Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Faith Works 11-6-10

Jeff Gill


A Comma Can Change Everything



Who doesn't like a panda?


And any of us can describe their gentle feeding habits. They mean no creature harm, vegetarian browsers that they are, right?


Which is where the infamous description comes from, "eats shoots and leaves." Because if you just add one little comma, the kindly herbivore becomes an armed robber in the feeding area: "eats, shoots and leaves."


A comma can say quite a bit. This may be, in part, why the noted American theologian Gracie Allen said "Never place a period where God has put a comma" – although I'm not sure, given that sentiment, how to end the quote properly!


That phrase has become a theme statement for the United Church of Christ (UCC) over the last few years. The descendant church body from the Congregationalists who grew from the original Pilgrim settlers in Massachusetts, plus the German immigrant bodies called the Evangelical and Reformed Church (E&R's as we called them where I grew up), the UCC is a progressive denomination with a number of affiliated congregations in Licking County and nearby areas. I preached down in Fairfield County last week for St. Michael's UCC northwest of Baltimore, out in the country on Bickel Church Road.


Right on the historic "four corners" in Granville is First Baptist Church, affiliated with the American Baptist Church USA, but having also connected to the UCC recently. There's an interesting irony in that connection, since of the four churches around the intersection of Broadway and Main, First Baptist is chronologically the youngest, but the oldest, First Presbyterian, was originally a . . . Congregational church, started with the migration from Granville, Massachusetts. Their affiliation shifted to the local presbytery in the first half of the 19th century.


Now there is again, near the center of the county, another UCC affiliated church, and with that connection, they are joining in an effort to draw forth from history the simple evangelism of "Bring a Friend." Not only are they asking their members to "Bring a Friend" tomorrow to their 10 am worship, but after services they plan to (after refreshments, of course) form a giant human comma out on the lawn, to photograph from above.


The picture will be used as part of First Baptist's participation in the UCC "God is Still Speaking" initiative, which is a nationwide media campaign of awareness and invitation around the denominational priorities of openness and inclusion.


“Since our name hasn’t changed, we’re looking for ways to get the word out,” says church member Patti Burkett. The event on November 7th aims to do both this, and also to welcome a new element of their outreach. The church has just hired Mary Kay Beall Carter, well-known church musician and UCC interim pastor to lead them while they complete their search for a permanent pastor. MK, as she’s known, is a familiar name to those of us who have sung choral anthems by her and her husband, John Carter, and she looks forward to getting to know the Granville and Licking County community a bit better.


The congregation at FBC already engages in outreach and compassionate programs such as their "Lunches on the Square" program on the fourth Sunday of each month, where the entire congregation works together to make meals and take them to people who need them on and around Newark's courthouse square. Their next door annex also hosts a Saturday morning "Farm and Craft Market" that picks up in the winter where the outdoor Farmer's Market leaves off, but still supporting sustainable and local food and art.


In the words of the StillSpeaking effort, echoed heartily by FBC: "No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here!"


Let me add a personal note: everyone is also welcome to come to the Midland Theater tomorrow at 3:30 pm, where I again get to emcee the annual "Gospel Celebration" concert for the Licking County Coalition of Care. To be perfectly candid, you're all welcome, but it's a fundraiser, so you have to pay $20 to get in.


We'd still love to see you!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; contact him at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.