Friday, January 29, 2010

Knapsack 2-18

Notes From My Knapsack 2-18-10

Jeff Gill


Haiti Today, Granville 1886




When I look at Haiti today, whether just before the catastrophic earthquake, or now in the tragic aftermath, it seems all somewhat incomprehensible, and nearly beyond incredible.


Terence, the Roman playwright, said "Nothing human is alien to me." OK, Latin fans, he actually said "humani nil a me alienum puto," and for Black History Month, he was born some 2200 years ago in Africa before coming to Rome, almost certainly as a slave but ending his life as an acclaimed freeman.


We look at Haiti, the first free "black-led republic" in the world after the 1804 slave rebellion from France; their freedom in the wake of the American example opening a door for the rest of Latin America, but one that took long years to enter for most of the rest of their neighbors.


So when Granville was being staked out by the first official settlers in 1805, Haiti was just beginning as well; not settlement, which had been going on for nearly 300 years on their end of Hispaniola, the island they share with the Dominican Republic, but establishing a free & independent government, and autonomous economy both trace, in the Caribbean and in the Midwest, to almost the same year.


Of course, the differences are significant, but not beyond understanding. Looking a little more widely, to understand the size and population of Haiti, take Ohio, and divide it in quarters. Take one-fourth of Ohio, and shove all of our population, Cincinnati & Columbus & Dayton, into that part, say around Cleveland and Ashtabula County and down to Canton, maybe over to Elyria. But put all 11 million Ohioans into that quadrant, and you would have about the same population density; Haiti is estimated to have a bit over 9 million residents, with a fourth of the square miles, so there you go.


What does take a painful imaginative leap is to go from an average household income of $46,000 to one of $1,000. Not having Ohio winters is a help for Haitians, but not so much as to counterbalance that. There is no comparison that helps those numbers ring anything but hollow.


Where the echoes do resonate for me is in looking back at Granville, and back to 1886. A distant time, but not beyond our records, our photos, our collective memory.


In 1886, a well-educated young community leader, a pharmacist of 37 named Charles Webster Bryant, asked his community some questions. Granville was busy and energetic and filled with educational institutions and fledgling industry, with horses on the streets and animals in backyards, often destined for the dinner table, pecking around garden plots that filled most of the property. Outhouses were the norm, and wells for each house.


As the population grew, Bryant noticed the increase of infectious illness, sickness that he knew, as a pharmacist, could be prevented. The trees had all been cut down for firewood years before, the hills eroded away in each rainstorm, and there was an annual increase in diseases like cholera and typhoid.


Bryant had already helped organize the new Granville Historical Society, and was in the middle not only of recording the eroding tombstones in the Old Colony Burying Ground, but of helping incorporate the Ohio Archaeological & Historical Society. He was a doer. So he said to the community: why not a municipal water system? Let's tend our sewage and pump our water safely, and work together in the interest of health and well-being. If each paid a bit for every property, Granville could have a system as a few cities had begun earlier in the century: so Bryant suggested.


But the famous "pump handle" cholera outbreak in London was just 32 years earlier, and "miasmal" theories of contagion were still common, and Bryant's suggestion was ignored.


Then, at the end of August, 1886, Bryant fell ill: with typhoid. There in his house, which still stands at the corner of Pearl & College, he died. Soon after, a chastened community decided to begin a public waterworks, and to plant trees and tend some public parks. Electricity and interurbans and the automobile all had their own effects in the next century.


My point is that Granville in that summer of 1886 was visually and economically and socially not too different from even Port-au-Prince itself today, or at least just before the quake. 124 years later, Granville is quite different. With some shared effort, this time in collaboration with more distant partners, what might Haiti be like in 2110?


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story at or follow Knapsack

Monday, January 25, 2010

[The following is likely to be printed in the Feb. 4, 2010 Granville Sentinel; my Feb. 6, 2010 Newark Advocate companion piece for the Scouting 100th birthday is a bit further down the page -- Pax, Jeff]

Notes From My Knapsack 2-4-10
One Hundred Years of Adventure, Safely Guided
Jeff Gill

To be perfectly candid, I can’t be in any way unbiased or objective about the Boy Scouts of America.

Anyone who knows me knows that right behind my faith and my family is my love of Scouting, the World Scouting Movement, and the BSA. It has been the biggest single influence on my life outside of my parents, and yes, I’m including the church I grew up in as taking second place, which may be unfair because they were the chartering organization for Troop 7, the Boy Scout troop I joined in 1972 in which I earned Eagle, and my Court of Honor for that was held in First Christian Church, Valparaiso, Indiana, which still is the chartering organization for the unit, and which still has the same Scoutmaster, Mr. Bill Eckert, and long may he hike.

But before that I was a Cub Scout, starting in 1969, and I’ve been registered to one Scouting unit or another from Pack 20 at the Presbyterian Church to Troop 65 today as an assistant scoutmaster at Centenary United Methodist Church, though the charter for our troop and Pack 3 which my son and I just moved through is held by the Granville Kiwanis, long may they wave!

Scouting in the United States began right on the heels of the development of the Scouting Movement by Robert Baden-Powell in the summer of 1907, at Brownsea Island off the southern coast of England. The legend is that William Boyce, just two years later, met a young Scout in London and got help in finding an address, as a foreign businessman far from his Illinois home, but the lad would take no tip. “I’m a Scout, sir,” said the boy, still the Unknown Scout to this day, but his Good Turn held in honor by American scouts throughout the years since.

Boyce was a magazine publisher, and saw a business opportunity and also a need that could be filled, as industrial cities and boys cut off from nature might find a structured way to get back into the outdoors. He quickly found YMCA allies like Edgar Robinson, other youth group organizers like Dan Beard of Cincinnati and Ernest Thompson Seton of New York, and they got a Congressional charter in Washington, DC on February 8, 1910.

For lack of a better date, the BSA continues to celebrate the charter date as our “birthday,” even as some copies of Baden-Powell’s book had already crossed the pond and some scout troops claim to be older than the BSA itself, which may be.

Scouting in Licking County was born at Trinity Episcopal Church and perhaps a dozen other places, but Rev. Franklin and others had units and camping and activities in full flower by the close of the 1920s, so strongly that even the Depression couldn’t end it.

The Licking County Council is now a district within the Simon Kenton Council, the umbrella organization for 40,000 scouts from Maysville, KY up through Delaware, OH, and down in Chillicothe we’ll have a centennial camporee this spring.

But on Feb. 7th, which is traditionally a “Scout Sunday” for congregations that have a chartered unit, Cub Scout pack or Boy Scout troop or Venture crew, this will be a special year and time for some special acknowledgements. One hundred years of American Scouting, and a century ahead that looks pretty inviting.

This is my 41st year as a Scout, now a “scouter,” an adult leader for a movement that has inspired young men, and now young women 14 and up in Venturing, to go on in life as leaders and doers and citizens with a clear sense of their place in the world, and in their nation. Friends of mine in Scouting over the years have gone on to be liberals and conservatives, religious leaders and spiritual skeptics, avid outdoorsfolk and committed scholars with an aversion to getting their feet wet – but they are all engaged, and hopeful.

Look back over the last century, and ask the question: what other organization has grown and responded and survived and maintained its core values, while also maintaining relevance to the needs of youth in a new era? Not too many other candidates come to mind. Plenty have started and grown and crashed and vanished over those 100 years, but today, Baden-Powell and Boyce and Beard and Seton would recognize much of what makes for a troop meeting or campout. (They’d also love Thinsulate and Goretex!)

Here in Granville, and around Licking County, a salute to all my fellow Scout leaders who make the program possible, and a prayer for all the young leaders who really do run most of the units above the Cub Scout level, that they may feel our support and affirmation as they learn by doing, and see themselves making a difference that might just last for a hundred years . . . or more.

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

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