Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Faith Works 12-10-16

Faith Works 12-10-16

Jeff Gill


Are we the sum of our choices?



According to the State of Ohio, the results are in from the November elections.


Yes, I know, there's a number of implications of the last national trip to the polls, but I'm interested here for a moment in a different element of our voting last time around.


We are told that of all the ballots cast, a third of them were early votes.


By mail and absentee, at the Board of Elections offices around the state, or at special "early voting centers" in some locations, a third of the votes that decided the presidential race, and also county commissioner and school levy and other local decisions of immediate import were all cast before the dawn of November 8.


All indications are that these numbers will continue to increase; in fact, some argue that we should be putting more time and civic resources into making voting easier, and earlier. There are a number of points to be made for and against that, but for now, let me just rest on the current state of affairs: one in three voters who did take the time and effort to be participants in the national, state, and local election of this fall did so on their own terms, at a time of their choosing.


The nature of an election is such that there has to be some kind of framework around it, for when the races are set, at which point voting can begin, and when it ends. Election Day is no longer a beginning, but an ending; it's not a national ritual of participation en masse, but the conclusion of a lengthy partisan conflict.


I do wonder about what happens when people are starting to vote before the local campaigns can even get going. Presidential races can take care of themselves, and I understand (even if I don't personally agree) when people just want to get it over with. But you may have been hearing about candidates for the big races for months: have you learned anything about who is running for city council, or why the fire service is asking for funds? Surely we need a little bit of space within which to let campaigning and educating of voters take place before we go and cast ballots from some knee-jerking set of assumptions.


And I reflect on all this as a pastor because I see how the same forces are pushing and pulling on Christian worship, and church community. It's been well-rehearsed that neither Wednesday evenings nor Sunday mornings are set apart by the culture for the convenience of the churches. That's done, and we have to ask our own to make the choices they will, for worship and study and service.


What is a growing pressure on even fairly small congregations, though, is to offer additional services, more options for when to come together, when you can take time for prayer and communion in community (of a sort) through the week. The Catholic community has long made its peace with the "vigil mass" that takes the Sunday obligation and stretches it out back into Saturday afternoon, and this is effective for them.


My own congregation offers two times of service, but the question often comes up – and I think much about – of a third option, for those otherwise occupied on Sunday mornings. Jobs and activities which are not in and of themselves trivial are often in conflict, so why not add choices? The stores are open 24 hours, there are many other services now available online at any time, so how could the experience of worship be stretched out? Why do we have to do that on Sunday morning before noon, anyhow?


You can see where these trends and expectations could take us. And there is, to a significant degree, a lessening of social ties in any congregation that offers multiple services, and different ways are tried to weave them together, but for the most part, those who see each other share more with each other. Online worship is not, in fact, something I reject out of hand, but in general and over time, I wonder at what kind of Christian formation it engenders.


The expectations for choices and personal autonomy are high; the need for closer community is real. The balance between those two poles will not be found in an insistence on one service, I'm fairly sure, but how far can multiple alternatives go? We will all wrestle with this question in 2017, I'm sure.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about variety and options in worship services you experience at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Faith Works 12-3-16

Faith Works 12-3-16

Jeff Gill


Advent emphases and priorities



Christian churches in many places last Sunday began a four week journey towards Christmas, called Advent.


Marked even in non-liturgical congregations, Advent is a way of preparing for and shaping our experience of Christ coming into the world.


Advent looks back, and forward: back to the birth in Bethlehem of Jesus, and ahead to his adult promise to return and finish the transformation of all creation into God's intended fulfillment.


So we look ahead to a historic commemoration, as we do each year on Dec. 25, done with manger scenes and living nativities outdoors and children's pageants; we also anticipate the divine "unveiling" of reality as it is meant to be . . . the book of Revelation is called "The Apocalypse of St. John" in many translations, since the original Greek is "apocalypsis" or "an unveiling," the uncovering of the true nature of things.


Advent is, if you look at it from the right angle, a big deal. It's not a countdown of shopping days, but a very serious season of preparation just as Lent is intended to be for Easter. Incarnation at Christmas, Resurrection at Easter – Christians are celebrating in these two feasts the core understandings we carry into the world about who God is and how God intends to relate to creation. To believe that the Creator intends to enter into what is made, and to take what we have made of it and lead us on to a more perfect resolution – it takes some prayer and reflection and preparation to really come to grips with what all that might mean, and that's why we have Advent.


But yes, it is a countdown. Which is how we can lose sight of Advent just as much as we lose our grip on Christmas itself for all of the wrapping and receipts and rigamarole of the big, big day.


Some worship leaders try to reclaim Advent with pushing back against "too much Christmas" before the big day. There's a case to be made for that. I don't see us going back to not putting up the Christmas tree until Christmas Eve, which in the early days of the tradition was the one logical approach (the lights being candles, the decorations being popcorn and cranberries, and the rest paper that was just itching to get lit up by those candles). Trees are pre-lit and artificial, decorations and lights and laser shows go up the Friday after Thanksgiving, and we're front-loading all the Christmas cheer at home and often at church.


One way I like to push back is to, at the very least, remind the congregation for the next two Sundays after Dec. 25 that it is now, indeed, the season of Christmastide; those "twelve days of Christmas" famed in song and story, and we can and should carry on the celebration in a new and different way until Jan. 6 (Epiphany, which is another story some other day).


But this year, there's a unique challenge, or at least it seems like one in some quarters. Christmas Eve, when many of us are having our biggest worship program of the year, is on a Saturday.


And yes, that necessarily means that Christmas Day, Dec. 25, is a Sunday.


I understand that for some churches, having a worship service on Christmas Day itself is just the way it always is. I tip my hat to y'all, but suffice it to say that it isn't that many of us, even in the heart of observant Christendom, think of going to church on Christmas itself. Christmas Eve has become the focal point, to the degree that I have heard a number of churches are considering not having any service at all on the next day.


Which is Sunday, and the day Christians gather on what the ancients called "the first day of the week" which commemorates the discovery of Christ's resurrection. In acknowledgment of the profound truth that both Christmas and Easter bear witness to, I can't imagine not having a worship service on a Sunday. So we will turn around, at our church, and come back – maybe not all, probably not even many, and God bless all who don't – and worship again after the gigundus service we held the evening before for Christmas Eve.


We'll just have one service, not two, and attendance may be light, but we will be there. As a witness to why Christmas and Easter and Advent and Lent are on our calendars in the first place!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your plans for a joyful Christmas at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Notes From My Knapsack 12-1-16

Notes From My Knapsack 12-1-16

Jeff Gill


Some birthdays are more special than others



If you or I were to turn 185, there would probably be a bit of a fuss made. For a person, that's old.


For a building or an institution, it's a significant number of years, but the number does make a difference in how much attention is given.


The Alexandrian Society building on Broadway, aka the Granville Historical Society museum is 200, and that's worth some celebration. We've seen a few 150th anniversaries with the last few years' worth of Civil War commemorations, too; St. John's UCC over in Newark just concluded a year of 175th anniversary celebrations.


But 185 just doesn't grab people the same way. I guess the assumption is "let's see if they make it to 200, then make a fuss."


December 13, 1831 is when the Granville Literary and Theological Institution held classes for the first time, Tony Lisska tells us, with John Pratt gathering a dozen or so students at 2:00 pm that day in the Baptist meetinghouse which would then have been on the northeast corner of Cherry Street and West Broadway – just west of today's home of the president of the G.L.T. & I., where Adam Weinberg is probably happy they changed the name in 1856 to Denison University.


(Thank you to Dr. Lisska's Spring 2007 article in "The Historical Times" of the G.H.S. for details.)


Granville College it was briefly, from 1845 to the donation from William S. Denison which gave rise to today's label, and Denison is very much why Granville is known as a college town.  Our village is 211 years old, and the county 209, neither of which are reminders to conjure with, but 185 . . .


I do hope to be around for 2031, God willing and good tailwinds, and there's a bicentennial or two in the next few years I hope to help celebrate, but it just felt right to ring a bell, even if a small one, to mark a modest beginning which continues to grow and develop in wonderful ways.


Denison University is not working on growing in size or student count these days, but the development and advancement of the nearly 2,200 students and some 235 faculty is a process that continues to enhance the village, this county, our region.


I like to imagine, from time to time as I know Tony does, those first students: yes, all male, all white, all Baptist . . . also all cold, all curious as to what this Pratt fellow would talk about. All wearing their coats and maybe a cloak or two, sitting on hard benches in a drafty space meant for an austere worship experience on Sundays, and on this Tuesday it was no less chilly and could not have been better designed to at least help the new student body to focus on the soft-spoken gentle scholar standing before them.


They ranged in age from their early teens into their 30s, a marked difference from today's Denison students; they also looked forward to a curriculum focused on subjects like Latin and Greek – not unknown to current scholars atop College Hill, but far from a majority experience.


Women would arrive across the street at a Young Ladies Institute, and ethnic diversity would arrive within a few decades, even though the numbers of students of color wouldn't begin to approximate percentages of the nation until well into the late 1900s. The campus would move that first full year south across Raccoon Creek, then back into the village atop what was then Prospect Hill in 1854.


Denison's history is not quite Granville's history, but it is well-nigh impossible to tell the one story without the other. John Pratt, when it was considered to move the young Baptist educational institution elsewhere in the Midwest, is said to have spoken of "the value of the college to Granville and of Granville to the college."


If his first lecture was as true as that statement, he was a good professor. And some true stories deserve retelling, in every decade.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about anniversaries worth celebrating at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Faith Works 11-26-16

Faith Works 11-26-16

Jeff Gill

Seeing and Singing and Showing


We may not have our downtown Courthouse lit for the holidays, but
there are many ways we bring a little more light into Licking County.

There are some lights around the square, and the Canal Market District
brought some new seasonal celebration to downtown Newark; as you go
out into the blocks around the heart of the city, you see church
buildings decorated and lighted in some new and different ways.

Thursday evening, Dec. 1, the "Sights and Sounds of Christmas" event
starts at 6:00 pm at Second Presbyterian Church, and for a small
contribution ($5 for adults and children over 12) you get to help the
Licking County Food Pantry Network and see, in a guided tour, the
insides of a number of our downtown churches and hear beautiful music
from various groups, many of which are native to the congregation
you're visiting. This is the fifteenth year of this annual celebration
on foot! For more detailed info, see

Come 8:30 pm the two traveling crews return to each others' company at
St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church, for some final music, a few
refreshments, and a shuttle bus if you wish back to Second Pres.

It's at Second Presbyterian the community is invited again the
following Sunday, Dec. 4, for a "Christmas Carol Sing" at 2:00 pm that
Dave Doney of WNKO/WHTH and myself will co-MC, a chance to hear their
newly refurbished pipe organ at work and to lift our voices in song
along with it. A free-will offering will be taken to support some of
our special needs in Licking County, but the emphasis is simply to
gather in all who are looking for a place to just set down our cares
and sing out our joys.

As someone active across the community in some interesting ways
(interesting to me, anyhow), I am so encouraged, day after day, by the
many ways Licking County works together, coordinates between church
bodies and civic agencies, and identifies needs with an eye to making
sure action follows our talk.

Is this the Promised Land? Are we the harbingers of the millennium of
Christ? No, not quite, but every time I see a flash, a flicker, a
light in the window shining a path to the Beloved Community, I find
that I have a little bit more hope.

Jesus said "the kingdom of God is within you." When that statement was
recorded in Luke 17, I'm pretty sure he was not just addressing some,
but all. That Realm of the Holy, the "Basileia tou Theou" in Greek
which speaks of God's Reign, is already here, already in each of us.
But we pull down the earthly blinds, yank tight the shutters of the
soul, and keep it inside, so closely hidden we can't even see that
Presence ourselves.

But Jesus said that Realm of the Lord is in you and in me. There are
arguments against that, I know; usually spoken along the lines of "the
kingdom of God sure couldn't be anywhere in or around THAT person."
Hmmm. Perhaps.

But I've held onto just enough of my Quaker history to believe there
is "that of God" in all of us human finite fleshly creatures, and God
desires that we let our light shine.

In this season of growing dark, shorter days, long, long nights, we
need lights. We need some of what Clark Griswold has to bring, but we
also need what Jesus was telling us. The knowledge that a divine light
is waiting to shine out from us, in Newark, across Licking County, and
to our world: and this little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.

Thank you, friends, for reminding me of that Light placed in me by God
every time you let me see a little bit of your Light. And when we
shine together, it can be a glorious dawn.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell
him about how you are letting your light shine at
knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Faith Works 11-19-16

Faith Works 11-19-16

Jeff Gill


Around a family table



Tomorrow, on Sunday afternoon Nov. 20, the Newark Area Ministerial Association is hosting a community Thanksgiving service.


Originally planned for Second Presbyterian Church, their pipe organ renovation has not quite followed the original timetable, so their organist, Rick Black (you may read about him on the front pages of this paper from time to time, as a county commissioner) will be sitting in at Central Christian Church in Newark, just up Mt. Vernon Road from downtown.


This 2:00 pm service will include a number of clergy and church leaders from different Christian traditions, and yes, I'll be your host. Welcome!


I've been involved in what we call "NAMA" since 1989; as an organization, it has helped to get the Licking County Jail Ministry off the ground when the new justice center opened in 1988, participated in the launch of the Licking County Coalition for Housing in 1992, and was deeply involved in the start of the Licking County Coalition of Care from 2003 to its formal establishment in 2005.


And it is, in a way, family.


Like any family, people come and go; there are deaths, and new births (well, arrivals!) along with move-aways and retirements. The faces change and our faces, for some of us who have been around that long, also change – or at least hair color does. Patriarchs and matriarchs come to the fore, and fade into the background, but the stories continue. We each play a role, and family dynamics being what they are, those roles are sometimes innate, and often we find ourselves being "pushed" into certain postures by circumstance and surroundings. The wacky uncle, the quiet brother, the caring sister, the nurturing mother. We may not see each other for longish stretches, but the community tends to snap back into place pretty quickly when we gather together.


I have the privilege and opportunity to be part of two other professional communities that meet once or twice a year, as we all do our work largely apart through the seasons, but have our set times to gather and reflect together.


At those fall meetings, which tend to be a full day with presentations, discussions, and a meal together with more to say after the table is cleared, I found myself thinking about how these eclectic gatherings are still, very much, family rituals.


I recall when I was a very junior member of each, said little (hard to believe, I know), and often did not understand much of what was said when things got down to brass tacks. I looked for someone I knew and stuck close to them.


But over the years, I got more comfortable with most of the group, sat where I would, talked to whom I wished and in the general conversation, and had a clearer sense of my own role, and of the body as a whole. At one of these meetings, an elder of the crew said something I disagreed with, and I spoke up to say so, and realized with a shock that others were listening to me as one of the . . . elders. Yikes.


This week is Thanksgiving, a high holy day for families of all sorts. Most of us remember being at the kids' table in the kitchen, or the card table on the sun porch. And I suspect many of you reading this can reflect on how you've moved to where you're more a part of the proceedings, someone who knows your place, and who now can speak to the gathering in ways you couldn't before.


Let's all recall, newcomers and elders, that at family tables, formal or informal, related by blood or gathered on other terms, that we each have the opportunity to make others feel at home, to know themselves as welcome, by what we say and how we invite participation. I pray that we all have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving, and that all of us do what we can to extend the table and our welcoming spirit to those who are nervous, anxious, hesitant, new. May the gift of hospitality be given at every holiday table in the week ahead.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's looking forward to roasting some Brussels sprouts this week. Tell him how you put leaves in your family table at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.