Friday, June 22, 2007

Faith Works 7-7-07
Jeff Gill

Gifts, Graces, and Gumption

Saw Scott Hayes working at one of the key tasks of ministry the other day, outside of the “Look Up Center” on O’Bannon, the former Hazelwood School.

He was, of course, um . . . preaching? No. Witnessing? Well, sort of. Building up an effective ministry on the east end of Newark? Kinda.

He was mowing the lawn.

I was explaining to a fellow clergyperson the other day, new to some of the ways of the World as it intersects with the Church.

My point, sadly, was nothing more complicated than “never let anyone know you are good at clearing paper jams in the copier.” Parallel to that point is discretion about displaying plumbing skills in front of anyone other than the trustees.

Pastors, ministers, clergy of whatever sort, all know that there is an intrinsic hazard to having keys to the building, because you’ll be the first call most people make. And there is not a seminary dean who hasn’t joked that they need to add a plumbing and electrical skills course to the program, and everyone would sign up. (Instead, they add another class in Akkadian or Sumerian, and wonder how to get more student interest ginned up for them.)

Scott, and many of us, know that before a wedding on a Saturday or when the VBS is coming, you just gotta go find the clippers or the trimmer or the pushmower (I’ve been blessed through the years by good parishioners with riding mowers and a trailer, Amen!), and you do what has to be done.

What clergy are, as a group, not prepared for in schooling, and barely aware of until it hits us in the face, is that you need to know how to do fundraising.

No, I don’t mean preaching stewardship sermons, though those are important. But the mechanics of putting together a campaign, the nuts and bolts, the techniques of how to set up a leadership phase, announcing your goal, keeping the progress in front of the congregation (and other supporters if we’re talking a program or non-church ministry), and having an effective closing stage . . . these are skills, with a body of knowledge and best practices, that are out there but often not well understood in the church. You may have chiropractors or entomologists in the parish, but you’re more likely to have a certified arborist than a development professional sitting in the pews.

All of which creates certain problems, like feeling tugged and torn by each offer made by someone selling or providing a product or service to the church, to use their “fool proof, almost always works” set of tricks for raising money.

Add in the tempting swamp of “can’t we find a grant for that?” and a church leader can find themselves up to their necks in said swamp.

If your faith community is part of a denomination or church body, the problem is magnified by the fact that almost all of them are running their own capital campaigns or outreach initiatives, so if you go to them for assistance, they’re likely to just route you through their own priorities. That, and they often don’t know any more about fundraising than you do, and just have glossier fliers and a shiny veneer of confidence.

There are a number of vital settings for ministry in our community that need and deserve our support. The Look Up Center, Open Arms Shelter a little closer to downtown on E. Main, the Licking County Jail Ministry where Scott Hayes doesn’t have to mow, Water’s Edge Ministry in Buckeye Lake . . . the list could go on. All of them exist for the good of the community and to advance the Kingdom; most of them have websites, a few have Paypal, and even that represents the challenge and opportunity to do fundraising in an unfamiliar modern context.

Trusting God and rooting your work in prayer are necessary first steps, but fundraising is a skill and a gift that should be sought and valued just as you wouldn’t want just anyone switching out the wiring in your church building. We know to look for a certified electrician for major work, but fundraising folks think can be done by anybody.

Pray that God gives you a plan and people who know how to implement that plan when it comes to fundraising, and I’m praying someone offers to do the mowing for Scott!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s seen a capital campaign or twelve through, some successfully. Not all, though! If you have good news, fiscal or faithfilled to share, write him at

* * *

Faith Works 6-30-07
Jeff Gill

Have You Ever Been To Moss Point?

We’ve all heard of New Orleans, and many of us in Licking County not only heard about Hurricane Katrina, but have been down to the region assisting in the clean-up and rebuilding effort.

The whole impacted area is called the “Gulf Coast region,” and along with N’Orlins you may hear sometimes about Mississippi, and Biloxi.

On east of Biloxi there was incredible damage, in an area admittedly a little less populous than to the west, but where the force of the hurricane winds and storm surge was arguably the strongest. Right in the path where the eastern corner of Katrina was fiercest, is Moss Point, Mississippi. You’ve probably never heard of Moss Point.

Next door Pascagoula gained a measure of fame in the 1980s when novelty singer/songwriter Ray Stevens featured the town in his hit, "Mississippi Squirrel Revival." But Moss Point has mainly had reason to sing the blues the last couple years.

On August 29, 2005, on the strong eastern side of Hurricane Katrina, much of Moss Point was flooded or destroyed in one day, pounded by vicious hurricane-force winds which lasted from 7 am to 2 pm at a consistent 75 miles an hour, and with a storm surge exceeding 20 feet in some sections. Moss Point was devastated.

Dozens of folk from Central Christian Church, on Mt. Vernon Road in Newark, went down to the Gulf Coast in 2006 and again in February. On the first trip, they slept in the Moss Point Christian Church sanctuary, elevated enough that the structure was sound even with major external damage. The members of that church, led by Pastor Lester Brooks, fixed the roof of their church even before they repaired their own homes, and quickly turned their skills to help others. In that, too, Pastor Brooks led them, taking his day job as a licensed electrician out into a community ministry of repair and healing.

When the Newark folk joined them, sharing meals cooked by Mabel Ford and joining together for morning devotions, driven from job to job by Daddy Willie Smith, 87 years young, they all came together as family. Like a big family reunion, folks made do: for instance, Steve and Connie Crothers slept under a grand piano. Others found pews and patches of floor that suited them.

Then they woke up, sang “This Little Light of Mine,” ate more of Mabel’s cooking, maybe heard Pastor Brooks preach a bit, and went out to work some more until they had to come home.

But they felt like they needed to go home again when they returned, this past February, but needed and housed in Gulfport. So they made sure to go back for Sunday worship to Moss Point, where they were welcomed like the family they’d become. And three of their Moss Point family took time off from their work to come help their nearer neighbors rebuild in Gulfport, all working side by side.

Tomorrow, Central Christian gets to return the favor, and welcome Pastor Brooks to their pulpit at 10:30, and feed Mabel Ford, and Willie McClendon, and Daddy Willie if he can make it, and any of the rest of you who show up, with a potluck to follow. The choir will sing “This Little Light of Mine,” and I’m assured “there will be some preaching.”

There are many of these stories rattling around Licking County from those who’ve been there and returned, but not as many where the story comes to live and walk and preach and eat among us. You’re invited to join these brothers and sisters in a celebration of what faith is building in Moss Point, and Pascagoula (no squirrel involved), and right here in Licking County. And there’ll be plenty to eat.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s seen work trips and mission trips change lives on all sides of the relationship. If you have a mission trip story to share, write him at
Notes From My Knapsack 7-1-07
Jeff Gill

Hospitality and Heritage in Licking County

Through late spring and early summer, I had the pleasure of meeting 300 new friends.

These were Canadians, whose tour operators had heard about Licking County from the work of our Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). While making a sweep across the Midwest, they saw Licking County as a spot where a brief interlude could fill in the gaps between major attractions to our north and south.

The reaction of the staff who accompanied the bus loads of friendly and curious folk from southern Ontario (the province of Canada just across Lake Erie from Ohio) was that Licking County was consistently experienced by their customers as the unexpected jewel of their trip. Cherry Valley Lodge in Newark, the world-class Newark Earthworks, the Greek Revival architecture of Granville, and eating at the Buxton Inn left our northern guests wanting more. An evening listening to music at the Granville Inn, and a trip out of town past the Longaberger basket building and Blackhand Gorge, with signs pointing to Flint Ridge State Memorial, has made quite a few request a return tour in Autumn, when the leaves are turning in the Welsh Hills and along the slopes of Licking Valley.

I’ve been privileged to get to tell the 12,000 year old story of visitors feeling at home here in Licking County, and make an explicit invitation to them, and other individual bus tours, to return and stay a few days on their own. My invitation is sincere and based on a firm conviction that there’s more to see and do here than an afternoon and night’s stay, then off and away, can reasonably fit in.

It’s also rooted in the concrete knowledge that a tourist staying two and three nights also needs to buy meals, purchases admission to places like the Heisey Glass Museum, and may make other expenditures whether art at The Works, ice cream at Ye Old Mill, or sundries at the drugstore. Tourism is economic development that costs very little in local investment, and is not only sustainable but expandable with high return rates, where word-of-mouth builds visitation rapidly over time.

Local businesses that directly relate to tourism, like hotels and inns and restaurants, not to mention museums and cultural attractions, know how to be welcoming and work at enhancing the visitor experience. They understand that the point is not only so we get repeat visits, but make visitors want to encourage their friends and family to visit as well. Bus tours, where sixty people come as a group, are even more beneficial, given that to get them individually means thirty or more cars parking and exhausting their way around the sites and attractions of Licking County.

Our recent set of guests (you can call them tourists, if you want, but I like to stick with the frame of mind that comes with “guests”) ran into a few situations where they encountered local residents who were, not to put too fine a point on it, shocked to learn people would pay money to come here. Telling the residents that their home has been advertised in the pages of National Geographic provoked disbelief, and a number of reactions along the line of “No, really, why are you here?”

If in fact there are local folks making complaints that tour buses are sharing our streets, I’d hope to communicate to them that tourism is a great economic development option for Licking County, and while there may be mixed feelings over ethanol plants or other business development, there’s really no downside to tour buses. Our CVB staff is to be commended for their promotion of this low cost, high return business for the county; many local folk who get National Geographic were pleasantly surprised to see an ad for visiting our home in those distinguished pages.

“Do people really want to come visit here?” some ask us. Yes, they do, I get to answer with a smile, especially when we let them know we’re here, and what we have to offer. If you encounter a tourist, thank them for coming, if you would. Treat them like a guest in our common home, and encourage them to stay a few days. We’ll all be glad you did.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he also enjoys talking on a microphone while swinging wildly from an overhead strap with one hand on a tour bus. If you have an odd hobby to share, write him at

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Faith Works 6-23-07
Jeff Gill

The Sense of an Ending

If you don’t care for English lit analysis, don’t worry. It’s just that I’ve taken enough classes in that subject to have the name Frank Kermode stuck in my head, unfairly (since he’s written broadly and well on many topics, including Biblical study) tied to “The Sense of an Ending,” a work that takes a point that can only seem obvious after someone has made it.

Kermode goes through a series of illustrations to show us how our expectations and assumptions about where a work of literary craft is going shapes how we read and interpret the text, well before we get to “The End.” Disney movies will end with someone learning something, happy reunions, and an amusing evildoer getting a generally off-screen comeuppance. Oprah recommended books will see a protagonist through unbearable suffering to a point of rest, reflection, and stoic endurance. Jackie Collins novels will . . . nevermind, and no, I’ve never read any.

And I’ve not watched, other than news clips, a single minute of “The Sopranos.” Sounds like an excruciating show to watch, and we don’t have HBO at Chez Gill.

Many of us have been learning about the intense, if not widespread following that Tony and his family (and his Family) led through this final season. The final episode of the final season had an ending that, to some, lacked finality.

Perhaps another way to look at it is that the ending David Chase supplied subverted the ending we expected, and had been watching through the screen of that assumption. In the end, Tony would pay for his crimes, we would see his suffering as redemptive, or his final escape from justice would point clearly to some higher justice (a life lived looking over his shoulder, a life empty of meaning or lasting significance, outward contentment masking inner despair and decay).

Well, Sir Frank Kermode wrote a revised edition of the book that got him knighted, and his observations in 2003 following his 1967 original have to do with our seemingly endless fascination with “subverting expectations,” to the degree that the twist ending or upended conclusion is what we assume is coming, and we watch or read with that assumption in the driver’s seat.

I haven’t watched a minute of “The Sopranos.” Keep that in mind, as I offer this firm and unfounded opinion. C’mon people: Tony got shot in the back of the head, and there was nothing. Blackness. As had been suggested by the gangster chumps themselves, repeatedly and even reaffirmed in a recent re-run before the finale.

So the question to viewers, of whatever faith tradition, is, “So, how does that grab you?”

I suspect on very small but fairly emphatic evidence from the creator-writer-director that he’s saying “This is it. No justice, sorry.” As a person who watches even a fiction with a faith perspective, I feel a strong sense of “Nope, that isn’t quite it; there’s a further chapter to be written.”

But “it isn’t fair” is not the basis for faith in God or what is eternal. “It isn’t fair” is a child’s plea in the face of reality, when big kids steal ice cream and cool kids get the front and center spots. People, possibly David Chase, critique faith and religion as just that, a childlike plea which solid, cold, dark reality does not even notice enough to ignore.

Most of us have our set of truths that lead us away from simple, silent blackness to a further light where all will be revealed, and must be judged. Tony Soprano did not really believe in such an ending, and lived his life accordingly.

But in a conversation with a fellow pastor of a slightly different theological bent, we did agree that there is a strange, unavoidable hint of possibility beyond the scene of Tony, Carmela, A.J., and others framed in a window as the Last Supper, with Meadow still parking outside.

If Tony is killed in front of his family, that event may represent the one chance of redemption the rest of them have. If he lives, they have clearly indicated that in one way or another they will stay “in the life.” If he does, in fact (in fiction) fall face forward into his onion rings, then what may those three (and Paulie) yet make of their lives? Through Tony’s death could come their redemption. Did David Chase intend this, or is it just the power of a particular conclusion woven into our culture that has shaped, is shaping, our perception of this ending?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; if you spot faith in a dark corner of popular culture, point it out to him at
Notes From My Knapsack 6-24-07
Jeff Gill

Why Are We Stopping, Dad?

There are two kinds of dads – those who stop at historical markers, and those who don’t.

Admittedly, some are more compulsive than others. Yes, I have been known to go miles off our planned course to end up seeing the site of the first thoracic surgery in the state of Indiana. I think the building had been torn down, but the state historic marker was there.

For our own “Beautiful Ohio,” check out and enjoy some road trips from the comfort of your couch. Recently, I’ve had the chance to be present for dedications of new markers in Perry County for Zion Reformed UCC on their 200th birthday as a congregation, and along Granville’s Main Street for the Old Colony Burying Ground.

Other sites around Licking County are working on the process to get an official state historic marker. It isn’t cheap, with the base cost starting at around $2,000.

Infirmary Mound is one spot I’d love to see get an official marker; just off the side of the area where the annual Civil War re-enactment will be held this weekend, this was a fifteen foot tall conical mound before the mold-board plows starting working around the base in the 1840’s. Drive in off of Rt. 37 just north of Union Station Road, and wind your way back into Infirmary Mound Park to the Equestrian Arena; there an uneven patch of hilltop is all that remains above ground of a two millennia old family cemetery that once rose up, as opposed to spreading out across the landscape. Dozens, maybe hundreds of individuals were laid to rest there.

Next to T.J. Evans Athletic Center on Sharon Valley Road is a better preserved mound, also once fifteen feet or more in height, now maybe five. People coming to Newark Community Schools events park up the sides of this mound, which might get more respect if an official “State Historic Marker” were nearby.

We have 22 “Remarkable Ohio” state historical markers in Licking County; about five in Perry County. The oldest Licking County marker is in Hebron, set up in 1960, and the newest dates from 2007 by The Works in downtown Newark, with the Lockmaster’s House along Canal Street, helping mark Howard LeFevre’s 100th birthday as well, I’d guess. There are 1167 of them around the state over all, ranging from points along the famous Civil War “Morgan’s Raid” to the site of the first “electric suction sweeper” in North Canton with the Hoover Historical Center.

You can spend some amusing hours finding errors in these markers. I know a writer of one who found information that changed a statement made on the bronze plaque just months after they submitted their text, but you can’t erase a $2,000 slate very well. Some mistakes are rooted in changing knowledge, others from simple ignorance, and a few . . .

James Loewen is working on a new book, called “Surprises on the Landscape: Unexpected Places That Get History Right,” a follow-up to “Lies Across America,” which noted “historically inaccurate or misleading historical markers and sites across the United States.” The “Lies” book is a searing indictment of what passes for public history in many parts of our country, where inertia and the expense of changing signage leaves “savages” in metal print for future generations referring to Native Americans, or odd silences about other minority groups (check out the Cincinnati Riots of 1884, for instance).

I’m impressed with Prof. Loewen taking on the challenge of showing what’s done right, which can be more difficult to fairly present than pointing out flaws. The sites and interpretive sites that meet his perceptive and exacting standards will make for a great list of “don’t miss” historic attractions.

None of which will blunt my drive to check out the most obscure and least significant historical markers. They don’t go up unless someone there really cared about what is shared on the text. What makes them compelling is the process of reading not only the signage itself, but reading the subtext of what made this effort worth seeing through to a sign and dedication, no matter how long ago the ceremony, let alone the event commemorated.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; his family is remarkably patient with some of the stops they end up making, and who knows, it could end up being an interesting column. Tell him about historic signs you’ve seen at