LAKESIDE, Ohio - The United Methodist Church's West Ohio Conference, which has about 250,000 members in 1,200 congregations, met Monday through Thursday here for its annual conference, with this year's theme being "Love in Action: Building Bridges out of Poverty."
George Howard, director of connectional ministry for the conference, is one of the denomination's leaders in putting that theme to work. Seven years ago, he helped found the United Methodist Church 4 All People in a tough neighborhood of south Columbus.
His work at the Church 4 All People has changed his life, Mr. Howard said, to the point where he plans to leave headquarters this fall and begin working at the church full time.
"The United Methodist Church has an incredible ministry to and for the poor," he said. But he sees "a global shift" in how churches approach such ministry.
"We are trying to say: 'What do we need to do differently in order to work with the poor, instead of to or for the poor,'•" Mr. Howard told The Blade in an interview.
"That's the whole angle that this annual conference is focused around," he said.
The West Ohio Conference is looking for five churches or church groups in its region to use them as models for other groups that want to do the same.
"There are people who are in poverty who are trying to make ends meet. They have lost their jobs,," he said. "They need a handout but they also need a way to be able to contribute. It's not a one-way street."
When people in need have a way to pitch in, whether it's providing labor or food, they are more amenable to accepting help themselves. "Their self-esteem remains high as they go through some tough times," Mr. Howard said.