Monday, January 25, 2010

Faith Works 1-30 & 2-6

Faith Works 1-30-10

Jeff Gill


Where To Sit: A Disorienting Question




Last week we talked about the trend to lateness, and whether latecomers to worship are a problem or an opportunity. I come down on the latter, but got some friendly e-mail & comment response both ways.


There were a few very emphatic statements saying "yes, not being ready to talk to people is exactly why I arrive after the service starts; thanks for getting it, and no, if you move the time back a half hour I'm still going to come late."


Which leads me to my next question: Where to sit?


This is a subject on which I had little direct information on until the last few years. When you're the preaching pastor of a parish, you get there early to adjust the thermostat, practice your sermon in an undistracting empty sanctuary, pray over the space and for those who will enter in, and (whoops! should have done this first…) unlock the doors. So you're not late, and you sit up in the front, when you sit down at all.


As a more frequent worshiper, and even as a supply preacher who may move about from place to place, I'm now a little more in tune with the challenges of figuring out where to sit.


At first, I went down to the front row, since that's always open (and that's a whole 'nother subject of a future column). But since I'm five foot seventeen inches, that gets awkward because I feel like I'm either in the way or way too much on display.


You can slide over to the side, but then latecomers (ha!) arrive and you end up scooting to the middle of the front, which is where you were avoiding being planted.


So then I started scouting out spots where I could nail down an end seat, further back; there you run into the infamous "look." The look that says "hey, we aren't telling you not to sit there, but the Jones-Smith family always sits there, and that's going to get awkward when they arrive in a few minutes." It's somewhere around the eyebrows, and it's very clear.


You go around the back and to the other side, but you get "the look" on behalf of the Smith-Jones family.


Adding to this is the usual situation I'm in nowadays, where my wife is up on the platform at the church where she does worship leadership, so even when I attend there, I'm solo. Single adults looking for a seat are less easy to fit into a sanctuary than you'd think. There's the spacing proprieties to observe, and a solo has to have a gap on either side, while a family squeezes up in between. You really start to become aware of how you affect the seating dynamics of a whole section.


Ends are the best, but then when latecomers arrive, do you slide in, or scootch back and make them sidle past you to the middle? Which can get you another sort of "I'm smiling because I don't want to look like this annoys me" look.


All of which means I've found the joys of sitting . . . yep, all the way in the back. My big giant head is not in the way of the screen for anyone, no one wants to shift me over, and in most churches the chairs against the back wall are understood to be "non-claimable" by family history – they're all "first come, first seated."


Some churches have clearly done heroic work in arranging space, training greeters, and simply creating a culture of welcome for both new visitors and returning members (hint: starting with "where've you been?" isn't a winning approach). Others have some work to do.


How does seating work at your church? Keep in mind that the average new visitor makes up their mind in the first fifteen minutes whether they're coming back for a second time to your church. Good preaching is important, but it's not the key factor. Feeling at ease and sensing that you might come to feel at home in a worship space in less than five years – those are the components of a successful evangelism approach with Sunday visitors.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he usually sits in the back unless he's seated behind the pulpit. Tell him where you like to sit at, or follow Knapsack


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Faith Works 2-6-10

Jeff Gill


A Hundred Years of American Scouting



This is an event for me that is very like what 2000 was for many adults: it's filtered through remembering when as a kid it dawned on you that you'd see this day, and wondered then what it would be like now.


As a Cub Scout back around 1970, hearing that the Scouting Movement first officially began in the United States in 1910, I did the math in my head and realized I wouldn't even be fifty years old when the Boy Scouts of America would have their centennial. Assuming good health and other decent breaks, it was a given that I'd see that day, but from what perspective?


Well, it's now 2010, and the chartering date with the U.S. Congress of Feb. 8, 1910 has served as the official "Scouting birthday" ever since. And given that most Scout units – Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops, Venturing crews – are "chartered" to religious institutions (not all, but a strong majority), the Sunday nearest Feb. 8 is usually a Scout Sunday or that Saturday a Scout Sabbath.


From a purely personal perspective, this is a very meaningful anniversary to me. My call to ministry came through my work on a summer camp staff, and I learned that I had a gift to teach and preach in vesper services out under the trees and by the lakes before I ever had a chance to really feel comfortable in a church sanctuary.


The church I grew up in chartered the troop where I earned my Eagle rank, and they get that credit for sure, but it was in Scouting where I developed my sense of where God was at work in Nature and everyday life. The Scouting priority on youth leadership through outdoor education meant that my first chance to lead others in completing a task – and failing! – was as a patrol leader and troop quartermaster, shopping for food under the watchful, but gently detached eye of an adult leader whose restraint I only now appreciate.


If your faith community sponsors, or charters a Scouting unit, you may have some of them with you, in uniform, this weekend. The uniform is one way to put all members on the same footing, without brand-name competition or status; the only way to gain status on your uniform is to earn it, and every bit of Scouting insignia is available to anyone. There's no competition for rank or awards for one to win and another to lose, no struggle for completion other than with yourself; in theory, every Scout can make Eagle and that would be a wonderful thing.


Of course, not all do; one in a hundred or so earn that rank by age 18.  40,000 youth, male, as well as female in Venturing for 14 to 21 year olds, make up the Simon Kenton Council of the BSA, stretching from Delaware, Ohio to Maysville, Kentucky, and from Licking County over to London.


There will be tree plantings and Cub pack "Blue & Gold" banquets and spring camporees yet to honor this centennial year for the BSA. But this weekend we note that central element of the Scout Oath, the only "joining requirement," if you will –


"On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty, to God and my country."


The promise continues a few phrases, but that's the heart of it. To do our duty to God, as we understand that Presence, whether Jewish or Hindu or Moslem or Buddhist or Christian, since Scouting is a truly interfaith body and has been from birth; and to our country, which means I've met former Scouts of the left and right, as protestors and Peace Corps members and soldiers and pacifists.


To do our duty, to God and our country, the best we can. Thank you, Scouting, for giving me those words to live by into a second hundred years.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he holds the Silver Beaver award for volunteer service to Scouting. Tell him your Scouting story at or follow Knapsack 

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