Monday, December 26, 2016

Faith Works 12-31-16

Faith Works 12-31-16

Jeff Gill

Resolution and repetition


Jacob Little is a stern and striking character in Licking County
history, and one of our sources for it.

He wrote a history of Granville for publication in the 1840s when
there wasn't much yet to tell, you'd think from the perspective of
2017, yet his detail and engagement as a pastor with the events of his
village and county make the forty years he covers come alive.

He was also famous for his New Year's sermon, which every January
First was preached to, we're told, a packed house. Keeping in mind
there were no bowl games on television back then (or televisions), he
didn't have much competition, but the story goes that folk who weren't
even members wanted in on the spoken narrative because Rev. Little
named names.

That's right, he looked back over the previous twelve months, tallied
up the sins of the people and the community, and then talked about
them as the new year began. With specifics. Like referring to leading
citizens (by name, mind you) in saying that they "did not draw a sober
breath in twelve years."

The tale is softened a bit by hearing that this announcement led to
said citizen's sobriety, but a modern preacher can't read that and
think "wow, lawsuits."

Parson Jacob stood and delivered from 1827 to 1865, but truth be told
he was somewhat unceremoniously hustled out the door at the end of his
tenure. Perhaps some of those less favorably impacted by his preaching
were in favor of his departure.

It does make me think. As a pastor, as much as a preacher. What hard
words need to be preached? When is a stern and stark statement the
most loving sermon to speak?

I can also reflect as a historian over Little's legacy: he tallied up
dances held, parties with liquor attended, distilleries established,
and admonished those who broke the Sabbath by firing up their smithies
and applying adzes to lumber. Yet other than some celebrations of
membership rolls increasing for temperance societies, the tally tends
to grow in a direction opposite Little's desires. Some categories he
appears to just give up on. Perhaps he helped lay some groundwork for
Prohibition, but we all know how that turned out.

And in our more information-driven age, we have a confused but higher
standard of proof expected. Rev. Little would add up offenses using
pre-teen informants he'd gather up for a few pennies and send to add
up evidence. Not that phone surveys seems to work much better going by
the last election cycle, but that's some shaky ground to stand on to
condemn persons, let alone parishioners by name.

If I were to "go Little" in a New Year's sermon, I'd be tempted to
draw together some information that's well confirmed, and talk about
what I might infer from it; or what people of faith in particular and
people of good will in general might do in response.

Licking County currently has right around 350 children under 18 "in
care." That's not a record, but it's up. Opiates and heroin are
considered to be a big reason as to why, as employment and wages are
improving, families might be going through more stresses to the point
where the authorities have to step in and take custody. How can
Christians work to make a difference in this area on addiction and
recovery? How can churches and other groups in the county work
together more effectively to help keep families from reaching that
drastic event?

Recently, we had a man in the county arrested on the road for his
ninth "operating a vehicle under the influence" or OVI offense. I've
heard a great deal of conversation and condemnation of the fact that
this could happen. According to the Sheriff's jail census earlier this
week, we had 272 of our family, friends, and neighbors in the Licking
County Justice Center across Christmas weekend; but of those, only 8
appear to be OVI offenses. Meanwhile, of all the offenses that did get
folks in there over the holidays, I'm told by folks in a position to
know, were violent and abusive and criminal acts triggered by
intoxication, whether by drinking or through drugs. What might
intervene in a life to help them make choices better than the ones
listed under "Charges"?

Numbers can only tell us so much; the souls behind each statistic have
a story. It may be a story that needs to change, but it needs to be
heard to help write that new chapter, perhaps in a new year.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell
him about your story for the new year at, or
follow @Knapsack on Twitter.