Friday, April 09, 2010

Knapsack 4-15

Notes From My Knapsack 4-15-10

Jeff Gill


Meeting Friends You'd Never Seen Before



Have you had the experience of meeting old friends for the first time?


Most of us have had the chance to run into someone, start to interact with them, and suddenly feel like we've known them for years . . . and those opportunities usually do end up lasting for the rest of your life.


Last fall, I walked into the Avery-Downer House on Broadway, here in Granville, to do a program for Ann Lowder and the Robbins Hunter Museum she so ably directs. Ann smiled wisely at me while talking to some earlier arrivals, and waved me back to the Long Room, in the back of the 1842 Greek Revival marvel next door to the library.


I walked into the room, nodded at Robbins Hunter, Jr.'s portrait in his usual spot over the sideboard, turned, and stopped cold.


On the north wall were two old friends, familiar looking, and quite new in a very antique sort of way.


There were a couple of other people already in the room that I fear I was quite brusque with, being minimally polite until I could turn again and walk a bit closer to the pair of portraits in modern, elegant, simple black and gold frames.


After I'd stared from near and far, straight ahead and at an angle (yep, these were real, original oil paintings, from somewhere in the early 1800s), Ann came in the room, beamed at me, and said "Well, what do you think?"


"What do I think? I think you have two new Amzi Godden portraits!"


The sneak had been holding out on me, but in fairness to Ann, they'd just arrived the previous week as a bequest to the Robbins Hunter Museum from a lady who had visited the Avery-Downer House perhaps only once, back in the late 1960s.


Jean Rumsey had a passion for genealogy that fired her spirit well into her 90s; her home in Lombard, Illinois was so much a workshop for assembling family history from across New Jersey and Connecticut and back into England, into the mists of the medieval era, that she slept on a sofa in the living room, so the breadth of her bed could be yet another platform for sorting and sifting the folders and forms which traced her family history. Those relations included the two elderly figures now on a wall in Granville.


James & Euphemia Reeder are buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery in Newark; they both died not too long after these portraits were painted, just before the Civil War. Thanks to the staff at Cedar Hill, I quickly found their plots, but the gravestones are long gone, now unmarked if well recorded. A few letters in the Licking County Historical Society point to their home near 11th & Merchant Streets "up on the bluff," and they have a pious history with Newark's First Presbyterian Church where both James, and Amzi Godden's father Lewis were elders and builders of the first church there, and where Euphemia "lived her love to God, and died a triumphant death."


In these two paintings, though, they are remembered, visible, and in a fascinating post-Easter sense, very much alive. You should meet them!


The Robbins Hunter Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday, 1 to 4 pm or by special arrangement; call Ann at 587-0430 or e-mail for more information.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about you friends, old and new, at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Faith Works 4-10

Faith Works 4-10-10

Jeff Gill


Clericalism and Its Discontents




Respect for the clergy is one of those categories of "how things used to be" that I suppose I could have written about, along with other changes in the life of faith communities in general and Christian denominations in particular, Protestant or Catholic alike. (I leave Orthodoxy out only because they're fairly under-represented in Licking County, although I know they're out there, usually driving into Columbus for worship.)


This past Easter season saw a firestorm of clergy sexual abuse coverage, most of it stemming back to stories coming out of the 1960s and 70s, within the Catholic churches of the US, Ireland, and Germany. Questions of proper handling then and cover-ups or pay-offs later all gave much fodder to the usual media shots taken at the Roman Catholic Church, using eminently telegenic shots of Vatican liturgy with Pope Benedict XVI front and center.


That's called having your cake and eating it, too.


If you think I'm downplaying the problem of clergy sexual abuse, you've not been reading my columns for very long.  It's a huge issue, and one that I believe deserves cultural and media attention.  Thank heavens that, since Martin Luther reaffirmed the right of clergy to marry back in the 1500s, Protestant Christians have had no sexual scandals among their ministers.


Oh, wait.


My point is that there's a gleeful piling-on aspect to all this pre-Easter froth, where some, especially in TV news, have been dealing from the bottom of the deck in their treatment of the Catholic tradition. They want to show they're addressing religion, since the research on their dwindling audiences shows that many of us located somewhere in between their New York and LA studios actually attend worship services and read old books for current guidance. So they want the visuals, but they also want to get in snide references to hypocrisy and tell untold stories hinting at mystery and hidden secrets. Think "DaVinci Code."


The reality is that these stories are very simple, and not unique to the Catholic faith. Powerful people in charge of organizations tend to not like to turn in their own employees, and back in the 60s, 70s, and even the 80s, a "therapeutic model" was in the ascendancy that said "let's not traumatize the kids further, and let's send the abusers to a remote residential treatment program."


Which turns out to be a fairly muddleheaded way to proceed, but it wasn't a Catholic piece of muddleheadedness.


But where's the story in saying that? And folks who disagree with a male only clergy, or dislike clerical celibacy, will have their own reasons for pushing these stories a bit farther than they really can roll on their own.


Meanwhile, if you're thinking I'm saying any of this as a Catholic myself: not so much, nor is anyone in my immediate family. I grew up with more extended family members scared of Catholicism than understood it (another element to the coverage I'm not even going to get into).


Just as a general point -- I said to my fellow mainline Protestant clergy colleagues back 20 years ago "don't enjoy laughing about Swaggart & Bakker too much, because they are impacting us and our churches, too." Oh, no, they all cried, those fellows aren't like us at all, and our parishoners and communities know we aren't them.


That next year, with no national financial issues roiling the waters, the United Methodist Church saw a 3+% decrease in giving; many UMC, PCUSA, UCC, & DoC churches in our area saw the same or more, up to around 5%.


I fear that while I tend to hang out with a more mixed mainline and evangelical crowd these days, they are, too many of them, repeating this mistake: I say "beware your amusement with the plight of the Catholic hierarchy flailing to explain their incompetence and irresponsibility in reporting child sex abuse." Oh, no, they respond, no one would confuse us with the Pope in Rome and all his pomps . . . and the current generation hears and feels even more affirmation for their lack of respect or consideration of any authority, temporal or spiritual, that is relevant to their lives from the leadership of wiser, more senior figures.


When we Protestant Christians get in our own digs on the Vatican and the Roman magisterium ("wrong in 1517, still wrong today!" a clergy acquaintance nearby chortled in his blog), we may be digging a pit that we'll shortly find ourselves inside.


I don't like the view.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he will never be Pope. Tell him a story from your road to faith at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.