Thursday, July 07, 2005

Faith Works 7-16-05
Jeff Gill

Changing the Face of Ministry

John Thomas, the pastoral leader of the United Church of Christ (UCC), predicted this a few weeks ago. He knew that with the huge wave of publicity from their resolution affirming same-sex marriage, few would attend carefully to a concrete step they took with dramatic implications of its own.
The General Synod of the UCC may not be able to change laws about marriage, but they can say who qualifies for ordination, the status that makes someone qualified to preside over sacramental acts such as communion or baptism.
Most mainline/oldline Protestant denominations in the US have tended to follow the European model sometimes called the "4-3" track to ordination: four years of college to a bachelor’s degree, and three years at a seminary for graduate training, usually a "masters of divinity" or M.Div. before the administration of ordination by a church body.
What the UCC decision making body said was that "there may be other tracks" a candidate may follow to qualify for ordination. There was much language affirming that a seminary degree is still the "normative" path, and that few, special cases are what’s being affirmed. Many understand, though, that this is a major step which is likely to result in a large number of candidates presenting themselves for ordination after time as a licensed or lay minister, without the full set of degrees.
With clergy candidates coming out of seminary with student loan debt comparable to any master’s degree graduate, and a first year teacher with only a bachelor’s in Ohio making more than the average pastoral position, let alone an entry level position, the whole process of training and credentialing clergy is being shaken up and transformed.
For more sacramental traditions, the status of "ordained" is necessary to have someone who can preside at the communion table or perform baptisms. The title usually associated with ordination, "Reverend" is technically "the Reverend" since it is an adjective more than a term, describing a quality of the person now ordained, someone who can perform sacramental acts.
That’s also why a number of Protestant groups and their ministers tend to avoid or reject "Rev." such as Billy Graham, usually called "Dr. Graham" by those who want to be formal, but accurate. If the performance of sacramental activities is open to all baptized believers, then you don’t label the preacher as the Rev., but just say pastor or parson or Brother So-and-so.
Still, for groups like the UCC’s, United Methodists, Lutherans, and so on, the need for an ordained person is counterbalanced by the difficulty in supporting that level of education and the costs that implies for so many small and medium size congregations. Licensed ministry has filled a number of gaps in providing preaching, teaching, and pastoral care, but ordination is still required at communion and baptism, and preferred for weddings and funerals, by many faith communities.
So John Thomas was right: this is a major step, and one that will change the face of who can step into that spot behind the communion table for many churches. It will also impact the look of seminaries and denominational training programs in ways we still can’t even anticipate.
How do you see the face of ministry changing in your denomination?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; how have you experienced the changing face of ministry? Send your reactions to

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Faith Works 7-09-05
Jeff Gill

Rock the Vote, Rock Your Faith

U2 is a Christian rock band. You may not think of them that way, but they see themselves in that light.
Bono is a Christian, who believes that his faith, his music, and his commitments are all of a piece, a "seamless garment" as the saying goes. And his efforts leading up to the G8 summit and the Live8 concerts preceding it were an expression of that faith.
Bob Geldolf, organizer of the original "Live Aid" twenty years ago, has said that along with Bono, they need American evangelical help in addressing the needs of Africa because "they are the ones who get things done in international relief."
All of which has led to the startling sight of black and white TV ads with Pat Robertson and Dennis Hopper appearing in identical garb, sharing a common message; George Clooney and Rick Warren (looking like Mike Halter’s older brother!) both echoing each others’ words.
Evangelical Christians, as the influential magazine "Christianity Today" has recently said, are no longer outsiders looking in on the culture. In this country, at least, they cannot portray themselves as the put-upon, helpless victim. Faith may be trivialized and mocked in some quarters, but the stature and impact of vigorous Christianitiy is clearly evident in popular culture and running through the heart of society, even if not the primary motive force in daily life.
The editors of "Christianity Today" think that this means two main things: Christians should be very wary of getting "co-opted" by the dominant culture, which is not automatically going to emphasize the faith as believers would, and also that this is a time to offer the very best faith has to offer, not to coast on a social wave, assuming the spot on the crest will last. All waves hit the beach, sooner or later, and tumble everything topsy-turvy. looks like a good idea, and many clergy have "signed on" and affirmed to their congregations the ideas and ideals behind this shared effort for global debt relief and development assistance where properly managed. The tsunami relief campaign, with all due respect to former Presidents Bush and Clinton, was well on the way to one billion before they began their PR road show, largely due to overwhelming support by church-based relief groups.
While the UN issued statements and bureaucrats debated over packaging issues for "official" aid, WorldVision, Samaritan’s Purse, CWS/CROP, and Catholic Relief Services were on the ground and hard at work. The total effective relief number is approaching two billion.
On the other hand, the impact and effectiveness of a mobilized Christian sector of the population will attract many social groups and movements with their own agendas to try to hitch their wagons to the Bethlehem star.
So the challenge for a church in a neighborhood or village here in Licking County, for a region or conference or diocese in Ohio, or a denomination or national organization, is to take up the challenge of assessing for themselves where their influence is to be used, and how. What change do you want to make, and for what purpose, using which means?
Then and only then can you choose your allies and make broader alliances, some of which may very well be unlikely. If you know your vision and mission up front, and are honest and direct about that, no association is too outlandish.
But if the church (however defined) just wants to run with the cool kids on the block, then you may find yourself engaged in some activities you didn’t anticipate, wearing a sign or a button that undermines your own message, and may keep you out past your curfew, and over a line you forgot to draw in the first place.
What is the mission of your faith community, locally and globally, and what activities and alliances would logically proceed from that vision?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s worked with a wide variety of church groups to set a vision for ministry, and would love to hear yours: send them to

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Notes From My Knapsack 7-17-05
Jeff Gill

Minnesota is next to have a state quarter in circulation; some on-line acquaintances link me to heated debate over the look and symbolism of the design, prominently featuring a loon on a lake and (some would say redundantly) a person in a motorboat with a fishing rod.

The whole state quarter scam -- the Mint gets to print money, create some modest variations to get you not to spend it, thereby making a great profit margin -- is at least a good example for consumers in demonstrating the fine distinctions that separate good design from bad art.

Dig a bunch of quarters out of your pocket or purse and give ‘em a look. Some are immediately attractive, some require you to look close and squint, and others just look like cheap tourism promos stamped on slugs suitable for a cheesy arcade.

This is where design is both an art and a science. Everyone knew they were creating a picture for the back of a quarter. If they were unclear, they could pull one out and check the size, shape, and general context.

The state of my birth, Illinois, has an attractive collage of Lincolnesque images and a theme tying civic boosterism to their history (21st state for the 21st century), all working nicely together. But without magnification and a strong north light, you see . . . not much. Louisiana takes a jeweler’s loupe as well.

California does something very comparable to Illinois (historic person, view of well known location), but keeps it pared down so the picture makes sense to the eye and mind even laying on the counter. It doesn’t do everything that the Golden State could jam in there, because someone realized "it’s a quarter."

Others have even more of the stench of design by committee. South Carolina should have put whoever designed their long-popular license plate on the job. But instead they wedged a palm tree and an outline and words and . . . almost as messy as Florida’s soup pot of a quarter.

Rhode Island, perhaps in a tribute to native son H.P. Lovecraft’s oeuvre, gives us a simple shot with two icons, the Newport bridge and a sailboat, but arranged in an ominous pose that more resembles the cover of a murder mystery. Lovecraft would also have liked Arkansas’ hovering giant diamond over what looks to me like Cthulu’s swamp; likewise Vermont may be thinking maple sap collector, but I’m seeing"Twin Peaks" under those angular tree trunks. Maine hints of doom as well . . .

Connecticut gives us a very nicely framed Charter Oak, a tree no longer standing, and New Hampshire has"The Old Man of the Mountain" who crumbled off the cliff face he had occupied for eons. I like Kentucky’s shot at an actual scene, just south of Bardstown with a thoroughbred and Foster’s"Old Kentucky Home."

The usual look is to combine a state outline with a stereotyped image associated with the area, like Massachusetts and the Minute Man, Indiana and the Indy Car, Georgia and the Giant Peach, and Texas with the Lone Star. Michigan decided it was too much work to come up with any icon, and gave us just the outline, with sketched in lakes all around.

Yikes. Were these design teams, or committees, or campaign donors, or whoever, thinking they were creating teaching aids for third graders? (I apologize in advance for any offense to bright third graders I may have given.) I don’t want the quarter to tell me how New York is shaped; I want to see what Virginia wants me to know that I didn’t before, and their colonial ships did that for me. North Carolina is elegantly simple: the Bishop’s boys and their motor kite at Kitty Hawk. Iowa is so Iowan, with an unadorned simple schoolhouse picking up on Grant Wood’s art without using the standard pitchforked duo.

Missouri has a nice idea, but someone needs to tell their engraver about foreshortening.

How do I like Ohio’s quarter? If you’ve read this far, you know my answer already. Maybe in another hundred years they’ll give us a second chance. On the good side, they won’t be putting Bob Taft on it.

Hope, maybe.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he usually has too much change in his pocket. Send your thoughts of change to

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Notes From My Knapsack 7-10-05
Jeff Gill

You don’t have to know Joey Parrish to feel absolutely devastated for his family, friends, fellow 4-H’ers, and anyone who had been in farming with him and his family.
16 is the age of an experienced farmer in a farm family, and from hearing him do safety presentations at 4-H meetings and knowing a bit about his folks and co-workers, I believe that he was as careful as any 61 year old would have been in that situation.
What so many of us don’t realize, even in a still fairly rural county, is that agriculture is one of the most dangerous occupations there are, even today with safety techniques and training having been honed over decades of hard experience.
I grew up around farmers who matter-of-factly accepted that augers, balers, and harvesters would take a toll of fingers, hands, and the stray eye; if you were alive, you were thankful, knowing that teams of horses, later on the use of power equipment, and always the scope and scale of silos, feed bins, and haymows could threaten both life and limb.
Any life lost, whether in Iraq or in the fields of Licking County, at an advanced age or as cruelly young as Joseph Parrish, is a tragedy, pure and simple. But this young man not only died doing what he loved, but he died for us. If you ate or used a manufactured product today, you needed a farmer to do their job, soybeans or corn or most any crop. We expect that there will be those who will plant the seeds and bring the harvest and take the incredible risks getting from one to the other requires, and in that sense Joey died for you.
So be thankful, and know that the lessons of caution and care are already being taken from this sad event among farmers young and old . . . but that there is no way to make farming hundreds of acres anywhere and thousands of bushels of anything a walk in the park. So be thankful.

In the more everyday surroundings of summer movies, the Midland Theater is doing an interesting thing, challenging local residents to take a look at some noted movies and the well crafted books that stand behind them.
I’m not interested in the "which is better" debate, which can be a bit of a non sequitur. Books is books, and movies are a whole ‘nother thing.
Coming into this late, I’ll note that this weekend is "The Maltese Falcon" which was a Dash Hammett novel before it was a Bogart movie. Can I note an entirely different book to pique your interest in the show: "Black Dahlia Avenger" by Steve Hodel. This is possibly the most absorbing true crime story of the last few decades, and has a creepy assortment of real world connections to the "Black Bird" of John Huston fame.
As for "Sideways" coming up later this month, may I gently note that this cinematic tale, reviewed as a bittersweet and comedic story about relationships, is a very adult movie. I mean, adult, as in adult movie. Don’t be surprised by a couple of near-pornographic scenes in an otherwise winsome story as were a few friends of mine.
Rex Pickett wrote a very well-plotted book which inspired Alexander Payne to make the movie, but the changes in getting the story to the screen are both less and more than you think. A major character in the book is absent from the screenplay (not uncommon), and a motivation for one primary character is also removed, which adds something to the flow on the page, but was probably (on further reflection) an unnecessary complication to the already complex film story.
But I’d love to hear from anyone who has read and seen "Sideways" who thinks Payne wimped out by removing the thousand reasons to look differently at one development, and that’s all I have to say about that.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; send your tales to