John C. Lentz Interview, 11 June 2012

Reverend John Lentz, pastor at Forest Hill Church, talks about the history of the church and its place in the community. He begins by giving his background and the path he took to get to the church. He then goes into the early history of the church and how it began on Radnor Road in Cleveland Heights. He also talks about previous pastors and their legacies. His discussion of Reverend Ned Edwards leads into a conversation about the activist postions the church took throughout the 1960s into the present day. Reverend Lentz spends a great deal of time talking about the various outreach programs that the church has, and how they continue to expand their role in the community. He concludes with a humorous mention of the church's softball team.

Participants: Lentz, John C. (interviewee) / Fearing, Heidi (interviewer)
Collection: Cleveland Heights
Institutional Repository: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Interview Transcript

Heidi Fearing [00:00:00] Now that it's on. Could you state your name?

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:00:03] Yes, John C. Lentz Jr.

Heidi Fearing [00:00:09] Perfect and where are you originally from?

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:00:10] Originally from the Washington, D.C., area.

Heidi Fearing [00:00:15] Can you give some background information, such as what educational institutions you've attended and where you held positions as a pastor?

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:00:22] OK, well, I went to high school in the, in the D.C. area in Arlington, Virginia. Upon graduation, I went to Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, a small liberal arts college. Four years, I was a major in history. I then went to Yale University Divinity School for my master's of divinity degree, which then led to five years in Edinburgh, Scotland, where I received my PhD in New Testament language and literature, and then upon that graduation returned to the United States. And the first church was in Winchester, Virginia, which is about 70 miles west of Washington. I was there for five years before moving here in 1994.

Heidi Fearing [00:01:14] Is that when you became a pastor?

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:01:14] That is when I became the pastor of this Forest Hill Church and I was called to be the, the senior pastor, so my official title is senior pastor, head of staff.

Heidi Fearing [00:01:27] How did you be, how did you come to be become the pastor?

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:01:31] At Forest Hill. Well, the, the way we look for jobs and positions in the church, in the Presbyterian Church is somewhat similar to finding jobs. I was in Winchester and it was just a feeling time my wife and I were feeling like it was time to let's spread our wings a little bit and see what else is out there. And so we did a complete search of in the United States of churches that were open. And so we have this, this process whereas we're looking for churches, churches can look for individuals too and in that process, we came upon Forest Hill Church in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. We were impressed by its legacy of being a progressive Presbyterian church, really involved in its community and issues of social justice, of, of racial inclusion, of being open to gay and lesbians and bisexual and transgendered people. And it was just kind of like that's the kind of community that we want to be in. We also really were impressed with the kind of community that Cleveland Heights is in terms of its proximity to the, to a city that's dynamic and has a lot going on and also a very rich and diverse, you know, community as well. So that's how we came here. And then probably more than you want to know. But then it becomes I came here to interview. They liked me in a preliminary kind of way. They invited me back. They heard me preach, and then the congregation votes on me. And I think they voted like 220 to one. There's always one person that's against you, but that's okay.

Heidi Fearing [00:03:13] Did you ever find out who that one person was?

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:03:14] No, I never did. I have my, have my hunches and that person ended up being a real supporter. But I think he's just and I think it was the ornery old man who just feels like he's got to be contrarian. So that was, that was that.

Heidi Fearing [00:03:31] So are, you're familiar after this long being the pastor here of the history of the church?

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:03:39] Yeah, I think I do have a good sense of, of the history of this church who we have been and who we want to be. Yeah.

Heidi Fearing [00:03:50] And if you don't know the answer to a question it's fine.

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:03:53] Okay.

Heidi Fearing [00:03:53] Or if you think of something you're more than welcome to add it.

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:03:53] Okay.

Heidi Fearing [00:03:57] Could you talk about how Reverend Albert J. Alexander began the church?

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:04:00] I have no idea. I think. So, he's the founding pastor. [I'm] pretty sure the history goes – and then you probably, hopefully you have more facts than I do – is that the... this was original, before it was Forest Hill Church, there was a church that was the mother church is downtown. I think we're a baby of the Old Stone Church, which is right there and, you know, by Terminal Tower. And so as Cleveland started to grow east, there was a church in the Cleveland Heights area, a Presbyterian Church that had several locations around here. And I, I would be willing to bet that Pastor Alexander was the founder of that. But I don't know that history.

Heidi Fearing [00:04:50] Okay. Do you know how the church ended up from Radnor Road, because it... to its current location?

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:04:56] Well, yeah, I think we, we just sort of outgrew the Radnor Road and, and also after World War II, this Forest Hill area was being developed. And as I'm sure you know, this was all Rockefeller's summer house, summer location. And over across the street in the park was, was his land and the foundation of his summer house is there. And in fact, if you went down to Starbucks on Lee Road, the beautiful red brick, those were the horse stables of the Rockefeller mansion and area. So after World War II, the Rockefellers were no longer in the Cleveland area. And so they sold this whole tract of land and they wanted it developed into a, you know, fairly [a] pretty nice suburban area. And so this was the plot of land that they wanted to church. I mean, every perfect community has to have a perfect church in it. I say perfect with quotation marks and a small p. But and so from what I understand, they didn't care what church it was. It could have been Baptist, could have been Methodist, could have been anything. But it became a Presbyterian church. And that's why our official title is Forest Hill Church, Presbyterian. It's not Forest Hill Presbyterian Church. And so, you know, that church from Radnor just moved here in 1950 is when we, is when we started when we opened this place.

Heidi Fearing [00:06:28] That's actually really helpful, so thank you.

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:06:31] Good.

Heidi Fearing [00:06:35] I noticed that Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller purchased the first organ of the church. Do you still have that organ?

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:06:43] No.

Heidi Fearing [00:06:44] I'm just curious.

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:06:44] No, no, that's that's excuse me. Yeah, well, you know, all the churches, I mean, the Carnegies and the Rockefellers probably did more to build this city in the, in the end of the 19th century and early 20th century than we will probably ever know. But no, we don't. The organ was in really horrible repair. I mean, when they built this new church, I think they put an organ in it. And by the nineteen... late '80s or '90s, that that organ was not really doing very well, so we put in a new organ and that has served us well. But it's not the original Rockefeller Carnegie organ. That would be nice though.

Heidi Fearing [00:07:23] Alright. [phone rings]

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:07:28] Is that going to be a pain? I don't need to answer it, but I don't.

Heidi Fearing [00:07:31] I can edit it out.

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:07:31] Okay.

Heidi Fearing [00:07:36] Why did, why did the church change its name from Cleveland Heights Presbyterian Church to Forest Hill? Because of the development?

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:07:42] Yes, it's related to the development that was part of the deal, that it would become the church of this neighborhood and so it became Forest Hill Church. And what's interesting at its highlight, kind of its high point in the late 1950s, early '60s, there were fifteen hundred members of this church and people would really walk to church. I mean, it was the social thing to do was what you did after the war and families were coming home and everybody was religious. And so, you know, there was... and Cleveland Heights was a very large Jewish population in the congregations are all over the temples and park synagogue. And there are these big churches in every community had its church and everybody went to church. At one point in Cleveland Heights, there were, well, one, two, three, four Presbyterian churches, all within a mile of each other and some within like four or five or six blocks of each other. And all of them were pretty well attended. And we had fifteen hundred members here. And I think that's why our architecture is this way with the door. I mean, it's wonderful. The door, you know, opens up from the sanctuary into the neighborhood because most people walked up those steps. Now with everybody driving, the parking lots back there and everybody comes in here and I'll show you around after we finish and you'll see the, the dilemma of our architecture. But it used to, it really was the church of this neighborhood. Yep.

Heidi Fearing [00:09:11] Are there any good stories about different pastors that have led the church?

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:09:15] Oh, sure, there are tons. Well, my predecessor, there's only been three senior pastors since this church moved here. Yoder Leith from a little bit before to, say, the early '70s. And then Ned Edwards, who was here from the '70s to the early '90s and then me. So it really has been a very stable leadership structure of this church. Ned, my predecessor, was a brilliant preacher and also the one who was the that turned this church into the social activist congregation that it was. He was a leader in civil rights in the '70s when things were sort of changing here in Cleveland. And, and he was, in some sense a real leader, if not rabble-rouser in this community and in this city. And almost all the kind of community, socially engaged organizations, Home Resource Repair Center, Heights Community Congress, Heights Interfaith Council, Heights Emergency Food Center, all were started or in part by Ned's leadership. So he was [a,] you know, tremendous leader in this community. Bob Barnes was always famous for being the new young pastor. He would ride his motorcycle every place and is sort of known as this motorcycle guy. And not that that's big of a deal, but in 1963 and four, it was, you know, this radical young hip dude who was like riding motorcycles. One time during the storm, the cross at the very top of our steeple fell off and landed in the front yard, which created all sorts of, you know, hubbub in the community and also was the source of many things like, you know, because we were just starting to be more of a progressive liberal church that way and engage in. So, you know, there were people say, you know, is that a warning signal that we're doing this or that? But, yeah, when then when the cross fell off, that was kind of significant. So.

Heidi Fearing [00:11:21] I like that.

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:11:21] Yeah.

Heidi Fearing [00:11:21] Could you talk about the Women's Association? Does this group still exist?

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:11:32] we had, not really because so many women are working and you don't have the same kind of social norms in terms of stay-at-home moms and that you had 20 years ago. At least in this church, the idea of a strong Presbyterian women [has] waned some. So we've taken we've sort of replaced those sort of social organization, you know, that sort of social identity through a variety of small groups and, and sort of more loosely tied social organizations. But at the time, I mean, it was extraordinarily important to the life of the church because, you know, in churches historically, it has been the women whose, who've done most of the work. And which is the grotesque irony of all this, because until the 1950s, women were not ordained to be a leader of the church as an elder or a deacon or ordained to ministry. But thankfully, in the '50s that changed. And now, you know, women, both women and men, hold full authority in the church. And that the woman that was walking with she's, she's the other pastor of this, of the congregation.

Heidi Fearing [00:12:42] So how many pastors are there?

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:12:45] We have two pastors, so I'm one. Clover Beal is the second. We have a director of music, director of youth fellowships, those are both part-time. And then we have a director of youth programming and youth ministry, really the little kids from, from birth through eighth grade, no through sixth grade. And then we have a support staff, secretary, financial secretary, and then we have three custodians. So it's, you know, the staff of 11 or so when everybody's here.

Heidi Fearing [00:13:21] Okay. Could I ask? Could. If you hit the table I was going to, the microphone will pick it up if you tap it.

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:13:25] I'm a fidgeter. I apologize.

Heidi Fearing [00:13:31] No need to actually. A lot of people who talk about your church comment on its racial integration during the '60s and '70s. How did the church come to adopt, such a liberal stance?

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:13:41] Well, you know, I think it was. Well, in some ways, the easy way is that I think we took the Bible seriously, that the church is not just, you know, a country club. I mean, the church has got to have an impact on it's or it can, at its best, have a real impact on the larger society in terms of equity, in terms of breaking down barriers, in terms of having a kind of a radical vision for what our world should be. [And] I think really if you look at any of the social movements in American history, whether it be abolition, whether it be women's suffrage, you know, eight-hour workday, the end of child labor most of these, most of these movements were started by people of faith, civil rights. Certainly, these were all, these were all church and then religious faith-based kinds of movements because they're at the very core of [our] tradition. And I think after, you know, I mean, if you start thinking I think historically, I mean, after World War II, you're just coming back and everybody's just trying to get settled again. But, but there's also this, this move toward particularly in the African-American community, [to] move to be protected by our Constitution and to have the same kind of rights. And I think as that developed, there are, there were, there were churches and Forest Hill was one of them that said if we are not involved in that, then what are we even doing? I mean, what's the purpose of this? Other than to just come on Sunday and make people feel good and have ourselves pat ourselves on the back. And, and so I think this just this, this sense of let's be real and faithful to the deepest truths of our tradition led us into this position that a church has got to be moving towards more of a radical vision of inclusion. And, and in some sense, this is also, of course, the time of, of Vietnam. And a little later, that's the late '60s, early '70s. But this sense that the church has got to be involved in reconciliation and peacemaking and racial and racial reconciliation. So I think that's what, and also I think that the catalyst, though, that sort of forced us into this was it's also in the late '60s, early '70s, when Cleveland when there's a great migration through the '40s, and '50s, and '60s of African-Americans to Cleveland. [And] essentially your, your white urban core moves out to East Cleveland. And East Cleveland is a very stable community. And then as African-Americans moved into East Cleveland, literally, I mean, they talk about it being overnight and that's not much of an exaggeration, because within about two or three year period, East Cleveland went from being essentially all-white to essentially all-black [snap], just like that. And so, you know, all of a sudden I, you know, communities were forced to come to grips with who are we going to be in this new reality and new demographic and all of that. And, and there were some choices, which is called white flight. And there were others was like, well, or you can take sort of a, a castle mentality and we're going to stay here. I mean, this community used to have deed restrictions and there were no blacks, no Jews, and others who were allowed to own property here. And that change mainly because part in part because the leadership of this church. So then you have to, you know, figure out then what are we called to be? What is our mission? And I and I think that it became very clear to the, the leadership here that, you know, the only way we were going to be faithful to our mission was to, to be an agent of change and an institution of inclusion and, and seek to, to move along that trajectory of racial integration.

Heidi Fearing [00:17:43] I noticed that the, the church membership dropped off a lot during the '60s and '70s.

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:17:50] it really did, as I said, at our high point there were about fifteen hundred members and it was during the Ned Edwards pastorate. And I think that there are lots of things going on. Certainly to have the church involved in these social issues I think really is troubling and threatening to many, many people. And so they just left. I also think at that time that, you know, Cleveland Heights and the inner-ring suburbs began to change as the city of Cleveland did from this growth area to an exodus area. And you probably know the stats. I mean, Cuyahoga County in population is more or less stable. But the city of Cleveland has gone from 940,000 to 400,000 in, what, 40 years? I mean, that's really significant. And so we're just not, we're not a, we're not a growth area like eastern suburbs, or further western suburbs, or southern suburbs. So, you know, I think just people moved and there was no one to replace them. And then people who did not want to be listening to sermons about social justice said, to heck with that, we'll go someplace else. And then you have this, this deep decline in membership.

Heidi Fearing [00:19:09] How has the church been able to preserve its reputation as a haven for all races and mixed families and children?

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:19:18] Well, it takes work, I mean, [I] you know, I'm I'm very, very proud to be part of an institution that holds that up for a vision. I mean, we're not there yet. You know, I would say only in the past four or five years has our, has our membership begun to look like the vision that we hold out for ourselves. I mean, we have definitely become a more, you know, racially mixed community. Now, I mean, on a given Sunday, you come in and I would say, you know, twenty to twenty-five percent of the congregation is not white. Okay, that's hardly 50/50. But it's significant, you know, and I think the word just being a more inclusive it takes a lot of time. And, you know, we're, we're connected with, particularly in the, in the GLBT [LGBT] communities just with their publications and with other organizations that, you know, seek to get the word out that we really do seek to be open. And so, you know, help us on the journey. I mean, I would never say like I say, I mean, there's always this sense of we, we have this vision of who we could be and we want to hold ourselves accountable to it. But I don't think we have a rest on our laurels that wouldn't make me feel comfortable. I mean, we have this brilliant staff. I wouldn't trade any of them for an all-white staff, you know. So there's always that, that rub of, you know, we want to keep moving towards becoming that which we, we hold ourselves accountable to. But it takes work. You got to get it out there because, you know, there are lots of other churches and, and lots of entrenched communities and lots of kind of siloed communities. And, you know, being Presbyterian, we come from a fairly traditional and somewhat formal worship style. And even though if you come to church, you'd see us I mean, we laugh a lot and we have a lot of fun and and there's different styles of music. There's still enough for the tradition. [And] so I understand when people are coming for a more contemporary feel. You know, I mean, I wouldn't say we're a contemporary church and we have our moments. You know, if you want to come to a stereotypical black church, well, that's not Forest Hill. So, you know, there's always that tension if you got to be true to who you are and at the same time seek to be open. So it just takes time.

Heidi Fearing [00:21:40] What was the Confession of 1967?

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:21:44] Great. Probably one of the most important documents of the American Presbyterian Church I, I think. I'll tell you what it was and then I'll try to be as brief as I can with a little bit of context, because I think the context is important. In 1967, think of what's going on in America. You've got just as we talked about the whole racial integration issue, and civil rights, and voting rights, and riots, Dr. King, and all of this stuff going on in the '60s of our country. You also have the beginning [of] Vietnam [and] beginning to be conscious of what are we doing over there? And we've got the draft and, and young men, I think it was only men at that point, we're getting drafted. And so that is really disruptive. And then you have the whole movement of I mean, I would say, you know, rock and roll and just sort of this, this whole turning. I mean, I really do think as you look back, you know, there's something about postwar America in the '50s and early '60s that was just really flipped it over. And the rise of women's rights [and] people claiming a, a piece of the pie of the American dream and the American pie. And so in the midst of this turmoil, Presbyterians in America start saying, you know, so what does this mean? How do we speak a faithful word to the 1960s and to the, to America as we see it? Does the church have any relevance at all? And so Presbyterian leaders got together and wrote this Confession of 1967 it's called. And it really is a beautiful document because it brings up sort of the key line is the key theme is reconciliation. The key to Christianity, the key message of Christianity is that in Jesus Christ, God was reconciling the whole world to himself. In other words, so we have to be agents of reconciliation. And so it is a confession, a church document, which, which sort of intellectually and emotionally kind of unpacks what does that look like? How do we then live if we're going to be a church of reconciliation? And so it really, for the Presbyterians. I mean, that's a huge document. And even though I was only 10, I mean, I was born in '57. So I was, I was too young to care, you know, at '67. But, I can see how absolutely foundational informational a text that was for my upbringing because it, it really, you know, created an atmosphere of openness, of reconciliation, of hospitality. The irony of, of any confession is it's very historically bound. I mean it, I mean it was of this radical document in 1967, but all the language is male. You know, it took another 15 years for us to get like sensitive to you don't have to call God him all the time, you know, and open up that thinking. Well the Confession of '67 which is this sort of radical document, is still very limited in its language choices. And, and so it just shows that, you know, in that's sort of my context, is that, you know, every confession of the church is historically bound by its historical context. And so that's why we've got to keep doing this about every hundred years or so is say now, now what are we supposed to be faithful to that still ties into the tradition, but speaks speaks a new word to the world? So, that wasn't too bad. I could have gone on because we do a new members class. And so I always do this like twenty-five-minute piece on why Presbyterians are called confessional. And so it's my own little mini-lecture. And I didn't want to go into that but go ahead.

Heidi Fearing [00:25:33] What is, and so the session was when the Confession of. I saw the turn of the session. Is that?

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:25:40] Of the session. In the, what makes Presbyterians different than other churches is not so much what we believe. I mean, in every denomination, Roman Catholicism, you've got liberals, you've got progressives, you've got people in the middle. Essentially, we're all monotheistic. And, you know, we have we say certain things about Jesus and the Holy Spirit and all this. So but what separates Presbyterians from other churches has to do with our history and how we govern ourselves, how we organize ourselves. And in a Presbyterian church, the session is the elected body of leaders that essentially run the church. So that's what the session is and the session can I mean, it is like I'm sure that in 1968 or 1969, the session of this church decided that the Confession of '67 was going to be our guiding, you know, our guiding light, so to speak. But that's what that's what a session is.

Heidi Fearing [00:26:46] Okay. Could you talk about your current social justice ministries and the church's participation in civil rights ministries as of right now?

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:26:53] Yeah, can [with] delight, there's several things that are going on. Part of our mission is in direct service to people in need. So in other words, if you've got hungry people, our goal is to try to alleviate hunger by feeding people. We, for instance, just this morning, it was really great. We have a food cupboard. So people who are, you know, in need of food come in and we have a variety of canned stuff. We also have Abundance Acres, our garden outside, which produces fresh vegetables that during the season we bring in and give away. I mean, that's its main mission. And, and we have people who go to stores and get day-old bread and so we put them in people come and they take it away. This morning, we had our youth group, our middle high youth group, serve breakfast to the people who are coming in off the street. So they were here at 7:30 in the morning making pancakes, and eggs, and and sausage. And, you know, as people came in, they ate and got their food and left. So that's direct service. We also have a program of it's called Family Promise and for a week at a time and we have several of these during the year, this church becomes home for two or three, sometimes four, most of the time two or three families who no longer have their house. And are in they, they don't want to break themselves up. And some go to women's shelters and some go to kids' shelters and all that, trying to keep families together. And so we make sure our rooms, we have beds, we have everything. They live here for a week and we're part of a network of churches that do that in our area. So we're, we're helping the homeless in that way. You know, we're connected to tons of, tons of social service agencies in the city. In fact, we've got a fairly new program called, it's actually in conjunction with students at John Carroll. And on Friday nights, we meet we pack up a van with food and with clothing, and we drive around the city finding folks who live in the streets, and down alleys, and under bridges and we make sure they at least have a good meal. And if they need any clothing, we can at least accommodate as much as we can. And so there's this, this outreach and interaction with those who are really the neediest among us. And that's really, really important. We also have and I think in terms of civil rights, we started last year what we call a courageous conversation on race, and we intentionally got as diverse as we could and mixed groups as much as we could. And we really succeeded pretty well. And for all of last summer, we broke into dinner discussion groups around the issues of racism in the twenty-first century and racism at this church and where we might not even know were doing these things, but and really engaged. And I think a very, very deep conversation around issues of race and inclusion. And that is ongoing. And there's a small group continuing and making plans where, in fact, this fall we're going to go to Washington, DC together and see the new Martin Luther King monument and sort of do an African-American tour of Washington. And our goal is to try to do the whole civil rights trail throughout the south and sort of go as our mixed-race community going down and sharing this experience together. So I think that's really big. We also have some international connections. We've been to Managua and Nicaragua a couple of times and we've just opened up a new partnership in Haiti and we're seeking to do some some work there of partnerships in Haiti. So that would be sort of so there's direct service. Then there's things like this conversation we're having to change us as we witness to the world about the kind of community we want to be. Then there's more what we would call community organizing. That's sort of more of a political edge. Okay, you've got hungry people, you feed hungry people but is anybody asking why is there hunger in the first place? What do we need to change so that we change the way that society works, where there are people that don't have any food at all? That takes more power than just feeding a hungry person on the, on the street. So what we try to do is organize people of faith to come around a common sense of self-interest, of a vision for a more just and equitable society. And we, we organize enough people so we can go to our elected officials and say, we want you to vote this way. And here are a thousand people, Jews, Christians, black, whites, inner-ring suburb, urban and, you know, we have votes. And if you don't do it our way, we won't vote for you. That's very effective. And a lot of things. There's the whole mortgage crisis. It was part of faith-based organizing. I mean, it has been, you know, it has some shadow consequences, but, you know, I almost got arrested going down to protest National City Bank about six, seven years ago about their mortgage lending practice, which was just grotesque. And so was people of faith who went there and said, this is not the way you need to do this. And and that's a little bit more edgy. I get you a little bit more trouble. But, but that's a piece of I think of living on an act of faith. So we got race, we've got direct service, we've got faith based organizing. We've got some of our mission to, to other countries just to keep us aware of the real issues of poverty, the inequitable distribution of, of wealth in this world and in our country and all of that we try to speak to.

Heidi Fearing [00:32:47] Beside Frank C. Cain, what other notable church members have you had?

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:32:54] God, that's good. I'll have to come back to you for that one.

Heidi Fearing [00:32:55] Okay.

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:32:55] I, I know people who would know that I don't remember having anybody that were just like, you know, really well-known people, but we've had a few I'll have to, I'll have to think about that one.

Heidi Fearing [00:33:16] Okay. Can you talk about the various expansions of the, of the church now?

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:33:21] In terms of building and growth and?

Heidi Fearing [00:33:24] Yeah.

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:33:25] Well, really, most of the, the building expansion came in the '60s when this church was growing so fast that they had to build stuff. And so that's why this church has kind of like wings. I mean, first, it was just the sanctuary and our Fellowship Hall was underneath the church. And then when we got so big, they wanted a Christian education wing. So they built there. And then we felt we had to have more of a Fellowship Room. So they built out there. And really since the 1970s, we have not done any significant building. We've done some significant renovation because it just takes a lot of money and time to just keep the place up. So then you put new roofs on it. We've made it more handicapped accessible, and that was really a big move like 10 years ago. You know, we've done major portions of, of rooms like Fellowship Hall, which is the big room down there, used to look like it was made in 1950. Now it looks like it was made in 1990. So you have to keep working up. And, and so we've made more interior renovations than exterior renovations.

Heidi Fearing [00:34:36] Okay. What are some changes that have been made to how the church is organized that you find particularly interesting or the most beneficial to the church?

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:34:44] Wow, that's a great question, and I think we have had a very significant change in [our] governmental structure. Churches have a habit of being very hierarchical, like I'm CEO, you know, and then we have my little minions. And what we did intentionally about 10 years ago was flatten that system. And so it becomes much more of, of a community of leaders around a table. I mean, that's our image. And so by flattening that, by flattening [our] organizational chart, I think we've become a much more permission-giving church. I think that there are less barriers to get things done. [And] I think that our leaders are continuing to move away from being gatekeepers like, no, you can't do that to okay, as long as you have this, this, and this let's, let's give it a try. And I think [we're] more creative. I think there's a wonderful energy and I think we're less fear of failure. I think we're less worried about messing up.

Heidi Fearing [00:35:51] Well, that's all I had unless you'd like to add anything you've thought of that you think is interesting?

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:35:57] We've won seven softball championships in a row.

Heidi Fearing [00:36:00] Oh, I had a question about the softball.

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:36:01] Thank you.

Heidi Fearing [00:36:03] And I just forgot.

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:36:04] No.

Heidi Fearing [00:36:07] I saw two discrepancies in dates. There was one in the history that said that the first softball team was organized in the late '30s and then later it said it was like the '80s or something.

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:36:20] Well, I mean, I don't know. And that obviously is not that important, but it was, been fun. There's always been a way of, you know, I mean, we have fun at this church. There's lots of social groups. We have the softball team. We do all this stuff too. And, and I remember when I got called here in 1994, you know, the team was basically disbanded. Well, I love playing softball so we got it going again and it became really fun. And now, I don't play anymore because I'm too old and I can't do it anymore. But so it's become this really fun group, a lot of young people, and, and they win every year. So I feel like that's my greatest legacy was winning softball championships. I'm really kidding. But go ahead. Okay. Let's see.

Heidi Fearing [00:37:01] I could leave that out if you'd want?

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:37:05] Yeah, I think well, no, not unless you want a little humor, but very little. But you know, what I love about this church is that, you know, what you see is what you get. I do think we really enjoy being together. We do a lot of serious stuff, but we actually have a lot of fun and people like each other. I think people like being part of this. There's a freshness and a little bit of a surprise. You never know what's going to happen on a Sunday in terms of music or sermon or whatever. For instance, just as an example, this coming Sunday were not meeting in the sanctuary, we're meeting in Fellowship Hall. And what we do during the summer is we often give sort of community sermons. In other words, instead of me preaching, we'll open up, you know, the text that we're looking at and after maybe two or three minutes of sort of intro and background, we really ask the community, so what are you hearing? What are you hearing in this text? And it becomes really fun, engaging people talk to each other about what they're hearing instead of just what the minister is saying. So we do stuff like that and it lighten things up.

Heidi Fearing [00:38:11] That's really interesting.

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:38:11] Yeah.

Heidi Fearing [00:38:14] Do you have any questions you wanted to ask?

John C. Lentz Jr. [00:38:16] Okay, that'll do. Good.

Cleveland Heights

Initial interviews in this series were conducted between 2011 and 2013 at the Coventry Village Reunion in support of Historic Heights App Tours, a Cuyahoga Arts & Culture-funded grant project sponsored by FutureHeights, Cleveland Heights Historical Society, and Cleveland Heights Landmark Commission. Additional interviews were collected in 2018 in coordination with the Cleveland Voices podcast.