Thursday, August 18, 2005

Faith Works 8-20-05
Jeff Gill

If This Is August, It Must Be Time To…

Would you believe that your pastor is working on planning Advent and Christmas services right now? Have you noticed that the children’s musical folks are already collecting costume materials for the shepherds?

September is almost too late to get started for all of the Christian liturgical and traditional folderol that packs December tighter than a seven year old’s stocking on the chimney. If your church or faith community is going to do all of the things they intend between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, they are already hard at work.

Actually, this phenomena is widely noted and well understood. Less well known is work that probably began months ago for the annual fall stewardship campaign. Church treasurers, financial secretaries, board chairs, and clergy have been reviewing the first six months giving from ’05, matching trends over the last few years, projecting fixed expenses for church life into ’06, and thinking about how to communicate these prosaic points in a useful and encouraging manner to the congregation.

Christians tend to call this aspect of church life "stewardship," the process of looking at what God has given to us as individuals and as a faith community, and discerning how to faithfully use those talents, those gifts and graces, to do the work that church is called to do.
Some places use pledge cards and the newsletter to communicate, others have been accustomed to informational mailings separate from the usual print material to highlight specific needs, but use no "commitment card" or other written follow-up.

A few church bodies have very high expectations as to percentage giving for people in leadership, or for the entire membership. Many simply want to encourage members to "up" or increase their giving, an inelegant point which created a legendary bulletin blooper from a stewardship chairman. "I increased my pledge last year, so up yours!"

No, this is not a process which encourages humor or irony, and may even stifle the awareness of how ludicrous it must appear to God that we see ourselves in a struggle when we are surrounded by so much abundance.

This is where an awareness of global and local missions, if not a sense of humor, is so helpful to an effective stewardship education and communication plan. When a congregation is used to hearing about how shockingly poor church groups in the developing world not only support their immediate needs more readily than Americans do, but then offer to send "50 goats for the orphans from the World Trade Center disaster," the outreach budget looks different.

When all the membership is aware of individual missionaries and the challenges they face in ministering to global south communities where AIDS is running at 40% of the population, our own giving gets real real fast.

If the average pew sitter has heard, or better yet heard directly from, a life transformed right here in Licking County because of the
activities that church supports or is involved in, they are more ready to respond. They want to hear more about that, and they want to be part of it in any way they can.

Oh, and the best mission speakers I’ve heard always know how to see the humor in even the most challenging situation, which is a message about the stewardship of our attitudes as well as an encouragement for giving cheerfully.

How does your faith community do stewardship education?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply pastor around central
Ohio; send your tales to while you take a break
from making this year’s shepherd costumes!
Notes from My Knapsack 8-21-05
Jeff Gill

School Isn’t All That’s Started Already

Lakewood School District and many county systems start this week. The back-to-school supply shelves are already scraped down to metal, and the last trips to fill the unmet expectations of summer fun are planned as teachers and staff are already sweltering in the classrooms, stapling bulletin boards together and mustering lesson plans for ‘05-’06.
For everyone, the annual "watch out for buses and pedestrians" alert goes out. Corn, even with the withering drought the farmers are battling, is redefining the view at corners and along curves along roads. Stay alert: a clear view just a week or so ago may be a wall of green (well, yellow-green) shocks topped with growing tassels.
Kids are also learning or re-learning bus stop etiquette and expectations, so we pilots of metal behemoths have to be extra cautious.
Bands and teams are well into their preparations, with training camps and special sessions already weeks old. Sunday, Sept. 4, the Lakewood Alumni Band will hold practice in the LHS band room from 2 pm to 5 pm. This is to prepare for Friday, Sept. 9 which is "2005 Lakewood Alumni Band Night" directed by Scott Coffey and David Wolford.
The practice just two weeks away will jostle with the previous four days of Millersport Sweet Corn Festival, where Lakewood Band Boosters raise the bulk of their support each year at a booth that sells, um, something tasty. Rice balls, or guava pops, or, ah . . .wait, no, they sell pierogies!
No, that’s not right. Where are my notes? (Sound of scuffling and rustling.) Here it is: doughnuts. They sell doughtnuts (you may spell it donuts, which is easier to paint on a sign, I’ll admit, and shorter to type). A third of a million dollars of donuts if you can believe it, and the Band Boosters can, since 1980. That’s a lotta donuts, or doughtnuts, either way.
So band alumni are invited to join "alumni shifts" in the infamous booth, where you will see everyone. Yep, everyone comes by the donut booth sooner or later, and if you help make, dunk, or sell donuts, you’ll see ‘em.
If you are planning on playing Sept. 9, even if you don’t help at the booth (but you really should), they need you to come practice on Sept. 4. And after, they plan to have a dinner, so please contact Beth (Miller ’81) Walters at 928-1299 if you haven’t already signed up through the mailing they’ve sent to their alumni list.
So band and football and teachers and custodians and administrators and bus drivers are already hard at work, starting well before the so-called "first day," and parents and caregivers are hunting the sales and snagging vital supplies for the growing mind like glue sticks and new socks. Each of them thinks "first day, hah!"
Along that same line: one of the most significant learning experiences of my time at boot camp came at 4:00 am. My good fortune was to draw fireguard duty one night just before wakeup at 5 am (which was a joke, since we usually were awakened by the clashing of trash cans down the squad bay at 4:45). No, there’s no stove in the barracks and the shingles are fireproof, but why stop an ancient tradition?
So there I march, up and down the central aisle in the pitch dark between the bunk beds. At the end facing the company street, where the screen door opened toward the platoon command hut matching us across the way, I heard on each pass a strange sound. Finally I took the risk of pausing at the door and listening, the risk being a deranged (I thought) sergeant with the company who checked silently at random on those doing sentry duty through the night.
Freezing by the screen door, leaning to a vantage point across the way, I realized that our much "beloved" sergeant instructor was humming Sousa march tunes while ironing his camo fatigues near his screen door, five yards away. He had been up and driven to our camp and dressed and was at work . . . long before we had received our oh-so-early wake-up call.
And it occurred to me that after we had been put away at lights out, as Sgt. Camire (you never forget their names, never) stalked out of the squadbay, he no doubt went back to command hut for some festive paperwork before he drove home to his semi-mythical family. Up before us, up after us, and up in our faces all day.
So it is for the so-called nine month job of teaching or working in today’s educational system. Thanks for getting eveything ready when the buildings are at their fiendishly hottest, and let’s send our kids to school ready to learn. They’re ready to teach ‘em.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; send your Sweet Corn Festival stories to