Friday, June 27, 2014

Notes from my Knapsack 7-3-14

Notes from my Knapsack 7-3-14

Jeff Gill


Carved in Stone, in Granville



My summer series of inscriptions around the village inevitably moves from the Granville Elementary building ("Education Strengthens the Nation") to Denison University.


Of course, their physical plant has a wide assortment of words carved in stone, not all of which we'll consider in detail.


For instance, Doane Hall has "Doane Academy" over the doorway, a reminder of the multiplicity of schools that came together to make Denison a university when most of their sort were called "College" – the academy was equal to what we'd call today a high school, in this case very much a college prep program.


But this summer, we're looking at statements, texts in stone meant to make us think.


There are four very intentionally chosen quotes placed to bracket the gateways most students would walk through on their way from the village (where not a few had their residences years ago, let alone on their way to classes on the academic quad).


One of the four "gateway inscriptions" has long drawn some of the most quizzical or cynical looks:


"Work, feed thyself, to thine own powers appeal; Nor whine out woes thine own right hand can heal"


The identity of the one selecting these quotes is a question and a story all its own, but this particular quote is from a now largely forgotten British poet, George Crabbe.


His lasting fame is due to one of his characters who was named "Peter Grimes," appearing in a lengthy poem called "The Borough, written around 1800. Crabbe was born and lived out his years not far from Aldeburgh, where Benjamin Britten was born in the 20th century and where he founded a still running music festival known by the town's name.


Britten, as World War II ended, wrote an opera based on "Peter Grimes," a character now largely associated with the composer. Just a few years later, in 1948, the Aldeburgh Festival began at the instigation of Britten.


But some forty and more years earlier, someone had read the long narrative poem Crabbe wrote before "The Borough," titled "The Parish Register," which had a section labeled (cheerfully) "Burials." In that section, talking about the question of accepting public assistance by one character, another says "Work, feed thyself, to thine own powers appeal; Nor whine out woes thine own right hand can heal."


In case you weren't ready to hunt up "The Parish Register" on line (and you can, reading the whole massive bulk of the opus), the point is what makes sense after you've given the text a moment to ferment.


You need assistance? You need monetary help? Go chop wood. Go help make piles of kindling. Go clean out fireplaces. You're fit enough, healthy enough, and as my mother-in-law has been known to say, "you're big and ugly enough to do it yourself."


Fend for yourself is in essence what this selection is meant to communicate, and to be fair to George Crabbe, the section in full makes it clear these family struggles can get complex, and sometimes there are reasons beyond what we know. But if you can take of matters for yourself, you really should. That's what a former president of Denison wanted to communicate, and if I've got the right one, he put his money where his mouth was.


Stay tuned for more info on these inscription in about two weeks! Five more to go, which should take me about ten weeks.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preachers; tell him about inscriptions that have caught your eye at, or follow on Twitter @Knapsack.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Faith Works 7-5-14

Faith Works 7-5-14

Jeff Gill


Ten Ways the Church has lost Millennials



What's a "Millennial"? And please note I'm only using the quotes once.


Millennials are the generation, or "demographic cohort" born in the years from 1982 to 2004. That means today they're about 32 to teenagers, basically. Young adults, in many churches.


Except, of course, they're not in many churches, so we don't have many to ask if they like being called "young adults" (the answer, by the way, is no).


They're the latest generation to be bringing their kids to T-ball and Cub Scout day camp and beginning gymnastics or dance lessons. They are the parents of the small children that aren't in our nurseries, in other words.


Folks, I'm marching quickly into my fifties, and have no particular insight into Millennials, other than through having a few official roles that have me dealing with them as parents. Millennials who have not yet married, which is most of them, and who don't have kids, and that's many of them, are probably a bit different, but I know just enough of them to have come up with the following.


It began as a series of tweets, which is what you do when you come up with a set of thoughts that can be expressed in 140 characters or less, and turned into a "list" which is much beloved by fans of Buzzfeed, and here I'm turning it into a "listicle." If this paragraph makes NO sense to you at all, you're probably not a Millennial.


If you are part of a church leadership team wondering why you don't have Millennials, this listicle is meant to help you understand why, even if it doesn't quite tell you what to do about it . . . because that's going to be unique to your congregation and setting. Anyhow, I'm giving you here my original tweets, and a comment or two to flesh them out.


10 Ways the Church has lost #Millennials: 1) We do not sound optimistic. Negativity doesn't equal authenticity. (Seriously, youth used to complain that our hymns all sounded like downers, but now they point out we tend, liberal or conservative, to mostly preach and teach in the key of bummer. Brighten up, point to hope! That's what they're looking for, because they come with the cynicism already baked in.)


2) We still stink at personal invitations. Group appeals don't appeal to 'em, BUT ask them anything. (We love our flyers and handouts and, um, uh, announcements in the newspaper. Which Millennials also don't read. Let's not go there. But ask them personally to do something big, and they will very seriously consider it. You have to ask. Them.)


3) We still look @ people in static, long arc sorts of ways. Identity/job/roles for them are fluid. (We're still wrestling with the whole "Sunday school teacher is a life sentence" thing. Millennials work, don't doubt it, but they tend to work in manic, intense bursts, and move on to something else. They'll come back, but after some other activity. One thing over and over, not so much.)


4) They're highly visual, & Church still tends to be an extremely verbal/text-dense environment. (Hello, videos. But it's more than watching stuff on your phone, it's the whole contrast of print literacy versus visual literacy. They see references and allusions we older folks miss, as well as backgrounds and foregrounds, but a solid page of print loses interest at a glance. It's a visual culture today, that reads in service to the images, not vice versa.)


5) In terms of social policy, they're more libertarian; Churches tend to sort liberal/conservative. (This can start all kinds of arguments, I know, but the bottom line is: don't assume on one issue's opinion that you know their whole profile. I guarantee, you don't. Their political spectrum is not two-dimensional.)


6) Lots of small bites (think tapas) not big buffets. Church is still in love with all-you-can-eat. (No, this is not a cheap shot at weight and nutrition, but it's parallel in terms of state of mind.)


7) Irony. We don't get it. Millennials see world through irony-framed specs. It's how they learn. (What I said.)


8) Social media. Much Church leadership hates it. M's don't love it, they just live in it. (Seriously, I am continuously amazed by how much most of my peer group loathes and dislikes social media. Look at it this way: you like the beach, not the mountains, but if all the people you need to talk to are in the mountains, can you please go visit?)


9) No, they don't speak Church. Mocking them for lack of exposure or knowledge isn't attractive.


And finally, with no comment needed here, either -- 10th way Church has lost #Millennials: We still don't talk enough about Jesus. Being in relationship to someone you can't see? They get that.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him how your church reaches Millennials at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Faith Works 6-28-14

Faith Works 6-28-14

Jeff Gill


A thin and flimsy tribute to a very substantial pastor



Last weekend, most of you read a more formal, official version of the news that, with tomorrow, Rev. William Rauch retires from ministry.


He's not shy about saying his age, but suffice it to say neither he nor his talented wife Judy look or act their years, but they have worked well past the point where many are happy to sit back and let life roll by.


They do plan some rolling in the near future, but not much sitting back. They will still be in the area, and for that, I and many others will be grateful.


When Bill first came to serve in ministry to Licking County, Ohio had just barely been made a state, and dinosaurs still walked around Buckeye Lake. That may be an overstatement, but not by much.


He had a period of youthful service at St. Paul's Lutheran, and he feels as blessed by his chance to serve out the bulk of his time in active ministry at that congregation as they feel blessed, I know, to have had him.


He's been there as long as most of us remember, at the corner of 5th and Locust, and not only as parson for his parishoners, but very much a pastor to the community . . . and even that term should be taken in the widest possible manner. Newark was his parish, but Licking County has been his backyard, and his ministry was not limited to church work, but civic and community affairs of all sorts.


As a city councilman, he mowed lawns back before it was cool for elected officials to be seen doing so, and Bill hates it when people point out that he did it, because he generally went to great pains to not draw attention to that.


In fact, during his service on council, his general demeanor was less "now I, a veteran clergyman, will also weigh in as a community leader" than it was "wow, I have a chance to spend a stretch of time serving my fellow citizens in this way." He enjoyed his public service, and never felt it gave him special privileges. There are contrary examples I'll leave you all to research on your own, but you know what I mean.


But it was the ministry that mattered, and Bill is both a committed Lutheran Christian, with a knowledge (auf Deutsch!) of all things Luther and Melanchthon, and also an ecumenical practitioner par excellence.


He has kept the Newark Area Ministerial Association (NAMA) in tune and active through good times and times of strife and struggle in the community landscape, leading through example and persuasion, putting his time and church in the service of Jesus' prayer in John 17 "that they all may be one."


The jail ministry, the Coalition of Care, and much more. Interfaith, interreligious, international, Bill has put his Lutheran heart into all of them.


I first met Bill in 1989, having arrived in Newark as an associate and being sent by the senior pastor to a campus ministry meeting at Ohio State Newark. I met his parishoner Dick Shiels first, but quickly got to know Dick's pastor as a strong supporter of that late lamented program of campus chaplaincy here in town.


Then I got involved with NAMA, worked with him in the jail ministry as it was just getting going, and found myself preaching in his building for Good Friday & Thanksgiving community services.


Having left for a time to West Virginia, when I came back Bill was supportive of my trying to start a similar group to NAMA in the Lakewood area, and when my son was at an age where I took some time off parish ministry, he was delighted to trust me with his beloved St. Paul's on vacation Sundays, knowing that we both valued weekly communion as central to the act of worship. It was both an honor and a pleasure to fill that pulpit.


Now, back in a regular pulpit again, I don't get to visit as often, but tomorrow night many of us, Lutheran and otherwise, will gather at St. Paul's for a 6:30 pm celebration in music and prayer, to salute a man (and indeed, a couple) who has made this city a better place in the name of his Lord, and I know Jesus will smile on his retirement as much as he has on the labors Bill has done.


In fact, I can't wait to see what his next act looks like!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's only known Bill 25 years, but enough to praise him. Tell your Pastor Rauch stories to him at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.