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What to Believe and Who to Believe In?

Posted by chesterlanducc on March 28, 2017 at 12:25 AM

Today’s scripture is in part about belief. In today’s modern culture—a society enlightened by science—we sometimes understand belief as thinking something is either empirically true or false, either provable or unprovable. But sometimes we forget that belief is also often relational. If I were to say, for example, I believe in Christine, or Richard, or Karen. That doesn’t mean I believe they exist, of course they exist, I can see them, I can touch them—that’s not the point. The point is, when I say I believe in you—I am practicing a relational way of being where I am honoring the good in you—I am acknowledging our relationship and my knowledge of who you are.

Sometimes Christians get caught up in beliefs and arguing about who is right and who is wrong—who is “saved” and who is not. The question of Christian Faith, I believe, is not whether non-Christians believe or don’t believe in Jesus, but rather, what does it mean for those of us who are Christians to believe IN Jesus? It is important for Christians to believe IN Jesus, just as it is important for Jews to believe in their faith, for Muslims to believe in their faith, and for all kinds of religious and moral people to believe in their religious and moral systems.

Belief in this sense is not saying something is either true or not true, but belief is relational—saying I believe in you is not that just words —it is an action. So as Christians, we must ask ourselves what does it mean for each one of us to believe in Jesus? What does it mean to be believe in someone who challenged the systems of power and inequality of this world—what does it mean to believe in someone who welcomed in those from the outside of society—what does it mean to believe in someone who physically touched those who society said were untouchable—what does it mean to believe in someone who loved those who society said were unlovable?

This morning we sang the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God, which is a very ancient chant that has been used in the Roman Catholic Mass since the 7th century. I imagine we all hear and interpret beliefs about Jesus differently, but for me, singing about Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is a proclamation that I believe in Jesus—I believe in Jesus that he was one whose life and love was able to fundamentally challenge the brokenness of this world—I believe in Jesus that he was able to take away the sin of the world by proclaiming God is love and acting like it.

Each Sunday during Lent I have been talking about an issue of social justice. And today I want to talk about children because children are some of the most vulnerable in our society. And I want to share two stories of people who believed in Jesus. Not just people who called themselves Christians, or who believed in a particular doctrine of Jesus, but people who allowed the truth and belief of who and what Jesus was to transform their lives.

As some of you know, Community Church was a merger of two historical churches in Chester, the Congregationalist Church of Chesterland founded in 1819 and the Disciples of Christ Church, Chesterland founded in 1842. From the Disciples of Christ denomination two non-profits serving children in Cleveland were formed right around the turn of the twentieth century. These are the two stories I want to share with you today in helping us reflect about what it means to believe in Jesus.

The first story is about a group of Hiram College students. Community Church has enjoyed many ministers from Hiram College, and especially our first female ministers who served Community Church in the in the 1930s and 40s. Hiram College, although ecumenical, was founded like many Colleges of its time in the mid19th century, in large part to prepare men and women for ministry.

In the mid 1890s a guest lecturer came and spoke at Hiram College and inspired a group of Divinity students by telling them about the Settlement House movement in Chicago. Settlement Houses were innovative hubs of activity and social services in cities designed to empower and to support the poor in becoming self-sufficient. They were the forbears of non-profits and community centers and they existed at a time when there were virtually no governmental or secular programs to help the poor.

There was an unbelievable amount of poverty in Cleveland at this time. You have to remember that at the turn of the 20th century, many cities like Cleveland were busting at the seams with immigrant populations that were desperately poor. In fact in the early 20th century Cleveland ranked as high as the fifth largest City in the entired United States—the entire country!—and at the same time was home to some of the wealthiest industrialists in our country. Tremendous wealth—tremendous poverty.

These six Divinity students at Hiram College were very much aware of this poverty but I imagine they had no idea what they were getting themselves into when after graduating, as the story goes, these students, with seventy five dollars, a box of soap and six spoons , set off to begin a Settlement House. Now when you count spoons and soap as capital you know you don’t have many resources. The students perhaps sought to be where there was the most perceived need and settled in Whisky Island, but they soon found the predominantly Irish community to be too rowdy and so they relocated to the near East Side on Orange Avenue in a quieter Jewish Community.

Hiram College divinity graduate George A. Bellamy is credited with founding the Hiram House. And it was literally a house at first, and he and his fellow supporters were told time and time again it would fail. It was one of the first of its kind in not only Cleveland but the entire country, and it was being started by recently graduated College student from out in the country. But it did not fail, and later with support by wealthy Cleveland industrialists, it grew over time to fill nearly a city block, with what I have been told was the nation’s first public playground and multiple social services. The Hiram House complex on Orange Ave. was torn down in 1941 to make room for a freeway through Cleveland and George Bellamy retired after 45 years of service, but I have met folks who volunteered there and I believe actually Jean Benson funny enough told me she visited and maybe volunteered there in College.

And while the original Hiram House no longer exists, an outgrowth of the mission was the establishment of a "Fresh Air Camp" for tenement-bound families, and especially, for their children. Beginning in the summer of 1896, the first Summer Camps were held at local farms and fairgrounds. In 1900, Hiram House opened a permanent site for the Camp where it is now, off of Harvard Road and St. Rt. 91. I found my way to Hiram House Camp while I was in College to work and this is where I met Doug Robertson, a lifelong supporter of Hiram House.

The story and legacy of George Bellamy and the Hiram House, helped propel me into wanting to live out my Christian Faith in terms of social justice. Some years latter when I returned to Hiram College as a Chaplain and began working with Hiram House Camp again, I learned about the Cleveland Christian Home which was founded in 1900 when Rev. Henry Timme, a pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), took in a family of children left on his doorstep. Word soon spread that Rev. Timme’s home was a safe haven for children, and other abandoned or orphaned children followed.

Soon, Rev. Timme was running an orphanage from his home near Broadway & Aetna Avenues in Cleveland. In 1905, Rev. Timme moved the orphanage to the Bosworth farm on Lorain Avenue, and the orphanage expanded to care for 60 children.

In 1924, with the help of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the farmhouse was replaced with a modern brick building, complete with recreation rooms and dormitories. The Cleveland Christian Home for Children, which is still in use today on Lorain Avenue on Cleveland’s West Side, eventually cared for 100 orphans ranging in age from babies to teenagers.

By the 1960’s, as fewer children were orphaned, Cleveland Christian Home found itself taking care of many children who had been the victims of abuse or neglect. To better care for these children, CCH transformed its orphanage on Lorain Avenue into a residential treatment center for abused and neglected children.

Today, the Cleveland Christian Home annually provides hope and healing to approximately 500 children, youth and families who are struggling with mental illness, abuse and neglect. Some of their programs are residential and they have a school on site at their building, and some of their programs are community based therapeutic services in order to help children in schools and in their homes.

I have been on the Cleveland Christian Home board now for about two years and I am still learning about all they do. They, like Hiram House, have a rich and important history of serving the most vulnerable in our communities. And I think, it is important to remember that both of these agencies, which combined have served thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of children and families over the past century, were begun by people like you and me, individuals who were confronted with the reality of brokenness in our world and who choose to do something about it. And I think the stories of the Cleveland Christian Home and Hiram House Camp, are examples of what it means to believe in Jesus—what it means to believe in someone who invited in those who society tried to keep out—what it means to believe in someone who touched those who society said were untouchable—to believe in someone who loved those who society said were unlovable.

Thanks be to God for God’s still speaking voice. Amen.


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