Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Faith Works 12-31-05
Jeff Gill

After a year of sharing this column with our local readership, I’ve been looking back over my notes and records, preparing (among other things) for 2006.
Turns out I’ve gotten to visit or even preach at services of eighteen congregations out of seven different Christian denominations, which is a very small percentage, to be sure, of the thousand some churches of all traditions in Licking, Perry, Muskingum, and Franklin Counties. It does give me some interesting perspectives, though, that you might miss if you just attend your own and maybe occasional visit a nearby faith community.
It did cross my mind at one point that it might be interesting to do something that a writer for a northeast Ohio paper did a few years back for a stretch: rate worship events the way a restaurant reviewer or film critic might. (Cue horrified shout from editor. . .)
Well, that might work in a more urban area. But aside from other arguments against that proposal, I’ve not only been in an awful lot of area churches for various reasons through the last sixteen years, and don’t want to start wearing wigs and sunglasses like Ruth Reichl checking out how many stars a bistro still should get, but I want to be able to go back to many of them.
So there went that idea.
What I think I can helpfully do is offer some general observations from all of my wandering around, in a spirit of constructive . . . well, decide for yourself if this is criticism, or commentary.
Number one is – wait, let me make a very clear point right off. Anyone one or any one church who’s wondering if I mean "your" church can rest easy, sort of. Each of these points is a cumulative observation, shared because it is such an across-the-board phenomenon.
Right, number one. Many churches have gone to using for some or all services a projection system and words for music that are not on a thick, sound-muffling block of wood pulp to hold in front of your mouth, also known as a hymnal. This is, in general, a great idea.
But what you need, if PowerPoint is part of your musical offering, is for the operator of the system to be part of your rehearsal of that music. Nothing is more frustrating than for the words to consistently be a few lines behind where the praise team is at, and then for the worship leader to lean into the microphone and say to the congregation "C’mon folks, let’s sing out!"
If you wouldn’t practice without your keyboard player, you shouldn’t do it without the display operator either.
Two is right at that operator. And two words, "sans serif." Sans serif is your friend. We know you have hundreds of fonts on your laptop, because it’s a computer. Most of us use them, so you don’t have to show us that capability. Two more words: Arial, and Helvetica.
Three I just hate to get into, because it seems like this point has been beaten to death over my last three decades in church life. Perhaps it has, but apparently not enough folks have been listening. Number three is SIGNAGE.
There are so many reasons to avoid this issue; we all know which door is what, who goes where, and more, bigger signs don’t look, well, nice. But signs are, by definition, for those who don’t know, and isn’t that one of most faith communities’ purposes? In probably forty church buildings I’ve walked through in the last year, perhaps two had clear, consistent, easily visible signage throughout the building.
And a quick fourth: Greeters. If your service starts at 10:30, and they go sit down with their family at 10:29, or even 10:31, you might as well let them skip it.
Most new visitors come late, and on purpose. They want to sneak in, talk to no one, and they’ll leave early too. They also want to know where to go and what to do, but not on your terms (i.e., arrive early). I’ve guest preached a bunch of places where, from my perch, I see people come in late, cast about nervously in the entry area, and turn around and leave.
Greeters, aside from needing some basic training on what a ministry of welcoming means in your church, should be in place at least fifteen minutes past the start of the service. That may feel pointless most Sundays at most churches, but like a parachute, you have to do it each week to be there for the times you really need them.
That’s my New Years gift to more effective outreach for us all, whatever tradition you follow.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; you can send faith community news to him at disciple@voyager.net.

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Notes From My Knapsack 1-01-06
Jeff Gill

Can Products Change Your Life?

We just celebrated our first Christmas in our home; the Lovely Wife has put up with eleven moves in twenty plus years of marriage, four of them parsonages (five if you count seminary housing).
Along with the obligatory apartments early on we’ve been the second residents of two houses, one fifty years old and another not quite five, which is where we now live and are about to mark a full year.
We’ve used some existing nail holes, spackled and painted and made some new ones. A few trees left the lot, and a couple new ones arrived just in time to wear a full suit of lights for the season (thanks, Jim!), along with some village excavations which we’ll try to grow grass over come the spring.
What’s made homelife so interesting has been our re-formatting of the household operating system, and adjustment of family roles. The LW has long been happy to let me do a majority of the cooking, and my increased time at home has given me the chance to hit the trifecta: pie crusts, pizza dough, and pasta homemade. LW query: "Don’t they still sell that stuff in the stores, hon?" Yes, but I notice she’s still happy to eat it even made at the cost of much more flour etc all around the kitchen.
Which brings us to the major shift of 2005. I now do most of the cleaning around the house. Please don’t assume I never cleaned a toilet or dusted and vacuumed before, but that’s not what has made such an impression on me.
Thanks to friendly loud-voiced men with three stripes on their shoulders and veins popping out of their necks, I learned mopping and fine work with toothbrushes on a very high level. Actually, my mopping technique at home suffers from the fact that I’m still thinking in terms of hundreds of square feet, working on concrete or well-polished pine planking. Oh well. But if you’re expecting a white glove inspection on your toilets, I’m your man.
The hard part isn’t cleaning, in my (newfound) opinion, but in keeping clean. What I’ve been used to is the major impact, the thorough swoosh, and the gleaming final appearance. But the slow, ongoing, bit by bit work of keeping shelves free of dust, the bare floors unstickified, or dishes fairly food fleck free, is a whole ‘nother creature, a creature I have not mastered entirely yet.
Then I discovered Swiffer ©. Life got better, right there. My mother had four kids’ worth of retired cloth diapers for dusting purposes, but we had built up a fair supply of cleaning rags by the time the Little Guy made his appearance. I know how to dust with a bottle of squirt stuff and a cloth (high to low, remove objects and dust bases before replacing, shake outside between rooms), but it takes a fair amount of time.
Not with these little wonders, it doesn’t. One out of the pack does the whole house, no shaking required, and no squirty deal either. We had a brief conference on the whole "curse of the disposable society," and tried some back of an envelope calculation on ergs, economics, and caloric output, and inconclusively decided that we were sticking with the sticky sheets o’ wonder. Laundry costs and our time count for something, at least until we learn that arsenic is used to create the amazing adhesive effects, or that they’re packaged using soon-to-be-executed Chinese political prisoners.
How can something this small change your life? The hard fact of the matter is that is doesn’t, but there is also the truth that dusting does happen with greater frequency, which is good for our marriage. You may have heard, somewhere, that men and women have different opinions about how often things like dusting (or scrubbing the tub floor) need to happen. That’s why the LW still manages most of the laundry, since she has rather picky ideas about separating lights and darks (oh yeah, and whites).
With some household products, these differences get smaller, and that is very near to life-changing. When they come up with a spray bottle to reduce pre-washing in the sink before dishwasher insertion, our lives may become downright idyllic.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he does not pre-wash sufficiently, and if you share this disability, commiserate with him at disciple@voyager.net.