Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Faith Works 12-5-15

Faith Works 12-5-15

Jeff Gill


Belonging is something different



We were talking recently about the question "why go to church?"


This is a time of year faith communities of almost any sort see an uptick in the number of visitors, and long-absent folk coming back to worship.


The question has one answer I already tossed out, which is that there is something sacred going on in corporate worship, an avenue to the divine that cannot be accessed just anywhere. Some Christian traditions point to baptism and communion, acts of entrance and sustenance in one's relationship to God, as being "outward and visible signs of an inward, invisible grace."


In other churches, there are five and even seven such "sacraments," acts of the church where a connection to Almighty God is uniquely possible. (See your leadership for details!)


But as a few wrote in to ask me, what if you don't believe in the sacred? If you are rigorously non-supernatural in outlook, if you don't believe in a "life beyond life" or a world of the spirit in any way, then I've said there's no point in going, haven't I?


Well, not really. For one thing, I suspect that there are people who are looking for faith who just haven't found it yet; you could say I believe there are many who are seeking that connection, but as they seek, they don't yet know for sure. Coming to church is a way of testing those impulses out. Is there a heaven? Does God exist? Believe it or not, most churches talk out loud about such questions, even in Advent.


And whether you desire faith, or are just not feeling it – maybe you once did, perhaps something happened to drive it out of your heart, sometimes folks walk away for reasons imposed on them more than chose – you may still choose to come to corporate worship because you want a connection to people.


There are lots of people in shopping centers and college gymnasiums, but we all tend to be cheering or shopping or looking past each other in the crowd. In church, we can end up looking at each other, and asking (even if silently) "so you, too, are looking for something more in life?"


I think pastors and church leaders can miss the fact that this is a powerful reason to come to Sunday services, or other congregational events, and we have to speak as if they are in the room. If we say everything as if we all of us are buttoned-down, set for the journey, confident of the destination, then those who are still trying to figure out where they're getting a ticket to may just slip out of the station before the steam is up.


A mere acknowledgment occasionally that seekers and searches are certainly present can be a balm for a hurting soul. I've heard it many times, that a loneliness was eased by my having just tossed off an aside that presumed that not everyone was robust and certain in their faith. It opens doors, or maybe windows, for Emily Dickinson's "Hope" that is "the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul – And sings the tune without the words…"


And sometimes, people come to church just to sing. More on that next week!



Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he knows that not all who seek are lost. Tell him about your special holiday services at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Theatre review – “A Christmas Carol: The Musical”

Theatre review – "A Christmas Carol: The Musical"

[for immediate release]

Jeff Gill


Charles Dickens was once just 30 miles from Newark in 1842. He was passing through Ohio on his first US tour, overnighting in Columbus across from the Statehouse.


With the very next year, back in London, the great novelist wrote his enduring "A Christmas Carol." That story reached back into traditions from a generation before in England, and drew on themes that had been stirring his mind ever since those American travels, resulting in perhaps his most famous characters: Ebenezer Scrooge & Tiny Tim.


Dickens would recognize in an instant his entire cast on the stage of the Licking County Players. Old Scrooge, his clerk Bob Cratchit and family, nephew Fred and (late) partner Jacob Marley – these creations of Nineteenth Century imagination have a vivid and musical Twenty-first Century life here in Newark.


Dennis Kohler is a stern and sorrowful Scrooge, more choleric than cruel, but clearly needing a little life review and attitude adjustment. That is provided through Christmases past, present, and yet-to-be, embodied in this production by the Lamplighter, Sandwich Boardman, and Blind Old Hag, hauntingly portrayed by Katy Selfe, Thor Collard, and Micki Cotterman.


Scrooge is softened not just by those spirits, but by the childlike grace of Tiny Tim, winsomely played by Bob Wright. Robert Rager as Fred stands up to his uncle, and while it can't be said that Bob Cratchit resists his employer's gruff handling, Eric Wright's meekness in the role does inherit some deserved praise, along with having most of his actual family on stage.


Director Aara Wise has filled the W. Main Street playhouse with a London neighborhood's worth of characters, including a mob of children who all ably play their parts. With over forty in the cast, it's impossible to give due credit across the boards, but they make for an imposing chorus in the glorious finale. Music director Thom Ogilvie has taken on a truly large challenge and kept the harmonies close while giving many individual voices a chance to shine. Phil Graham's set is a puzzle box that is continually folding and unfolding to reveal new scenes and different perspectives within and without.


A family looking for a boost of seasonal spirit would do well to come downtown, check out the festively lit Courthouse, and enjoy this production as part of the Licking County Players' 50th anniversary season. The show is about two hours long including a fifteen minute intermission; this reviewer watched a dress rehearsal, but Marley's chains clanked no less ominously for all that. Small children's parents may note a few incidents of strong language and the appearance of ghosts, but they are more comedic than terrifying: just frightening enough to get Scrooge's attention.


While the size of the cast limits individual comment, Anna Hittepole was quite affecting in her sad solo as a motherless girl, as was Joe Wright in his turn as little Scrooge, and Misti Tidman as Mrs. Fezziwig brought an impressive emphasis to an often overlooked part (watch for "How Mrs. Fezziwig Got Her Groove Back" in some future season).  


"A Christmas Carol: The Musical" with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and book by Mike Ockrent first appeared on Broadway in 1994, regularly performed in New York and around the world ever since. It became a popular film musical of the same title starring Kelsey Grammer in 2004.


Performance schedule

Performances run Dec. 3 through the 13th, at 131 W. Main St. at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets may be reserved by calling 740-349-2287 or at