Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Faith Works 8-12-17

Faith Works 8-12-17

Jeff Gill


An anniversary, and time to reflect



Have you enjoyed some outdoor worship this summer?


The early Christian church worshiped in homes and catacombs and where they could find a safe place to gather; we developed into more formal spaces with a Roman influence after Constantine's ambiguous gift of official status, but the spread of Christianity around the world meant divine services had to adapt to a variety of settings.


John Wesley in England and his followers like George Whitefield into North America celebrated the rightness and even importance of preaching out of doors. It began by being shut out of churches, but it was a value they enhanced through the realization of the larger and more diverse audiences such settings allowed.


Benjamin Franklin had some complicated personal religious opinions, but he greatly admired Whitefield, not just for his theology but for his volume. When he would preach from the courthouse steps in Philadelphia, Franklin would back away to determine just how far down the block Whitefield could be heard clearly, and was stunned to realize that his voice carried widely enough to allow crowds of 30,000 to hear him.


John Chapman in this part of Ohio preached his Swedenborgian view of heaven and hell from stump-tops in Newark and Mt. Vernon, when he wasn't busy being Johnny Appleseed, and Lorenzo Dow passed through in his unique Methodist manner, announcing his return in a year and coming back to preach outside to large crowds.


We have many National Parks where a special ministry comes in to offer Sunday services in campground amphitheaters, and I've always enjoyed the experience; my own call to ministry began in helping lead vesper services in Scout camp firebowls and lakesides.


Five years ago, Central Christian Church formally called me (indoors) to be their pastor, and it was a deeply meaningful date. Because 28 years ago on this day I was ordained, under a large National Guard tent erected by my Boy Scout troop, since the church building I'd grown up in had been condemned. And a decade earlier, 38 years ago today, I had received my Eagle Scout award inside that sanctuary.


So August 12 is a special date to me, and it picks up on the indoor/outdoor element of my own sense of ministry, where it happens, and how we serve out our callings. The church building is important for stability and continuity, but it is not an essential. Faith is essential, and our story about where we met the living Christ: well, if you go by Luke's gospel, you can see where those encounters are as likely to be on the road and under the open sky as they are inside any enclosed space.


My own tradition had a start in outdoor communion celebrations on the American frontier where Thomas Campbell saw others, not of his official religious body, hanging back in the weeds from the communion table, and said "Come." The other side of that movement out of Barton Stone's church in Kentucky also arose from a great assembly that couldn't fit in the large log structure that was their home, and the Cane Ridge Revival took place atop stumps and had communion off the back of wagons, where the winds blew and the Spirit was moving the people.


Our church has a small lodge on the east end of town, and we like to worship there at least once a year as a congregation. The creek nearby, the trees, and the sky above, all are part of God. We have a connection to God inside and outside, and it is good to keep those connections connected, I believe.


Last week, we also helped to sponsor worship up at the Hartford Fair, in an open-sided shelter with the sights and sounds of the world all a part of our gathering. It's good to find those moments where we can shut the world out and focus on our relationship with the Lord, but if our faith only works for us when we can do that, it's not a faith that can travel far.


On this August 12, I hope you have found a faith that can go with you wherever you are; I'm thankful for the blessing of a faith that has taken me so many different places, including right here in Licking County.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he wasn't born here, but he got here as soon as he could. Tell him about outdoor worship you've experienced this summer at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Notes From My Knapsack 8-3-17

Notes From My Knapsack 8-3-17

Jeff Gill


Gentrification by any other name…



In struggling, dated urban neighborhoods, there's a phenomenon that's quite a two-edged sword, called "gentrification."


The gentry start to move in, and where the moneyed and well-to-do folk move in, those with less cash move out. Or at least away.


So a neighborhood association in a city or an isolated community with some local assets goes to work turning around years of decline in housing stock, jobs, and retail opportunities, and then when they get the restaurants and art galleries and quirky boutique shops, and better-off people move in to renovate, reconstruct, or outright tear down and rebuild homes in the community, you start to see a rise in housing values. Which is good, right?


Except when the property tax reassessment goes through, and in general property taxes increase, and suddenly lower income workers have trouble holding onto their homes, and seniors exclaim that their fixed income did not include the prospect of increased payments to the municipality and township and county.


Aspen, Colorado and Santa Fe, New Mexico have famously noted this problem in their midst; it's not just an urban core thing. You make a place so "nice," so "cool" that people show up and buy homes and property values shoot up, and suddenly everything costs more, and the long-time locals drift away, retirees chose to cash out and downsize elsewhere, and newer families with very young children don't show up, at least until their kids are older.


Your school demographics get weird (as opposed to being able to look at your entering first grade class and having a good idea how many graduates you'll have in twelve years), and you realize all the clerks and servers and staff in the places you frequent in town live out of town . . . far out of town.


Is this sounding familiar? Of course it is. Granville has been worrying about this problem for some time, rightly so. But the truth is that we haven't seen any new middle-income housing for quite some time in this area. So not only do down-sizing retirees not tend to stay if they want to continue in their own home (vs. a retiree condo sort of place), younger families find it hard to get into the Granville market. Denison's new professors do not, as a rule, tend to put down roots in the village for the same reason.


So I'm curious to see the outcomes and residents in the new small-footprint developments on the east and west sides of the village. We have an assortment of opportunities ahead for making sure this friendly community is not only welcoming to new residents, but that we're also supportive of all the elements that make up a sense of place, the vitality that we want in Granville.


One thing I've noticed, learning about the history of our community since my family moved here in 2004, is that we didn't plan to turn into an upper-income enclave, it just sort of happened. We did always highly value education, and that investment paid off unexpectedly, with some sharp-eyed developers like the Murphys and Kents capitalizing on opportunities that were waiting for someone to take a chance. Those paid off, and the village and school district have been in a fencing match with a variety of other developers ever since.


Our 2012 Granville Comprehensive Plan is available online, and is worth a little of your time (www.granville.oh.us/comprehensive-plan). Reading it, I'm wondering if it doesn't already need some updating.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's still trying to figure out exactly how the landscape of the village has changed with the new SR 161 corridor, but he's sure it has. Tell him where you think our growth needs to be at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.    

Notes From My Knapsack 7-20-17

Notes From My Knapsack 7-20-17

Jeff Gill


Results never get old



Chris Stirewalt said recently on Fox News "Results never get old."


He was talking about Chris Christie, but he could have been talking about a great many other politicians.


There's a tone and a swagger, even, that's very compelling in an era of over-prepped, overly cautious, broadly promising politicians; the ol' "tell it like it is" even if it isn't can get you a crowd, a following, even win elections.


At some point, though, maybe not as soon as some might wish, the act gets old. The shtick gets shtuck. People start to tire.


"Results never get old."


Jimmy Carter was our president during a contentious time in our nation's history, and struggled to stay on top of rapidly developing events and some of his policy ideas I just plain disagree with even now, but he has earned a huge amount of respect and even a hearing for whatever he wants to argue for because, well, results. He's been bringing people together for decades AFTER his term ended, and built positive outcomes in many places, most of them small and easy to overlook. He had minimal approval when he left office, but he's rightfully a respected elder stateman today. Results age well.


George H.W. Bush is another president that had his ups and downs in office, and in post-incumbent memory. He famously did not go to Baghdad, and I honestly have no idea whether that would have been doable or prudent in 1991, but I can say that my friends in the military were grimly aware that our pilots were getting shot at for the next decade (even if never hit) maintaining no-fly zones in Iraq. Would he have saved his son a world of hurt by different choices before? Who knows, but I do know that the senior Bush brought honor to his country with his work out of office, especially when he began to work with the man who defeated him, Bill Clinton. After earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis, he would join hands with his former opponent and go to work. Results that have made a difference.


In office, it gets a little harder to offer a solid assessment. Especially on the local level, let alone the national. I would say that John Kasich early in his campaign for and initial year as governor went for a brash and colorful style, but he's made the pivot to substance rather well. Results that have aged well.


And truly, I have great sympathy for our school board and village council and county commissioner elected officials: they have significant responsibilities, but very little latitude within the law to work with. For their work, and the public services I am directly involved in like our mental health and recovery agencies, or children services for the county, we all have a high expectation for outcomes, and a tough funding environment within existing revenue streams. Meanwhile, there are plenty of ideas that sound good in isolation, but in legal fact run up against a network of protections and limitations that are not casually overcome.


But results age well. We can declaim and vent and posture in the public eye: voters rightly watch to see what our outcomes are. Not what we say, but what we get done. Not our attitudes or angst, but outcomes.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about the results you want to see in local and state government at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter. 

Monday, July 03, 2017

Faith Works 8-5-17

Faith Works 8-5-17

Jeff Gill


Stewardship preparation and a question



We were talking recently about worship styles and "engagement," and that subject carries over to something that many of our church leaders are starting the behind-the-scenes preparation for in this month of August: stewardship and giving campaigns.


For (too) many of us, stewardship and budget and a vague but pernicious concept of "paying your dues" comes into the picture when we think about and plan these annual fall churchwide pushes.


In my own congregation, our stewardship chair is always very intentional about pushing the teams and committees and working groups to develop their financial requests as soon as possible for educational purposes, but we do our stewardship education and commitment campaign before the budget is assembled.


We are far from alone in wanting to remind all the members and friends in our church family that giving is a spiritual discipline, a faith practice that helps us get over our earthly assumptions and material needs. We can put the spiritual first in our hearts in no small part by making our faith a priority in our spending and giving.


Proportional giving is key to this, in my opinion; books have been written on the question of what the Bible really means to tell us today about "tithing," and people of good will can debate whether that means ten percent of our gross, a tenth of our net after taxes are taken off the top, or a simple calculation that we hold to through other ups and downs.


I will say that I do believe that tithing (however you calculate it) can be a blessing to the giver, and is a building block to provident and prudent living in all of your other giving, saving, and spending. Note that I'm putting spending last: learning to do that is the key. And some of us are surely called to give more than ten percent, so I simply commend the value of having sat down, figured out your incomes and outgoes, and knowing what percent you give, and working to grow that percentage.


Meanwhile, we struggle, we congregations do, through the late summer, where the bills still come in but giving is often lagging. Another reason for some form of stewardship education and/or campaign is to promote the regularity of giving, so it's not just the leftovers at the end of each pay period, or a mere lump gift at year's end. Hard to plan and prepare around that sort of pattern for a church!


Many healthy, active, giving congregations go years without any sort of stewardship campaign at all. The process of reminding the membership about needs and opportunities for expanded ministries is ongoing through the year, and the only campaigns are capital related, for building new facility space.


That's an idea that's downright shocking to some church leaders, I know. Part of that is related to the mainline/oldline decline of the last few decades, where the ongoing downward pressure on church budgets, locally and on the wider front, have given rise to annual urging to the fellowship just to keep up, even as membership figures drop and staff positions are cut.


The flip side, though, is that when there's not a couple of weeks to defer to on stewardship and giving as a spiritual discipline, there's more implicit pressure on everyone to do that kind of teaching and discipleship all the year round.


How do you do stewardship promotion and education in your congregation? And what would a change mean to how your membership approaches the question of money and faithfulness?


On a completely different subject, if you are out at the Hartford Fair tomorrow, Sunday morning, at 8:30 am there's an ecumenical worship service I'll be helping lead up at the Natural Resources Pavilion. Come join us! Thirty minutes of re-centering and celebration before the week really gets rolling, and the sound of bleating lambs in the background . . . I really look forward to this every year.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he really loves that outdoor worship, and you will, too! Tell him about your outdoor services you've attended this summer at knapsack77@gmail.com, or @Knapsack on Twitter.

Faith Works 7-29-17

Faith Works 7-29-17

Jeff Gill


Engaged worship in and out of church



Contemporary, traditional, blended.


Oh, wait, didn't we start there last week?


Yes we did. And it's still what people nowadays think of as the choices, especially among our most common faith traditions in this area, of Protestant Christian church worship styles.


Contemporary has a band, and probably no windows, but big screens and chairs for people to sit upon. There's no bulletin, and no hymnals.


Traditional has windows, often of stained glass, and a worship area with classic wooden "chancel" furnishings, a pulpit and lectern and table or altar, with pews. Bulletins are held like life preservers, and hymnals are at every place.


Blended, more often than not, is what we call a traditional worship space that tries to do some contemporary Christian music from time to time, and maybe sees a preacher without formal pulpit garb and a looser outline for the service. The hymnals are taken up from time to time. Less often a contemporary style church will do "traditional" hymns with the praise band, but they aren't often called blended when they do that.


Congregations will continue for the foreseeable future to debate the propriety, effectiveness, and evangelistic necessity of adopting one or another style of worship. For the record, I have seen how contemporary worship reaches people who for a variety of reasons cannot or will not enter a traditional looking Christian building or worship center, and that makes me think; I also believe there are people who are looking for the stability and regularity of traditional worship in their lives, even if they're still not sure what or Who they are looking for to the healing of their souls. Each has a place, and blended is more of a moving target.


What I believe all Christian traditions are going to have to grapple with in the coming years, wherever they do or don't put the drum set or retractable projection screen, is the question of engagement.


No, not marriage related engagement. I'm talking about what a seeker is often looking for in their life, and with what they would usually concede is their developing or evolving faith. People today don't want to just attend or join, they want to feel engaged.


If you read this space last week, you would be right to ask "wait, but I thought you said people today tend to want to be able to just sit, are not into singing or reciting stuff, and are more passive consumers than involved worshipers?"


Yes, I said that. And while I don't think you have to accept that trend, you need to be aware of it. Folks like being part of the audience in what we're used to calling worship, but they go home and think about it, reflect on what they heard, and consider their future with you.


The big question becomes one of "what can I DO now?" Years ago, people joined in order to belong, and attended because it was expected. But today, people need to feel like they belong before they even think about joining, and they attend because they see a reason to be there. That's why many churches work very hard to put more people into the picture, and spend more staff time on creating those roles and managing them, than they do focusing on pastoral care needs. If you have 47 people involved in one form or another in worship, that's possibly 94 or more people you can be sure will attend. If you only have five or ten people directly involved in worship leadership . . . you can see the problem. Or rather, the lost opportunity.


Even more, younger visitors especially resonate to a direct invitation. You can do an invitation to a very well produced, professionally delivered two hour worship program, or you can invite them to a simple, cleanly offered 40 minute service with everyone heading out afterward for three hours of service and ministry – and you can see more buy-in and . . . engagement! . . . with the longer commitment.


I grew up traditional, and I tend to be more comfortable in that setting, but I've learned to be cautious if not out-right suspicious of comfort when it comes to Jesus. He's not all about that, if you know what I mean!



Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he struggles with his own comfort zone, sometimes in public in print; tell him about your experiences with expanding your comfort zone at knapsack77@gmail.com or @Knapsack on Twitter.