Saturday, May 20, 2006

A Look Inside "Peace Community Church"

The so-called welcoming and affirming stance (vis-a-vis homosexuality) does not exist in a vacuum. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports on the old FBC Oberlin and gives us a sympathetic look inside. Frankly, there are aspects of the article that almost sound like a parody...but this is the unreal McCoy. Be sure to check the church's website and the parody-like elements multiple like rabbits. There the religious right, the PSW, and the War on Terror all get a drubbing, and the Sunday attendance of 50-60 is mentioned. Hey, a church that size doesn't need two pastors and an intern--it needs a renewal and reformation!

Peace Community Church (American Baptist)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Jennifer Gonzalez
Plain Dealer Reporter

As a freshman at Oberlin College four years ago, David Reese had a lot to do. But one task had nothing to do with academics.

He wanted to find a church. He settled on Peace Community Church because of its commitment to peace and justice issues, its informal worship and its diversity of congregants.

"What I like most is the way PCC combines people who would not otherwise associate to do really amazing and beautiful things," says Reese, 22, a religion major from Mayville, N.Y.

"The high number of potlucks is also important," he says, half-joking.

The church was founded as the First Baptist Church of Oberlin. In 2000, it changed its name to better reflect its mission, says the Rev. Mary Hammond, co-pastor of the church. The name brought about 25 new people, most of whom would never have thought about visiting, she says.

Reese says he likes that the church makes decisions by consensus. Everyone -- not just a small group -- is involved. For example, last year, after much discussion, the church joined the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, which publicly advocates the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people within the Baptist communities of faith.

Reese, who graduates later this month, plans to attend Chicago Theological Seminary and earn a master's degree in divinity.

He's not sure whether he'll lead a congregation, but he wants to be involved in church work.

At Peace Community, Reese is the peace and justice intern, in which he acts as a liaison between the campus and town activist groups. He also has led several study groups and even preached a couple of times.

Reese says being active in the church makes him feel alive. "It's good for me, and it's good for the world," he says. "God's greatest glory is a human being fully alive."

A recent visit:

From the outside, Peace Community Church is a handsome, towering two-story brick building with a bell tower. Inside, however, it looks and feels like a quaint country church.

The mood is casual. Church-goers chat in the sanctuary before the service. As the Rev. Steve Hammond (co-pastor at the church) approaches the pulpit, their voices become hushed and they take their seats.

Announcements are made and then the Rev. Mary Hammond plays a hymn on the piano.

After a welcome from Steve Hammond and a song from the choir, Hammond hands the microphone to congregants. Some share prayer requests for the sick while one tells abut his visits to colleges with his son.

During his sermon, Hammond speaks about how the disciple Thomas doubted the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He challenges congregants to come out of their own tombs.

"We know racism," he says. "We know nationalism. We know homophobia. We know greed, lust and betrayal. We know what it means to hate our enemies, to do bad things to those who do bad things to us.

"We want to strictly define who is the neighbor we will love, and who is the stranger we won't. We know about retaliation.

"Forgiveness is a little harder to comprehend."

The service ends with members making a circle and clasping hands for a final prayer.

Gonzalez is a Plain Dealer reporter. Send comments about this story to


See also the church's website:


Dennis E. McFadden said...

"On November 6, 2005 the American Baptist Churches of the Rochester/Genesee Region graciously and enthusiastically received our congregation into its membership!"

Glenn, what is it with these former colleagues of yours in Ohio moving to Rochester for denominational cover? Granville, now Oberlin? Hmmmmmmm

Glenn Layne said...

if i were in ABCOH, all I could say would be "good riddance" and "hey, let's do what PSW did"

SmallSoul said...

The following is the May 12, 2005 "Statement to ABC/Ohio Board" by Rev. Steve Hammond when the ABC/Ohio Regional Board met to vote to support the ABC/IN-KY resolution. (The board voted to support the resolution 22 in favor, 2 opposed with three abstentions.)

I take the proposal to support the Indiana/Kentucky resolution a bit personally. Our church is currently in the process of being removed from ABC/Ohio. If this resolution were in effect now, once we are removed from the Region we would no longer have the option of remaining an American Baptist Church.

I realize, of course, that is the point of this resolution and the reason it is supported by many on this Board. It's not enough to expunge churches like the Peace Community Church of Oberlin from your sight, you need us expunged from your minds, as well. But in removing churches such as ours from this Region, and in the future from the denomination, you do a great disservice to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Realm of God, and yourselves.

When our congregation made the decision to affiliate with The Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, it came at the end of a process of rewriting our constitution and our Guiding Principles and Policies. It was an amazing time for us. We had meeting after meeting where we prayed and looked to the Scriptures and discerned who we are as a local congregation. It took us four drafts, but by the end we had written down on paper, as best we could, who we are. The North Central Association and the American Baptist Churches of Ohio ought to be celebrating that movement of the Spirit in our lives, but instead we've become too hot to handle, too much empowered by the Spirit, from my perspective, for others to know what to do with us. Indeed, we ought to be celebrating the work of many of our local congregations period. For it is local congregations that are at the core of the movement we call Baptist.

In our congregation we have Pat Robertson watchers and Marcus Borg readers. We've got Ph.D.s and folk who have never graduated from high school. Some of us have more than enough money, others of us would never survive without assistance from social agencies, friends and family, and church members. We've got college students, retired folk, and unemployed people. We've got people who are married, divorced, straight, gay, and single. Some of us are just finding our way back into the body of Christ, hoping that this won't be another church that rejects us.

In other words we are not all alike. We believe different things, we bring different church and life experiences with us, we bring different expectations. But we are committed to helping each other discover what it means to be Jesus followers, and the Holy Spirit is running amok in our congregation.

It is my opinion that the Indiana/Kentucky Resolution is about the fear of that kind of diversity in American Baptist life. It is a vision of everyone thinking alike, believing alike, acting alike, and perhaps one day voting alike. It is a vision of a denomination turned in on itself, where a few self-appointed pastors set the doctrinal standards for all of us. And the thing this vision fears even more than diversity is dissent.

Yet, we are Baptists. We grew in the soil of dissent, believing that followers of Jesus have enough of the Holy Spirit in them to discern how their congregations ought to be about ministry and mission. We used to celebrate that. It was our reason for being. But now we have abandoned dissent for conformity. We want to support resolutions like the Indiana/Kentucky one, demand that speakers at all ABC/Ohio functions conform to a set of guidelines, or remove my wife from the Quest Committee. Silencing is not golden.

By some fluke I am the longest serving Board member in this room. I have been on this board, uninterrupted, for at least twenty years. I think this will be my last meeting, assuming the disfellowshipping process with our Association moves ahead in the coming weeks. Over those years I have almost always voted with the minority, sometimes a minority of one, on many major issues facing this board. I will end my tenure most likely voting with the minority again.

Nevertheless, I have a profound respect for many in ABC/Ohio life past and present, including people sitting in this room. Over the years I have had the honor of knowing and working with wonderful Regional staff, including Larry Swain and the current staff. ABC/Ohio and I have traveled this road together for nearly 26 years, and now it's time for all of us to move on to where God is leading us. But wherever that is for me, I will continue to live a Baptist lifestyle. I will glory in the wonder of the ability and authority of the local congregation to govern
itself looking to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit rather than creeds, confessions, doctrinal statements, statements of faith, or the requirements of those who have assumed the role of determining who are the clean and unclean among us.

Isn't it interesting that the conception of the left is that Baptists were birthed in the soil of dissent, but in all my studies in church history, I never once recall a dissenting Anabaptist or Baptist demanding to be welcomed and affirmed either in the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, the Lutheran Church or the Reformed and Free Churches in Switzerland. Instead, when they found they no longer agreed with the beliefs of those churches, they left. It was only in their separation that leaders of those churches pursued and persecuted the dissenters. In Baptist life, if dissenters on the issue of biblical authority as it works out in the area of human sexuality -- in other words advocates against biblical authority and for homosexual inclusion -- would separate from the denomination rather than demanding acceptance, they would be truer followers of the historical Baptist way.

SmallSoul said...

Just for fun, it's also interesting to know that PCC pastor Steve's fellow buckeye is the Rev. Steve Hammond, aka. "The Gatekeeper," shock guitarist for the bands "The Attix" and "Typhoid Mary." :D