Love in Action!

In recent months we’ve witnessed multiple disasters that have left physical, emotional and spiritual devastation.  As we pray for the survivors of these disasters, let us pray for God to show us how we can help.  Both the District and Conference have communicated how our United Methodist Churches can help:

Assisting our neighbors not only takes prayers and compassion, it takes financial resources.  None of these disasters are big enough for us to request UMCOR dollars.  It will take the response of our local congregations for us to extend the love and care of Christ to our neighbors within our communities. Your gifts to the West Ohio Conference Disaster Relief Fund will allow us to work alongside families and congregations seeking to recover from disasters. You can give online at or by check.  If you give by check please make the check payable to HPCUMC, (with Disaster relief in the memo line.) Clearly mark your envelope for disaster relief and place in the offering plate.

Collect Flood Buckets to replenish the UMCOR supply for the next round of floods whenever and wherever they happen:

Volunteer to help. Pam Follmer of the Monroe UMC is our Ohio River Valley District Disaster Response Coordinator. Pam has been in contact with the TriState COAD.  They work with the Red Cross and other agencies dealing with active disasters.  They have contacted Pam regarding the need to tear out drywall for homes of elderly and disabled folks affected in the region. They will be sending names and addresses to Pam to coordinate teams of volunteers to assist. If you (or a group from your congregation) would like to be on a team to address these needs, please contact Pam at 513-539-8691 or

Refer persons in need affected by the flood or storms. If you know of someone who has not yet been contacted by a community organization that is active in disasters, please contact Pam Follmer, ORV Disaster Response Coordinator ( and with the permission of the person affected, share that information with Pam.

As we walk this journey with our brothers and sisters most affected by the disaster they’ve faced, may they come to know of God’s love and presence.

In Christ,

Pastor Doug

God is Love!

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love, does not know God, for God is love.”

(1 John4: 7-8) God’s “Being” is love, “agape love”; a love that is self-giving, selfless, unconditional and forever present!

Who is God?  God is Love!  Jesus Christ left you and me a “new commandment”, “love God as you have been loved by God” (John 13:34).  To love as God loves means we must understand love as the Apostle Paul taught and modeled: Love is patient and kind; it is not envious, boastful arrogant or rude.  Love is not irritable or resentful, and does not keep score (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).  In Jesus Christ we are lifted above the dualistic thinking of the Enlightenment and Post Modernity, empowered to embrace, as Paul puts it, a “more excellent way”!

“Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”  We love as we have been loved by God when we understand “love never ends”; and we cease to judge who is and isn’t worthy.   Father Richard Rohr writes, “The only way I know how to love God and to teach you how to love God is to love what God loves.  To love God means to love everything . . . no exceptions.  Of course, that can only be done with divine love flowing through us.” (“Seeing with God’s Eyes”, August 17, 2016)

When we allow God’s “divine love” to flow through us,we are transformed and become transformative; we are empowered and are empowering; we claim our identity as a beloved child of God, and see others the same.  I look forward to seeing you in Church; invite a friend, relative, acquaintance or neighbor to join you!

In Christ,

Pastor Doug

Master Plan Opportunities

In 2013 Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church received, and approved, a recommendation from The Armstrong Group to:  “create a long term Master Plan with associated costing to lay a roadmap for future capital projects to meet evolving ministry and missional needs.”  Shortly after the decision was made, The MSA Architectural firm was engaged to lead HPCUMC in the creation of a Master Plan.

Late fall 2015 MSA Architects presented their report to the Servant Leadership Board.  Subsequently a group from The Servant Leadership Board, and Facilities Team, led by Pastor Cathy, developed a plan for communicating the report of MSA to the congregation.

Over the next couple of months a team of people will visit with various groups (Program/Fellowship/Administrative groups) of HPCUMC and share the Master plan.  In addition, there will be two to three “All Church” gatherings.  Following the sharing sessions a recommendation will go to the Annual Charge Conference (Late October or Mid November) to create a Team that will “Phase” the Master Plan, and create a plan for implementing the first phase; which includes, but is not limited to, a timeline, architectural plans and funding plans.

We look forward to sharing this forward thinking plan with you.  If you are a part of a group at HPCUMC and would like to have a team come to present the Master Plan, please contact Lindsay Garrison ( with your preferred date. In addition, be on the look out for the all-church opportunities to hear the Master Plan report.  I look forward to sharing in ministry with you in the months and years to come as we put in place the infrastructure to fulfill God’s calling with excellence! See you in Church.

In Christ,

Pastor Doug

From Russia With Love…

The book of Acts records:  “During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’  After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” (Acts 16:9-10) In 1991 the Communist government of the USSR fell, and for the first time in over 75 years, the people of Russia were provided the opportunity to worship freely.

The United Methodist Church, concluding that God was calling us to take the Gospel message of love and grace to Russia, started a new church in Samara.   Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church has been a faithful partner, mentor, and sister church from the beginning.  This past June (June 22-30) HPCUMC sent a team to re-connect and deepen our relationship.  Upon our arrival one of the pastors of Samara UMC said to me, “HPCUMC is our Paul!”

The Spirit of our living God is at work in profound ways at Samara UMC!  From day one to the day we departed, the people of Samara UMC showered our team with Colossians 3:12-17 kind of hospitality and love!  I was humbled to be in their presence, to receive their love, and to be encouraged in our common work for the Lord.  Needless to say, there is no language barrier when it comes to sharing the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord!

Consequently, Kevin Betts (trip leader and member of the HPCUMC Servant Leadership Board and Community Ministry/Global Outreach Team) and I had the opportunity to sit with Pastor Olga, Pastor Natalia, and Pastor Stas to discuss taking our relationship to the next level and came up with a 10-point plan. Sarah Krott, Anna Renfro, and Mary and Jeff Sheldon were also team members.

The 10-point plan is a guide for deepening our relationship with the Samara UMC.  Will we achieve all 10 points, I don’t know; will we be blessed and be a blessing in trying? Absolutely.  Details of the plan will be shared in the near future.  As we look to the future, pray for our brothers and sisters in Samara.  Pray that HPCUMC is found faithful to God’s calling as we walk this journey with Samara UMC.  Pray that together we help God bring God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  Stay blessed!

In Christ,

Pastor Doug

Life Changing Attitude: Forgiveness

Attitude is everything! Our attitude is one of the few things we have total control of, but, sad to say, we fail to control. Too often we walk around carrying unhealthy thoughts and feelings that shape our attitudes. No matter our circumstances, we have a choice: positivity/negativity, good/bad, optimism/pessimism. The attitude we choose to embrace will bind us or free us; attitude is everything!
Forgiveness is a life-changing attitude and Jesus invites us to make this part of our lifestyle. We are created in the likeness and image of God. Created in the likeness and image of God, has nothing to do with our physical characteristics and everything to do with our character. Created in the image and likeness of God, we possess the characteristics of God. We possess the capacity to love as we are loved, to show grace and mercy as we have been shown grace and mercy, to forgive as we have been forgiven. As Paul puts it, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)
Author, and Pastor of the largest United Methodist Church in the United States, Adam Hamilton, writes in his book, Forgiveness: Finding Peace Through Letting Go,
“When we choose to show mercy, the image of God is seen in us. Our willingness to forgive has the power not only to change us, freeing us from bitterness and resentment but to change those who receive mercy from us, just as we are changed when finally we see and comprehend the vast and wonderful mercy of God.” (Page 138)
In many ways forgiveness is counterintuitive. For multiple reasons that seem logical and reasonable, we convince ourselves that forgiveness either makes us weak and/or more vulnerable. In reality it makes us stronger and releases us to live life abundantly. I look forward to seeing you in church.
In Christ,
Pastor Doug

Last Goodbyes

Wednesday was our last day in Samara, but was a very good day at that. We began with a river cruise on the Volga with many members of the church, two of which had to run to the boat to make it on time. They brought tea and leftovers from Tuesday’s meals to share with us for a snack. We then took another walk on the embankment to take in the beauty of the river one last time. After this we headed back to the church for a late lunch of a beef stew and cake for dessert. We were taken back to our hotel after eating so we could get ready for the ballet that evening.

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We saw a performance of Le Corsaire, a story about a girl who falls in love with a pirate and everything they have to go through to be together. The theatre was gorgeous along with all of the costumes, and the dancers did a fantastic job conveying the story. We had front row seats and it was an incredible experience. Once the ballet was over we had to say a few goodbyes to people who wouldn’t be making the journey to the airport with us. As expected these goodbyes were difficult, but we were all still in good spirits from the ballet that the sadness hadn’t hit us yet.

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We returned to the hotel for a few hours of sleep before leaving for the hotel at 1:30. Before leaving for the airport we prayed together one last time, ending our time there in the best way. Max had to leave before the drive because he teaches English classes in the morning and wanted to be able to get some sleep before them. Natalia, Albina, Tanya, Elena, and Olga accompanied us on the trip in the middle of the night, which takes an hour each way. Of course they brought snacks for us. Without our translator, Tanya entertained us with an app that attempted to convert what she said in Russian into English and have Doug speak back so it could be translated to her. Some worked better than others, but it kept the mood light before the hard goodbyes.

They all came into the airport with us and walked us all the way to the security gate before we had to face what we knew was going to be tough. The fact that it was 2:30 in the morning definitely didn’t help. From there we went through passport control and made it to our 4:35 flight. Luckily most of us slept the whole way and we made it to Prague around 6am after losing 2 hours on the way.

We did a 3.5 hour tour of the city during our long layover, and we learned a lot about the history of the Czech Republic from our very knowledgeable tour guide. We returned to the airport and made it to our gate, only to learn that our flight to New York had been delayed. After waiting for about 3 more hours, we decided to change our tickets for flights tomorrow to Paris and then to Cincinnati. Even though we’re spending an unexpected extra night in Europe, this city is beautiful and we enjoyed a delicious dinner at our wonderful hotel. We have another early morning tomorrow, with a taxi picking us up for the airport at 4:30am. If all goes as planned, we will be back in Cincinnati by 5pm tomorrow (Friday).

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Unless things turn out differently, this is going to be our last blog post. Thank you to those who have followed our journey and we hope you enjoyed the updates. As we expressed in a previous post, this trip has been absolutely incredible and the people we’ve met are truly one of a kind. There aren’t enough thank you’s in the world to express our gratitude to Samara UMC for being such gracious hosts and showing us what it really means to love one another and have servant hearts. You’ll be in our hearts and prayers. Until we meet again, do svidaniya!

One for the Books

This morning was pretty similar to yesterday. We finished our painting at the church and got everything cleaned up. We also took a break at noon to celebrate both Max and Stas’s birthdays (Stas is the deacon of the church) with cake and tea. After a bit of cleaning we had lunch which was a soup we would consider most similar to chowder and a second course of meat with scalloped potatoes, cabbage, and tomatoes. We finished work at the church around 4 and were brought back to the hotel to shower before going out to do a bit of shopping. Then it was time for dinner, which is what we are going to spend a majority of this blogging talking about.

If there’s two things we haven’t emphasized enough this week it’s how much food we’ve been served and how absolutely incredible everyone we’ve met has been. Starting with the food this evening, they decided to treat us to unique Russian cuisine, more specifically the ones we’ve been hearing about all week and trying to avoid. The first appetizer was a bit of bread with a thin layer of pig fat and salt. It is second from the left in the picture. Next up was a toothpick of meat that had been roasting for 6 hours on top of a broth gelatin which can be seen on the far right. We called this the meat jelly as we were contemplating it on our plates. After this came the small cup with a white liquid. It was a thick milk with a similar taste to Greek yogurt, but I must say it smelled a bit like Swiss cheese. Next was a bowl of cabbage that ended up tasting very similarly to cole slaw. Finally, they had bread with butter and red caviar, which they told us they only have on special occasions. Overall, we tried all of them and none of them were too off-putting. There were even a couple I went back for seconds of. For our main course, we had buckwheat and mushroom stuffed chicken. Once again, there weren’t many problems with this and I (Anna) was forced to overcome my fear of mushrooms, and I think I succeeded. For dessert we had a Turkish disk called chuck-chuck and it resembled a Rice Krispie Treat. It was covered in honey and definitely delicious. Along with this we were also served some very tasty chocolates. This is just one meal, but you can see how extensive it was and we feel like they never stop eating.


Now onto our second point: the people. As dinner was winding down Stas starting asking questions for everyone to answer and one in particular was what our biggest impression has been of Samara. Doug started us off and took the rest of our answers by saying the enthusiasm and spirit the congregation has is incredible. They voluntarily have spent so many hours at the church this week, not only hanging out with us, but also preparing for us and driving us and cooking for us that we definitely feel their love. The love they have for the church, the love they have for each other, the love they have for God, and especially the love they have for us. It’s so insane how connected we feel despite the language barrier. When we asked the Russians their impressions of us, it was crazy to see how we had touched them because I think we all feel like they’ve impacted us so much more than we’ve  impacted them.

The waterworks started and we know tomorrow night is going to be incredibly difficult. We realize this mission trip hasn’t been about the physical work we’ve done, but the emotional in keeping and strengthening HPCUMC’s relationship with Samara United Methodist. There isn’t a better group I could imagine having a partnership with and it’s exciting to see what the future could hold. These people will forever be in our heart and prayers and we can only hope to one day see them again. We still have one more day and will post a couple more blogs, but after tonight this was something we really wanted to share. Samara United Methodist is doing incredible things and will continue to do so with the passion they have.

Here are a few pictures from the day, but we didn’t take many:


Doug and Sarah painting

Doug trying a Georgian dish of meat wrapped in grape leaves as Tanyla looks on with excitement

Doug trying a Georgian dish of meat wrapped in grape leaves as Tanya looks on with excitement

The birthday boys, Stas and Max

The birthday boys, Stas and Max


The room after being painted and the repairing and moving of the shelving used for giving clothing to the homeless

Painting the Day Away

Sorry for the short post tonight, we just got back to the hotel and it’s already 12:30am here. Jeff started us off with a nice devotional today about the importance of the church and we talked about a verse from Isaiah 40. We were then picked up and taken to the church where we started the work they needed us to do. Jeff and Kevin worked in a hallway upstairs while the rest of us were in a room downstairs. Sandpapering the walls turned out to be the messiest activity so far. We got covered in white dust, and Doug’s hair was so white he looked like he had aged 2o years.

We took a tea break after a couple hours where we were serenaded in Russian. Doug was then asked to sing a song in English that the Russians could sing along to. Kevin got a short video showing how much fun it is interacting with this group. Please enjoy it with the pictures below.

We worked again until lunch when we had Russian soup and a second course of meat, salad, and potatoes. After lunch we got a first layer of paint on all of the walls and the ceilings are completely finished. We will do a second coat tomorrow on the walls. We then all came back to the hotel for a much needed shower. Unlike was planned, we ended up splitting up for dinner again.

Us young girls were invited to another youth’s house for a gathering with young adults. We then played some games and got to know each other better before embarking on a night walk through the city back to the hotel. Jeff and Mary previously hosted a member of the church at their house, and were invited to dinner at her parents’ place. Kevin and Doug went to dinner with the pastors and the deacon of the church. They got back earlier, but we were having too much fun to leave. Also, we got to be with Max at midnight when he turned 26, so happy birthday to him! 🙂

Goodnight and enjoy these pictures from today:

The room before painting

The room before painting

Doug after sand-papering

Doug after sand-papering

Anna after sand-papering

Anna after sand-papering

Pastor Olga getting in on the action

Pastor Olga getting in on the action

Enjoying a tea break

Enjoying a tea break

Video (it’s a hyperlink)

Sunday Funday

We got a bit of a later start this morning since we didn’t have a devotional before leaving for church. They only have an 11:00 service at the church, so we went to that, but unlike at home their average service is two hours long. Doug gave the sermon and Max translated for the congregation. Max also sat behind us during the service translated some parts. The praise band was very impressive, and one of the lead singers even sang some of the songs in English. They were nice enough to split the screen between Russian and English lyrics so we could follow along. We were presented with some gifts during the service and we had a chalice and communion plate for their church as well. The church has been very generous this week and we are very appreciative for it. Enjoy some pictures from the service:


After church we had a chicken and rice lunch with some of the church leaders. From there we moved upstairs to help in the soup kitchen run by the church on Sundays. Jeff prepared the meal for the guests with help from a member of the church named Maria. We then left the church and visited the embankment, which was like a riverwalk along a stretch of beach on the Volga. A few of us dipped our feet in the water and it was very chilly. However, it’s nice to be able to see a river that isn’t brown like the Ohio River. After walking down the embankment some we decided to rest on the grass. After trying to decline ice cream, one of the young adults with us went and bought a bunch, so what were we going to do, just let it go to waste? Of course not. Once we finished our ice cream and talked for a bit longer it was time for dinner.


We split up tonight and ate dinner at different congregation members’ houses. Sarah and I went to a woman’s house who runs the children’s choir and is involved with the youth at the church. I would include names, but I really have no idea how they would be spelled in English. Also, Russians don’t live in what we consider to be houses. It is typical for them to live in one or two bedroom apartments. They are usually pretty small, but since they own the apartment they are able to do what they want to make it their own. The house we went to was very pretty and homey. We were served pork chops, salad, a meat and potato dish, mashed potatoes, and a traditional dish from our host’s home country. She isn’t originally from Russia, but we’re yet to understand where she is from. We had tea and cake before heading out for our walk back to the hotel. Maria ( a different one than above), who was our translator for the meal, walked with us back to the hotel, which took about an hour. It’s safe to say that wore us out and we are now ready for bed so we can be back at it in the morning. Spasibo (thank you) for making it this far and we’ll be back with more fun news tomorrow.



Cуббота (Saturday)

We once again started our morning with a devotional over Romans 10:8-10 and Matthew 28:16-20. We were reminded that although we may have a language barrier with the people of Samara, we can still form a relationship through the presence of God. Jeff left after our devotional to go shopping for food he can prepare tomorrow for the people served from the soup kitchen run by the church. The rest of us had breakfast at the hotel together before heading out for our day in the city.

We were split up into groups for cars to ride around the city in. Our first stop was at an overlook of the Volga River where a statue honored the aeronautic history of the Samarans. There was also a tomb very similar to our Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, remembering those who fought and were lost in the Great Patriotic War. From there we had the chance to visit a Russian Orthodox Church. When we entered, women had to cover their heads with scarves. The inside was very ornate with marble covered in gold and many icons covering the marble. We each lit candles at the altar. Here are pictures from the overlook and the outside of the Orthodox Church:

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We then visited a space museum where we learned the history of Russian space travel and rocket building. Samara is known for manufacturing parts of the rocketships and we got to see some old space satellites that had been made and used by the military. In the museum they had pressed metal made in Samara that is typically used for the fuel tanks of rockets. The tour guide was very proud of the history Samara had in aeronautics and made sure we understood how important their contributions have been.

One of the most popular places to visit in Samara is another overlook of the Volga River, from which we could see a few islands and campsites along the river. Being such a beautiful location, we saw at least 4 brides and grooms getting wedding pictures taken here. We joined the fun and decided to take a group picture. The first is just our Cincinnati team, and the second is with the group that drove and accompanied us today. Max, unfortunately, was taking the picture so he is absent from the photo.

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From here we went to a nice outdoor restaurant for lunch. It sprinkled a little bit, but we all managed to scoot under cover and stay dry. Meals have been a fun place for conversations about interesting foods Russians typically eat. Doug has decided he will try anything once, so today’s adventurous food was a soup filled with multiple types of sausages. When it was first brought up, one of the ladies with us made a gagging noise and vocalized how much she dislikes it. Doug, however, enjoyed the dish, so we’re yet to find something that he doesn’t like. Yesterday we all tried a drink made from fermented bread- definitely not as good as the soup, but we were all able to finish the tastes we were given.

Before we begin telling you about the second half of our day we’d like to take this time and address the driving situation over here. (Mom, feel free to skip this paragraph) First off, they do drive on the right side of the road, but that’s where similarities between our countries ends on this topic. There are no stop signs, and very few traffic lights and lane lines. Drivers typically weave in and out wherever they can find room. Since there are so few traffic lights, intersections are quite entertaining to watch, but not drive in. Pedestrians cross the street whenever they need and cars are expected to stop for them. I captured a video when we were waiting for the tram yesterday. It’s not the best quality, but you’ll get the idea. Max makes an appearance, so shout out to him.

We went back to the church where we were greeted by a reception of fresh fruit and baked goods made by a member of the congregation. After this time, we met with the leaders of the church about their roles and then Doug gave a presentation on how they can continue to grow their ministry. To conclude our time with them today we had a barbecue dinner outside the church with what we would consider metts, salad, corn, peas, and bread. It’s interesting to see their takes on our popular meals. We had an earlier night than last night, which we all needed because the traveling and our activities have definitely caught up with us. Thanks for continuing to follow our journey and check back tomorrow for another update!

Chowing down with new friends

Chowing down with new friends