Thursday, April 02, 2009

Faith Works 4-4-09
Jeff Gill

Taking a Walk Around the Block, or a Bit Farther

‘Tis the season . . . for processions.

Coming into Holy Week for Christian observance of the last earthly week of Jesus’ life, we’ve got a number of special occasions on the worship calendar, what some churches call “liturgy.”

Liturgy translates, roughly, as “the work of the people,” meaning the call and response of certain set prayers and actions needs the active involvement of the people in the pews. Liturgy is not – contrary to many misconceptions – just the script for the ordained clergy, but the work all of God’s people do together.

In the sanctuary, the worship space, with a robed and vested minister leading from behind the pulpit, it can be easy to confuse liturgy at any season, let alone through Easter season, with the work of what’s going on up front.

Which is where religious processions come in, where they have for millennia been a crucial part of acknowledging what “leitourgia” is really about.

Palm Sunday in many traditions has the congregation process into the building with their palms, echoing the impromptu parade into Jerusalem behind Jesus on the prophetic white donkey, the crowds acclaiming him as the coming king, stripping the palm trees for branches to lay down on the road so the dust would not obscure the view.

Mostly this has turned into the kids marching briskly up and down the aisles with their eco-palms waving (sustainably) and singing suitable acclamation to King Jesus. Many Catholic churches still have at least the officiants march in from outside, or at least from the narthex (entry room from door to worship space).

In fact, through Lent these last few weeks, many Catholic churches have a weekly Stations of the Cross procession within the sanctuary, either on Fridays or after a parish retreat or dinner on another evening. Large numbers of worshipers skip the sitting and work their way around the walls of the worship space, praying at panels recalling crucial events from the original Good Friday.

Francis of Assisi began this custom when the original Stations of the Cross, the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, became inaccessible to Christian pilgrims after the Moslem takeover of the Holy Land. That journey, following the steps of Jesus himself from his trial to crucifixion and burial, became a set of 13 stations (or in some places today, 14, adding the Resurrection) around the inside of the church.

There are locations on the grounds of churches, or at the Sts. Peter and Paul Retreat Center (former PIME Seminary), where outdoor Stations of the Cross are walked.

In some locations, a Good Friday “Cross Walk” is an ecumenical way to recall those steps of Jesus, bringing more traditionally ordered churches together with less formal approaches to worship in an outdoor procession, usually trying to end atop a hill, echoing Jesus’ carrying of his cross up Calvary, or “Golgotha,” Aramaic for “Place of the Skull.”

Some towns hold theirs on the grounds of a church, and many do so in a cemetery, especially if there’s a hill for the closing portions recalling the crucifixion itself.

In Granville, the Good Friday Crosswalk starts at 11:00 am at the parking lot of St. Edward’s Catholic Church, and winds through town and up the hill to the front of Denison University’s Swasey Chapel.

For some of the observant in New Mexico and the Philippines, there is a fellowship called “Los Penitentes,” whose penitential observance takes “the work of the people” to a whole new level, with members of these fraternities actually re-enacting the scourging, crossbearing, and crucifixion itself, using the actual equipment in modified form as an act of devotion.

Yes, that means sometimes people actually not only bleed, but are nailed up onto a cross. They’re brought down pretty quickly, and those who choose to endure this tangible symbolism are considered particularly devout, but the official church does not approve of or participate in these re-creations.

Some of you might prefer being nailed to a cross to staying up until dawn, which in Eastern Orthodox Churches is a central element of the Easter Vigil. Some Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican/Episcopal churches have an Easter Vigil from Saturday night into Easter Sunday morning, where a flame is supposed to enter the building from without, and in some areas a midnight bonfire is part of the tradition (along with various strategies for staying warm).

But few keep a procession outside of the church as central as Orthodox churches do, with one element of the service requiring the officiants and entire congregation to not only walk out the church door, but to walk around the building three times before re-entering to celebrate the lighting of the Holy Fire.

Among Protestant Christians, the last vestige of these customs is in the sunrise service, where a pre-dawn awakening for the worship leaders often leads them and the worshipers to an outdoor service as the sun rises, as Lakewood area churches hold on Easter morning at Dawes Arboretum.

Then there’s the procession traditions behind Rogation Days and Ember Days. What are those? I’ll save that for after Easter, but they involve . . . more processions! A walk, a parade outside by young and old, clergy and laity together, is not an exception to “liturgy,” but maybe the very best embodiment of it!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about a religious procession from your tradition at, or on Twitter at Knapsack.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

[from my Facebook Notes]

What Must Change

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 at 8:25am

My title is a question, and a multi-directional one at that, and it's also a statement, but one i can't quite feel certain how i want to aim.

Since i started working with Gay Reese on the Bethany Project, and did some research that led to sitting down and reading the 1963 Blakemore "Panel of Scholars" report, all three volumes, i've been haunted by a bit of a ghost, one that many be appearing out of the corner of my eye more than is actually appearing in actuality. I still don't know.

For those lucky enough to have not picked up the task, self-appointed or class-assigned, to read these three thick, heavy tomes, this was meant to be the scholarly, academic, thoughtful, procedural basis for Restructure of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a process that picked up speed with the "Panel of Scholars'" publication and culminated in the Design proposed in 1967 and formally adopted in 1969, making official the denominational structures and self-understanding of the "Brotherhood" into regions and general offices and . . .

Well, there are a number of references in the "Panel of Scholars" (henceforth POS) to the fundamental element of "Congregation" in the life and activity of the denomination. The mentions become more and more rueful as you read through the various reports, as if the fact that "the congregation is the basic element that makes up the CC(DoC)" is an unfortunate but unavoidable historic reality that has to be dealt with, but surely there could have been a better way.

I should also note that i see Loren Lair's "The Christian Church and Its Future" (1971) as a kind of coda and summary to the POS, written by someone who, like Willard Wickizer, was not formally a member of the POS but strongly shaped the process that called them together and also influenced the final papers. In Lair's book, the stream that i trace through the POS come together in an ocean of certainty that our problem as a church is congregationalism, and the answers are to be found in leadership, guiding if not directing the placement of clergy, teaching elders about more effective management of congregational affairs, and proclaiming social justice on behalf of the church as a whole.

Item by item, the POS/Lair agenda makes a certain kind of administrative and efficiency-based common sense, but in sum, the proclamation is "what's wrong with the church is 'congregations' and what will fix/help/renew the church is academically-trained leadership." Elders as an expression of local leadership are caustically described (in courteous '50's type terms, but harshly), and largely given up on, not even discussed as possible targets for training and equipping themselves. The Renewal/Restructure plan is -- create new structures that make congregational elders largely irrelevant, then these uneducated bossy folk won't get in the way of ministerial leadership showing the way to the Kingdom.

And you know what? That mindset took, with a vengeance. Elders, a local source of spiritual leadership, tend to see themselves as peripheral to congregational life in most DoC congregations; there have been some initiatives to train elders as spiritual leaders that can themselves model and teach spiritual growth to their fellow members, with a "preaching and teaching elder" as the pastor sitting among them as a set-apart ordained or licensed person, but as a part of a spiritual leadership team, yet none of these attempts (Peter Morgan, Gary Straub) have really caught fire or seized the vision of key leaders regionally or generally.

The model that informs much of our common life is that the basic unit of the CC(DoC) really is and/or should be the individual believer, and the wider church itself best expressed by the region in some forms, the general offices in others. And i perceive, i believe, i fear that the entity that is called a "Congregation," that particular manifestation of church life, is still seen among us, particularly among clergy, as the Problem, not in any way a Solution. If we could get the message from the General or Regional offices more effectively to individual believers, everything would be different, everything could change -- but Congregation, and congregational life is what's in the way.

Nothing makes me go back to these dark imaginings as much as going to a clergy gathering. Yesterday, i saw quite a few smart, friendly, cheerful, even some spiritually robust fellow clergy, ordained and licensed (ok, only 3 licensed, but that's another discussion, and sadly another rant, related to this one, but not right now). And to be candid, i don't know what to extrapolate, exactly, from 40 pastors out of 191 churches claimed by the region. That 191 probably is more like 140 if you discount for leadership and communcations purposes the congregations that haven't given to DMF since 1986 (or earlier).

But even of the not quite 40 present (plus another 10 regional and general staffers for a high presence of 50 yesterday), you had three or four retired, not currently serving pastors, myself not serving a pulpit on an ongoing basis, taking us to 35 congregations, and 7 or 8 who are "intentional interims" (bless 'em all). Take out the 3 licensed pastors, and we had maybe 25 ordained, pulpit serving leaders present; whether out of 140 as i estimate or 191 as we officially state, that's a pretty thin robed & stoled line of "well-trained, well ordered preachers" to build the hopes of the institution upon.

And the heart of my darkness is that through the course of the day, i spoke to five pastors who simply despise their congregations. They might say that's not true if you asked them cold, first thing this morning, but any dispassionate hearer of their conversation would assert that this isn't venting or stress relief or a bad day, but that these folk truly can't stand the people they are called to serve, the congregation that called them, pays them whatever it is that they receive in compensation, and is their preaching audience each Sunday. The congregation won't listen, won't follow, and won't heed the pastor, and they (the congregation, mind you) are the problem. They won't buy a projector, they won't upgrade the office computer, they won't pay you proper mileage, they won't send people to General Assembly, they won't come to adult Bible study, they won't support this or that regional/general cause.

They are the problem. The congregation, that is.

I don't know what we can do to renew and transform congregational life until we change this essential, default mode of clergy and wider church life -- that congregations and congregational leadership is the problem that must be fixed, that they are the heart and source of what's wrong with the church, and that where their interests and intended activity leads is almost unfailingly misguided, and certainly misled. I'm not sure that the general or regional expressions of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have much capacity to try, not as mere concession or abdication of leadership, but with hope and eager listening, to hear what 'congregation' is saying to the church.

It surely is not the case that i idealize elders or congregational life, potlucks and rummage sales and committee meetings (though it's good to remember they didn't start doing endless committee meetings until we pounded that model into them from 1947 to 1987, when suddenly we started saying "Bad, bad congregations, stop doing so much committee stuff!). I've been frustrated and indeed wounded by local petty tyrants in life-tenure congregational slots myself. But that doesn't mean that congregational expressions of Church are always that way, any more than the regions should be ignored because they ran a poor capital campaign once or put on a dumb program at some regional assembly.

Is 5 out of 25 an unfair sample, or the tip of an iceberg? My worries run to the latter, and based on what i'm now confounded to realize is 28 years of mucking about in the vineyard of area, regional, and denominational life, most often working alongside fellow well-trained, well educated clergy. I fear that the contempt and fundamental disdain i keep bumping into among pastors for congregations is the one thing that is going to have to change before anything else even can. I will continue to pray for individual clergy and the conversion of their hearts, but it's the institutional bias about the problematic-ness of congregations that worries me.

"Has anything good ever come out of a congregation?" That's a phrase that has some resonance for me, one whose irony may not be as obvious as i might like!
[from NewsMuse --]


I’ve been to a hatful of meetings, with both clergy, church folk, and social service professionals over the last month, where everyone else at the meeting willing to speak up about “social media” all said, as if they’d gotten the same script in the mail (that’d be “snail mail”), that “All this stuff like the Twitter, or Facebooker, or these (insert anguished tones and negative adjective) blogs are really contributing to the breakdown of community and culture. They get in the way of, and replace, real/true (your choice) human community.”

Further discussion reveals the obvious, which is that they don’t use these online tools, and only know what they’ve heard at the gym, the coffee shop, or in the NYTBR about social media. They often go on to say, in my unfair and tendentious paraphrase, “I learned how to use e-mail, for pity’s sake, and i’m trying to update the church/agency website at least four times a year, so i’m not techno-phobic or anything, but this new stuff is just too confusing.”

At a congregational board meeting where a fairly healthy, vital, mission-minded group of leaders were talking about newer, younger families and how to connect them, ideas were broached like a euchre night (in the words of the theologian Dave Barry, “I am not making this up”), or more potlucks.

Another council member (yes, the youth minister) and i, at a pause in the worried conversation, pointed out to the group that there were 51 members of a Facebook group of younger, newer families, specifically identified as “Fans of [Church Name Here]” where they were already planning activities and studies for Lent amongst themselves, so we should jump in gently and help that approach along.

Someone asked, fair enough, “What’s Facebook?” The youth minister and i tried to explain, to which a senior staff member who will remain nameless said “Oh, like that Twitter thing - what a strange sounding name! And what do they call messages on that?”

“Tweets,” i said, smiling grimly, as the expected laughter rolled around the table, and then the discussion went back to when a potluck might be held where young families would be invited to come share recipes with each other (see entry, Dave Barry).

The youth pastor quietly slid his laptop over in front of me at our end of the table — the Facebook group had just silently clicked up to 52 members. The potluck was scheduled for the weekend after Easter, “so there will be time to get it in the newsletter.”
[blog post from]

Manufacturing in Ohio


I'm about to fling unsupported mullings about with abandon, so don't say you haven't been warned.

There's been an odd little subtext both here in the blog post lineup at and in general discussions around Ohio, saying -- and i paraphrase, perhaps unfairly -- that the era of manufacturing in Ohio is largely over, and that we should get over it, and look to more high tech, third frontier, biotech kind of economic engines.

Everyone seems to agree, and i know of no good reason to argue, that service industries are largely maxed out, as far as jobs and opportunties. You can't really count on generating many long term, family supporting jobs out of service industry work (a waitress can get some raises and up her income a bit, but there's a pretty hard ceiling unless she saves enough tips to buy her own small restaurant and go entrepreneurial).

The travel and tourism industry wisely points out that their field is at least one kind of job that can't be outsourced -- you can't send those jobs overseas. True enough, and local direct services whether food service, health care, or custom retail tend to stay put, although you might be surprised by how much unseen backroom work can be sent to Bangalore (like the Orange County Register newspaper sending copy editor work to India, no joke).

But i'm curious about manufacturing, the basic task of taking raw materials and doing some of the core steps of turning those farmed and mined and mixed substances into finished or near-finished product. For the period after the Civil War until the 1950s, Ohio was a dominant player in manufacturing, building stoves in Newark and aluminum spars in Heath and engine covers in Hebron, et cetera around the state. Dayton made cash registers and adding machines and airplanes, Youngstown made steel to order, and Toledo made scales (thank you, John Denver).

I'll grant you that the sources of steel making are shifting away from Minnesota taconite, Pennsylvania oil, and West Virginia coal and coke, with us as the hot intersection of all that raw material. We're still at a key distribution node, logistically speaking, in relation to the entire Eastern Seaboard as Las Vegas is for the West Coast, and that gets us pear packing and glass panel shaping and rolling assembly line making in Hebron. We're still not that far from the roots of innovation with Games Slayter at Owens-Toledo for fiberglas, and John Weaver's Fyrepel Products and Tectum Panels, or Ev Reese and the beginnings of the national bank card system.

So what i'm wondering about is whether or not we're still dreaming big. Dave Longaberger was onto something, but i fear many feel like they got their civic fingers burnt because the goose didn't lay enough golden eggs. This is a good area to put stuff together that takes some willingness to be cleverly flexible and change over assembly lines in response to market conditions, now in the internet era even more than before Dave died in 1999. Here on the edge of Appalachia, we still have a fairly smart workforce that also prefers some physical labor mixed in with their cogitation, and isn't afraid of getting a bit dirty while calculating machining tolerances; we have access to an urban quality of life for knowledge workers, but also a rural quality that is attractive to those who aren't looking for the 11 pm sushi bar kind of neighborhood to live in, let alone to raise their kids.

And we still have much in the way of natural gas and even some nearby oil, coal still coming out of the hills to our south and east, and the locational leverage to pull materials together and assemble stuff like heavy industrial equipment and motorized gear, whether hybrid or infernal combustion. We won't be making from scratch much in the way of low cost, disposable consumer product, but we might up our game in packaging and distributing that stuff after it gets this far around the world from Asia, and there's stuff like transmissions and tower framing and table shakers and trackhoes that we oughta still be able to put together and stand behind right here.

There's nothing wrong with biotech and nanotech and alt-tech, but are we chasing the last craze? Is it time to be a bit contrarian, and go back to the future, and chase Kettering and Patterson and Wright and Rockefeller Sr. and Firestone, and maybe even Henry Ford? What would third generation heavy industry look like, and wouldn't it fit really well into Ohio 2010?