Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Notes from my Knapsack 1-2-14

Notes from my Knapsack 1-2-14

Jeff Gill


Stories near and far



Many thanks, at the start of this bright new yea,r to all the kindly and helpful input on my recent attempt to tell a story on the installment plan.


Given the 550 word limit on these columns, and the fact that there often had to be a little exposition to reframe the situation for those who didn't see every piece (election season broke up my usual every-other-week sequence), there was a surprisingly small amount of dialogue and character development you could put into any one segment.


But my ten section adventure began with a couple of items to hand: I'd had a surprising clash in July with a reader in print, and found myself entirely uninterested in fighting a war of words, whether with an unarmed opponent or a platoon of contumelious correspondents. And I'd been wanting to try something fictive, and episodic, for some time. At the end of July, the time seemed to be right.


Further, I had this image stuck in my mind of a man standing at a window looking at the stark jagged mountains around Las Vegas, thinking to himself "I want to go to Granville." He didn't know why, but he had to come here. A year and a half ago, I had my first flight into and out of Sin City, which probably sparked the concept, but it was just a picture with a scrap of plot device that had me thinking "so what next?"


Capping it all off, I had been wanting to try to show Granville to us, to we who live here, through the eyes of someone knowing nothing at all about the place. Most of us who are today's Granville's residents were not born here, though many of us say we got here as soon as we could. But few of us came here cold: we had jobs or spouse's jobs that brought us within the orbit of this little cosmos, some reason for coming into the neighborhood that gave us a context. We'd most of us had a bit of a picture or a piece of the story before driving north on Rt. 37 or across on Rt. 161. Those who hadn't and stayed got our moment of "gee whiz" and then it steadily sinks into the mire of everyday life and casual interactions.


As much as we can take it for granted, Brigadoon… I mean, Granville is a startling place to stumble upon, and we forget that. Most of us do, anyhow. It has a certain feel, an atmosphere which is evocative even for folks who can't put a single word to the whys or the wherefores.


Having been a "step-on" guide for hundreds of tour buses, and watched the looks on the faces of thousands of Canadians and Pennsylvanians and Utahns (et cetera), I can assure you there is a marvelous character to this place that we may be at risk of losing sight of, we who live here. I hope Nelson's story helped you recall that first time you saw the village we call home, and restored for some of us that excitement of living in a place that really does anchor the Land of Legend.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he & his wife stumbled into Granville for the candlelight walking tour in 1989, but it took them 15 more years to move here. Tell him your view of the village at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Faith Works 1-4-14

Faith Works 1-4-14

Jeff Gill


Street ministry in Pottersville, 2014



A new year dawns in Pottersville. We're sending you this fundraising appeal because you've been a supporter of our work in the past, and we hope you can aid us during the year ahead.


Our ministry center is still upstairs overlooking the heart of the old business district. We have a worship & gathering space at the top of the stairs from the street, and a number of private offices for confidential counseling appointments. One goal we have is to work with our landlord (Potter Enterprises) to install an elevator, but this accessibility asset will cost thousands more than we have on hand.


Ironically, if we can put together funding for this step, it will be installed where the old vault currently sits, its door permanently open . . . no one knows anymore what the combination is, and we have had it riveted open for safety. That area is reinforced below, though, which makes it the best spot to put a lift that can allow mobility-restricted individuals to be served in our space.


The Pottersville Community Association (PCA) continues to work on projects for the revitalization of our downtown, and we collaborate on these efforts while keeping our focus on direct service and ministries of compassion, care, and presence.


For the congregations in the Greater Bedford region who contribute to our programming here in the city, we can share a few of the stories where we are making a difference in Jesus' name. Violet is one of the residents of the senior housing complex located where the Gaiety Theatre and Tap Room once stood. She was born and raised here, traveling to the East Coast when she was younger and making a number of attempts to get into show business.


"I made plenty of mistakes, and there was always someone around to encourage me to make one more," Violet says. "When the Pottersville Mission opened its doors to me as a homeless old woman, it was like I was coming back to the home I never knew."


Tilly & Eustace are brother & sister, a pair who have been each other's caregivers since their parents died before World War II. They say about Pottersville Senior Housing "we have just gone from one barely habitable rental to another through our years, and this is the first safe, warm place we've called home since we were children." Friends of the pair say they are both over 100.


There are many who recall the heyday of Pottersville, when neon lights and parked cars ornamented the blocks all around. But most of those who remember those days also recall a darker side, with houses of prostitution on the blocks behind the business district, and pawn shops tucked in between the bars and dance halls.


Those years saw much activity, financial and otherwise, but little of the money stayed in town. And once trends in entertainment and economics began to undermine the profitability of movie houses and floor shows, the hollowing out of the business district happened with startling rapidity, leaving behind long stretches of vacant storefronts and only patchily occupied upstairs apartments.


The last blow seemed to be, ten years ago, when the First National Bank of Pottersville was bought out and closed by MegaCorpBanq, leaving depositors without a staffed branch closer than Bedford Heights (although there are ATMs on either end of neighborhood). And it is true that payday loan and car title cheap money, high interest rackets are dotted on either side where the town's main bank once operated.


But that vacancy has created our biggest new opportunity, and one we are very excited about. The old bank building, with its marble and wrought-iron stateliness, has attracted a ministry partnership of three area churches that are going to open it up as a vocational training center, in association with the county technology and education program, with a coffee shop as the centerpiece.


Where once the teller's cages received deposits, baristas will serve cappuchinos and lattes; back in the old president's office, students will learn the skills needed to serve customers and cook up sweet treats.


We continue to celebrate worship each Wednesday and Saturday night, and are still appreciating the rent-free arrangement with the county that allows us to use the old library building for the Tuesday & Thursday food pantry. Please keep our ministry of presence and proclamation in your prayers, and together, we know that just one person determined to make a difference can have an impact far beyond what they know, or can know!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; yes, he's still watching Christmas movies. Tell him where you would like to make a difference at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Faith Works 12-28-13

Faith Works 12-28-13

Jeff Gill


Beyond the Barricades



Weathervane Playhouse is wrapping up this weekend a winter run of the spectacular production "Les Misérables", an effort that reminds you of why the movie version was compelling and unique and yet something completely other than a live performance.


Don't get me wrong, Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway et alia did a fine job, and Tom Hooper's "in your face" camera work gave us a new approach to this familiar musical that was compelling for newbie and "Les Mis" veterans alike, but when you see a live production on stage, you realize just what a confident risk it is to come out on stage in front of an audience and try to sing, act, and move through a performance without "do-overs."


If you don't already have your tickets, tonight and tomorrow are probably sold out, or should be (you really should check, just in case), but the show made me think again about those revolutions in Europe of the early 1800s that became the seedbed of Victor Hugo's original doorstop of a novel from which the musical drew its plot, if not all the preceding detail.


"Les Misérables" in the French novel original starts with the end of Napoleon, and concludes with a revolution swirling around the death of a general who had shown sympathy for a more democratic France, in June of 1832.


We have a tendency in the United States, wrongly, to see Europe as a stable collection of historic nation-states, when in fact most of the "countries" we take for granted today were still menageries of petty kingdoms and dukedoms and such through the 1800s, well after the formation of a constitutional democracy in this country in 1787.


St. Paul's Lutheran in Newark had last weekend their "Deutscher Weihnachtsgottesdienst" which every year I mean to attend, and miss every Christmas season. It's a German language Christmas service they hold, along with singing from the Männerchor & Damenchor of our area and some tasty treats afterwards, one that honors their heritage.


In the 1830s & 1840s, there were many Germans, Italians, Poles and other European exiles here in Ohio who had found their way to the New World after participating in failed revolutions back home. The Poles rebelled against the Russian Empire in 1830 (and were crushed), the Carbonari revolt in Italy rose up in 1834 (and was crushed), spurring the later Risorgimento following 1848 (which was . . . pretty much crushed). In Germany, that "year of revolutions" across Europe also triggered outbreaks of rebellion in a number of the many German "states" but they had been erupting periodically across the Rhine valley from 1833.


Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels met in Paris 1844 as this revolutionary spirit was rising up all around them; they didn't create it, but its presence caused them and their philosophical circle to ask questions about the role of governments in the nation-states still struggling to define themselves, and the place of the people's voice in those decisions. Imperial authority and church autonomy had been the primary forces behind the world that had been, telling citizens their place and their duties and reinforcing status & class divisions under monarchical regimes. What if the new parliaments and citizen assemblies embodied by the American experiment across the ocean from 1787, and the French revolution of 1789, were just the beginning of a social transformation promising equality of opportunity and human rights for all?


Of course, Communism as a global force becomes terribly twisted through Stalin in Russia & Mao in China (let alone the nightmare state of North Korea under the Kim family). As a Christian, it's too easy for me to dismiss Marx's theories as an attempt to do arithmetic without even numbers, or geometry without straight lines, when he casts out faith & religion as "opiates of the people." But his hunger for a different conception of human social roles than his era had inherited is a logical, and even honorable outcome of the forces he saw at play all around him.


Christians and people of good will today still dream of a world where justice is not a dream, but a reality, and ask "how are we to live in community with each other?" In "Les Misérables," the tragic view of social development as requiring armed insurrection and violent revolution is not celebrated, but mourned. And for Victor Hugo, unlike his contemporary Marx, God is not out of the picture. Not at all.


The answers, though, still lie "somewhere beyond the barricades."


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's not much of a revolutionary, but there are moments…tell him what you find revolting at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.