On June 26, 2019, Hometown Oneonta published an opinion letter that I wrote with the intention of honoring and defending a local sect most people know as “The Twelve Tribes.”
I want to apologize to everyone who read that letter, especially in Oneonta, for misrepresenting those people. Since I used to visit them on and off for many years, I know from firsthand experience that they claim a monopoly on “the body of Messiah” and God’s approval, and that without joining their sect no one has God’s approval and the best that non-members can hope for is a mediocre place in heaven.
The problem with such theology is that it creates pride, competition, and division among Christians and other churches, defeating the purpose the Twelve Tribes have and claim to live by namely to love and be united with all other believers.
The strongest point I tried to make in my June 2019 letter, was that no one in their house or restaurant has ever abused their children and that their accusers were wrong for saying they do. The problem with child abuse is that it’s very difficult to prove when the children are happy, content, and most notably, brainwashed by their parents.
This is the case with the children who are living in the Twelve Tribes. So because I now know this, I will think twice before honoring and defending a church or sect without knowing all the facts about them.
In 2008, Joyce Mason, working as a missionary in Honduras, got an urgent message that she was needed at home in Oneonta.
“Opportunities for Otsego had decided to give the Lord’s Table two weeks’ notice that they would no longer run it,” she said. “And although they tried to limp along, it wasn’t enough.”
After locating a landline phone to talk with the staff at St. James Episcopal Church, Mason came back to Oneonta as director of the nightly feeding ministry and the Loaves & Fishes food pantry.
“I got home on May 31,” she said. “I went into work on June 2, and I’ve been here ever since.”
And at the end of the year, Mason will retire from feeding families, the elderly and the disenfranchised after 22 years of service.
“If people are hungry, you have to feed them,” she said. “That’s important. It doesn’t matter if they’re rich or poor or sideways. Anyone can come.”
A native of Forrest Hills, Mason moved to Sidney with her husband, James. He passed away in 1995, leaving her with their two sons, James and Peter.
“After they graduated high school, I became a missionary,” she said. “And I was sent to Honduras.”
But when she got back, there was much work to be done to get the pantry and the kitchen where they needed to be to serve the city’s hungry.
“When I got here, it was not a happy situation,” she said. “So much of what was in the freezers wasn’t labeled, and I had to throw everything in the dumpster. It made me very sad.”
She immediately set to restocking the fridges. “I ordered food from the Regional Food Bank and, sometimes, from restaurants or catered events, like weddings,” she said. “And I started calling every group I could get to help serve the meals.”
With the First United Methodist Church hosting Saturday’s Bread, and the Salvation Army offering the “Meal With a Message,” a hot meal is offered free of charge seven days a week in the city.
“There is no place else between Albany and Binghamton that does that,” Mason said. “And in a town this size, we’re absolutely blessed to have three meal service programs.”
In 2018, Mason spearheaded the formation of the Otsego County Hunger Coalition, creating a network of all the food pantries, feeding programs and farmers’ markets in the county to make sure everyone has access to food wherever they may be.
But there have been challenges along the way. “After the flood of 2011, we were the Otsego County Disaster Feeding program,” she said. “St. Mary’s was housing people, many of them from
Lantern Hill” – the Southside trailer park – “and we had to feed them three meals a day.’
She was preparing lunch for the flood victims one afternoon when she smelled smoke. “The food pantry was on fire,” she said.
Rather than shut down, the pantry moved into St. James and continued its ministry. “We were closed from Friday to Tuesday,” she said. “We had to keep it going.”
The pantry was rededicated in March 2012, and Mason was lauded by Father Kenneth Hunter for continuing to feed the most needy among them.
And this year, the ministries had to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the Lord’s Table to go to take-out only.
This year, 3,642 households have received food, the highest number in five years.
“It’s tough for the older people especially,” she said. “They need that socialization of sitting down and having a meal with somebody. It’s not available to us right now, but as soon as we can reopen, we will.”
It has also limited the food available at the pantry. “We’re having a lot of trouble getting beef or pork,” she said. “It’s just not available.”
While Mason is leaving her post at year’s end, she doesn’t expect to stay put for long in her retirement. “I’m a missionary at heart,” she said. “I go where I’m needed.”
Sounds of song, inspiration and prayer filled the brand new sanctuary to standing-room-only at the rebuilt Milford Methodist Church during this morning’s service, “two years, two months and twenty-eight days” after the March 12, 2017, arson that destroyed the original building. Above, Pastor Sylvia Barrett on guitar, leads the congregation in “And All The People Said Amen,” with help from Music Director Ron Johnson on organ and choir members Jerriann Garrillo, Mark Andrews, Anthony Welsh, Ralph Eggleston, Patsy Lyons, Sandy Andrews, Emily Mattison-Welsh, Maureen Johnson and Cindy Campbell. At left, state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, a member of the church and its Building Committee, reads the closing prayer for the morning. Following the service, worshippers enjoyed a celebration fellowship. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
ONEONTA – Members of Oneonta’s First United Methodist congregation tonight approved a “We Refuse” resolution that rejects the United Methodist Church’s reaffirmation of prohibitions against gay marriage and gay pastors.
The “We Refuse” resolution says the “Traditional Plan,” approved, 53 percent to 47 percent, at the UMC’s General Conference last February in St. Louis, is “incompatible with God’s all-inclusive love of and for everyone.”
ONEONTA – A resolution, “We Refuse,” objecting to the international United Methodist Church’s reassertion of its prohibition on gay marriage and gay pastors, was inserted into today’s Sunday Service program at Oneonta’s First UM.
The local resolution calls the church’s “Traditional Plan,” which reaffirmed its ban and was approved by majority vote last February, “exclusive, punitive, and unwelcoming” and declares it “incompatible with God’s all-inclusive love of and for everyone…and with Jesus’ teachings,” which tell people to love everyone “unconditionally.”
The resolution goes further, labeling the Traditional Plan “un-Christian.” It calls for regional churches and the bishop to reject it and pursue a separate path.
The insert also announced a Special Charge Conference for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the church, where members of the congregation will debate and vote on “We Refuse.” Rev. Marti Swords-Horrell, the pastor, will preside.
Delivering the sermon today was J.J. Warren, a gay seminary student from Penn Yan whom Bishop Mark Webb, of the Syracuse-based conference that includes Otsego County, has said he will not ordain.