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“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  For Leslie Carole Taylor, transitional pastor at Advent United Church of Christ in Columbus, the meaning of John 3:16 is abundantly clear. “God loves the whole world,” she said, [...]
Laura Dachenbach

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“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” 

For Leslie Carole Taylor, transitional pastor at Advent United Church of Christ in Columbus, the meaning of John 3:16 is abundantly clear.

“God loves the whole world,” she said,
adding that at Advent UCC, “There’s never been a question that everyone belongs.”

Advent UCC, a primarily African-American congregation on the east side of Columbus, is one of many Columbus faith communities that have openly stated their acceptance and affirmation of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. Their goal is not only to accept the LGBT community among their members, but also to represent them actively in worship and ministry.

While some denominations have a history of working toward equality, other denominations, such as the United Methodist Church, remain divided over the issue of homosexuality, making the “coming out” of individual churches a complicated undertaking.

In 1994, King Avenue United Methodist Church was an urban church in decline in the middle of Victorian Village, a neighborhood transitioning from to student housing to LGBT-friendly. Grayson Atha, King Avenue’s senior pastor at the time, announced to the church that an LGBT Bible study was being held at a neighboring church.

“That was the verbal breakthrough,” said John Keeny, King Avenue’s current senior pastor.

Shortly afterwards, the child of a same-sex couple was baptized in church, upsetting several members and leading to a dialogue about the church’s position on homosexuality. At the end of six months, after consulting with numerous experts, a task force recommended that King Avenue begin its journey to full inclusivity, which it achieved by 1999.

It had also doubled its membership. In the winter of 2012, King Avenue expanded its inclusive mission by opening Stone Village Church in the Short North.

King Avenue recognized that its journey would meet with some resistance, but even for liberal religious movements such as Unitarian Universalism, which has traditionally promoted intellectual freedom and an individual’s search for truth, the steps toward equality were not necessarily easier.

“Culture is conservative,” said Mark Belletini, senior minister at First Unitarian Universalist Church in Clintonville. “When I first came into the movement, there were hardly any women in the ministry, even though we’d been ordaining them for years.”

Belletini said that, just like LGBT individuals striving to represent themselves within Unitarian Universalism, the church had to undergo the same transition as other ministries working toward inclusion. First Unitarian held awareness exercises, meetings, and potlucks as part of the process of understanding. As a gay minister, Belletini preached at other churches as an example.

“We had to look at our principals of equality and say, ‘What does that look like in the real world?’” he said.

Now, First Unitarian has become so integrated in its ministry that a separate LGBT group was dissolved for its redundancy. As a result of the transition, the church itself is “much more vital and alive,” said Belletini.

As Columbus’s acceptance of the LGBT community has grown, finding ways to serve its spiritual needs has become a more natural process.

When she began her position as associate rabbi for community engagement at Temple Israel in April of 2013, Sharon Mars was given the task of finding under–\served persons in her congregation. As the needs of LGBT members were brought to her attention, she began KESHET Israel, a Jewish LGBT and allies networking group.

Mars is emphatic about acceptance and that acceptance of difference not be polarizing.

“I want every person walking into Temple Israel to feel welcome. Every human being is uniquely created in God’s image,” she said. “But at the same time, you’re just like everyone else.”

 

Overcoming Conflict with Context

Certainly, inclusive faith communities deal with issues of scriptural interpretation, but leaders in more inclusive churches have realized the importance of context and culture.

“That was then. This is now,” said Mars. “This is about each person mattering and being part of the tradition. There is something beautiful about being part of an ancient religion, community, and people.”

What is clear is the mutual importance the LGBT communities and their houses of worship play in each other’s lives. In a society where small groups such at the Westboro Baptist Church can command significant attention, Belletini believes that it’s important to have “spiritual shelters” that remind worshippers they are individually worthwhile.

The openness of inclusive houses of worship goes beyond the acceptance of the LGBT community. Many people who have had negative religious experiences are more willing to explore the possibilities of faith in an accepting environment.

“We have seekers and doubters who come here,” said Keeny. “There isn’t an energy devoted to suppressing who we are.”

Historically, believers have found that embracing the unusual, such as the Jewish belief in one God or the early Christian practice of risking themselves to care for the outcast sick, has given a depth and authenticity to their faith.

Now, the belief that God accepts all may be just as transformative.

“Faith takes on a whole new sheen in light of that acceptance,” said Mars. •

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Columbus Does Good: Westerville designer creates t-shirt to honor Ruby Owens, Dr. Amy Acton

Mitch Hooper

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As Dr. Amy Acton leads Ohio's charge against COVID-19, local makers like Megan Owdom-Weitz are doing their best to say thanks.

Using the words written by Ruby Owens, a nine-year-old who made headlines for the optimistic and thankful letter she sent to Dr. Acton, Owdom-Weitz designed a t-shirt. With approval from Emily, Ruby's mother, Owdom-Weitz added the letter in addition to a sketch illustration of Dr. Acton.

"I'm so happy to have you and have hope," both the shirt and Owen's letter reads.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B-XZa4Uo8KK/

While the sales of this shirt are currently on pre-order, a portion of the money received will benefit the Ohio Chapter of the Red Cross. As a local- and family-owned business in Westerville who has been hit hard financially due to the COVID-19 outbreak, these t-shirt sales will also help Megan Lee Designs during these difficult times. The t-shirts will ultimately be completed once the two are able to return to work.

You can find Megan Lee Designs on Instagram or at her website.

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Lend A (Washed) Hand: 5 volunteering opportunities available this week

Mitch Hooper

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It's time like these that many folks are looking to help but unsure where to start. Luckily for Columbus, the Point App is here to help.

The Columbus-based Point App is a tool that both volunteers and nonprofits can use to connect and work together on projects. It's easy-to-use interface makes signing up as a volunteer a breeze, and with its connections throughout Central Ohio, many nonprofits are utilizing the app; especially during the COVID-19 outbreak.

"We see the needs of nonprofits skyrocketing," said Madison Mikhail Bush, founder of the Point App.

The Human Service Chamber and The United Way gathered data to show what nonprofits are facing during the outbreak. The reported stats found that 24% of responding agencies have reported layoffs of employees, 41% of nonprofits are reporting financial losses of 10%, and 66% of nonprofits have canceled or postponed major fund raising events.

"Nonprofits rely on those events to function," Mikhail Bush said. "It's going to be very important that we meet the needs of nonprofits swiftly and efficiently. So when they post those needs on Point, it's because they really do need people to respond to them."

If you are healthy and able, consider donating your time, resources, or finances to one of the many nonprofits in Columbus. Point recently added a donate feature where users can donate money, rather than time, to promote social distancing. And if you are unsure if you are able to help, Point designed this handy flowchart to see if you are considered "low risk."

https://www.instagram.com/p/B91vzbngHJ-/

And to help you out, we put together five different ways you can get involved. As always, remember to wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face, and keep a six foot distance between you and another person—even while volunteering.

1.) Drop Off Supplies For Family Care Kits to South Side Early Learning | All day | Wednesday to Friday

These supplies can include non-perishable food items, educational items, diapers, and cleaning supplies.

2.) Produce Give-A-Way with the Hilltop YMCA | 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. | Wednesday | *27 spots available

At the Hilltop YMCA, volunteers are needed for tasks such as sorting and bagging produce items, directing traffic, and assisting with clean up.

3.) Packing Food for Homebound Deliveries with the Worthington Resource Pantry | 1 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. | Thursday | *Only two spots available

Many folks during this shelter-in-place are unable to leave their homes. Here, you can help out by packing food to distribute to families in Worthington and North Columbus.

4.) Delivering Groceries to Homebound Families with the Worthington Resource Pantry | 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. | Thursday | *Only one spot left

If the 1 p.m. start time on Thursday doesn't fit your schedule, they will be delivering the groceries starting at 2 p.m.

5.) Donate For COVID-19 Relief For New Americans with Riverview International Center | Ends April 30

In addition to financial gifts to provide gift cards to affected new Americans in Columbus, you can donate working laptops and tablets, art supplies, and educational supplies.

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Columbus Does Good: The COVID-19 edition

Linda Lee Baird

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The people of Columbus are always finding ways to up their game when it comes to giving back. We’re a city that’s continually building a virtuous cycle: a non-profit with a new idea solves a problem; a business builds the concept of social responsibility into its mission; a neighborhood bands together to accomplish a task—and then others are inspired by these efforts. The question here, to paraphrase JFK, is not what Columbus can do for you, but what you can do for Columbus.

On second thought, maybe those aren’t the right questions. A city, afterall, is nothing but buildings without the people who live there. The question, then, is what can we do for each other? And during times like this, we’re finding out.  

Following Fred Rogers’ advice to “look for the helpers,” we’ve been keeping our eyes out over the past weeks to see how the community is adapting. It turns out that even when we’re required by law to socially distance ourselves, the community is still there—maybe standing six feet away—but never far enough to forget what it means to be part of something larger. Here are just a few of the many awesome resources and examples of doing good that caught our eye. Remember, though, things are changing rapidly, so please reach out and confirm efforts are still underway before showing up to help! 

Food

One of the greatest concerns that came when Gov. DeWine closed schools was for the kids across the state who rely on daily free breakfast and lunch, including the 50,000 students in Columbus City Schools. Luckily, the school district continues to provide free breakfast and lunch to any child under the age of 18 who needs it—even those not enrolled in CCS—at 15 “grab and go” sites across the city. The Mid Ohio Foodbank and the Parks and Recreation department even teamed up with the schools one morning to offer free, pre-bagged produce at a Grab and Go site in addition to the meal. A list of the Grab and Go sites is available at ccsoh.us/Page/7560. 

Kids, of course, aren’t the only ones who need to eat. The Clintonville Beechwold Community Resources Center has partnered with the Clinton Heights Lutheran Church for a sack lunch drive offering food to all ages. The CRC has also assembled and distributed “necessity boxes” for older adults in Central Ohio. The CRC plans to keep giving, and is requesting monetary donations to support its work at this time. Visit clintonvillecrc.org/updated-crc-services-for-covid19 to learn more. 

COhatch has proven to be more than just a coworking space during this crisis. It partnered with Vaso and the Point App to make and deliver meals to those in need across the city. Reach out for help if you are in need of food or supplies to [email protected]; or contact [email protected] to support their efforts. 

Make-A-Day is seeking funding to send food trucks to low-income areas of Columbus in order to feed the homeless, children home from school, and other residents. Support their mission with a donation at makeaday.fun. 

Gear and supplies

A key ingredient in the hand sanitizer that you can’t find anywhere on shelves these days is good ol’ ethyl alcohol. Luckily, some local businesses including Middle West Spirits and Watershed Distillery have an abundance. They are making hand sanitizer to provide first responders, hospitals, and homeless shelters. The Columbus Foundation purchased the first $50,000 worth of product from Middle West, according to a report from The Dispatch

Meanwhile, Bespoke Salon Studio is collecting PPE to donate to area hospitals while the salon is closed. Send them a message on instagram at @bespoke_salon_studio_columbus to donate.

Caffeine Karma

The Roosevelt Coffeehouse is collecting donations of coffee for first responders, because, let’s face it, they’re going to need it in the coming weeks. The community can help in two ways: by purchasing $9 healthcare worker bags that the shop will give to first responders, or buy a bag of any coffee for yourself and they’ll donate another bag to a healthcare professional. You can also leave notes of encouragement on the bag. Grab your joe and help a hero at 300 E Long St.

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