Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Faith Works 8-12-06
Jeff Gill

What’s a Supply Preacher?

I still get the question "what’s a supply preacher" often enough, both from people who’ve known me for years and complete strangers, that it seems worth discussing again.
Some of the confusion is from a category that is nowadays pretty common, if misunderstood. An "interim minister" is now a category of clergy who are often, but by no means always, near or past retirement, who have been trained for intentional interim ministry.
As the label implies, not that long ago interims were sort of accidental: church officials looked around for someone not doing anything else who could serve a church for a short period while they were looking for a new full-time pastoral leader. The nearest recently retired person would usually do.
More recently folks have seen that there is a special skill set for diving into a congregation, setting a new tone after the departure of a parish pastor, or pulpit minister, or whatever you call the settled clergy of your tradition. This skill set can, to a degree, be taught, and intentional interim programs for training are common now all across the US.
All of this, of course, means nothing in traditions like Catholicism or Methodism, where the old pastor leaves and the new one is sent, usually without a gap a’tall. But even there, certain clergy with special gifts are often identified and even trained to be those sent in after a period of major change or disruption.
So we’re talking mainly about churches that largely or in part hire their own clergy, which is the common practice for Licking County churches. Some of the denominations represented here actually recommend or even require a certain period of interim leadership after a long pastorate. The idea is to prevent another kind of "unintentional interim," the poor pastor who moves to a town following a long-standing predecessor, and lasts but a few years (or less) as the church sorts through the transitional issues from a long settled style to another.
This can be up to a two year contract for an interim, and often calls for the interim to move to an apartment in the area for part of each week. Anyhow, I don’t plan to do that! God bless those who chose to take on such a challenge.
Some folks actually prefer the short-term nature of interim work, and like regularly moving and seeing many new communities. That still suits more retirees than younger clergy, but there are an increasing number of people who actually start out as intentional interims and stay in that calling, though there is nowhere near enough of them nationwide.
That’s what a supply preacher isn’t, but what then are they? Well, think substitute teacher. They are credentialled and able to step in on short notice to do all that a teacher does for a day or a week, and turn it right back over to the same person.
What I knew going into this, was that there was a need for someone to do spot coverage during a vacation or a conference or even sudden family issues, and that’s what I’ve gotten to do. What I didn’t realize, as our family situation made this a good choice for all of us right now, is what a fulfilling ministry it would be, giving clergy a big thing not to worry about when they try to take a week off. Nothing discourages future leave time than a truly awful worship service for the home crowd when you’re away.
Add to that the opportunity to step in and help focus prayerful thought on subjects you then walk away from at service’s end, making it not be about you, but what you said, and supply preaching is quite uniquely rewarding.
Plus, I’ve gotten to see some sacred spaces in nine congregations, five counties, Sundays and weekdays, among multiple denominations, that I would never have seen let alone led worship in otherwise.
That’s what supply preaching is, and now that school starts in a few weeks, my busy season is ending. Let me know if the increased attention to this column helps or hurts!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; share a story with him through knapsack77@gmail.com.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Notes From My Knapsack 8-13-06
Jeff Gill

Colors of Panic, or Spectrum of Silliness?

Surely it is not just me. I don’t even know what the Homeland Security threat level is right now, but I suspect it is best when green or something of the sort. Probably mauve or puce today.
No, those aren’t the colors of emergency and warning I’m puzzled about, but the little sequence and significance of light green, dark green, yellow, red, pink, white.
Those are, of course, the stages of rain intensity on weather radar, and even the Little Guy knows their import. I’ve been looking at these colors at least since cable and The Weather Channel entered our lives, which co-incidentally coincided with a point in my life when I was walking a mile-plus to work (and across a long bridge over a river at that).
What I know about weather radar can be put in…well, about anything small, because I know nothing about reflected radio waves other than the colors. But I have extensive personal direct experience, as do many of us, in watching our network local or national cable radar picture, and then walking out and spending a stretch under those pictures.
What I’ve known for years, I thought, was this: light speckled green meant rain that may not even hit the ground, solid light green mist or light rain, dark green pavement wetting precipitation, red hard rain, and yellow on up torrents with the stray flying poodle coming out of the sky.
Now, here’s my question. Did everyone decide this spring to shift the settings down one full notch on the color bar? Is the sensitivity switch set on high? Did the fiddling from the unmistakable winter hysteria-mongering stick, and carry over into warm weather?
Because apparently, scattered green is always dry pavement (verga or somesuch), light green usually ditto, dark solid green is still often pitter-pats and mostly dots on the concrete, with steady rain not showing up until you have red on the screen, which was formerly cats n’ dogs territory.
This is certainly not a major issue, but it is a sudden and significant shift in my mind. Those tints and the expectations we carry with them have held steady for a very long time, and they all (from my vantage) have made a sudden, distinct jump to overstating the obvious. What happened?
Did a station manager somewhere get cranky because the radar didn’t look cool enough often enough, and said "can’t you guys tweak this thing up a bit?" I have been noticing for the last couple years a tendency to cover yesterday’s storms well past their sell-by date ("here’s where the storm yesterday went a hundred miles away") or pump up tomorrow’s ("our projected track takes it along this possible course") to the exclusion of telling us much about the next 24 hours, unless there’s a colorful blob in the offing right now. The end result is that there’s always some yellow and red to point at excitedly.
Or if there’s nothing from the last two days or coming in three, we’re likely to get all wound up about the heat index. Enough on that for now.
The fact of the matter is that information is losing out to agitation on many fronts, and I just didn’t expect that trend to extend to the radar picture. Fear sells better than security and confidence, and anger trumps happiness in the marketplace. If you’re worried about rain, you’re a potential customer, and the world always needs more customers. So tweaked it must be, and I’ll just keep mowing the lawn right through green patches of radar, without a dot on the pavement.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; offer your radar views at knapsack77@gmail.com.