Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Faith Works 8-13-16

Faith Works 8-13-16

Jeff Gill


Prayer and schools are an excellent fit



School starts for many this next week or so.


Wednesday or Thursday for most of the public schools in the county; colleges a little later, but today is the day my wife and I drop our son off for Marching 110 camp well before classes start at OU.


Prayer? We'll take some, thank you. For him, yes, for his newly empty nester parents, absolutely. And we'll be praying for him in this new venture.


School for the parents of kindergarteners, students transitioning between buildings, or heading into a senior year let alone off to college: it's all quite the provocation to prayer. A reminder to pray for parents, for friends, for grandparents and relatives across the county, for all of us thinking about our own first days on our own in a dorm, at a campus, in classes.


Closer to home, we find ourselves praying for teachers and staff and lunchroom crew, for bus drivers and the other drivers idling while the red stop sign and flashers swing out from the yellow chassis. We pray for the principal and the choir directors and band leaders, the coaches and the trainers who will have both physical and educational care for our young people; so many who can build up or tear down with a word, whether intentional or as an indifferent aside. We pray that they see and hear and know and understand what they're doing as our children grow up in their care.


We pray for our own alertness and awareness as new paths to school intersect with streets and roads, kids darting out where no doubt they shouldn't be, but are, and we pray that we see them, avoid them, bless them and send them safely on their way, even if they don't know how close we came to . . . and we pray.


Prayer, it has been said, will always be in school as long as there is algebra. Yes, and chair placement battles and basketball tryouts and application to enrichment programs. We pray that foolishness of the summer will not follow our youth into the hallways and cafeterias and gymnasiums and classrooms; we pray that what was learned as last school year ended still has some life in it to be watered into growth and renewal this fall.


Know that there are teachers praying for their students and the parents and families well before they even see the class lists, and they pray for us by name after those are handed 'round. Principals and assistants and deans and secretaries who meet in private, personal Bible studies, who ask their Sunday morning classes to pray for them and their work as the new school year begins, who are alert to the weak and vulnerable and the simply quiet and cautious, bringing them the attention and skill they deserve – and they pray that they keep on through the year in that work, not falling into the easier habits of tending to the squeaky wheels and brighter, more compelling kids.


In churches, we pray for all these groups and more by name, with special emphases depending on the congregation.  Perhaps we no longer have teachers leading set prayers in front of their classes, but that's not an era I've ever known, nor one that I would call back. I'll let schools work with the diversity they are mandated to embrace, and remind churches that the task of faith formation is ours to manage . . . or not. Some suggest, I think with cause, that we spent a generation among many mainline Protestant bodies getting sloppy with our teaching and training in faithfulness because we thought we could assume the culture and our schools would do our work for us. No more, and I can live with that. I pray that we as a faith community are faithful in that task of training up our children in the ways they should go.


And I would add: I believe, very strongly, in homeschooling, and I think everyone should do it. Some of us also choose to supplement that with the public school classroom, but I pray we never forget that a child's first teacher is always the parents, and in the home. If we remember that, the school teachers and the team around them can do their jobs all the better!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's been told at home he can be a tedious teacher at times. Tell him about historic markers you stop the car at by emailing, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Newark Central - chapters in a story

Newark Central – chapters in a story


As a chapter in my family's life comes to an end, but just as emphatically a new page is being written, the image of chapters in a book is making me think about the story of our congregation. Perhaps this is how to accomplish the two-fold task of telling our history to newer members, and a way to keep a healthy focus for all of us on that narrative of the future, the vision looking ahead that we need.


So I'm offering the reader an abbreviated version of our story here, at . . . the Christian Church of Newark, the Fourth St. Church of Christ, Central Church of Christ, or Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) – all names our fellowship has used in identifying who we are, where we gather, and what we're doing. It's in chapters, as this editor would describe them, that sum up the stages and phases of our life in the past, which should give us a running start at leaping ahead to a better understanding of what's coming.


1.  A Pilgrim People – 1884-1894

            We began as a mission of the Hebron Christian Church, supporting a young  Newark clerk named George Crites who felt a call to ministry, and a need for a church of our sort, affirming the place of regular communion and baptism by immersion in our common life, congregationally governed under Biblical structures of elders and deacons. The fellowship met in upper rooms and rented halls for a decade, until building a chapel on land facing Fourth Street near downtown Newark.


2.  Finding A Place – 1895-1926 

            The chapel's cost nearly broke the young congregation, but with the help of the Ohio Christian Missionary Society, we survived unexpected ministerial transitions, honored our debts, restructured our worship and teaching program,  and moved forward under new leadership to build an expanded auditorium by 1904. Political stresses and Klan rule in Newark threatened division again, but an uneasy truce was reached, and a search went on for a new pastor.


3.  Establishing An Institution – 1927-1946

            It is no discredit to any other ministers of this congregation over 130-plus years and twenty clergy leaders to date in saying that this church was uniquely blessed with three pastors in a row between 1927 and 1951 who had precisely the right skills for the time when they served. Louis Mink was an organizational genius, Dale Fiers was gifted in the development of programs, and John Updegraff found he had skills in coordinating construction he didn't know he had.


4.  We Would Be Building – 1947-1951

            After the fire that utterly destroyed the 1894/1904 building on Fourth Street, the members of Central found that they had a life and a purpose outside of the physical plant. The church lodge was built and dedicated in October of 1947, and as worship continued in the NHS Gym for over four years, the circles and fellowships of the church found they had a place in sharing God's good news. Newark Central began to become a countywide fellowship, even as the new church building was completed north of downtown at Rugg Avenue and Mt. Vernon Road.


5.  Restoration & Management – 1952-1974

            Once dedicated, the new church building became a magnet for the startling growth of membership and involvement that marked the post-war era for many Protestant congregations. Rev. Joe Garshaw, the longest-tenured pastor in the history of the congregation (from 1958 to 1974) was well situated to develop the leadership and management structures of the fellowship even as the Disciples of Christ both generally and in Ohio restructured their organizational life. Camp Christian became a core element of the Christian Church in Ohio, and a focal point of wider ministry for our congregation as part of the "Ohio region" of the Disciples.


6.  An Uncertain Trumpet – 1974-2002

            Cultural conflict long simmering over national concerns like Vietnam and Watergate boiled over in many communities, no less so in Newark. Distrust of institutions, unwillingness to "join for the sake of joining," even a certain amount of distaste for organized religion in general radically changed the nature of evangelism and church growth. What had formerly been "brand loyalty" almost flipped into a reflexive skepticism over denominational labels, and visitors became less of an automatic occurrence. Within the church, the term "evangelism" began to be regarded with mistrust, but so was marketing or publicity.


7.  Wilderness Renewal – 2003-2016

            By 2003, membership and worship attendance was probably as low as it had been since 1903 and the struggles over paying for the new chapel downtown. The struggles were different, but the divisions no less jarring, and the resources for recovery seemed fewer. Jim Young stepped forward out of the membership into a new leadership role during a difficult transition period, and the call to bring Rick Rintamaa as senior minister following Jim's interim work put a priority on pastoral care; Rick's love for the membership and for the mission of this congregation into the community was a blessing that was returned overflowing to the church.


            During that interim period, a number of people led by Steve Crothers and Rick Hayden became a "Mission Team," traveling to the Gulf Coast in 2005 and making a contact with the Christian Church in Moss Point, Mississippi which has become a touchstone for Newark Central's renewal over the decade and more that followed. This teamwork, within our congregation and with our fellow Disciples of Christ out of Mississippi, has also poured blessings out into our life here even as the various Mission Team trips have blessed people in need from the Atlantic Coast to the Great Plains of Kansas and many points in between.


8.  The Next Chapter . . .

            The Spirit-led emphases of Newark Central over the previous chapters of our story have turned out to be a.) Mission work, at home with the Ramp Ministry and beyond with Mission Trips each year; b.) Education, with scholarships formed and distributed by the fellowship out of various gifts and bequests that emphasize our internal values around promoting education as a tool for the ministry of all believers; and c.) Medical ministries, focused around our Medical Loan Closet program. We also have surveyed and sampled various alternatives over the last decade, and have come to the conclusion for our time (at least) that we are called to excellence in "Traditional Worship," with our music ministries and preaching seeking the best forms we can offer today through means that would still be quite familiar to those who helped write earlier, very different chapters. We don't dislike "contemporary worship," and may support expressions of it in the future at other locations, but in our worship space on Mt. Vernon Road on Sunday mornings, we expect to keep on singing hymns, supporting choirs and anthems along with special music offerings, and preaching rooted in the Gospel and opening up the entire Scriptural story to those who would worship with us.


            The change in what it means to do evangelism is still a chapter being written. The days of visitors "just showing up" may be gone, but the question of how to let people know what we're doing, who we are, and how you can join us in our faith and fellowship – that's still being answered. We have those emphases that seem to be where God is guiding us to be faithful: in Missions, Education, and Medical ministries, but we don't imagine – looking at this history! – that this is a final word to the church on what we're called to do in Jesus' name. As our United Church of Christ friends like to say, "never put a period where God has put a comma!"


            You may have some ideas on what is happening on the first few pages of this new chapter; it may be time for you to start writing some of that new history as it happens . . .