Thursday, October 25, 2012

Faith Works 10-27

Advocate team: this was a surprisingly hard one to write. And long. This (for obvious reasons) won't be an issue for me again! Anyhow, if space is tight, feel free to drop the paragraph beginning "Mills Memorial" and even the next para starting "Zion Reformed" if necessary, although I already feel bad about the places and people I don't mention as it is! If you can find a place on page D-2 or 3 for the rest, I would appreciate it, but I know it's a beast of a column. Bad, bad columnist!

Shorter and sooner next week, back to our regular programming . . .

pax, jeff

Faith Works 10-27-12

Jeff Gill


What's a supply preacher? Nevermind.




No doubt about it, I will miss being a supply preacher.


For most of the years I've written the Faith Works column for the Your Faith page, my "sign off" has said variations on "Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio."


That's gotten me a fair number of inquiries as to "Jeff, what's a supply preacher?" Fair question.


Many people in congregations have gotten used to the concept of "interim ministers," who come in after the regular preacher, pastor, or pulpit minister (variously called) has moved on, and while the congregational leadership is searching for a new parson. Methodists and Catholics and other traditions where there are appointed clergy don't have this, but in communions which allow churches to "call" their own leadership, you have a process, and the process takes time.


Well, that's not what I was doing these last seven years. What I was doing was something that is regularly needed, but doesn't have much of a structure around it the way interim ministry does. The best comparison is to a substitute teacher: when a teacher just needs to be gone for a day, you call a sub. When a preacher needs to miss a Sunday, you call . . .


There's the problem. It used to be that pastors called some lively retired person, but these days even "retired" clergy tend to have a part-time smaller congregation of their own . . . and that pastor needs a Sunday off from time to time, too!


And preachers, contrary to what you might think, want a good sermon preached while they're gone. True, it can be good for people to be glad you're back, but a really bad experience from the pulpit can lead to your congregation not wanting you to take time off again soon, or ever. So supply preaching really meets a need, and it's good to provide that kind of support to hard working clergy.


For just over seven years, that's what I did. I "filled the pulpit" in a variety of locations, mostly in Ohio but occasionally further afield. Locally, there were places I kept coming back to, where I began to feel downright at home, and whom I will miss.


St. Paul's Lutheran here in Newark was kind to me as I worked to master the full liturgy they use, and I managed to sing it (sort of) my last time at the altar with them. I'll always proudly be Bill Rauch's vicar pro tem!


Mills Memorial UMC in Lancaster had me back time and time again, to the point where I know where all the little steps are around the platform. I also got to master the art of preaching a triple charge on a Sunday morning with St. Louisville, Chatham, and Liberty UMCs at 9, 10, & 11 am across the northern swath of Licking County, driving right past Highwater Congregational UCC where I got a number of opportunities to preach, even bringing my parents along for a visit.


Zion Reformed UCC also is place I've gotten to worship, let alone preach, on the beautiful road to Somerset in Perry County, literally on a High Point (Rd.). Their history is the history of this region, and their Mercersburg tradition of worship & spirituality is a gift to the UCCs and my own Disciples of Christ (and their pastor, Dr. Herb Hicks, has standing in both). Due west of them, St. Michael's UCC on Bickel Church Rd. has paid me in turnips to preach, and they were GOOD turnips.


My wife has been a worship leader for New Life Community UMC at Lakewood Middle School since they began, and Brian Harkness has not only invited me to preach when he was gone, but we even did a number of "duets" preaching together (and no, it didn't go twice as long).


And then there's Centenary UMC in Granville, where I've hung my spiritual hat for longer than any church other than the one I grew up in, almost eight years. Steve Cramer has been my pastor and friend, and the congregation welcomed me as an erratically attending quasi-leader, and it's a wonderful place to preach three times on a Sunday without driving!


So many more than I can list here, with my last providential supply sermon here in Newark at the Brethren Church on 26th St., where I'd long wanted to worship, and finally did on Memorial Day weekend, and Pastor Ellis asked me if I had a Word to preach that day . . . what a blessing, I hope all around.


Then Newark Central asked me, this past summer, if I'd fill in for the retiring Rick Rintamaa; we kept up the conversation, and they've asked if we could just keep on going. To that request I was happy and honored to say "Yes."


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor; he's ready to settle down, and is pretty sure what he wants to do when he grows up. Tell him about your travels in vocation & employment at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.