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Family Planters

Parents to launch church in Ohio, while daughter and son-in-law are set to pioneer in Missouri.

It’s not uncommon for parents to pass a hobby or vocation on to their children. Family businesses may span generations; several sports have legendary father/son duos. Ministry sometimes happens that way, too, as a son or daughter follows a similar path or succeeds a retiring parent.

For Tom and Tamera Sherwood of Cincinnati, that legacy is church planting, particularly inner cities. As the Sherwoods prepare to plant in Cincinnati’s Westwood neighborhood, daughter Cassie and her husband, Alex Ferren, are moving to the Westport neighborhood just south of downtown Kansas City, Missouri, to start a church.

The Sherwoods didn’t set out to plant churches. Tamera grew up in the Assemblies of God; her father, Brenton Osgood, served as national Speed the Light director from 1967 to 1995. Tom was raised Baptist in Oklahoma. The two met at St. Louis Conservatory of Music.

Their careers took them in 1988 to Cincinnati, where Tom played as associate principal French horn of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Tamera opened a piano studio. They began volunteering in inner city ministry, eventually at Peoples Church (formerly First Christian Assembly), where Chris N. Beard served as associate with pastor Clyde C. Miller. The congregation of mostly white commuters had opted to remain downtown. When Beard became lead pastor in 2001, he desired to reflect the surrounding community in ethnic diversity.

The Sherwoods served in the church’s after-school arts program, with Tom as community outreach director. They joined the Peoples Church West (formerly Central Assembly of God) launch team in 2001 when daughters Cassie, Annie, and Olivia were 5, 3, and 1.

“It was not considered a safe neighborhood,” recalls Tamera, 55. “Some family and friends were concerned.” The girls adapted, though, helping out in the family church activities.

“We had a deal,” says Tom, 59. “The girls took turns going with me to church early to help prepare. They worked hard, but it included a stop at Starbucks for some time together.”

Last year, Tom Sherwood faced major change as his orchestra career ended due to a lip injury, not uncommon in longtime brass players. Praying about next steps, he and Tamera met with church leadership and explored planting in Westwood, the largest of the city’s 52 neighborhoods and one of the most economically and ethnically diverse. They recently sold their home, moved to Westwood, and are building a plan and gathering a team.

“Tom and Tamera are the real deal, a missionary family,” says Beard, who knows about raising girls. “Even at young ages, their daughters were all in — friendly, eager to help. The whole family is faithful, talented, and committed.”

Cassie Ferren, 26, says she realized some people had concerns, about not only dangerous neighborhoods, but also spiritual development, as kid’s ministry and youth group were usually small or new. Cassie says her parents modeled church as a place to serve, not just to receive.

“I saw them getting up early to turn on the heat or to clean,” she says. “I was around adult leaders who communicated to my sisters and me that children were an important part of the team. And of course, the coffee stops didn’t hurt either. Our parents made sure we had family time.”

Cassie says she felt called to ministry as a child. Alex, 28, at first dodged a ministry calling, choosing instead to play community college football. Realizing that didn’t follow God’s plan for his life, he took a year off to serve as youth intern at City Center Church in Lenexa, Kansas, and decided he needed vocational ministry training.

During launch week at Evangel University in 2014, Alex attended a Church Multiplication Network presentation. He began thinking seriously about church planting. Alex and Cassie met during her senior year and married in 2017. After graduation, Alex joined CMN as special projects facilitator, and Cassie worked in discipleship and Christian education at the AG national office in Springfield, Missouri.

Tom and Tamera Sherwood also credit CMN, as well as the Ohio Ministry Network church multiplication director Al Yanno, for support. They say a recent CMN Launch conference gave valuable insight into hybrid/house church and dinner church models, as well as racial reconciliation ministry.

In Westport, the Ferrens will contend with the many career-focused young professionals who make up much of the neighborhood population. Such a demographic often expresses concern about poverty and injustice, but typically don’t act on such beliefs. The second largest group in the area, Gen Xers and retired baby boomers, are well off financially, but frequently lack purpose. The remaining population is mostly single-parent households, forced to the economic edges of the community as low-income housing is replaced by businesses.

The Ferrens hope to connect the first two population groups to the third through serving. The initial approach will utilize micro-churches and a feeding program, and they hope to secure a gathering venue by late 2021. “The building becomes important as people connect,” says Cassie. “A safe place to come with their kids can be a lifeline.”

The Sherwoods are thankful to see daughters in ministry. In addition to Cassie, 24-year-old Annie serves as associate pastor at New Hope Community in Santa Cruz, California. Olivia, 22, is a senior studying music education. She and her fiancé, Thomas Zimmerman, serve at Crossroads Community Church, where he is a staff member.

Photo: The family church planters are (from left) Cassie Ferren, Alex Ferren, Tamera Sherwood, and Tom Sherwood.

Cynthia J Thomas

Cynthia J. Thomas worked for Assemblies of God U.S. Missions for six years before becoming primary caregiver for her father, a World War II veteran. She has served as a counselor for victims of domestic violence and women facing crisis pregnancies. Cindy and her husband, Phil, a schoolteacher, volunteer in youth outreach and have three adult children and one granddaughter.