Thursday, March 31, 2011

Faith Works 4-2

Faith Works 4-2-11

Jeff Gill


Community Celebrations, Rooted in Concerns & Conflict




On E. Main Street in Newark, the Salvation Army has long done good work in Christ's name on all our behalf, providing a major chunk of the civic safety net with emergency shelter and a soup kitchen.


Majors Ron & Diana DeMichael are that major bulwark against falling through the cracks for many Licking County residents, and their congregation (remember, they're a church!) and board have done much with our shared support.


This past week I had the chance to be present for a community celebration of sorts, the dedication of a larger, renewed gathering space & kitchen for more regular meals at the Salvation Army soup kitchen. There's much more than soup most days when they are open, and the healthy, nutritious meals numbered over 40,000 last year, and that's not counting the summer feeding program for children that is the extension of the school lunch program when classes are out.


Add those in, and over 80,000 meals came out of the kitchen and warmed hearts and stomachs – last year.


This year is likely to see an increase in need.


So celebration is an almost awkward term, given the basis for what we're celebrating. No one rejoices that there are hungry children and adults, and we're not always happy to think about soup kitchens, but the clean, well-lit, brightly painted common room is enough to lift your heart on a grey day.


Some 7,500 nights of emergency shelter were provided by the Army and their staff and volunteers last year, with many nights when folk had to be turned away. That's changing, too, with the dedication coming up on May 15 and a "Circle of Hope" planned that afternoon. I'll say more about that prayer gathering in a future column, but Kaye Hartman would like to bring together at least 550 people in prayer that afternoon, to join hands all the way around the new, expanded complex (that's how many it would take, at minimum). Mark your calendars for that afternoon next month!


The shelter space is already effectively open, with the night before the soup kitchen dedication having 49 adults and 11 children under their roof. Again, we celebrate the amazing response of Licking County over the last eighteen months to finish this long-dreamt-of plan, but the fact that there is such evident need is cause for sorrow more than celebration.


There's another celebration with a strained overtone coming up tomorrow, and you might want to come and consider the question yourself. We are having a "commemoration" of the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War all across Licking County, which gave so much blood & treasure to that 1861 conflict.


Commemoration is a good word, because we can't just solemnly observe the anniversary, but celebration feels a bit awkward. We sent nearly 4,000 men, young and old, off to war from Licking County, with hundreds never returning alive, and thousands of wounds carried back home from the conflict, physical and spiritual.


The Civil War shaped our nation, as did the debate over the expansion of slavery before the conflict, and the attempt at Reconstruction which followed. Debates over abolition and slavery had been tearing at the community fabric for decades before the opening of armed conflict, with riots in Granville & Alexandria happening in 1835, 1836, & 1837. Outright disobedience to the laws that came out of Congressional compromises resulted in public furors in 1841 and on into the 1850s with the rise of the Underground Railroad passing through Licking County.


Harrison Chapel Wesleyan Methodist Church was one of many congregations that arose out of conflict within older congregations over anti-slavery arguments. Obadiah Nichols was a class leader, a lay leader who kept the church going in between visits from circuit riding clergy, and a committed abolitionist; I will get to portray him Sunday afternoon at 2:00 pm on the lawn of the Sherwood-Davidson House, on Sixth Street in Newark.


This is the "official" Commemoration Kick-Off for the Civil War 150th events through the year, and you'll get to hear everyone from Abe Lincoln to Johnny Clem give their point of view in this gathering. Licking County Historical Society members are free, and general public folk are asked to contribute $5 to join our little historic re-enactment.


Will we celebrate the Civil War? Not really, but Obadiah would agree we should prayerfully commemorate how our ancestors responded to the need for freedom and justice 150 years ago, just as we, as a community, have responded today through work like the Salvation Army community center.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he hopes you'll come hear him as Obadiah tomorrow! Tell him a story at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.