Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Notes From My Knapsack 6-16-11

Jeff Gill

By the Light of Another Campfire


There's a moment on most campouts, no matter how sugared up everyone got on 'smores, when things start to get quiet.

It's usually after dark, when the first round of Scouts have voluntarily gone off to their sleeping bags, and just after you've gone 'round to tell the rowdy crew over by the dining fly to quiet down with their euchre game, and checked the tents of the newer boys where the giggling comes in sudden waves and just as abruptly turns to silence mixed with snores.

You're back by the campfire, which was high as a signal beacon for Viking armies not long ago, but has now burned down to a sea of embers dotted with whitecaps of orange & blue flames.

Every so often, the glowing wood pops or just shifts, and a spray of sparks kick out and up, drifting into the night sky.

Some sparks go high, lasting longer than you think they'd might, and some wink out far earlier than you think they should.

Whether you're in a comfy camp chair or perched on a slice of tree trunk, there's a perimeter defined by the line between almost too hot on your face and knees, cool on the back of your neck. Adult scouters of long standing and a few of the older youth leaders make up the circle, with the occasional guitar or even a fiddle coming out to lend a melody line to the roundabout, singing one song after another, old and new in turn.

Not that the music isn't central to such a scene, but then there also comes conversation, a welcome time to talk without having to shout, that doesn't include a sudden shouted "put that down!" or "don't hold it that way if you like ten fingers!" It's a relaxed time, when campouts and hikes from years ago blur together, and blend into future treks, not yet taken but immediately real in our imaginations.

You can talk about almost anything at such times, if it's what you need to talk about. There's a store of wisdom and experience around the fire to match almost any challenge you may see ahead, personal or professional.

Embers have burned down to a dim glow now, and we are all but faces, the rest in darkness. The cold curls in around our shoulders, but the heat of the remaining coals keeps any of us from edging closer for fear of melting our boots. The songs pop up sporadically, and the conversations eddy from one side of the fire to the other, flaring into the whole circle from time to time.

One by one, the faces withdraw from the campfire, and mutter from off in the darkness "I'm going to bed." The last few remaining splash the corners of the firelay into a decent order, brush the cleared space beyond the rocky border a few perfunctory times, then lay a last log or two in the middle as a down payment on the morning's coffee, now just five or six hours away. A last word or two across the charmed circle, and then the faces become simply a voice wishing you a good night's sleep as you go your separate ways.

In Troop 65, I really hadn't had the chance to get to know Art Lowell as well as I'd have liked, and I was looking forward to the week ahead at summer camp, perhaps to get to know him better. We'd both sat around a few late night campfires, and assumed we both had many more ahead before lights out, and "Taps."

He will be present, though, at many gatherings yet to come, even though we laid him to rest, a young man of 50. And he will remind us to treasure every campfire, as our earthly light dims, and the sparks fly upward.

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

Faith Works 6-11

Faith Works 6-11-11

Jeff Gill


Headline News, 109 Years Ago



A friend who is scanning through early 1900s newspapers for some historical info found an article that wasn't his target, but sounded like I might appreciate, so he sent it to me by e-mail. Thanks, Peter!


Not only did I enjoy it, but I think some of you will, as well. Copyright having surely lapsed, I will reproduce it in full . . . it isn't long.


The headline is "Popular Preacher," and the subhead reads "Removes Coat During Services."


Dateline "Newark, O., July 9." The article reads "Rev. H.N. Miller, pastor of the Fourth Street Church of Christ, appeared in the pulpit of his church Sunday night in a shirt waist (i.e., shirtsleeves). Mr. Miller, before preaching a scholarly sermon, spoke of the intensely hot night and invited the men in the audience to remove their coats."


Before I give you the second paragraph, which is also the last line of the article, let me set the scene for any of you who are unsure what's being described.


This is in the congregation which is today known as Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), now up at 587 Mt. Vernon Rd. a bit north of downtown.


In 1902, they were in the spot on Newark's Fourth St. which is a gap today, between the Masonic Temple and the Telephone Building. They were thriving, since being founded in 1884 and building their own structure in 1895, which would add a full-size sanctuary just two years later in 1904 . . . which would burn entirely to the ground in 1946, leading to the "new" building they now occupy up Mt. Vernon Rd.


So in 1902 it's July, a hot July across the state, and the Fourth St. Church of Christ still has a morning Sunday service, and an evening service, which is usually more of a Bible lecture than a sermon as we think of them, or a "scholarly sermon."


The hall is not terribly large, maybe 40 feet by 60, and of course there is no air conditioning, or even electric fans. It is well-filled with worshipers, and the heat of the day, even with the sun low in the west, is still radiating through the brick walls.


For the preacher to suggest, even at the sultry end of a steaming day, in a tightly packed, almost airless sanctuary, that the men might remove their coats as he had just done: it made statewide wire service headlines. My friend didn't find this in the Newark paper, but in the Stark City Democrat. It clearly got around the next day.


It closes: "There was a general response and Mr. Miller is being complimented for introducing the custom in Newark."


Do not underestimate the courage it took for Pastor Miller to take this, to our eyes, logical step. I started preaching in the 1980s, and vividly recall some conversations behind the platform, in un-air-conditioned churches, where the relative merits of "coats" or "no coats" were discussed with no little nervousness. Even then, there were feathers and fur that could be ruffled by deciding to dispense with the suit jacket.


After all, what's next? Not preaching with a tie on?


Now we have A/C in nearly every congregation, and often no one has a coat . . . or a tie. And I read this article, salute my distinguished forbearer Rev. H.N. Miller, and wonder: what did the women in starched dresses, complex foundation garments, and heavy hats think as the men took of their coats?


I suspect I know part of why it took another 80 years for this to no longer be a newsworthy story.


Next week: sound systems . . .


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story for a summer day at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.