Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Notes from my Knapsack 10-11-18

Notes from my Knapsack 10-11-18

Jeff Gill

 

Tearing down the old school

___

 

When last we met, I was telling you about Granville's first school building, a log structure but with a lot of love and extra bonuses built into it, considering the era.

 

From the winter of 1805 into 1809, the first log school house was used for a variety of purposes, but Our Fayre Village loved education and valued its place in the community from literally its very foundation. We finished the school building before a church was completed, using the interior for worship until the sanctuary across the way was done. The original log school sat where Centenary United Methodist Church is today.

 

According to Bushnell's invaluable "History of Granville" of 1889, there came a night eighty years earlier when "the boys, in their evening pastimes on the common, bethought them that it would be a very jolly thing to take down the old log school house. As it would help their sires thus much, they thought it would be a meritorious frolic rather than otherwise. Though it was on the public square, and their noisy proceeding must have been observed by older people, no one interfered with them. They first took out the glass windows with great care, which had replaced the oiled paper; took the batten door from its wooden hinges, and carried them, with all that was of any value, across the street, and stored them away at Mr. Josiah Graves'. Then, beginning with the weight poles, they dismantled it down to the joists. Then, becoming weary, they went home and to bed, and slept with quiet consciences."

 

Aside from noting that you really had to be hard up for fun to enjoy taking a building apart for amusement, it actually makes sense to me. A bunch of young men, knowing the structure was coming down soon: how often do you get to tear down a building and not get in trouble? So they did . . . and got in trouble. Sort of.

 

The justice of the peace, Timothy Rose, and a few other leading citizens, decided to teach them about lawlessness, and convened a mock trial. Which is to say, the men knew it was mock, the boys did not. They were gathered a few nights later, one of them actually being gotten out of bed, and brought together where a hearing was held in high formal dudgeon. The young men were smart enough to know they needed to confess all, and did; the court then assessed them a fine for unauthorized demolition: of one quarter apiece.

 

Inflation has taken a toll, but in truth from 1809 to 2017 that's maybe four bucks in today's money. The problem was that "Twenty-five cent pieces were very scarce at that time, and it began to look pretty serious to them. It waked up their ideas about law and order. Then all the officers, as the boys looked unutterably penitent, consented to throw in their fees..." and let them in on the joke.

 

Bushnell says of the new frame school house built the next year: "It was 24 x 32 feet, and nine feet between joists. It stood with the side to the road. The pulpit was in the west end, a little raised, with a window at either side. In front of it was the deacons' seat, where, according to the custom of the times, two deacons sat, facing the audience, during each service. To the right and left, extending well down the sides, and occupying the school desks, the choir was seated. In the end of the house, opposite the pulpit, was a large open fireplace, on the north side of which was a closet for the wraps and dinner-baskets of the school children, and the front door opened right against the chimney, on the south side."

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he promises there's a point to this quaint series of historical tales. Tell him where you think he's heading at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Faith Works 9-29-18

Faith Works 9-29-18

Jeff Gill

 

Changing the angle of vision

___

 

When you try to see things from God's point of view, it can be a bit of a stretch.

 

Honestly, we're just not cut out for that perspective. It takes abilities we just don't have, though we can catch glimpses and inklings of it.

 

What we can do is change our usual angle. In so many ways (seats in church for instance) we can get stuck on a single point of view.

 

As I mentioned last February, I've found that I have a mild neurological disorder which can become a major problem for someone who mostly talks in his work. It's called spasmodic dysphonia, and there's a treatment if not a cure which involves periodic injections . . . into my vocal cords. Yes, it's as much fun as it sounds.

 

And I trade some improved function in the months to come, as I recently did for a goodly stretch, for a brief period of relative incapacity. In short, I can't talk above a whisper for a week or so.

 

What I did last Sunday I commend to any other preacher, lay speaker, or church leader in any form who gets used to one particular vantage point. I sat in the back. And it was a learning experience in many ways.

 

I learned that at our second, larger service, 20% of the worshiping congregation arrived after the stated time of service. I don't know what that means, or even if I should do anything about it, but it's interesting. I had vaguely noticed an increase in late arrivals, but from up on the platform from some time before the beginning, you don't really experience it. Sitting in the back, what we call the narthex or entry room before the worship space (or nave, but no one in our church calls it that), I got a very clear picture of the trend. Perhaps more to come on that subject!

 

And I heard the singing very differently. Congregational singing, whether in contemporary or traditional style worship services, is a much debated topic. How to encourage or enhance singing by the people in the seats. John Wesley complained in the 1700s that the parishioners tended to not sing out very well; Martin Luther included in his reforms reducing the focus on choirs and more popular hymnody. It's still a challenge, quite frankly. Do we just give in and let the choir or praise band or organ or whathaveyou take the lead, or are there ways we can promote more singing from the congregation?

 

I also got to sneak up and enjoy children's church. The younger ones leave after the children's message in our later service, and have a program in a chapel then an activity room all their own (and kudos to everyone in the church I serve who have improved and beautified that space). I had been told the outlines of how this has been going the last few months, but it was a joy to get to be in the room and join in a bit with their part of the service.

 

Honestly, I'd done this before under various opportunities, but in this last week to have the whole worship service from the opposite angle of the church experience was a great chance to know what our community looks like and feels like. I commend it to anyone, and don't wait until someone has stabbed you in the throat with needles for an excuse!

 

What sticks with me most, though, was to just hear the words spoken around me, and the songs sung, and share in the elements as they were passed, and to not have a part in the leadership of the day. I'm used to singing out to help boost the music, being a worship leader in speaking first, and having a voice in the whole affair. It is indeed a very different experience to simply participate, to be entirely receptive in the worship without any active role at all. It's not that it's better or worse to be one or the other, it's that this is the way an overwhelming majority of people experience worship, and I think I needed to be reminded what that aspect of being church is like.

 

Sometimes, we need to just be. To be in worship. And nothing more. May we all have that opportunity at some point soon!

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's likely to be talking again all too soon. Tell him about your experiences of silence and listening at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Faith Works 9-22-18

Faith Works 9-22-18

Jeff Gill

 

Seeking community, and a seat

___

 

Church community is a form of gathering we're all familiar with.

 

It has quirks and customs and rules all its own. One of the best known and still problematic constants is that a church where all are welcome, where sharing of ourselves is a byword, where everyone is accepted at the communion table, can still be a place where visitors hear "why are you in my pew?"

 

They might give you the shirt off their back without even knowing your story, but in most churches the whole "can I sit here?" question is still a problem.

 

My friends in more contemporary style, non-traditional churches laugh, grimly, at how they have no pews, a very different seating layout, and a relaxed approach to everything from clothing to order of worship . . . but people still have trouble not looking oddly at people who have chosen to sit where they shouldn't.

 

Where and how we choose to be together, yet still define our own space, is a challenge in a variety of locations. Nobody likes to be crowded together. Seating in restaurants or theaters or grandstands for sporting events has an etiquette all its own . . . and those who don't follow it. There are plenty of situations where some people have "my table" or "the seat by the aisle" and are not happy when they're asked to move or come and find someone in their place.

 

As religious communities, traditional or contemporary, non-denominational or with a big logo on the door, we would like to think our approach to such things could be different than "the world" but the world has a way of worming and weaseling into the church.

 

I think this is getting more interesting and maybe even more relaxed as many of us are seeing something long noted in larger cities and other parts of the country. Attendance is "dropping," but not from members leaving, just that they're in church less often. The biggest reason for this is an increase across the board of travel, both for work and for leisure. The cost of airfare and the everyday assumption that hopping on a flight to somewhere is a normal thing means that more people are "away" for stretches, more often within a year.

 

Growing up, we drove to grandma's house. If we weren't at grandma's (and in her church) we were in church. Now, grandma is taking trips: into her 90s! So one of the most consistent demographics of church life is also more often on the move. Assistive technology (portable oxygen tanks, more wheelchair access everywhere) means people can travel who didn't used to, and they do.

 

This is not the place for a "remember when" piece about how people used to put on a tie or a dress and pearls to fly on an airline, and you got a meal, with silverware. But everyone knows those days are gone, and can't hardly even be found in first class. Cheap, wedged-in, mass experience air travel means sweatpants and flip flops, and that's a chicken-egg question we could debate all day. But everyone is traveling more than they used to.

 

Which means if you have 200 people a Sunday in church, and suddenly your regulars just go from four Sundays a month to three, without anyone moving or changing their membership at all, you have 150 a Sunday. And the stewardship chair would like me to remind everyone that people who give tend to give when they attend, so a 25% drop in worship attendance has the potential to decrease giving to the general fund by as much as 25%.

 

It does free up seating in the sanctuary, though. And if someone has been gone for three weeks, let alone three months, they can't fuss as much when they return and find a new face in their place.

 

Outside of the church walls, something I continue to find fascinating is how people on the road seek community, even as we travel sometimes to escape it. We look for the familiar, maybe a chain restaurant, a motel name we know, or a church of our own tradition, and get a place to be anchored again in what we're used to.

 

And as a visitor, nervously edge our way into a seat, then glance up and see that familiar "look" from someone coming in behind us.

 

We're in their seat.

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he hopes people learn about community on the road in ways they can bring home to build stronger community here! Tell him about where you've felt included and excluded at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Notes from my Knapsack 9-27-18

Notes from my Knapsack 9-27-18

Jeff Gill

 

Log cabin education as it was

___

 

Thomas Jefferson promoted public education from his first days in the Virginia legislature, and on into his service in the Confederation Congress and later as President.

 

In 1784 he was pushing for educational provisions to be built into plans for expanding settlement across the Ohio River; the Land Ordinance of 1785 set the table for the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, all of which brought us the outlines of state government and county landscapes we have today.

 

The plan was to survey townships into 36 sections of six square miles each, and of those, Section 16 would generally be designated the "school land." The idea was that number 16 would be close to the center of each section, and from this central location, a school house would be built by the citizens of the township and its upkeep and the pay for a teacher would come from the proceeds of those acres.

 

Local citizens could rent out the land and use that income, or farm it jointly and share the income with the school district; a township might combine efforts with a neighbor, and sell one section for principal funds that would then maintain the school covering both. A fair amount of latitude was given, the point being that, like township governance, the authority was in the hands of the people.

 

If you've been to the Hartford Fair (and if you haven't, make plans next August, because you should) you might have vaguely noticed the church now incorporated into the fairgrounds just south of the track and grandstands. The sign says "School Land Church" because it was originally built on Hartford Township's school land section. School lands were once found in each township of Ohio; there was even a College Township in the original plan for Ohio, which is now Oxford Township in Butler County, which contributed to establishing Ohio's second college, now Miami University (Ohio University being the oldest).

 

The point being that local autonomy was promoted, and resources were provided. As you can imagine, some counties and townships handled this better than others; in some places, Section 16 was so desirable that it mysteriously got reassigned, and in many places the school lands were not optimal, didn't produce much or any revenue, and the grand dream of Thomas Jefferson in 1784, of westward expansion without slavery beyond the Appalachians, with a school in every township was set back for generations.

 

But the idea continued. Local school houses went up, just as the abolition movement grew, and the nation lurched uneasily towards Civil War and the end of slavery; by the end of 1864, Ohio had developed a teacher certification system for the state as a whole.

 

Before that, many cities and some villages had voluntarily established education beyond the then-standard eight grades. The first Granville settlers in their last act of 1805 had established their school land section, the area around Clouse Lane and Newark-Granville Road, and began classes for children almost as soon as they put up the first log cabins, in a simple structure where Opera House Park is.

 

That first schoolhouse lasted until 1810, and had an interesting demise…

(To be continued!)

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's interested in how we do things together as a community. Tell him what we can do better together at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Faith Works 9-15-18

Faith Works 9-15-18

Jeff Gill

 

The God's-eye view not always the best

___

 

It may seem like an odd thing to worry about, but I have some questions about the sudden necessity for every news story on television, each commercial, and now many website launch pages, to include drone footage.

 

Drone footage is cool. I don't question that, don't have a problem with drones, don't dislike seeing it come up at all. But the pervasive and even essential place a drone camera overview has taken makes me ask some questions.

 

When you watch a camera angle rise up, it's like flying. And we've all had those flying dreams, haven't we? It's a common human aspiration, and the first time any of us were in a plane and watched the ground drop away beneath the wings is a memorable moment. Any hiker let alone climber wants to have that view from the top, the walk to the summit, and if you get to see a sunrise from there, all the better.

 

You'll note that most mountaintop experiences don't encompass watching the still glorious drama of a sunSET from a peak, because if this was really a long trek to the top, if you watch the beauty of dusk from the summit and see the last flicker of sun sink below the western horizon, that means you will be making your way down in the dark.

 

Which is often not a good idea. Cliff edges, rocky slopes, uneven footing. Sunrise from the heights is better than sunset, unless you're camped out there – and you don't usually want to pitch a tent on a summit, anyhow.

 

Drone footage has no such hazards, sunrise, sunset, above at high noon or cruising through the day. But there is still something a bit unnatural about it. To see the pinnacle of the courthouse in drone footage is to experience something that previously only pigeons could have . . . or Someone equally elevated.

 

Now, the "God's-eye view" is the basic expectation when you are being shown a visual, from crime scenes to tourism. It's useful at times, no doubt about it. You see what you might otherwise miss, and can get a sense of the big picture.

 

But you don't experience it the same way. You have to be able to toggle back and forth between the overview and the human view, like a hiker with a map, a driver looking at their GPS device, and from those tools to the road as it actually unrolls in front of you. I don't dislike maps or GPS systems, I just know you can't always trust them to actually show a real person how to navigate step by step by step. And if you immerse yourself too much in the view from above, you can run into a perfectly obvious obstacle in the here-and-now.

 

Today, Saturday Sept. 15, I'm leading a walk around some of Newark's streets starting and ending at the Great Circle Museum of the Newark Earthworks, off Rt. 79 in Heath. This is part of the Ohio Open Doors program from the Ohio History Connection that's statewide, and all this past week and coming weekend. Sites that OHC manages and local history locations of all sorts are all taking advantage of a lovely fall weekend (okay, but soon) to invite people to visit places with a story to tell. My group will cover about two and a half miles, take three hours or so, and will look at some "hidden in plain sight" pieces of what was once four square miles and more of interconnected geometric earthworks built on these river terraces some 2,000 years ago.

 

We'll have maps, of course, because that's how we're used to navigating. They give us the "God's-eye view" of the whole, but the point of the walk is to see from ground level, as the Builders did, what they were doing on the land, and connecting horizontally places on the landscape, a sort of script Ohio of the mind that you have to see from their angle.

 

And the Ohio Open Doors continues, and I get to help, with a re-dedication ceremony on Sunday at 1:00 pm at our historic Courthouse in Newark, and tours of some buildings downtown both old and new. The view from above is dramatic, but the people become like ants on a sidewalk. The view from among the crowd, the human perspective, is where I believe you can also get a taste of inspiration about what has been built here in Licking County, and even a better view of where we're going.

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's going to be helping with the Octagon Open House on October 7, too. Tell him about your view from eye level of what God is up to in our area at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.