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Imagine Monty Brown, Chairperson of Imagine No Malaria in our Annual Confernece

Every 60 seconds, malaria claims a life in Africa. Millions of lives are needlessly lost each year. It is a disease of poverty that severely affects those who cannot afford treatment or have limited access to health care, leading to a detrimental effect on attendance at workplaces and schools. Imagine that we can change that. Imagine No Malaria is an extraordinary effort of the people of The United Methodist Church, putting our faith into action to end preventable deaths by malaria in Africa. It is a comprehensive approach to beating malaria through prevention, education, communication and treatment.

Fundraising in the MonValley District

Jeff Taylor, President of The Foundation and Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball

To help bring our imagination to reality, The United Methodist Foundation of West Virginia is offering a matching gifts program for donations made to the Imagine No Malaria campaign in the West Virginia Annual Conference. Ten dollars will save a life. The Foundation’s matching gifts program of $40,000 will increase the impact of what we do so that 4,000 more lives will be saved. To make a donation that will save a life, send your check to the Foundation. For credit card gifts, visit our web site ( and click on the How to Give button. You can also scan the QR Code. Specify Imagine No Malaria when you make your gift.

Consider the Possibilities... The United Methodist Foundation of West Virginia, Inc. Contact Jeff Taylor or Kim Matthews


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P.O. Box 3811 Charleston, WV 25338 304-342-2113 or 1-800-788-3746 ext. 45



Heading to Jerusalem Rev. Amanda Gayle Reed asks what can we give up to make more room for Christ




A Christian Response to the Water Crisis Our response must be guided by faith, writes Rev. Frank Shomo


Thoughts on Baptism Our need for cleansing unites us, by Rev. JF Lacaria

10 Parched places

God’s grace is present in times of disaster, by Bonnie MacDonald

15 ‘Nothing we can’t do’ A church full of hope, by Adam Cunningham

18 Photo essay

Editor Laura Allen’s take on the water crisis in photos

Front Cover: “Dry Thistles on the New River” a photo by Laura Allen

shifted my perspective on this place, one of the oldest river systems in the world where my roots run deep.

The rivers of southern West Virginia, particularly the Bluestone and the New, are places of almost mystical quality for me. My family on my mother’s side came from Jamestown and settled along the Bluestone River in what is now West Virginia in the late 17th century. The West Virginia Water Crisis

I took this photo on an early March afternoon, when a (another) winter storm system was blowing in. A monochromatic landscape emerged as the sun disappeared. “And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places


On Lent a poem by Rev. Scott Sears


11 Tom Clark, my dad, and me Ministry connects people - and family — through time and place, by Rev. Amy Shanholtzer

13 Joy in the journey Make room for God; don’t base your worth on productivity alone, writes Rev. Jonathan Nettles

and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” (Isaiah 58:11 ESV) Back Cover Photo: An old concrete coaling tower is the canvas for an eternal message. Photo taken by David Smith (Trinity UMC, Bluefield, Southern District) in Thurmond, West Virginia. The New River is behind the tower.

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mountain circuit volume 1, no. 2 Spring 2014

On water The water crept over the second stair, almost into the first floor, when my mom decided it was time to leave the house. It was November of 1985 and the Elk Creek was rising in Clarksburg, West Virginia. I was a senior in high school, and was too young to be afraid (at 17, I was invincible). We had family and friends living close by who took us in until the water receded. The worst part of the whole ordeal was going several days without a shower, something that was no fun for teenage girl. I was fortunate. Many people in the other parts of the state fared much worse than me and my family. The January water crisis in nine counties of south central West Virginia reminded me of the flood of ‘85 in many ways. The community pulled together. Churches stepped up, partnering with state and federal agencies to deliver supplies and hope to 300,000 residents across nine counties who had no water that was safe to use. The key difference is that rain caused the flood I lived through as a 17-yearold. Human beings made decisions that led to the chemical spill of January 9. What will our response be? “We have to approach the topic from the standpoint of those who acknowledge God as the ultimate owner and the creator of all life. For us it’s not just about self-preservation or even caring for others; it is about being responsible stewards of that for which we have been given responsibility,” writes the Rev. Frank Shomo in his sermon from February 23 entitled: “A Christian View of the Water Crisis.” Water is a powerful symbol for Christians. It’s mentioned in the second verse of Genesis as a place where God’s spirit hovers. Later, God uses water to start over with the planet and people God created. Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well that the kind of water he provides will quench thirst forever. When we are baptized, water signifies our rebirth and marks our covenant with God to live differently. Rev. Dr. J.F. Lacaria reflects on what baptism represents on page 9. Throughout this issue of The Mountain Circuit, you will find many references to water. But as I write this column, we are also in the middle of Lent, so we included Rev. Amanda Gayle Reed’s blog post about her 40 day journey to make room for Christ (p. 6), and Rev. Jonathan Nettles explores that idea as well by admitting the need to “give up” hyper-productivity and embrace Sabbath (p. 13). Rev. Amy Shanholtzer wrote a piece that connects the life and ministry of the Rev. Tom Clark with her father, who passed away 24 years ago. A 1984 Volunteers-in-Mission (VIM) trip to Mexico had a profound impact on her father’s life and faith journey. It’s a story that shows power of the “blessed connection” through a very personal lens. There are photos from Adam and myself; along with DeWayne Lowther’s “Ice on the Ohio,” on page 5 and David Smith’s photo, taken near Thurmond, W.Va. on the back cover. We hope you enjoy this issue, and please let me know what you think! — Laura Allen

The Mountain Circuit (TMC) seeks to share the faith story of the people of the West Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church. Published quarterly in December, April, June, and September, TMC emphasizes spiritual life through the writing, visual and multimedia arts in print and online. Letters to the editor and items to be considered for publication may be sent to: The Mountain Circuit P.O. Box 2313 Charleston, WV 25328 Voice (304) 344-8331 Fax: (304) 344-2871 email

Resident Bishop: Sandra Steiner Ball Editor: Laura Harbert Allen Associate Editor: Adam Cunningham Production: Ashley Perks Contributors: J.F. Lacaria DeWayne Lowther Bonnie MacDonald Jonathan Nettles Scott Sears Amy Shanholtzer Frank Shomo David Smith Amanda Gayle Reed Find us online: wvumc wvumc

Reach Laura Allen at or at 304-344-8331, ext. 22


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seek him, who seek your face, God of Jacob. Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is he, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty— he is the King of glory.(Psalm 24, NIV)


Christian view of the water crisis “ICE ON THE OHIO” PHOTO COURTESY REV. DEWAYNE LOWTHER

By Rev. Frank Shomo

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters. Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god. They will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God their Savior. Such is the generation of those who

Water is something we generally take for granted, until we go to our faucets and nothing comes out or we have a major chemical spell that leaves us wondering when our water will be safe to drink. We have been dealing with the former issue for over a month now and I suspect many of you are still drinking bottled water. An interesting fact: if you drink 85 glasses a day it costs about .50 a year while if you drink bottled water it will costs you $1,400. Ouch! Well, I have been thinking a lot about this issue and all the discussion around it and thought we should examine this topic from the standpoint of our Christian faith. This discussion has to start with the biblical account of creation. We are told in Genesis that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. God created it all. We had nothing to do with it. Psalm 24 states: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.” Whether you believe in a literal seven days of creation, a big bang or gradual evolution of things; the fact remains that God created the world and is the owner of it all. The Genesis account goes on to tell us that God placed humankind here as a part of creation who are to be in charge of the world. “The Lord God SEE SHOMO ON PAGE 18

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Traditionally, Christians are asked to fast during the 40 days (not counting Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. It is one of the ways we do penitence as we reflect on our past year of discipleship and seek to restore ourselves fully to the Body of Christ (the church) and to God. By Rev. Amanda Gaye Reed


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Often, the call to fast has been reduced to spiritually-incentivized diet practices. We give up sweets or chocolate or fast food– hoping to kill two birds with one stone. Maybe we’ll lose a bit of weight while we’re losing our burdens. Maybe our cholesterol will come down a few points while we’re drawing closer to God. As a result, there has been some pushback over the years as people try to seek newer and better ways to fully engage in the spiritual disciplines of Lent. One such way, which has been a favorite of mine, has been to add a discipline rather than getting rid of a habit. So, rather than give up chocolates, we might choose to spend an extra hour in Bible Study. By adding time to do something spiritual, we are by default ridding our lives of something that would normally consume our time with non-spiritual practices. An extra hour of reading scripture means one hour less to watch television… Last year I decided to dedicate myself to spiritual writing everyday. I used my blog as the outlet and at least once a day for those blessed forty days, I reflected spiritually on any number of issues that were weighing on my heart. At the end of the season I had managed to really rock the

I heard her preach, she emphasized the practice of fasting. A practice that we, as Americans, have largely ignored. Fasting requires sacrifice. It is a personal sacrifice to go without–in Jesus’ time, this period without food was a bigger sacrifice than it is to us. Generally, we in our society (I’m referring to the middle class and up, here) are overfed. We have excess food always waiting in the wings. So when we go without a meal, we know there’s plenty in the cupboard to make up for it. In ancient times, this wasn’t always the case. Just giving up a meal here or there isn’t going to be much of a sacrifice, I realized as I contemplated adopting fast days during Lent–and then it hit me, I needed to give up something that would force me to Me. change my lifestyle. I needed to something that would force I want it to be all about me. to have to stop at every meal Caring for my hunger and think–something that Miracles that I desire would remind me that this A place for me in the wasn’t just a gimmick or a Kingdom diet trick, but something I am doing to make more room in Forty days my life for Christ to live. Forty nights And that’s when I decided to go without meat for the next He will rely upon God forty days (not counting Sunalone. days!–yay for feast days!). I He will unveil God’s glory. eat meat on regular basis He will enter a Kingdom of without even thinking about servant humility. it. Bacon for breakfast. A turkey sandwich for lunch. A Me? burger on the go. Toss a chickHe invites to follow… or en breast on the Foreman grill not to follow. for dinner. A ham and cheese Forty days – Forty nights. Hot Pocket from 7-11 when Step by aching step. I’m in a hurry. Taco Tuesdays at my favorite Mexican resRev. Scott Sears is pastor of taurant, Mi Pueblo. First United Methodist Church Going without meat means in Princeton, W. Va. He blogs I will have to slow down. I at will have to think about it, now. I will have to recall with each meal that this is Lent, that I’m making room in my life for Christ, and in order to do that, I should start cleaning out all the junk that has accumulated over the past year. And when I slow down to think and to recall that this is Lent I can’t help but notice that the path Jesus is on–the path I am walking with him–is heading to Jerusalem. So, it began this morning. As my fellow clergy and I met for our weekly breakfast meeting, I didn’t order my extra-crispy bacon. I do love bacon. But I’m on the road to Jerusalem, now… and I don’t have room for it.


laura allen

boat for some people and over the course of the year I have come to more fully understand what Christ means when he tells us to “take up a cross” and follow him. When we step out boldly to follow Christ, not everyone will be happy with the direction we are going. Christ himself was not immune to this, so we can’t expect to escape it if we are truly following him. It had been a rocky year in many ways since last Lent, but it has also been one that has been more spiritually rewarding than any year of my life. I have found unlikely spiritual partners on this rocky road. I have made new friends. I have shed tears over lost friends, but I have felt the comfort of Christ holding me tight when the darkness creeps in and tries to overwhelm me. And I have felt empowered with a renewed sense of God’s justice and love. So this year I wondered what I should do. I have used the practice of adding something to my life for the past several years and have always found it rewarding. But the West Virginia Conference is getting to know a new bishop this year (Sandra Steiner-Ball), and in the very first sermon

Rev. Amanda Gayle Reed is pastor of the Rivesville-Highlawns Charge in the MonValley District. She blogs at

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A coal barge travels the Kanawha River a month after the chemical spill. Photo: Laura Allen


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Thoughts on baptism By Rev. Dr. J.F. Lacaria


or John Wesley, baptism water meant cleansing. It brought forth the death and rebirth of the individual; it initiated them into the covenant with God. As a cleanser, water is a scourer; its strength comes in its power to beat the dirt off things. I don’t think we like this, we like to take our cleansing a little more symbolically. A long time ago, when my son was 10 and 11, at our dinner table, he and his mother and I would always hold hands while we shared something from the day for which we were thankful. Often, as soon as John Michael’s hands touched mine my first thought was that he needed to go wash his hands. When I would point this out he would stare in amazement and ask, “Clean? Wash? What’s ‘a matter with my hands, they’re clean.” (And the more you felt like you would have to peel those little sticky fingers off your hand, the larger the eyes got.) That’s the way we think about our cleansing at the baptismal bath. “Clean? Wash? What’s ‘a matter with me.” This bath is symbolic, we feel we are clean already. But it is precisely our need for cleansing that unites us. When you think of just who we are and where we’ve been — it should be no surprise that a good cleansing is what we need. When we speak of baptism, we immediately think of the event — the point at which water was applied and words were spoken. That visible point in our experience often bears the full load of our awareness and reference to God’s action and our response. But this reference in time is only the tip of the larger reality of the baptismal covenant. This larger reality underlies and supports the baptismal event as a moment in time.” There is more to an iceberg than the part that you see, and there is much more to our baptisms than the event that we behold or once beheld. For a moment, think of the many countless selves, expres-

sions of your personality that seethe with hatred and sin that died in your baptism. Think of the many “yous” that God has chosen to use for grace that were born in your baptism. And when we are invited to remember our baptism we should also remember all those baptisms we have shared in wherein we made vows for another. Makes me think of a song I like by Jimmie Dale Gilmore. He sings about some guy grieving his lost love, and whenever he slips deeper in despair, he recalls her parting words again and again: “she said babe, you’re just a wave, you’re not the water.” Good advice to us, as we remember our baptisms, just a wave, not the water. So, let us on this marvelous night in which we reflect on the waters of baptism, not merely recall that moment in the past as if the grace-filled water merely touched each of us and then left us high, but dry. No, look around you. We’ve never left the water, it is still carrying us forward and there are crowds of Christians floating with you, some of whom are depending on your promises; others making promises for you. Perhaps some of you are merely circling in an eddy, but even in that eddy you’re torrent, and soon, perhaps this week, you will be swept up in God’s mighty current and washed onward to new heights of service. And if, by chance, you are watching from the high bank, outside the waters reach, brooding over its unpredictable currents — well, jump in, splash and swim about, plunge deep, so deep you fear your lungs will burst. These waters will not harm you, they will bless you. Only your sin that is scoured clean will die. You will come up, born anew in the likeness of Christ, called to be his servant. Who could, who would hold back the waters? JF Lacaria is Assistant to the Bishop and Director of Connectional Ministries for the West Virginia Conference.

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Volunteers at St. Andrew UMC in St. Albans, W. Va. fill containers of water in January. The community was one of the few in the area not affected by do not use water ban. Photo: Adam Cunningham

Our needs in parched places By Bonnie MacDonald


y everyday experience has been that water comes reliably from a faucet and has nothing in it that’s dangerous. Water has been a source of fun and relaxation throughout my life too — from water-skiing to boating to playing in the waves on a beach. The assumption of trust in a reliable system of public water protection comes out of my experience. Until the chemical spill of January 9. A warning text from a colleague on my drive home (thankfully) that Thursday afternoon redirected me to Kroger just


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in time to get the last of the available bottled water. Details were unclear about the safety of our water and when we might be able to use it, so people were snatching up whatever they could find. Seeing the meager few bottles in my cart, a kind man tipped me off quietly to gallon jugs that had just been put out in the back of the store. As I thanked him, I realized that anxiety was rising. People jockeyed for position to check out, nervously talking on cell phones, while desperate customers rushed in only to be told the store was now out of water. One employee loud-

ly declared her assessment, “I guess people are too lazy to go home and boil water!” Taking deep breaths, I prayed for God’s grace to touch us all, particularly the employee who clearly was dealing with more than she could handle. Trying to spread reassurance, I smiled at those around me. In the days that followed, I was touched by the thoughtfulness of strangers and new friends. A woman at the church using its kitchen faucets to fill jugs offered to run up the hill to her house and retrieve her hairdryer and shampoo for my use; a clergy colleague brought a case of water for whomever might need it and I was the blessed recipient. Tenacious reporters chased and interpreted information so that the public could better understand how to respond and plan. As a new conference staff person and resident, I found myself on the receiving end more than initiating connections. I was reminded of the power of simple acts like these to reveal God’s presence and to show love; I hoped that others were experiencing these same blessings from strangers and friends. I no longer take water for granted in my home. I know that people in areas of West Virginia and around the world live with the reality of unsafe water on a daily basis. I have a small sense of the powerlessness and betrayal that can be felt when this most precious resource of life is not carefully protected. I now use it with the awareness of its preciousness for life. As we reaffirmed our baptismal vows in worship on the Sunday following the chemical spill, I noted the bottled water on the altar. In remembering the freedom and power God gives us to live as faithful disciples, I heard again God’s promise through Isaiah for continual guidance and satisfaction of our “needs in parched places,” so that we might live “like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.” (Isaiah 58: 12) May this be so.


The Rev. Amy Shanholtzer looks at slides from her father’s 1984 Volunteers in Mission Trip to Mexico. Photo: Adam Cunningham

Tom Clark, my dad, and me I was 24 when my father died.This year, I’ve lived as long without him as I did with him. There are days when I imagine that no one in my life really remembers him. When I became a member of the Conference staff, I ran into one person who did remember my father. By Rev. Amy Shanholtzer

“Of course I remember him,” Tom Clark said, shortly after I joined the Conference staff in 2007. when I asked about my dad. “He wanted to know how we were going to string up lights to work at night to get the church finished. I explained to him that it wasn’t our job to finish the church. We were just a part of the process — that others would come along behind to finish our work.” That’s exactly what my father would want to do. Tom was an important part of God’s work in my father’s life. He experienced something of a spiritual awakening after being diagnosed with coronary artery disease and taking a disability retirement from the US Postal Service. He began a spiritual quest that mostly consisted of asking questions to anyone and everyone about faith, the Bible and God. He would wear me out with questions when I came home from college on weekends and for breaks. I was pretty new at biblical studies and it didn’t

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The Rev. Tom Clark, Nick Mock (back row, second from the right) and other volunteers pose during their mission trip to Mexico in 1984.Photo courtesy of Amy Shanholtzer

take long for him to exhaust my well of knowledge. I suspect that his pastors gave him the information about the Volunteers in Mission (VIM) trip to Mexico, maybe in an attempt to divert some of his questions. Or maybe they figured they would at least get a two week break while he was on a trip. Somebody told dad he had to join a church to go on a VIM trip, so he completed confirmation class and joined Spruce Street UMC. He had smoked cigarettes his entire life, cutting back a little on doctor’s orders. He learned he would have to quit entirely to be part of a VIM team, so he did. Following that trip, my father embarked on a life of discipleship, study and service. He served as his health allowed and was an ever-present burr under the saddle of any bible study leader until his death in 1989.


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I’ve never forgotten what a pivotal experience VIM was for my father — one that enabled him to take the next step in his life of faith. I recently found his journal from that trip and a photograph of the group in front of a lake in Mexico. And, I told Tom about it. Tom started remembering the trip — everything from the name of the village to the sounds of the animals the team heard because they slept outside on metal shutters. He remembered the name of the lake, the people on the trip and their relatives. He even remembered the color of their group t-shirts, and was right. As I prepared to leave, Tom called me back and said, “You know I think you are going to go to that place, to see what your dad did and meet the people.” Of course, I cried. That’s what usually happened when Tom mentioned my dad.

Tom was doing what he always did — to cast vision for God’s people to continue to connect, serve and love. For Tom there were no boundaries or borders that could not be crossed in order to serve people with God’s love. When I learned that Tom had crossed the final border between heaven and earth, I couldn’t help but imagine the welcoming committee. I’m sure that many of those who greeted him in heaven found their way there through Tom’s ministry. I’m sure there is one guy with a funny grin and a shock of gray hair there too, my dad. I will ever be grateful for the ministry of Tom Clark and what he made possible in my life. I cried a bit when I heard the news of his passing. And I prayed that I will always have Tom’s passion for the vision that God has given me.


in the

Photo Courtesy Rev. Jonathan Nettles

By Rev. Jonathan Nettles “Be faithful, even if it makes you miserable.” I was at a retreat during my first appointment, when a seasoned pastor gave me some well-intentioned advice. These were not his exact words, and probably not the point he intended to make. Nevertheless, this is the impression I took away from our conversation. I walked away thinking, “God please get me out of this before I ever get to that place.” Twenty years or so later, I was getting dangerously close. I was exhausted, but couldn’t seem to slow down or get off the treadmill that ministry had become. I was driven to do more and more, and it had control of me. I knew my life was out of balance, and I was fairly certain I wouldn’t survive until retirement, but I still felt powerless to change. My wife Carolyn finally sat me down and shared her feelings. She said she loved me a lot, and wanted to have me around for a long time, but was afraid that wasn’t going to happen. I knew she was right, and I thought back to other conversations. I remembered my son Keith, years earlier as a little boy, blocking the doorway and saying, “Not another meeting, Daddy don’t go.” About this time Carolyn and I had the opportunity to attend a “PSALM “ retreat focused on lifelong excellence in ministry. The retreat was a gift — four days at a luxurious 5-star hotel on the beach at St. Pete, all funded by a generous grant. At the first gathering the leaders told us they expected nothing from us. Accustomed to a multitude of expectations, this brought tears to our eyes. We were encouraged to embrace Sabbath, along with other disciplines, and were invited to prayerfully develop and live out a “rule of life.” The need in my life and the gift of the ex-

perience seemed to create space where God was free to work in a new way. I could finally see that my resistance to Sabbath and my addiction to the treadmill came from areas of brokenness. I was ready to quit justifying, and to admit I found my identity in productivity, rather than in my relationship with Christ (which wasn’t the greatest at that point for obvious reasons). I also came to terms with my doubt that God would keep the world and my life on track if I slowed down to embrace Godly rhythms. Facing the true cause of Spring 2014


The Revs. Jonathan and Carolyn Nettles pictured together. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Nettles

my lack of balance and self-care was painful, but also led to freedom. I could see with mind and heart that the crushing load I was carrying wasn’t from God, and I could finally see Sabbath as the good gift from God that it truly was. For the first time, I not only saw the need for change, but was actually able to change as I saw the world through different eyes. I knew life was meant to be something more, and I left that week with a rule of life and a commitment to observing Sabbath regularly. The old habits still pulled at me though, and perhaps will always do so. On the way home I explained to Carolyn that after two weeks away, I needed to catch up and couldn’t start Sabbath that week. She looked at me for a moment and then said, “Okay, but I want you to recognize that it’s a choice.” I managed to observe Sabbath that week with no guilt; it felt like my birthday, and church went fine. Every time I enjoy a day of Sabbath as a time for renewal, it still feels like my birthday, and I thank God for the gift. I’ve found that being free from the need to produce at work or home, and having a day to nurture relationships with God and others, is life-giving.


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After five years on this new path, I longed to go deeper and find something more. I seriously considered the Doctor of Ministry route, but there was absolutely no sense of call in that direction. Various circumstances came together to bring the Upper Room Academy for Spiritual Formation to my attention, and it just seemed right. I didn’t know what to expect, but it has been more than I could have hoped for. I can share how it has impacted me, but the Academy is one of those things that must be experienced. As I approach the end of the two year Academy, I see it as the single most transformative experience of my life. The semi-Benedictine monastic rhythm is one of its gifts. Hours of silence, three daily times of worship and daily Communion, challenging reading and presenters, covenant groups, and an amazing and grace-filled larger community combine to make the experience far more than continuing education. I’ve come to understand that there is a deeper work God wants to do and deeper wounds God wants to heal within me. I’ve also realized this will most likely not happen unless I am willing

to devote myself to significant times of waiting upon and listening to God in the silence. I’ve gained a new appreciation for the wide variety of spiritual disciplines, and for the richness of two thousand years of church history. I feel I’ve been re-introduced to a Church I barely knew, and to a far more expansive and vital faith. I admit that the changes are a little unsettling at times. Life contains more mystery, and I’m not certain exactly where I’m headed. Yet I feel far more alive, and the heaviness of past days is mostly gone. There is a new joy and peace to the journey, and I’m excited about what the future holds. When I was a child my Grandfather would praise my flawed attempts at various tasks, and then lovingly offer to show me a better way. I always felt affirmed and was excited to learn. For me, this new path has proven itself a better way. God still has so much work to do in my life, but I’m headed in a good direction, and am far healthier physically and spiritually because of these changes. They have helped me find anew the joy and privilege of ministry and of life. I realize we are all at different places, and some of you may have embraced sacred rhythms and found that better way years ago. For others who find yourselves worn down by life, or who just long for something more, I encourage you to open yourself to the possibility that God will help you find a “better way”. Jesus spoke of an easy yoke and a light burden, and this invitation is for each of us. Change isn’t easy, but getting in touch with the longings deep within your heart and allowing them to point you in a new direction is a good place to start. If you’re looking for help in this journey, I invite you to consider attending the five day Academy for Spiritual Formation in Charleston this September. It can open your eyes to new possibilities, and create a space where God is free to work. Rev. Jonathan Nettles is pastor of St. Matthew UMC in Weston, W. Va. Learn more about the Academy for Spiritual Formation at


The Rev. Johnna Wheaton Russo sings during worship at Canaan United Methodist Church in January. Photo: Adam Cunningham

‘There’s nothing we can’t do’ By Adam Cunningham The first Sunday of the crisis marked the Baptism of the Lord on the liturgical calendar. The day commemorates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. I walked into Canaan United Methodist Church in Charleston that Sunday in early January feeling a bit scruffy. I hadn’t had a decent shower in a few days but I knew I’d be in good company. For the past several days I had lived and worked through a do not use water ban, after a chemical spill contaminated the water in Kanawha and surrounding counties. I took a seat in the center of the front pew. Based on previous visits, I knew I’d have space and a vantage point for good photographs. That morning there was a flowing fountain made out of seashells and bottles of water placed

on the altar. The table was draped in blue cloth to signify a river. Visual art is something I knew Canaan’s pastor, the Rev. Johnna Wheaton Russo, is passionate about. The sermon that day was on the importance of water in our life and in our spirituality. But, Johnna later told me that the congregation already knew how important water is because of what they had been through that week. She also later said she was first concerned with the bottles on the altar, but decided that water is most sacred in the form that it’s needed — at that time in bottles and jugs. “There is nothing secular to those of us who live as the body of Christ,” she said. Johnna hoped people would make the connection to the sacredness of water the next time they drank from a plastic bottle by seeing it incorporated in worship. At the end of worship, the church dis-

cussed ways they would help community members with water. It was impressive to see churches in the area spring into action that week, Canaan included. Johnna describes the laity at Canaan as “amazing”. The church was able to store cases of water that came in from across the Conference, and the church trustees handled the logistics. When she started to call to check on members in the early moments of the water crisis, everyone was already helped by another member. Johnna jokingly said that clergy should always be working themselves out of a job. She said the church is a hub for spiritual connection to the community. They give their time to the church but also to community organizations like the United Way and the Gabriel Project. “The power of the church just blows me away when people are listening to the spirit,” she said. “There’s nothing we can’t do.”

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Living through the West Virginia Water Crisis From Top, clockwise: Cooper’s Rock has always been one of my favorite places in West Virginia, and so I went there for a bit of respite after working and living through the water crisis for several days. The drive north was a bit surreal - I remember thinking that I had to drive 60 miles to get completely out of the contamination zone. This waterfall was just what I needed. “And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” (Isaiah 58:11, ESV) Mission Savvy is a vegan restaurant and juice bar in downtown Charleston. The “Chemical Kicker” was something they offered in the days and weeks after the spill. Local businesses were closed for days during the water crisis, which hit the working poor especially hard. The fire station on Charleston’s East End is a half block from my house. For days, I watched cars line up to pick up bottled water. My neighborhood is one of the most diverse in the city and in West Virginia in terms of race and socio-economic status. Those without transportation really struggled to keep water in their homes, because they could only take what they could carry. It was ironic - we had plenty of water but people still didn’t have enough. These canadian geese managed to hang through a water crisis and a bitterly cold winter. I took this photo a few weeks after the crisis and it reminded me that life does go on... but I’m not sure I’ll ever look at the Kanawha River the same way again. Photos by Laura Allen


Spring 2014

Spring 2014



took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Gen 2:15) We are put in charge of caring for creation. God invites us to enjoy creation and to use its resources, but to do so in a responsible matter that acknowledges that everything actually belongs to God. This has extreme significance for those of us who proclaim ourselves to be followers of our Lord Jesus Christ who have experienced the water of baptism. It means that we have to approach the current water crisis along with every issue of our lives from a theological standpoint. While we may well be in agreement with non-Christians on many issues related to the care of the earth; we have to approach the topic from the standpoint of those who acknowledge God as the ultimate owner and the creator of all life. For us it’s not just about self-preservation or even caring for others; it is about being responsible stewards of that for which we have been given responsibility. This undergirds every facet of our lives including our interaction with all created things. It must be the central truth upon which our ethics are formulated. So, what are the practical implications of this reality? First, it means that we must, as individuals, do our part to care for the resources of earth, including its water. Water is not a renewable resource. There is not an indefinite supply. Basically the water we have today is the same water that has been present since the formation of the earth and its atmosphere and while 70% of the earth’s surface is water, only .03% of it is fresh water available for our use. This makes water a very valuable resource and one that many individuals feel will be the reason for coming wars. As Christians we must do our share to conserve water and to protect it from pollution. As Christians, we must also hold our government responsible for the


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care of this valuable resource. For us in the valley, this means we must be aware of what is happening in our state legislature right now. Here is a painful reality; the representatives of industry have a lot of lobbyists and lawyers working to make their side of this issue heard. Some of the first legislation being discussed concerning new regulations to protect our water supply had so many exclusions, the bills were of little value for protecting us from future events such as we have experienced. We all recognize the importance of industry and business to our economic stability in the state; but right now, no one wants to come here because they are concerned about the quality of water their families will

have available to them. Money will always control the legislative process until the average citizen makes it known they will vote anyone out of office who doesn’t look after the common good of our state’s and nation’s citizens. I use the words common good deliberately because this means all people; all of God’s children for whom Christ died and not just those who have money and influence. This is not a partisan issue. Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike should be concerned about our valuable natural resources, especially if they proclaim the name Christian. Leaders of industry and environmentalists alike should work together to promote the preservation of the water which is essential to our

Volunteers fill jugs of water at Aldersgate UMC in Sissonville, W. Va. Photo: Adam Cunningham

lives and a major source of economic good for our state’s tourism industry. So, as followers of Christ we must care for the environment by doing our personal share of conservation and working through the legislative process to protect the rights of all people to safe water and other resources. I shared in this month’s newsletter that this crisis should also be a cause for each of us to stop and reflect on the plight of many of our brothers and sisters around the world in terms of water. While a lot of folks have suffered a financial burden as a result of the chemical spill; most of us have simply been inconvenienced. We will have, probably have now, safe water to drink. I realize many folks have some questions

about this and my comment is based simply on what I have heard and I may be wrong. The sad reality is that many folks in the world never have safe water. 780 million of the world’s people in fact do not have clean water. 3.4 million folks, mostly children, die as a result of lack of safe water and the diseases that come with unsafe water; as a result. Not much has changed for women around the world since biblical times — they spend 200 million hours a day collecting water for their families, often carrying it many miles. As Christians we can help put an end to this situation through our gifts to mission projects that are helping to provide safe water. Our older elementary class collected funds to help with one of these projects last year. Next Sunday, we will receive a collection for UMCOR. While the mission of UMCOR is not directly oriented to providing water, a lot of the relief work the organization does helps restore or provide for the first time safe water for areas following natural disasters. I hope you will be generous in your support of their work. There is another critical issue that comes to my mind, one I mentioned in the newsletter; as well. This is our need to share the living water that Christ Jesus offers to all people. Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well is one of the better known stories in the Bible. She comes to the well in the heat of the day to avoid the other women of the town and runs into Jesus. When Jesus asks her for a drink of water, she is startled. First off, men didn’t talk to women they didn’t know in public and second, he was a Jew and she was a Samaritan. The enmity between these two groups was legendary. Well, after he engages her in conversation she raises these issues and as we read in in John 4:10: Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the

well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” As Christians we must follow Christ’s mandate to offer a cup of water to the thirsty and food to the hungry. His teachings on this topic are clear and anyone who claims to be his follower ignores the overwhelming call to care for our brothers and sisters at great danger to their soul. Too often, the church has forgotten this part of the Gospel and I am pleased that it seems to be increasingly important in the ministry of so many churches. Having said that, we must never forget the other part of the Gospel. If the evangelical church has too often been so heavenly minded it has been of no earthly good; the more liberal church has too often been so concerned about the physical needs of others that it has forgotten we are called as followers of Christ to make disciples. These two parts of the Gospel can never be separated if we are to be true followers of Christ. Ultimately, it will only be a change of heart, the transformation of hearts that will lead all people to have the kind of concern for the environment and their brothers and sisters that will result in a better care for both. Jesus, who offers us the living water of eternal life calls us to share his Good News with the world as we reach out to care for our brothers and sisters and the creation we share with them. May this be our response to this water crisis and even more importantly, to his call upon our lives. Amen. Rev. Shomo is pastor of Elizabeth Memorial United Methodist Church in Charleston, W.Va. He preached this sermon there on February 23, 2014

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The Mountain Circuit: Spring 2014