eva Lee Matthews, is a religious community of women dedicated to the mystery of the Transfiguration. Their life is one of prayer and service, reflecting the spirit of Mary and Martha, shown forth in spiritual, educational and social ministries. The mother house of the community, St Monica's Center, is in Cincinnati, where the sisters' ministries include hospitality, retreats, a school, a retirement/nursing home and a recreation center. The community also offers a retreat ministry in California, and in the Dominican Republic the sisters minister to malnourished children and their families through medical clinics and a school.

The sisters take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The motto of the community is Benignitas, Simplicitas and Hilaritas -- Kindness, Simplicity and Joy.

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Episcopal Community Services Foundation

Established in 1989, the Episcopal Community Services Foundation awards grants to Southern Ohio churches and groups working to respond to needs within their communities. These grants assist with programs such as Meals on Wheels, literacy and GED tutoring and emergency assistance. The self-supporting foundation awarded nearly $90,000 in 2006 to 29 Episcopal churches.

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Episcopal Retirement Homes

Episcopal Retirement Homes Inc. (ERH) carries out its ministry of wellness by attending to people's social, emotional, spiritual, physical, intellectual and vocational health. ERH owns and manages three communities in southern Ohio: Canterbury Court, The Deupree Community and Marjorie P. Lee Retirement Community. ERH also serves as "ambassadors of wellness," assisting more than 100 congregations in southern Ohio, not all of them Episcopal, with developing or enhancing congregational nurse/health ministry programs. It also offers public health screenings, workshops, and sponsors a free speakers bureau. ERH is moving into an expanded ministry of low-cost, affordable housing.

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Forward Movement

Started in 1934 under the leadership of Southern Ohio Bishop Henry Wise Hobson, Forward Movement Publications began as way to help the church "move forward." Its first pamphlet, "Discipleship," was issued for use in Lent 1935, and sold an astonishing 700,000 copies. The next fall, the first issue of "Forward Day by Day" appeared and has continued ever since, reaching more than half a million readers with every issue. Today "Forward Day by Day" represents about half of Forward Movement Publications' total sales and appears in five versions and two languages: the regular edition, large print, Braille and audio cassette editions and the Spanish "Día a Día." Forward Movement Publications is an agency of General Convention and has its offices in Cincinnati.

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Kenyon Summer Conference

Sponsored by the dioceses of Southern Ohio and Ohio, the Kenyon Conference features workshops for young and old on a variety of topics, from storytelling to baking soda bread; from theology to woodworking. Worship throughout the week includes Holy Eucharist, Morning and Evening Prayer, Compline and contemporary and Taize services. The conference is open to people of all faiths and is held at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, about 75 minutes northeast of Columbus. Ohio's first bishop, Philander Chase, founded Kenyon in 1824.

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Procter Camp & Conference Center

A spiritual center of the diocese is its retreat facility, Procter Camp & Conference Center. A peaceful refuge of 1,300 acres about 25 miles southwest of Columbus, the Procter center hosts spiritual retreats and the diocesan summer camping program. Diocesan, youth, church and community groups also frequently gather at the center. Christ Chapel offers a place for meditation, worship and the occasional wedding, while the state-of-the-art conference center attracts many regional and national church meetings.

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Youth ministry

The diocese's youth ministry program is guided by the philosophy that youth are not only the church of tomorrow but the church of today. The program works to equip young people with the tools, knowledge and confidence to exercise their gifts in their churches, schools and communities. Retreats such as Exodus and Genesis feature a strong service component as well as a faith formation. The curriculum for the summer camping program includes training acolytes, lay readers and preachers, and encourages young people to participate in worship, from writing prayers to leading music. 

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