RUST BELT HOPE
BY THE REV'D SEAN EWING
CHURCH OF THE HOLY TRINITY - GREATER CLEVELAND
I left her back in 2010. Honestly, most people in my generation did as well. I left her just weeks after LeBron James announced the infamous ‘Decision’—that our hometown hero was “taking [his] talents to South Beach.” Cleveland doesn’t make it easy to stick around. The rust belt blight, the lackluster economy, the harsh lake effect snow, and the endless grey—a meager sixty-six days of sunshine—make it difficult to call Cleveland your home.
I confess that I enthusiastically left Cleveland behind on the heels of the Great Recession. I married my wife Sonya and moved to warm, sunny North Carolina. I began my seminary studies at Duke Divinity School. I was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest and served a curacy at Holy Trinity—Chatham, a warm, growing, loving, vibrant church plant located south of Chapel Hill. Life was warm. Life was bright. And yet while I tried to make North Carolina my home, I felt a gentle prod turning my heart to my hometown.
After four years away, LeBron James announced that he was returning to Cleveland to end Cleveland’s fifty-plus year sports drought. He said that “it would make [him] smile” if he could inspire Clevelanders to stick around and return home for the betterment of the city. The gentle prod turning my heart homeward was becoming a nudge that I could no longer ignore. When I discovered that there were no faithful, orthodox churches of Word and Sacrament in the Anglican tradition within a twelve-mile radius of my hometown on the eastside of Cleveland—where 600,000 souls make their home—I knew that the Hound of Heaven was leading me home.
With great hope we moved back to Cleveland in June of 2015 to plant an Anglican church on the eastside of Cleveland. We are planting without a core group already in place and with limited resources. We are planting the Cleveland way—despite impossible odds, with abundant hope and patient endurance, and by the grace of God. Since moving back I have been blessed to volunteer at an addiction ministry every Thursday and preach in prison. I was asked to walk a Muslim man who did 20 years for murder through the last stages of his parole requirements. I had the privilege of officiating the wedding of the daughter of my high school Geometry teacher. We have gathered a lovely little small group which meets in our home.
On Sunday, June 19th, Clevelanders watched in awe as our hometown hero, LeBron James, led us in an impossible comeback to claim our city’s first championship title in over 52 years. It filled the city with such excitement and hope—over a million people flooded Cleveland’s streets for the celebratory parade. LeBron is also doing some really radical, self-sacrificial work to inspire hope off the court around here. Really—you should read about it. And yet, while I don’t want to detract from how much this means to us Clevelanders, Cleveland still needs a hope that this world cannot give. The millions of Clevelanders that united to celebrate our victory returned to our various tribes along political, socio-economic, and racial lines. These tribes seem to be about as divided as they are in the rest of the country. Cleveland is still on track to see 500 heroin-related deaths this year. Cleveland needs a lasting hope.
Peter tells us in his first epistle that God, in “his great mercy…has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). The best hope we Clevelanders can muster on our own is the hope we have always had—the well-meaning hope of good intentions and aspirations—the hope that keeps us saying “maybe next year” in the face of hopeless conditions. This hope means a lot around here but it is a hope with a fire that can die out in the midst of too much grey, too much cold, too much death. We want Cleveland to know this living hope that God has made possible through Jesus Christ. This living hope is a vital, powerful hope that is not tied to our present circumstances in this world but is rooted in the world that God has made possible in his great mercy through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. We don’t want Clevelanders to be left with wishful thinking. God has offered us a solid anchor in the living hope we have in Jesus Christ. Our desire at Church of the Holy Trinity—Cleveland is to share that hope as we faithfully proclaim God’s Word and as we tangibly extend that hope in the Sacraments.
I am thankful to be planting an Anglican church in my hometown on the eastside of Cleveland. And I am excited to be planting this church with the Anglican Diocese of Christ our Hope—with men and women—leadership, clergy, and laity—who know this living hope we have in Jesus Christ. This is difficult work. But we do it with a living hope.
The Rev. Sean Ewing
Church Planting Vicar
Church of the Holy Trinity—Cleveland