Reverend Daniel Hughes’ personal faith was engrained in his family. Both his parents were ministers in the same non denominational church they had established in a predominantly black neighborhood of Lima, OH. Even though growing up in a rural setting, on farmland 20 minutes away from the city, Hughes spent a lot of time, at least 3 days a week, at his parents’ church, attending services and participating in religious teachings.
“I grew up in a cross-cultural world,” he says, “navigating very early on cultural differences.” “I was black in an all white middle class rural community, but yet connected with many urban African Americans whom I did not talk or act like. I felt like someone with no place, someone who did not belong in the social arena,” he adds.
Organized religion also did not resonate with Hughes. He got, however, from his parents and the church, his spirituality and his deep faith which informed his identity. He became aware of social justice issues at home, his family always helping the poor and the oppressed, and constantly reminding him that everyone is called to be free and to also set others free.
“I always had an aversion to see people mistreated,” he says. “At school I would protect kids being picked on, and in the school bus I will leave an empty seat next to me for them.”
Growing up, Hughes also witnessed the gender discrimination his mother experienced as a female minister, churches then not being in favor of women in religious leadership positions.
After graduating from high school, Hughes left home and got a job in California. In 1998, and eight years later, he returned to Ohio to be next to his dying father. His parents’ church was then closed but, fulfilling his father’s wishes, Hughes helped reopen its doors, getting it back into operation and serving as its new pastor.
“I felt I was called to lead the community and serve its people,” says Hughes, “and they selected me as their new minister. I was reading at the time Paul’s letters to Timothy, his letters regarding the work of a pastor caring for his community,and I felt as if they were addressed to me.” This was the fall of 1998.
A few months later, January 1999, Hughes joined the Mennonite’s Bluffton University, in Bluffton, OH, twenty miles north of Lima. He spent there four years, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Communication, and pursuing at the same time his pastoral work at his church in nearby Lima.
“Studying at the Mennonite University raised my awakening to social justice, to pacifism and to community,” says Hughes. “My religious upbringing was predominantly spiritual, but my 4 years at Bluffton connected in a direct and inseparable way my faith to social justice.”
At the same time as being a student, Hughes worked as a staff member custodian cleaning the student union; he got to hang out with other staff members, custodians, cooks, etc. listening to their stories and resonating with their social problems. He served also on a university team called “Damascus Road” which had for goal to address, identify and offer solutions to the systemic racism prevalent in the American culture, “a racism that robbed both white and people of color of dignity, equality and mutual respect,” he says. Hughes also joined many peace and social justice clubs on campus, participating in their vigils and marches for various causes, such as, for instance, against the capital punishment.
“During my college years and thanks to the Mennonite’s influence, I was living liberation theology, knowing that God is a liberator on the side of the oppressed,” says Hughes. “And I was bringing that experience to my church community in Lima.”
After graduating from Bluffton University, Hughes went to the University of Bowling Green to complete a Master’s degree in Communication, and then returned to Bluffton U. to teach. “But I felt the need and the call for something more,” he says.
Continuing his teaching, he accepted the position of Assistant Director at the Lima Housing Authority.
“I thought it would be a good way for me to help and impact the lives of average poor people. I found out quickly, however, that I was not meant for politics and decided to quit.”
Hughes’ experience working for the Housing Authority, nevertheless, exposed him further to the prevailing injustices of the system and to the unequal privileges many white individuals blindly live. It determined his deeper involvement in the community. A police shooting that killed for no reason Tereka Wilson, a young African American mother, at her home in Lima, presented him with a good opportunity. The police officer responsible for the killing not being indicted, the city erupted into riots, and Hughes, as one of the religious leaders, was pulled in the center of it. He started working with other black and white religious denominations and groups, with schools, with the mayor, trying to find common ground and bring real healing and change to the city.
“When Tereka was shot I felt as if my apathy and selfishness had allowed it to happen,” states Hughes. “Her blood, like the blood of Jesus, saved me and gave me the courage, like the Jews in the Old Testament, to “leave my Egypt”, i.e. the comfortable and secure system i was living in, for a promised land where there would be justice and no oppression.”
This is also when Hughes was introduced to the United Methodist Church (UMC) through a white pastor from one of Lima’s suburban churcheswho reached out to him. Finding similarity between them they decided to work together to fight injustice in the city. Few years later, he was offered the pastorship of Shiloh UMC at Price Hill. He has been there now for four years.
Hughes’ church in Price Hill is diverse in its membership and very involved in its neighborhood. It works, for instance, with the local Recreation Center offering there social programs and events, services, also free meals to the community. It also partners with Shiloh Sober Living providing financial support to returning citizens who suffer from substance abuse and who have opted to live drug free. In collaboration with the non profit LIT (Living In Testimony), housing and a supportive community will soon be offered to men coming out from prison. The church also provides mentors for young juveniles with felony, part of the Block ministry, and offers its facility for narcotics and alcoholic anonymous, and to various Santa Maria activities.
Hughes visits the jail at the Justice Center downtown Cincinnati every week. He provides faith and other support to the inmates and is planning a Returning Equity program which will offer them an alternative economy when released and ready to reinsert society.
“When freed, these individuals do not feel they belong and are not being accepted,” he says. “They are ‘the others’, a feeling at the heart of their many problems.”
Hughes also leads the Price Hill Faith Alliance, trying to create relationships between the various local Christian churches; and participates in the Faith Alliance citywide.
With other faith leaders of the City he started a year ago the JustLove movement, a movement based onbringing people together to share their experiences, connect by love, and work for justice.
Last April, Hughes’ Shiloh Price Hill UMC separated from its Delhi sister church and changed its name to the Incline Missional Community. Its new goal is to love people the way they are, liberate them, lead them, and help them realize who they are. The Sunday service has changed as a result and with the parishioners’ input is now based on a monthly theme which, in addition to the religious service, progresses with various activities and teachings throughout the month, ending up with an active community service in the neighborhood.
“This helps us address important issues we face in our culture and our life, examine them deeply and plan our faith response to them,” says Hughes. ” Our members own the process and it gives all of us practical tools to apply.”
Going from there Hughes would like to create spaces for people to belong and be vulnerable. For him who studied Communication, communication is all about connections that these spaces will facilitate, letting people thrive and flourish. They will break isolation, foster acceptance and attract people to the Jesus who is both in them and in “the other”. “They will incubate love and hopefully will help change the world,” he says.
What is the United Methodist Church The United Methodist Church (UMC) is a mainline Protestant denomination and a major part of Methodism. It was founded in 1968 in Dallas, TX by union of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church. The UMC traces its roots back to the revival movement of John and Charles Wesley in England as well as the Great Awakening in the United States. The basic beliefs of The United Methodist Church are:
God is one God in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Bible is the inspired word of God.
All humans are sinners and Sin estranges people from God and corrupts human nature so that we cannot heal or save ourselves.
Salvationis through Jesus Christ.
The grace of Sanctification draws one toward the gift of Christian perfection.
People, while corrupted by Sin, are free to make their own choices because of God's divine grace enabling them; they are truly accountable before God for their
The church opposes social injustice and evils such as slavery, inhumane prison conditions, capital punishment, economic injustice, child labor, racism, and inequality.
The UMC recognizes two sacraments: Holy Baptism (by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion) and Holy Communion. Confirmation, Ordination, Holy Matrimony, Funerals, and Anointing of the Sick are performed but are not considered sacraments. The UMC, with at least 12 million members (7.5 million in the US and 4.5 million in Africa, Asia and Europe) as of 2014, is the largest denomination within the wider Methodist movement of approximately 80 million people across the world. In the US, it ranks as the largest mainline Protestant denomination and the largest Protestant church after the Southern Baptist Convention. The Pew Research Center's 2014 US Religious Landscape Study concluded that the political preferences of UMC members was 54% Republican, 35% Democrat, and 11% Independent/other.
Religious Peacemakers is a regular column published in Streetvibes; it highlights Greater Cincinnati individuals who use their faith and religious beliefs for peace and justice and for a better world.
It is authored by Saad Ghosn, founder and president of SOS (Save Our Souls) ART.