Thursday, February 27, 2014

Faith Works 3-1-14

Faith Works 3-1-14

Jeff Gill


A House Not Made With Hands



Truly, I can't complain that God didn't let me know what was coming.


Aside from all the hints and indications that were available demographically and statistically that anyone could have opened their eyes and seen back in the 1980s about where denominational and congregational life was heading, God gave me a clear moment of prophetic insight.


Like most of us, most of the time, I chose to not quite see it.


My ordination, which was 25 years ago this coming summer, was under a giant National Guard tent, in an empty lot next to a condemned church building.


Yeah, it is kinda obvious when you look back, isn't it? Prophecy works that way sometimes.


We had more people in Scout uniforms than ecclesiastical robes on the folding chairs and benches (it was Aug. 12), and the sound system was borrowed and brought from out of town. My family set up the communion service and baked the bread we used, the music was a capella and to an acoustic guitar (inside that condemned 1888 lovely old structure was an amazing 1893 pipe organ, which was cautiously extracted and went to a church in the Nashville TN area, the proceeds of which helped to build the new church building some years later).


The denominational official who came up to play their necessary and important role representing the larger church and the covenants between candidate and credentialing body, my region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), never quite reconciled himself to the setting. He'd been warned in advance how we were doing it, but when he got there, he kept pointing at the church across Chicago Street and asking "did anyone ask if we could hold Jeff's ordination in their building?"


No, we didn't, and they were and are lovely people, who would have said yes in a heartbeat. But this lot was the property of the congregation doing the ordination (whoops, sorry, since 1968 the congregation hosts the ordination, but the region is the body which grants ordination), we had this beloved building I'd grown up in, visible all along the rolled up east side of the big tent which my Scout troop had erected, and did I mention my work in Scouts and at summer camp was where my call to ministry arose? Anyhow, no, we didn't ask. He mopped his brow and looked nervously around and asked where he would sit: there was a folding chair set aside for him.


In the congregation gathered that afternoon were people from UCC & Methodist & Lutheran congregations; many of the UCC folk were there from an urban congregation that had taken in the congregation I served in seminary after our church building burned down, until we could rebuild; they had made the hard decision to close and join with another UCC congregation, selling their building – but had pushed the date back another month so they could "officially" be one of my three sponsoring congregations.


If traditionalists are starting to worry that this was all an off-kilter sort of affair, let me reassure you: after the service of ordination, there was a large sheet cake with my name and our Disciples chalice in frosting, mints and nuts, and coffee (and punch which went fast, because it was hot). The proprieties must be observed, as Michaeleen O'Flynn would say.


What I did not observe was that Almighty God was giving me a very clear picture of what I was getting into that day. We are, indeed, a pilgrim people, from the Wilderness to the Diaspora; Paul reminds us in II Corinthians 5 that "we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens".


1888 German Romanesque brick structures that were unskillfully retrofitted in the 1950s, not so eternal.


My home church worshiped in a middle school, built a gathering space that they next worshiped in until they could build a "proper" sanctuary, and now it has been home for them long enough that many members have never known any other space to gather in… but they still do an early outdoor service every summer. Just to keep their edge.


And my other ordination sponsor, the congregation I was with as we rebuilt from the fire, has now reached a point where they are preparing to sell that building to a group that will "re-start" in the neighborhood, and that body, born in 1909, will "sink into union with the Body of Christ" after June 1.


Because, as God's been telling me for years, it's not about the building.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; being a sinful creature, he loves the church building he preaches in on Sundays. Tell him about your building for worship at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Knapsack 2-27-14

Notes from my Knapsack 2-27-14

Jeff Gill


Nature, not always maternal



The problem is, nature wants to kill you.


That may be a bit overstated. Nature, as a whole (let alone that whole ambiguous formulation of "Mother Nature"), does not care one whit whether you live or die.


But it does seem from time to time that there's a bias to Nature in that, all things being equal, it's better at killing you than keeping you going.


We tend to live most of our modern lives at one remove, or two or three, from Nature. The weather forecaster jokes about looking out their non-existent window, but even their depictions of Nature in the raw are mediated through radar and video, instruments and weather spotters. You get numbers and maps and arrows, and a sense – at one remove – of what the outdoors is like.


Our youth insist on their Constitutional right to wear no more than a hoodie into sub-zero weather, pointing out, not without reason, that they're going ten feet to a car, maybe thirty feet from that car to the school or elsewhere, and they don't need to bundle up like Admiral Peary heading for the pole.


Robert Falcon Scott they're a little less clear about. I guess it's all in the history you know, and understand.


Raccoon Creek has leapt its banks and flooded her valley, enjoying an abundance of water and carving new paths of drainage. The roiling surface hints at threat, but few of us go near to sense the strange new power this "creek" holds in spate.


Not long ago, with ice atop it, these friendly neighborly scenic waters killed a friend, a professor, a local resident. It was the result of a bravely intended act, but it turned awry in an instant, and death was the result.


More recently, another death in another scenic, nearby, often passed spot. There are questions and investigations still going on, but for me, there's a question: did he know? How clearly did he understand: this weather can kill you. Subzero temperatures are hungry for your warmth, and the valleys hold the chill which, without even a few thin layers (which, in layers, can make all the difference in the world, heat trapped in the air spaces between), so terribly quickly is drained from your body.


There is a suspicion I have, unfounded, unwarranted, that there was among all the other factors at play that night, a dreadful lack of understanding that Nature is perfectly capable of committing murder without a second thought. It's not personal, it's no more intentional than a cliff edge is threatening . . . but you are wise to see it as such.


I love to invite youth and families to enjoy the outdoors, and to value wilderness, and to love Nature as our home and our true hearth, which takes tending and care just like a cooking fire. These feelings are still in my heart.


But perhaps my question is whether or not our detachment from Nature makes an even greater hazard for the unwary, that our sense of separateness is what can hasten our demise under the wrong circumstances. It's through an understanding of the depths of what Nature truly is (and isn't) that we can find our place and our security, and even beauty, while standing not too close to a sheer cliff, and watching the sun set on an ice cold night.


The stars inspire, but they look on with a distant, thoughtless twinkle. It takes our time and attention to arrange them into constellations, and human stories shared to learn how to find direction from them.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him about your relationship to Nature at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.