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All for one: Toledo Campus Ministry's executive director reflects on first year at post

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    Tyra Jones is in line for food.

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    The ‘soul food’ Bible study group holds hands to pray.

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    Ryan Johnston helps prepare pasta.

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    The Rev. David Montgomery in the sitting room of ‘The Ark’ at Toledo Campus Ministry.

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The Rev. David Montgomery in the sitting room of ‘The Ark’ at Toledo Campus Ministry.

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Toledo Campus Ministry's executive director has finally seen an academic year through from start to finish. Though the Rev. David Montgomery began leading the students' religious organization next to the University of Toledo campus on January 1, 2013, the timing meant that he didn't get a full school year in until the class of 2014 graduated.

“Our theme for this year was based on Romans 14:1, 'Welcome with open arms those who believe differently than you do,' " Mr. Montgomery said. “I think the students kind of got tired of me harping on our diversity; they wanted to say, 'We're one in Christ.' I said, 'But we're so different.' They really caught on the oneness.”

There were also differences in saying prayers. “Some would pray very strong, Jee-suss and loud prayers, and that intimidated some and excluded some. So we were working with that — how do we as a community pray together when we pray so differently?”

“We also have a good representation from the LGBTQA Group,” which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and allies. “We have good openness and participation.”

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Tyra Jones is in line for food.

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Mr. Montgomery said that people active in TCM celebrate diversity. “If there have been conflicts,” he said, “I've not been aware. … 'What do we want to stand for?' has been a question, too, of who really is welcome, and we've realized we don't want to be judgmental, but we are very judgmental of judgmental people." [Laughs.]

“My goal for the first year was to listen and to learn,” Mr. Montgomery said. “I missed some opportunities to move us in a different direction but I think I did well, and the students have said they appreciated me not coming in and trying to change things.”

What did Mr. Montgomery learn this year?

“Nonprofit organizations are a lot different than churches,” for one. Before moving to Toledo, he had been Presbyterian campus minister at Murray State University in Murray, Ky., and co-pastored First Presbyterian Church in Murray with his wife, the Rev. Ann Marie Montgomery. Toledo Campus Ministry, at 2086 Brookdale Rd., is supported by nine religious organizations, including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Methodist Church, local churches, and individuals.

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The ‘soul food’ Bible study group holds hands to pray.

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Spring break was important to his learning, too. Toledo Campus Ministry sponsored two trips in March: 27 students went to New Jersey to work with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, which helps with Hurricane Sandy relief.; and Mr. Montgomery was in a group of eight that went to Haiti.

In New Jersey, Mr Montgomery said, "The biggest excitement was the relationships the students had with the people they were serving. For one woman, our students were thinking, 'We didn't do anything but paint the trim,' and the woman said, 'You don't understand. That means my house is now complete; after two years, it's finally complete.'”

Fond Trou Jacques, on the Haitian island of La Gonave, is a village “that had felt kind of neglected” in Haiti's recovery from a 2010 earthquake, Mr. Montgomery said. Of 11 schools on La Gonave, Fond Trou Jacques was “the only one that hadn't been painted,” he said—until the TCM group volunteered and gave it “beautifully blue with a gray on the bottom” colors.

The service labor that TCM students provide is good, Mr. Montgomery said, but “the important part, I think, is being with the community and being with the people, not just the work.”

With the school year ended, TCM won't lie fallow until fall. "We do have students in the summertime," he said. "There are 22, which is an incredible number for me, and so we're going to meet on Wednesday nights."

As they meet, there will be some family time for him, too.

"My son and his 17-month-old daughter are coming [this] week, so I was hoping she would be the program and let them spoil my granddaughter, but it's at 7 o'clock, which is her bedtime, and so they won't be able to do that."

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Ryan Johnston helps prepare pasta.

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His other son, who lives in Kazakhstan, will visit during the summer, too. "I'm going to have him do one of the programs on either the Peace Corps or Kazakhstan or being married to a Muslim, or whatever he wants to do."

Mr. Montgomery's wife, the Rev. Ann Marie Montgomery, has her own job, as interim pastor at First Presbyterian Church, Huron, Ohio—but “she was able, during Lent, to offer us a Lenten study on building crosses and the history of the different crosses: the Jerusalem cross, Celtic cross, Eastern Orthodox cross,” Mr. Montgomery said, and “we then made crosses. … So our students were able to be exposed to her, which was a blessing for me and for them.”

One other program is also in development. "We're teaming up with Collingwood Presbyterian Church and Grace Presbyterian Church on a garden," he said. "Grace has an established garden, Collingwood has land to do that, and we've got a little garden [at TCM]. So we're trying to come together to see about developing a garden, call it Gardens of Grace, and trying to figure how can we be more understanding of the environment and all that kind of stuff."

Mr. Montgomery will be the guest preacher at First Presbyterian Church of Bowling Green, 126 S. Church St., Bowling Green, Sunday at the 10 a.m. service.

Contact TK Barger @ tkbarger@theblade.com, 419-724-6278 or on Twitter @TK_Barger.

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