Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Faith Works 8-2-14

Faith Works 8-2-14

Jeff Gill


Tradition is a poor excuse for stupid (or stupidity)



Much ink has been spilled, actual and virtual, over the public report about the Ohio State marching band's history, and the most recent director's role in trying to shape and change that history.


This space is generally reserved for a look at matters that most broadly consider how faith and morals relate to the lives of today's Licking Countians. We often have pastor's columns where any faith community leader is welcome to share their own very specific viewpoints, socially or doctrinally, and the Advocate runs features about particular programs or campaigns run by (usually) congregations or para-church bodies.


To say that Ohio State football is a religion is to make a joke that people almost laugh at. Matters of scarlet and grey, issues relating to cheerleaders and boosters and yes, the marching band, can carry a weight in the community and a central place in people's lives that looks all too much like a secular faith system, with worship on Saturdays in the Most Holy Place.


So talking about TBDBITL is to be on the fringes of faith & piety for Buckeye Nation. And that's part of where I want to go, but really I'm thinking about our common interests in essential beliefs and bedrock convictions far beyond football. This column is concerned with faith and morals, and how you go about raising up a generation from the innocence of youth to meaningful, constructive adulthood is always going to be at the heart of our civic culture.


In years past, over the last few decades, there's been an uneasy sea change around something often called "initiation." There's always been and always will be "paying your dues" and sometimes that means being the junior apprentice and having to go get well water for your elders; it can include some good natured and even rough ribbing from the more experienced who send the new guy to the quartermaster's shed to ask for "fifty yards of timberline and three skyhooks," and so on.


Some locations of transition from childhood to autonomy, especially those in that fuzzy zone between high school and full employment that can be college, or the military, or a journeyman program of one sort or another, can be initiations of a different sort. Who buys the round of beer for the team after work, now that you're 21; the first trips to the Gulf coast without parents; et cetera, et cetera.


And there was a stretch of time there, a duration not quite completed, where initiation included some, well, truly stupid stuff. It was always justified as "bonding," as "sealing the ties between us," as "letting you know that you're one of us now." Drinking, often to excess, has been a common feature; the infliction of pain or embarrassment usually played a part; the marking whether temporary or permanent on the body, in the spirit, of your place "within" the group.


I have nothing more than an opinion and a bit of a speculation based on very little data here, but I strongly suspect that we saw an upsurge in truly stupid, not to mention risky initiation behaviors during the 60s & 70s & 80s ("please sir, may I have another") because a generation came up in the shadow of another generation initiated into adulthood by gunfire, by seeing friends next to you die, by walking into death camps and seeing, hearing, smelling just how much of a gap exists between aspects of your humanity and others' inhumanity.


Lacking that, it became more "acceptable" to bring young adults together through trials and tests not so common in eras past, because "hey, at least it isn't going to war." Just don't kill them, and it's okay.


Today, there's a wider sense that bringing people together through nausea, disgust, intoxication, humiliation, and degradation is really not all it's cracked up to be. Yes, those who got through it insist "it's not so bad" and "it was done to me" and mainly "don't be such a killjoy."


Call me killjoy.


There are casualties of such initiations that do not die, but carry marks long through their lives. And actions are justified that have consequences beyond any one Midnight Ramp (optional my left foot). I think Ohio State erred in simply firing the director of the band, and hope he can return, but so he can continue to help that storied fellowship learn there are better ways to be bound together for life than learning to sing about violent sexual imposition in four part harmony.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about killjoys you have known at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Notes from my knapsack 7-31-14

Notes from my knapsack 7-31-14

Jeff Gill


Poor Richard in Granville



In 1758, Benjamin Franklin looked back at the run of his noted almanac, and said the following:


"In 1732 I first published my Almanac under the name of Richard Saunders; it was continued by me about twenty-five years, and commonly called Poor Richard's Almanac. I endeavoured to make it both entertaining and useful, and it accordingly came to be in such demand, that I reaped considerable profit from it…"


By profit, Franklin meant not only financial recompense, but also fame to go with his fortune. And in his retrospective "The Way to Wealth" from which the above quote is taken, he goes on to comment on listening to a public speaker whose talk gleaned most of its observations about life and living from the writing of Franklin's fictional alter ego:


"It would be thought a hard government, that should tax its people one-tenth part of their time, to be employed in its service; but idleness taxes many of us much more; sloth, by bringing on diseases, absolutely shortens life. Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labor wears; while the used key is always bright, as Poor Richard says. But dost thou love life, then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of, as Poor Richard says."


Along College Street, between lower and upper campuses of Denison University, we've been looking at the four inscriptions paired onto two gates, part of a summer-long consideration of public quotes seen around Granville. We've already thought about the two closer to downtown near Burke & Cleveland Halls, and now we're on down to where Plum turns into Burg Street heading uphill.


If you're on foot uphill there, you pass between our last two 1904 gateway quotes, one of which being:


"Do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of"


So we've gone from Longfellow and St. Augustine alongside of George Crabbe and his accounting of village life and self-sufficiency, both citations there for the inspiration and motivation of students plugging along from the Fine Arts Quad to the Academic Quad, to a pair of more punchy, even pithy quotes. Franklin, bless him, was always good for a pithy and pertinent quote; he was the model for our later Will Rogers and Mark Twains… Franklin would have LOVED Twitter if he were around today.


As we approach wrapping up this four part segment within our larger narrative about what Granville has found worth carving in stone, we get closer to asking some questions about the person and the process that selected these large, eye-level, dramatic quotations for our ongoing edification.


Pres. Emory Hunt was one of the last clergy to serve as chief officer of Denison (he also held the PhD degree, so he's more often called Dr. Hunt). In 1904, as the layout and landscaping of the campus began to be considered, and the physical and academic connections between the former women's colleges became a fully integrated institution, these gateways became less a dividing line than a sign and symbol of what drew them all together.


How were these four quotes selected, and what do they mean? That, and the author of our fourth gateway quote, will be part of the next installment.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about quotes that mean much to you at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Faith Works 7-26-14

Faith Works 7-26-14

Jeff Gill


Stories and treasures all around



Many years ago, I first visited Chimayo, New Mexico.


The Santuario is a small church, built about the same time as Granville's Buxton Inn, but of adobe bricks and local pine and juniper gathered there in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.


Off to one side of the sanctuary are two rooms. One is filled with religious art on the walls and a small hole, or "pocito" in the center of the floor. In that hole is loose dirt, refilled each day from the banks of the nearby stream, and people come from near and far to gather some of that dirt because of its healing properties. Some rub it on themselves or their loved one needing healing, others even . . . well, the "tierra bendita" or "holy dirt" is consumed in a variety of ways.


Yes, for a Midwestern Protestant like me, it was an odd sight. But even more striking to me was the next room. It was covered, every wall, by crutches and braces and walkers and hundreds upon hundreds of letters, testimonials mostly in Spanish but not a few in not only English, but an assortment of other languages.


I've learned since that if you visit Lourdes in France, you see much the same sort of room. A place for thanks and sharing of what is no longer needed by those who have found healing; rooms sheathed in cast-off medical gear thankfully no longer central in someone's life.


Those are distant and somewhat unusual images, but when I first came to Newark Central Christian as the prospective pastor, they all came back to me when the congregation's leaders proudly took me out behind the church building, to a converted double garage: what's called the "Medical Loan Closet."


And on every wall were hanging row on row of canes, crutches, braces, knee walkers, rolling or sliding walkers; across the floor were commode chairs, shower chairs, wheelchairs of all sorts of variations, and more. "Durable medical goods" is the phrase used to describe what's available for loan there.


It immediately reminded me of Chimayo, a good memory in many ways I must note, but also more apt than you might think. Because while some of the gear brought to us for donation comes because the former user has died, the vast majority of it is brought in by those who no longer need it. Their stories of healing may tend to be medical and practical, but they are no less celebrated.


Hardly a week goes by now that I don't end up talking to someone who says "Oh, I know your church: that's where I got [insert medical gear name here]! They were so nice when I got it, and when I took it back." It's a joyful thing.


And even when people come back with items and say "Aunt Esmerelda passed last week" there's still usually a happy story or two about how the items helped keep the patient at home, where they didn't have to be a patient, and that they no longer had any pain or suffering now. Prayers are often part of what goes on in and around the Medical Loan Closet.


If you'd like to see it, today is kind of an "open house" day. We're open for business with volunteer staff on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (usually closed for holiday Mondays and just before major seasonal holidays: hey, they're all volunteers!) from 10 am to 3 pm… you can call 366-7438 to check if someone's there.


But we're having a kids' activity day today, July 26, from 11 am to 5 pm, and part of what the kids ramble about to see and do is our Medical Loan Closet ministry. If you're just curious about this healing center in a different sort of mode, and especially if you think something like this is what your congregation is being called to do, drop by.


And when you do (park around back, up the alley between Rugg Ave. and Quentin St.), look around at everything stacked and racked and hung from the ceilings or lining the floor. And know that every item has a story…with many of them having a story of healing associated with them. It's kind of a holy place.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about a holy place you love at, or @Knapsack on Twitter.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Knapsack 7-17-14

Notes from my knapsack 7-17-14

Jeff Gill


Carved in stone, lost to memory



On College St. opposite the white wedge of Burke Hall, the gateway framing the stairs from the Fine Arts Quad to upper campus has two large stone carvings, quotes to the right and to the left.


To the right, the George Crabbe quote we discussed last time. To the left, a more familiar poet, if not a well known line. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in his "The Ladder of St. Augustine," included the observation repeated here in Granville:


"The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight * But they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night"


Like its companion which warns against whining out woes when your own hands can ease your plight, this text reminds passing Denison students that if you want something, you have to work for it, and not just when it seems right to you to do so.


In fact, the full poem Longfellow wrote builds on an obscure citation from St. Augustine who tells penitent sinners that they, or rather, we can build a ladder to heaven from our vices if only we tread them each as rungs below us. Or less elegantly, let overcoming your urges be the growth that keeps you moving away from them.




If you were picking quotes to inspire both students in college, and for townies to see that their student neighbors were being inspired in the right way, this is a good call. "Don't party all night if you want to get somewhere" looks fairly grim, but when you let Longfellow say it, there's a ring to the advice as offered.


My son, when we stopped by for me to check the punctuation on the carvings before crafting this column, noticed less the exhortation than the orthography.


"Why are all the U's shaped like V's, Dad?"


A good question. I remembered asking my mother the same question when we drove past the Valparaiso Pvblic Library. It couldn't be because it was easier to carve a V than a U in stone, since you had O and D and S.


Turns out the reason is that ancient Rome did not have J, U, or W, so it was Ivlivs Caesar. Why continue that shaping of the letter for U today now that we do?


Because it hearkened back, or so it was once thought, to the austere classical values of Greece and Rome. In a town with a scattering of Greek Revival gems, it makes sense. But it was also a trend, back in the 1920s and 30s, to evoke the ancient world particularly in the service of citizenship, education, and wisdom in general.


Less charitably, it was an affectation, and marked an era now past. Toiling vpward is not evocative to youth today, assuming it was in the 20s.


The Denison gateways have two more mysteries for us to consider: stay tuned!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about mystery inscriptions you've seen at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Faith Works 7-19-14

Faith Works 7-19-14

Jeff Gill


A view from the verge of vacation



Rev. Bueller was picking up a few items off of his desk at the church when he looked out the window at some kids walking by.


They were enjoying summer vacation, he could tell, shorts and tans and dirty feet in flip-flops, walking along the three of them with no urgency or worries ahead or behind.


He hoped for the same to the couple he'd just seen off after their wedding. The vows include "for better, for worse… in sickness or in health" and that was a reality for any pair of newlyweds, but for now, for today, his prayer was that they know the simple joy of being together on a summer day.


It could be hard to do at a reception, he knew.


A stop by the hall to offer grace for the meal, one last prayer by the pastor using the DJs microphone, a quick bite, then home to look over the notes for the sermon tomorrow, and pack for the trip they were leaving for right after the last service.


Sloane had insisted they take at least one trip this summer, and it was funny that she had to be the one to remind him. They'd married between his sophomore and junior years of college, after her freshman year, and both his parents and hers had called it a typically impetuous decision.


In fact, they'd been discussing it for three years. Their action was many things, but impetuous it wasn't. He had his scholarship from the German American Steuben Society (and he'd better check the date of the Baron von Steuben parade this September and let the church elders know he'd be gone that weekend), and they had a plan.


Everyone in college and seminary and in the congregations he'd served had always said "Rev. Bueller is a man with a plan." The plan may change, but there always was one. If you didn't know him well, you might think some of his ideas or activities were pretty unexpected, but that wasn't really the case if you knew how much energy he put into creating moments of surprise and spontaneity.


The kids were already at his sister's in California; she was an engineer with one of those electric car companies, and she'd married her high school boyfriend as well, who had ended up in the movies as if that was something they'd planned. He had steadier work than some college graduates Rev. Bueller knew, ads and TV shows and such.


And choosing ministry was a surprise to some, but not to Sloane, or to his best friends like Frye. He liked people, he loved helping them find happiness, and he truly loved sharing with them good news that wasn't just for today.


As a Christian pastor, the best way to help people hear that sort of good news that lasted, he'd found, was helping them notice the moment they were in, the day they were having. Because it seemed to him that the source of so much misery in the world was how most people spend their lives worrying about the future, or regretting the past.


Or as he liked to say in his sermons: Life moves pretty fast; if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it!


So that's what Sloane had needed to remind him, and why they were heading off for the week. She'd reminded him that he needed to stop and look around. So that's what they were going to do.


With any luck, they'd do their looking around in shorts, sandals, and with dirty feet. And he'd be a better minister for it, or his name wasn't Ferris Bueller.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he has been in some parades in Chicago himself. Tell him what you've seen when looking around once in a while at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Faith Works 7-12-14

Faith Works 7-12-14

Jeff Gill


Other ways, or more ways than one



Back in the 1970s, my Scout troop was famous, or infamous, for our big old purple school bus.


We had a logo for Troop 7 on the side, and did I mention it was purple?


I still make re-acquaintance with people online from those days whose second or third question is "what happened to that purple people eater you guys had?"


The answer is, like most non-profits, Troop 7 may still be Scouting, but busing is no longer their business.


It did break down quite often (and oh the stories of our unexpected layovers looking for water pumps and suchlike along the road), and our drivers were fairly safe, especially given that the bus couldn't go very fast, but today safety regulations and what I'll call "other" regulations that may or may not have much to do with safety, and the big old people eater of insurance took a big enough bite out of our popcorn sales that it simply became no longer sensible to have our own bus.


That's true for most churches now, and even 15 passenger vans can be dicey to keep owned by and operated for faith communities. You see fewer of them on the road or at camp drop-off or other events where half the kids or adults came in church vehicles.


I have a parishoner who has relied on the Licking County Transit to get to worship on Sundays. She has gotten rides from others of us, myself included, but the bus has been reliable. She doesn't yet need a wheelchair or other assistance, but that day could come. I have colleagues in ministry who have mobility restricted parishoners who rely on a vehicle they use through the week to get to worship on Sunday morning, and not only do they not have a bus or van, they couldn't transport a wheelchair with them if they did. I know of at least half a dozen stories like this, and I can't imagine I know everyone.


So I was chagrined to learn that the Transit folk, with the support of the county commissioners, are planning to end Sunday morning service because they are not making money. Or enough money, perhaps.


I'm sure Sunday morning is not a profit center for them, and yes, transportation is a long-standing vexed challenge for our society, let alone for Licking County. It may not continue.


But to hear "there are other services; they have other ways to get to church" was disheartening to me. Churches are doing plenty of transportation already; we take people to medical appointments (a couple in our congregation were recently honored, in part, for that work), we help folks pick up medications or get to surgery or back from hospitals and nursing homes.


And we're often told that, liability wise, we probably shouldn't. Don't even ask me to call our insurance carrier and ask them "is this a good idea?"


So to hear that congregations should take on a role that, on the other hand, the law and regulation and liability is pushing us to stop doing – I have to object.


Ironically, I will be gone on Wednesday, July 16, when a 6:00 pm community input session is scheduled, nor can I drop by the commissioners' meetings this next week on Tuesday or Thursday at 9:30 am to share my concerns. But I do have this column, and I trust some articulate friends in the community.


May I also note, and hope I don't take any votes away from good public servants by saying, that I happen to be quite confident of the faith commitments of not only the three current serving commissioners, and also of the two candidates running this fall. They mean well for and want to do good by the congregations and fellowships and assemblies of this county, which contribute an invaluable amount of care and support for the disabled, needed, and desperate. I accept that implicitly.


But I would humbly suggest that they may not have thought through just how disabled and impaired individuals can safely get to Sunday worship, and that we in the churches are being told not to do this even as we're being challenged (again) to fill the gap.


And I would add this: what if the same effort towards explaining why the Transit Board can't do this was put into communicating that they ARE and can do it? I suspect there are many who don't ask for such service, at $4 or even more, because they don't even think it's offered.


That might just pay a dividend.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he plans on talking personally to the county commissioners and candidates as soon as he gets back. Tell him what happens Wed. night at, or @Knapsack on Twitter.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Notes from my Knapsack 7-3-14

Notes from my Knapsack 7-3-14

Jeff Gill


Carved in Stone, in Granville



My summer series of inscriptions around the village inevitably moves from the Granville Elementary building ("Education Strengthens the Nation") to Denison University.


Of course, their physical plant has a wide assortment of words carved in stone, not all of which we'll consider in detail.


For instance, Doane Hall has "Doane Academy" over the doorway, a reminder of the multiplicity of schools that came together to make Denison a university when most of their sort were called "College" – the academy was equal to what we'd call today a high school, in this case very much a college prep program.


But this summer, we're looking at statements, texts in stone meant to make us think.


There are four very intentionally chosen quotes placed to bracket the gateways most students would walk through on their way from the village (where not a few had their residences years ago, let alone on their way to classes on the academic quad).


One of the four "gateway inscriptions" has long drawn some of the most quizzical or cynical looks:


"Work, feed thyself, to thine own powers appeal; Nor whine out woes thine own right hand can heal"


The identity of the one selecting these quotes is a question and a story all its own, but this particular quote is from a now largely forgotten British poet, George Crabbe.


His lasting fame is due to one of his characters who was named "Peter Grimes," appearing in a lengthy poem called "The Borough, written around 1800. Crabbe was born and lived out his years not far from Aldeburgh, where Benjamin Britten was born in the 20th century and where he founded a still running music festival known by the town's name.


Britten, as World War II ended, wrote an opera based on "Peter Grimes," a character now largely associated with the composer. Just a few years later, in 1948, the Aldeburgh Festival began at the instigation of Britten.


But some forty and more years earlier, someone had read the long narrative poem Crabbe wrote before "The Borough," titled "The Parish Register," which had a section labeled (cheerfully) "Burials." In that section, talking about the question of accepting public assistance by one character, another says "Work, feed thyself, to thine own powers appeal; Nor whine out woes thine own right hand can heal."


In case you weren't ready to hunt up "The Parish Register" on line (and you can, reading the whole massive bulk of the opus), the point is what makes sense after you've given the text a moment to ferment.


You need assistance? You need monetary help? Go chop wood. Go help make piles of kindling. Go clean out fireplaces. You're fit enough, healthy enough, and as my mother-in-law has been known to say, "you're big and ugly enough to do it yourself."


Fend for yourself is in essence what this selection is meant to communicate, and to be fair to George Crabbe, the section in full makes it clear these family struggles can get complex, and sometimes there are reasons beyond what we know. But if you can take of matters for yourself, you really should. That's what a former president of Denison wanted to communicate, and if I've got the right one, he put his money where his mouth was.


Stay tuned for more info on these inscription in about two weeks! Five more to go, which should take me about ten weeks.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preachers; tell him about inscriptions that have caught your eye at, or follow on Twitter @Knapsack.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Faith Works 7-5-14

Faith Works 7-5-14

Jeff Gill


Ten Ways the Church has lost Millennials



What's a "Millennial"? And please note I'm only using the quotes once.


Millennials are the generation, or "demographic cohort" born in the years from 1982 to 2004. That means today they're about 32 to teenagers, basically. Young adults, in many churches.


Except, of course, they're not in many churches, so we don't have many to ask if they like being called "young adults" (the answer, by the way, is no).


They're the latest generation to be bringing their kids to T-ball and Cub Scout day camp and beginning gymnastics or dance lessons. They are the parents of the small children that aren't in our nurseries, in other words.


Folks, I'm marching quickly into my fifties, and have no particular insight into Millennials, other than through having a few official roles that have me dealing with them as parents. Millennials who have not yet married, which is most of them, and who don't have kids, and that's many of them, are probably a bit different, but I know just enough of them to have come up with the following.


It began as a series of tweets, which is what you do when you come up with a set of thoughts that can be expressed in 140 characters or less, and turned into a "list" which is much beloved by fans of Buzzfeed, and here I'm turning it into a "listicle." If this paragraph makes NO sense to you at all, you're probably not a Millennial.


If you are part of a church leadership team wondering why you don't have Millennials, this listicle is meant to help you understand why, even if it doesn't quite tell you what to do about it . . . because that's going to be unique to your congregation and setting. Anyhow, I'm giving you here my original tweets, and a comment or two to flesh them out.


10 Ways the Church has lost #Millennials: 1) We do not sound optimistic. Negativity doesn't equal authenticity. (Seriously, youth used to complain that our hymns all sounded like downers, but now they point out we tend, liberal or conservative, to mostly preach and teach in the key of bummer. Brighten up, point to hope! That's what they're looking for, because they come with the cynicism already baked in.)


2) We still stink at personal invitations. Group appeals don't appeal to 'em, BUT ask them anything. (We love our flyers and handouts and, um, uh, announcements in the newspaper. Which Millennials also don't read. Let's not go there. But ask them personally to do something big, and they will very seriously consider it. You have to ask. Them.)


3) We still look @ people in static, long arc sorts of ways. Identity/job/roles for them are fluid. (We're still wrestling with the whole "Sunday school teacher is a life sentence" thing. Millennials work, don't doubt it, but they tend to work in manic, intense bursts, and move on to something else. They'll come back, but after some other activity. One thing over and over, not so much.)


4) They're highly visual, & Church still tends to be an extremely verbal/text-dense environment. (Hello, videos. But it's more than watching stuff on your phone, it's the whole contrast of print literacy versus visual literacy. They see references and allusions we older folks miss, as well as backgrounds and foregrounds, but a solid page of print loses interest at a glance. It's a visual culture today, that reads in service to the images, not vice versa.)


5) In terms of social policy, they're more libertarian; Churches tend to sort liberal/conservative. (This can start all kinds of arguments, I know, but the bottom line is: don't assume on one issue's opinion that you know their whole profile. I guarantee, you don't. Their political spectrum is not two-dimensional.)


6) Lots of small bites (think tapas) not big buffets. Church is still in love with all-you-can-eat. (No, this is not a cheap shot at weight and nutrition, but it's parallel in terms of state of mind.)


7) Irony. We don't get it. Millennials see world through irony-framed specs. It's how they learn. (What I said.)


8) Social media. Much Church leadership hates it. M's don't love it, they just live in it. (Seriously, I am continuously amazed by how much most of my peer group loathes and dislikes social media. Look at it this way: you like the beach, not the mountains, but if all the people you need to talk to are in the mountains, can you please go visit?)


9) No, they don't speak Church. Mocking them for lack of exposure or knowledge isn't attractive.


And finally, with no comment needed here, either -- 10th way Church has lost #Millennials: We still don't talk enough about Jesus. Being in relationship to someone you can't see? They get that.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him how your church reaches Millennials at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Faith Works 6-28-14

Faith Works 6-28-14

Jeff Gill


A thin and flimsy tribute to a very substantial pastor



Last weekend, most of you read a more formal, official version of the news that, with tomorrow, Rev. William Rauch retires from ministry.


He's not shy about saying his age, but suffice it to say neither he nor his talented wife Judy look or act their years, but they have worked well past the point where many are happy to sit back and let life roll by.


They do plan some rolling in the near future, but not much sitting back. They will still be in the area, and for that, I and many others will be grateful.


When Bill first came to serve in ministry to Licking County, Ohio had just barely been made a state, and dinosaurs still walked around Buckeye Lake. That may be an overstatement, but not by much.


He had a period of youthful service at St. Paul's Lutheran, and he feels as blessed by his chance to serve out the bulk of his time in active ministry at that congregation as they feel blessed, I know, to have had him.


He's been there as long as most of us remember, at the corner of 5th and Locust, and not only as parson for his parishoners, but very much a pastor to the community . . . and even that term should be taken in the widest possible manner. Newark was his parish, but Licking County has been his backyard, and his ministry was not limited to church work, but civic and community affairs of all sorts.


As a city councilman, he mowed lawns back before it was cool for elected officials to be seen doing so, and Bill hates it when people point out that he did it, because he generally went to great pains to not draw attention to that.


In fact, during his service on council, his general demeanor was less "now I, a veteran clergyman, will also weigh in as a community leader" than it was "wow, I have a chance to spend a stretch of time serving my fellow citizens in this way." He enjoyed his public service, and never felt it gave him special privileges. There are contrary examples I'll leave you all to research on your own, but you know what I mean.


But it was the ministry that mattered, and Bill is both a committed Lutheran Christian, with a knowledge (auf Deutsch!) of all things Luther and Melanchthon, and also an ecumenical practitioner par excellence.


He has kept the Newark Area Ministerial Association (NAMA) in tune and active through good times and times of strife and struggle in the community landscape, leading through example and persuasion, putting his time and church in the service of Jesus' prayer in John 17 "that they all may be one."


The jail ministry, the Coalition of Care, and much more. Interfaith, interreligious, international, Bill has put his Lutheran heart into all of them.


I first met Bill in 1989, having arrived in Newark as an associate and being sent by the senior pastor to a campus ministry meeting at Ohio State Newark. I met his parishoner Dick Shiels first, but quickly got to know Dick's pastor as a strong supporter of that late lamented program of campus chaplaincy here in town.


Then I got involved with NAMA, worked with him in the jail ministry as it was just getting going, and found myself preaching in his building for Good Friday & Thanksgiving community services.


Having left for a time to West Virginia, when I came back Bill was supportive of my trying to start a similar group to NAMA in the Lakewood area, and when my son was at an age where I took some time off parish ministry, he was delighted to trust me with his beloved St. Paul's on vacation Sundays, knowing that we both valued weekly communion as central to the act of worship. It was both an honor and a pleasure to fill that pulpit.


Now, back in a regular pulpit again, I don't get to visit as often, but tomorrow night many of us, Lutheran and otherwise, will gather at St. Paul's for a 6:30 pm celebration in music and prayer, to salute a man (and indeed, a couple) who has made this city a better place in the name of his Lord, and I know Jesus will smile on his retirement as much as he has on the labors Bill has done.


In fact, I can't wait to see what his next act looks like!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's only known Bill 25 years, but enough to praise him. Tell your Pastor Rauch stories to him at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Faith Works 6-21-14

Faith Works 6-21-14

Jeff Gill


To camp, or not to camp?


One year ago, as I write this in Licking County this week, I was somewhere around 10,000 feet above sea level, looking out across the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. There I was marveling at the glory of creation, humbled by the chain of grace that had brought me to where I could be with my son at this place, and enjoying the fulfillment of a dream that began decades ago, standing by the door of the old Scout troop meeting room in my hometown, looking at a creased and worn map thumbtacked onto the paneling. A map of Philmont Scout Ranch.

Those memories made that day are, obviously, still with me. I got the patch and the belt buckle, brought back an appalling number of pictures, and gained a new appreciation for a phrase I'd long offered to others: "Slow and steady wins the race." I may not have gotten to the top of Baldy Mountain first, but I got there. And it began with a backpack full of bowling balls walking along roadsides and through golf courses a year before that.

Philmont isn't church camp, but each crew has a chaplain aide, and I liked mine quite a bit. He made sure we said grace at meals, even when lunch was SPAM, and led the crew in the "Thorns and Roses" exercise each night before "lights out," closing it with a different devotional each evening.

Now, my denomination's church camp facility over between Delaware and Marysville, Camp Christian, is a property that's flat as a dinner plate, and you may have cots and running water, but there's no A/C, no digital devices allowed, and the bugs alone remind you you're out of doors. There, the day begins with Morning Watch, and days close with a trek to the Vesper Spot, and worship that's generally planned and led by the youth themselves.

Why go to camp? Whether a week or more away, or with the Cub Scouts to a Monday to Friday day camp as many of us did last week out at Camp Falling Rock? It's because today we have to work at being out of doors, we have to make an effort at being there, more than cutting through it from car to living room.

The Bible is full of nature. Jesus loves to tell parables about growing things, and weather, and the creatures we share this planet with. For those reasons alone, we need a grounding somehow in the outdoors just to be able to read our Bibles well.

But more importantly, there's a way of being in community that you only find in nature. Families at the cabin, groups on the road, campers at camp: we relate differently to each other "out there." And we relate differently to God, as well.

May you find your own taste of camp this summer, whether on the patio, the front porch, or out in the middle of a lake with a million stars all around.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your camp experience shaping faith & understanding at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Faith Works 6-14-14

Faith Works 6-14-14

Jeff Gill


Tweet, tweet, tweet go the birdies



What's a tweet?


If you reply that it's the sound a bird makes, you're probably over . . . a certain age.


If you answer that it's a message of 140 characters or less sent through a social media platform on a computer, smart phone, or other digital device, then you know Twitter.


For years, I've noted my Twitter handle in the closing of this column, @Knapsack, and used my own Twitter feed to share the web address, or "url" of the online version of this column @NewarkAdvocate (yep, the mothership has a Twitter feed, too).


In one format or another, I've been writing a "Notes from my Knapsack" since 1985, and pulling children's sermon object lessons out of an old knapsack in front of worshipers on Sundays since about the same time.


And I would say that, in a sense, I've been tweeting since about the same time.


Now if you know the history of, you may be aware that the now-powerful social media website only went online in 2006; technically, I started a Twitter account in 2008, so there's a bit of a gap in my chronology.


The version of tweeting I did before Twitter is called a church sign message board. It's a particular challenge of communications that makes 140 characters seem like a Russian novel.


I serve a congregation that put up a new sign last December; Newark Central sits right on Mt. Vernon Rd. and the traffic going by certainly justifies putting some resources and energy into the messages we put up there.


Since the new sign went in, plenty of people have passed along to me suggestions for what we could put up on it. They're all well-intentioned ideas, but they tend to all run into the same problem.


They're mostly over 70 characters.


Now, if you don't do Twitter, I should explain two things. One is that, if you text, you can tweet (or at least receive tweets), which makes Twitter a good communications tool if you have a group or audience that uses texting. A text can't be more than 160 characters; Twitter holds back 20 characters for the address, hence their limit of 140 for a tweet.


And a character is a letter, but a space is also a "character" since it uses up some of your allocated space in the text/tweet, ditto punctuation. With those two factors in mind, you run into some challenges.


Read this sentence: The problem is that, actually, you can't fit as much into a tweet as you might think, especially when you're new to this social media tool.


From the colon to the period was 139 characters. Boom.


So if you want to put "Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car!" that's 44 characters; but "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. - Jeremiah 29:11" is 151. You can't put that in a tweet, let alone on a church sign.


You can put some abbreviations and such in, but it's amazing how quickly a simple short thought becomes incomprehensible that way.


Church signs, like Twitter, favor the punchy, the brisk, the short phrase. If you have a full sentence, odds are it won't work. And what makes it even tougher than Twitter, on top of having half the character count of a tweet, is that visually you have to break your lines and use spaces clearly . . . so you really don't often have the ability to use all 70.


So Twitter, when it came along, was very familiar to me. I've tried to figure out how to share news of events or make passers-by think in 50 to 100 characters for years, but I haven't been able to sit on my sofa to do it in the past. I had to stand in the rain sliding letters into place!


For some of the best sign messages in the area, let me tip the hat to two in Heath: Christ Lutheran's message board on Hebron Rd. is well-known and often thought provoking; some of the funniest messages week in and week out along with practical announcements is the Heath Fire Department station on Airport Road.


And their unsung scribe often has two different messages on each side! Both are always worth a look.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what sign made you think at or, of course, follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Faith Works 6-7-14

Faith Works 6-7-14

Jeff Gill


Lexicons of faith and practice



For those of my readers who are not church folk, may I ask that you bear with me a few lines while I make a bit of a point? Thank you.


So: narthex, sanctuary, chancel, pew, steeple, pulpit, lectern, stole, paraments, chalice, vestments.


Or: doxology, Gloria Patri, invocation, benediction, introit, postlude, homily, offertory, responsorial, collect (no, not that), proper (uh uh), diaconate, cantata, Pentecost.


And then, as if those weren't enough: redemption, atonement, intercession, incarnation, epiphany, transubstantiation, adoration (well yes, but), confessional, sacramental, evangelistical, connectional, and covenantal.


Yes, church folk use some specialized terminology. The first set was architectural and object names in churches, the second set are terms used in worship services, and the third are theological words. Wait, do I need to explain theological?


Maybe so. And yet . . .


In fields like architecture you run into cornice and architrave and footer; if you go to concerts, you expect to hear about concertmasters and thaumaturges and tunings; anyone who stays past the final credits knows that movies have animation supervisors and gaffers, grips, best boys, and "assistant to Mr. Spielberg" along with various wranglers and caterers. It doesn't put us off of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," so why do we worry so about how language and lingo can keep people out of our temples?


One difference is that you can enjoy the movie or concert (in fact most people do) without ever understanding what a continuity person does, or all their colleagues. The technical language is kept neatly off to the end or a quick nod at the beginning, but the bulk of the group experience is open to those who have not a clue about the central role of a cinematographer.


In church life, we've been accustomed to keeping the lingo and in-group labels right in the middle of things. There used to be assumptions that most people just knew what this all meant, but it may have been that people just used to be more tolerant of those in authority talking over their heads.


Not any longer.


My own weakness is "narthex," which is a handy word for the room many would call a "lobby," the space usually the width of the worship space, or auditorium, or sanctuary if you wish, that is separate from a vestibule, which is where you can take off and hang up your outer & dust-covered vestments. The narthex used to be a working part of the church proper, where those preparing to make a confession of faith would worship, until they formally became members of the body of believers.


Adding to the muddle is that this technical language can have different meanings in divergent traditions. Most low-church Protestant congregations I've known call the general seating area (usually filled with bench-type seats, or "pews") the sanctuary, while more liturgical traditions refer to the "nave" while the area up around the pulpit and lectern (reading stands from which prayers and preaching are done) is called the sanctuary.


And in Orthodox churches it has an even more specific definition!


There's also a chicken and egg question here: is it that faith communities have technical language that is why people don't go to church, or is it the increasing numbers of people who don't go to church that makes faith language so problematic?


I'd make an omelet here and just note that there's room to stir up the whole question. In-group language reinforces those who are in as in, and increases barriers to helping new people feel included and involved, so it's a problem to be considered and edited carefully.


At the same time, in worship there are acts and ideas that simply don't just translate into everyday terms, and even when there's an outward similarity, it makes sense to suggest the differences intrinsically between a table and an altar by using separate terms.


The process of teaching and sharing "this is what we mean by redemption" can be a good way to integrate a visitor into the community, and a few questions in that visitor's mind as they leave I doubt will make them decide "next week, I'm going somewhere I know the names of everything."


But if they leave thinking "those folks like it that outsiders don't know what's going on, and aren't interested in helping people figure it out," I can give you a new technical term.




Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what church term has always puzzled you at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Faith Works 5-31-14

Faith Works 5-31-14

Jeff Gill


On the public square, virtual or otherwise



Something is happening in downtown Newark.


Right now, it's the Strawberry Festival. Michael Harris and his merry Kiwanian minions are keeping the ice cream and shortcake shoveled out to waiting customers with lots of berries on top, and across the Courthouse Square, the Squonk Opera is putting on amazing shows today and tomorrow thanks to the work of the Midland Theater crew.


Just this past Wednesday, inside the Midland, a series of short films by Newark High School students were shown to rousing and sincere applause from a countywide audience, hundreds who came to be inspired and impressed by what youth can see and share and cinematically express. Teachers and staff from NHS & the CTAG program, like Doug Swift and Travis DeFraites plus indispensible volunteer Jace Delgado, along with the Project Main Street team out of the Sparta Restaurant, Chris Ramsey and Stephen Fowler, were cheering them on (and I was getting tweets from Josh DeVoll about his son Grant being born as we were sitting there), plus a healthy contingent of Denison staff and faculty: there's just a spirit about that kind of community gathering that was present in that grand old room.


And on Tuesday before that, across the square and over one more street, word comes from Sarah Wallace of a dream fulfilled for Gib Reese, young at heart but feeling the years enough that he couldn't be with us to see it, but a Farmer's Market and renewal of the Market St./Canal St. corridor there from the parking garage (which will get its own face lift) over to the Old Jail, which is showing signs of new life of its own.


The week before, Denison had a full faculty retreat, arguably the first time that august institution has had an "all invited" faculty retreat since the first four professors sat in a room together in 1831, and it was held in downtown Newark. Not just at the Metropolitan (their base), but in spaces and places all around downtown, including the Advocate boardroom. Faculty walked from session to session saying "something is happening in downtown Newark," and I think they're right.


Downtowns will not be again what they once were. Everyone understands that. It won't be the retail and entertainment hub around which the entire community revolves. Retail is dispersed, first to outlying shopping centers up Mt. Vernon Rd., then down in Heath to malls and big boxes, now onto your sofa and the internet.


Entertainment and public gatherings still happen downtown, but they're no more central than is the multiplex in Easton or Weathervane Playhouse up off Price Rd. After a period of centralization, these functions of government and shopping and amusement are now distributed around the landscape, and are available literally in your home.


Once, as central cityscapes were the hub of a community, it only made sense for faith communities that wanted to make a statement and play a role in the shaping of a town to be downtown. Granville embodies this perfectly, the main intersection bracketed by four churches. Newark has steeples & church towers jutting up just around the edge of Courthouse Square on all four sides, keeping an eye on what goes on there and ready to offer a reflection, a comment, a prophetic statement.


But my own congregation, Newark Central Christian, made a decision after their 1946 fire to move away from the center, and relocated a mile up Mt. Vernon, just a step ahead of the first shopping plaza in this area barely another mile north. Those leaders in 1951 saw that the role of "central" places was changing.


Now we see new churches building out in the countryside, not feeling disconnected from the community or their communities. Web pages and social media and cell phones mean that the downtown location has no natural advantages over a rural location, and in fact can give your message and membership a wider reach – you're not just seen as part of one city or village or school district, but can relate to all of them.


People joke about Heath having no center, and that's simply true. In some ways it's the mall, other ways the school complex over on Licking View, during the summer it's the water park. But what is more physically true for the civically younger Heath is now practically true for all our communities. There is no center.


Putting the challenge before churches: how do you become a center? Because it doesn't happen by where you put your building. But by the same token, even a downtown church can become a center today, if it wants to.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he'd argue that the center is always wherever the Gospel is proclaimed. Tell him where you find a center (or how to build one) at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Faith Works 5-24-14

Faith Works 5-24-14

Jeff Gill


To place a memorial



In the hymn "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing," there's a line that gets fixed in some newer hymnals.


The original words by Robert Robinson in 1758 included, in the second verse, "Here I raise my Ebenezer…"


Sometimes spelled out Eben-Ezer, the word – actually a phrase – in Hebrew means "stone of help." We hear of it in the Bible in I Samuel, where in the seventh chapter a memorial is set to help the people remember a victory in battle and the price paid to recover the Ark of the Covenant from the Philistines.


Samuel wants the people to remember what God has done for them, and so he sets a stone upright, and gives the place a name. An Eben-ezer.


There was a precedent for this just after the people of Israel entered the promised land across the Jordan River, after the passing of Moses on Mount Nebo and under the leadership of Joshua. At a place called Gilgal, Joshua orders that from where the nation crossed the river, twelve stones for the twelve tribes be taken out of the river bed, and set up on the high ground beyond the crossing – a memorial place. A tool for remembering.


The line in the hymn gets changed both because we don't know the narrative of the Bible so well any more, even in church, and because people blink and look puzzled and ask what this song has to do with Scrooge (who probably knew where his first name came from, even if it was an archaic Puritan usage even in 1830s London). But the idea remains, and in truth is too common for us to think of as unusual.


Monday is Memorial Day. Many of us will go to places set apart, where stones have been carved and set up and blessed by prayer and processions. I will be offering up an invocation and benediction in the morning at Granville's Memorial Day observances, which have been held consistently since 1868 . . . which in this part of the world is a long time to persist in remembrance.


Maple Grove Cemetery began with Civil War committals as the historic Old Colony Burying Ground, started in 1805, was filling up. Some wander after the Memorial Day program, with bands playing and young people reciting "In Flanders Fields" and "The Gettysburg Address," just a few blocks west to the older, even quieter place of memorial and memory.


All over Licking County, veteran's honor guards and buglers will work to cover all the active cemeteries they can, even if it's no more than to fire a salute, play "Taps," and say a prayer. It is how we remember, in between the picnics and the parties which are also a part of the commemoration. Perhaps not all who attend them stop as long as some would like to remember the sacrifices made on battlefields and in encampments far from home, but I think it's also worth noting that for those who serve and they who "gave the last full measure of devotion," their desire was that their family and friends and descendants would someday be able to get back to joyful picnics and quiet evenings watching birds sing.


The hazard, of course, is that if they died so that we could return to everyday life unafraid and undisturbed, then in the pleasures of the everyday we may forget how we got back here. Which is where Eben-Ezers come in, or memorial stones, or well-cared for cemeteries, or parades of Scouts carrying the Flag and musicians in step playing "The Stars and Stripes Forever."


That's what Joshua and Samuel and Lincoln and Mrs. Julia Pierpont had in mind, when they gave us Gilgal and Eben-Ezer and Gettysburg National Cemetery and a May observance at Richmond, Virginia's Hollywood Cemetery in 1866. That's why one of the young people at Maple Grove will read Gen. John A. Logan's "General Order Number 11" of 1868, which established a date at the end of May "for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country."


We will celebrate, we will enjoy this weekend, but we will also remember. It requires some helps, some assists, some stones and markers, traditions and rituals. And we remember better together, so we will gather.


And remember.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him how you remember what should not be forgotten at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.