Thursday, January 29, 2015

Notes From My Knapsack 2-5-15

Notes From My Knapsack 2-5-15
Jeff Gill
A Body in the Well: Feb. 1816

"Call for Hezekiah Mirk! Call for Hezekiah Mirk!"
The boy's shouts echoed off the slope of Sugar Loaf to the east, caroming faintly from Prospect Hill to the north and back west from Orchard Hill, blocking the already risen sun from the main intersection of Granville.
To the south, the valley of the Pataskala River opened out, down the slope past the Burying Ground. Hezekiah Mirk sat looking out over the valley, on the end of Mr. Gavit's tavern porch, sliding a blade across his sharpening stone with a steady whishh, whishh, whishh.
"Mister Mirk, I believe someone is calling for you," said Sarah Gavit from inside the door, over near the fireplace where she'd been walking an armload of wood in from the other end of the porch. She came back and began to close the heavy timbered door, leaning out enough to stare quizzically at his back. Whishh, whishh, whishh.
As if he saw her clearly and knew her thoughts as well, without looking up from his task Hezekiah said "He will get here soon enough at that rate."
She leaned back and began to close the door, then realized the patter of booted feet down Broad Street was what he referred to; the day's chill was not quite enough to keep her from not quite pulling the door shut, and listening at the opening.
"Mister Mirk, Mister Mirk, there's a body in the well!" So shouted a young lad, tall and lank, out of breath but with enough energy to leap onto the porch without taking the two steps, nearly falling across the pile of wood the Honorable Mister Gavit had piled at the street end the night before.
"Sit yourself down, take a breath while you still have one," said Hezekiah, standing and turning in one easy motion from his seat on the other end of the alarmingly creaking porch. "Whose well?"
"Mister Avery's well, beyond Sugar Loaf," the boy replied, gasping his way to more regular breath with admirable rapidity. "His wife found it this morning when she went to draw water." Sarah Gavit snorted just inside the front door, making the lad jump, turn, bow, and then go on. "He and his hired man pulled the body out, and it's no one they know from here."
"And newly arrived in Granville, they expect me to know him?" asked Hezekiah beneath bristling eyebrows. His already dark and ruddy face beneath a cap of thick black curls furrowed in a not-unusual frown, not unfriendly, either, but the worried look that people in the village were already learning meant thinking more than disliking.
"No, sir," answered the lad, "but since you've come from the wars and all, sir, they hoped you would know a bit more about how he . . . why it is that . . . "
"How he died? They take me as an expert on that subject, do they?"
The lad nodded glumly. Peters' boy, he suddenly remembered.
"Well, I expect I am. Not the only man in this place familiar with life's end, but with more knowledge of it than I might wish. Let me get my coat."
Sarah Gavit stepped back, holding open the door for him, to which he offered a courteous and sardonic bow, and then swiftly walked into the long room in the front of the tavern, plucked his well-worn Army coat off a peg near the fire, and made a slighter bow to the house's mistress as he went back out onto the porch. She closed the door behind him, and went back to her chores, questions set aside like a task whose time has not yet arrived.
Outside, fastening up his brass buttons, the boy asked Hezekiah "Do y'think he was murdered, Mister Mirk?"
With a short laugh that was more of a bark, he replied "That, or he was uncommonly clumsy. Come, show me the way."

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what you'd like to learn about Granville history at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Faith Works 1-31-15

Faith Works 1-31-15

Jeff Gill


Why a preaching robe?




Cue the "disrobed" jokes.


You can call them preaching gowns, Geneva gowns, academic gowns, and any more you don't see them all that often, but a special robe or gown for preaching has been a standard over the last generation.


In my own tradition, which has had its splits over the years, a hundred years ago a morning coat and striped trousers were more the norm, at least in Ohio; it "casualed" to a dark suit somewhere around World War I, and that was traditional in most Disciples of Christ, Church of Christ, and a fair number of Baptist congregations for many years.


Preaching robes, the cousin to more formal liturgical vestments still called for in communions like the Anglican and Episcopal, Lutheran, and of course Roman Catholic Christian traditions, are a practical solution to a problem many of us wrestle with again today.


If you are a presider or preacher in the liturgical traditions above mentioned, you don't get up Sunday and wonder "what should I wear?" It really doesn't matter much (although many traditions have guidelines for presiders on their subfusc wear, as it's referred to), since in a truly liturgical tradition, you might have your personal garb, a cassock over that, an alb atop that, and possibly a stole and cope and . . . well, it gets complicated.


Most Christian traditions common in Ohio, if not liturgically emphatic, either expected preachers to wear a somber suit (we're talking almost entirely men back in the day, too), or a simple black gown. A preaching stole began to be standard, where both the Christian calendar and some personal emphasis could be expressed. The stole, a narrow sort-of-scarf that hangs down in front going around the back of your neck, would display the color of the church season (purple in Advent and Lent, white for Christmas and Easter, red at Pentecost and ordinations, green for nearly everything else), and symbols of the Gospel on the ends, embroidered or woven.


At my ordination, I received a number of stoles, one from my congregation with the Disciples' chalice on it, one from my family woven in many colors, and one from my wife she'd picked up at a Benedictine monastery we'd been visiting earlier that she saw me handle with admiration. They symbolize both the towel Jesus took on an a servant at the Last Supper for the footwashing, and the yoke we share with Christ in leadership.


But today robes and gowns and such are considered a wee bit formal, and contemporary worship usually is led by folks in their nicer street clothes (clean, tidy, but ordinary), and that says something important to visitors as well.


At our congregation, I split the difference (yes, I know, you're shocked). The choir has robes, as they have a set-apart role in worship just like the preacher, and truth be told they don't love them, so our mutual deal is that in Advent through Christmas, and as we get further into Lent and for Easter, we robe up. And when I'm doing a formal church wedding, I both robe and have a stole my sister made with a cross and linked wedding rings, from the same material as her dress (she's talented that way). Sometimes for funerals in the church I will "go robed" and other times not. It depends.


And that's the challenge today. It's not, for most of us, a simple "check the book" decision on what to wear. Many of us in preaching and pastoring know that too much formality can push away a seeker, but some in search of a faith to hold want a little more structure than their lives have right now. It's a fine balance, when to lead in everyday clothes, when to don all the special garments I can find and keep the personal statements to a minimum. I go back and forth, and suspect that's the new normal.


It does mean that on Sunday morning you have to think, if you're preaching, about what to wear, something my honored predecessors mostly didn't, unless it was because they had a lunch program after church. There's something to the steady simplicity of Martin Luther's choice of a basic black academic gown, signaling "I've done my studies, and have prepared this word to you" without any ostentation or attitude.


That, and a bright woven stole on the dark background, is my favorite preaching uniform. What's yours?


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him what you think best clothes a preacher or worship leader at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.