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LAKESIDE, Ohio - Speaking to more than 2,200 United Methodist ministers and lay delegates, the Rev. Mike Slaughter urged church leaders to look beyond their walls and not be inwardly focused.
"It's not about getting the world into the church, but getting the church into the world. And that's the mission of Jesus," Mr. Slaughter said.
The pastor of Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, just north of Dayton along I-75, Mr. Slaughter was one of the keynote speakers at the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church's annual conference, held Sunday through Thursday at this historic Chatauqua-style resort on Lake Erie, about 50 miles east of Toledo. The West Ohio Conference has about 220,000 members in 1,200 congregations.
This year's conference was one without controversial issues or resolutions to be debated or decided; instead, the focus was on boosting ministry, developing leadership, and promoting missions of the mainline denomination with 8 million U.S. members.
The West Ohio Conference, led by Bishop Bruce Ough, paid solemn tribute to clergy and spouses who died in the past year; honored 28 retiring ministers with a collective 700 years of service, and ordained two dozen ministers and deacons who entered Hoover Auditorium with pageantry that included musical fanfare and displays of colorful, handmade banners.
Among the ministers who were honored on their retirement was the Rev. Terry Powell of First United Methodist Church in Perrysburg, who had been a full-time pastor since 1971.
Mr. Slaughter gave his talk Wednesday morning on the topic of "Leading a Missional Movement."
Ginghamsburg's executive pastor, the Rev. Sue Nilson Kibbey, spoke at the conference Tuesday morning on "Developing Leaders."
Mr. Slaughter said in an interview with The Blade that his church is focused on three areas of mission: locally in Dayton, nationally in New Orleans, and globally in Darfur, Sudan.
When he became pastor of Ginghamsburg in 1979, the church had fewer than 100 members and an annual budget of $27,000.
Today Ginghamsburg has an average weekend attendance of nearly 5,000 and a total annual budget of over $6 million.
The church's humanitarian efforts in Darfur, where war has displaced 2.5 million people, made national news in 2004 after Mr. Slaughter asked his congregation to split their Christmas shopping between their family and displaced Sudanese.
"Whatever they spend on their families, we asked them to bring an equal amount for Sudan," Mr. Slaughter said.
The first year, Ginghamsburg's "miracle offering" raised $317,000. The next year it generated $535,000, then jumped to $1 million in 2006 and $1.2 million in 2007. Last year, with all the economic chaos, the total dropped to $726,000 - "which is still incredible," Mr. Slaughter said.
He said Ginghamsburg is feeding 70,000 people a week in Darfur and has raised enough funds for 19,000 children to enroll in 159 schools that the church has built.
By the end of 2009, the church will have built 10 water plants in Sudan that serve 220,000 people and their livestock.
All told, Ginghamsburg has invested more than $3.7 million in humanitarian relief work in Darfur.
Karen Smith, director of communications for Ginghamsburg, said Mr. Slaughter preaches on money and stewardship for three or four weeks every November. He teaches "the 10-10-80 principle," she said, encouraging people to tithe 10 percent of their income, save 10 percent, and live on 80 percent.
On the national missions front, Mr. Slaughter said Ginghamsburg's 50th missions team to New Orleans had recently returned to Tipp City.
"We've stayed at it since 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit, and there's still much work to be done in the Gulf. As a matter of fact, 90 percent of all the work that has been done in the Gulf has been done by faith-based organizations," he said.
Ginghamsburg also has made an effort to help the needy at home. The church has "restarted" four struggling United Methodist churches in the city.
"Instead of trying to be the biggest church in the community, we're trying to church the community," he said.
Last September, the church began working with Dayton's Fort McKinley United Methodist Church, which had a Sunday morning attendance of 30. Last week, there were 268 people at Fort McKinley's Sunday service.
Mr. Slaughter said Ginghamsburg is trying to "meet the felt needs of the community."
It started a GED program at Fort McKinley, for example, and is looking to help neighbors buy homes in an area where 70 percent of the housing is owned by slumlords, according to Mr. Slaughter.
"We want to create home ownership because when you have home ownership it brings up the private community and it drive out the drug dealers. So it's a holistic approach to doing ministry in a neighborhood," he said.
Ginghamsburg spends very little on marketing, but its name has gained recognition through widespread media coverage of its missions work, Mr. Slaughter said.
One group at the Lakeside conference that helped bring attention to some of the world's neediest people was the Hope for Africa Children's Choir.
The 23 children, age 5 to 11, gave several high-energy performances integrating African music and dance. The organization has a second choir, with 22 children in it, that also goes on tour.
Winston Mukasa, 27, one of the Hope for Africa Children's Choir directors, said the organization was founded in 2007 by Bishop Daniel Wandabula of the United Methodist Church's East African Conference.
Like the nondenominational Watoto Children's Choir, the orphans from Uganda and nearby nations travel around the world, entertaining and enlightening audiences. The group that performed at Lakeside arrived in the United States on May 20 and will be touring the country through Nov. 30, singing mostly in United Methodist churches and staying overnight in the homes of families from the host churches.
Mr. Mukasa said the choir is raising awareness of the plight of African orphans, while also providing the children with safe housing, education, and a positive outlook for the future.
He pointed out that the children come from different African tribes, which helps break down prejudices and barriers among African adults who go to their shows.
"People are amazed when they see children from the north singing and dancing next to children from the east," Mr. Mukasa said. "Their elders would never associate with people from another tribe. The children are building a bridge that can speak to all of us."
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