Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Faith Works 11-29-18

Faith Works 11-29-18

Jeff Gill


The time of worship



What time is church?


Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, and not without reason, that "eleven o'clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week in America."


When I was younger, and less aware of the realities of racism that Dr. King was trying to address, I remember my first reaction was "but 11:00 am isn't when church is?"


My church growing up always had Sunday morning worship at 10:30 am, and like most things we grow up with, I assumed how me and mine did it was the normal way, the right way, the way everyone did things. Then I went out into the world.


And truth be told, I mostly saw other 10:30s, but learned that the scope of the Lord's goodness, a wideness in God's mercy, extended to even 11 o'clock. Alrighty then.


Now, I also come from a very Biblically oriented tradition, and the curious fact is that you can't find any Biblical basis for that sort of time conformity. The day for worship among early Christians moved from the Jewish Sabbath to "the first day of the week" when Mary Magdalene met the risen Jesus in the garden, and which we call Sunday in English speaking lands. But that was at dawn.


Other than Easter Sunday, and precious few of us at that, no one does worship at dawn.


Many traditions have a Sunday evening service, and did back in an earlier day when you rode to town with a dinner basket, attended morning worship, ate under the trees, and had a second round of preaching before riding home. Over the years, as automobiles caught on, the evening service moved back to 6:00 pm for those who continued that pattern.


And in that sequence, you can see why 11:00 am or maybe 10:30 makes sense. If you have to get up, milk the cows, feed the chickens, clean up, and ride a few miles into town, it had better not be until 10:30. Two hours of preaching, a leisurely lunch, maybe a turn around town, a 3:00 pm prayer meeting, then home by dark.


Yet like summer vacation in school calendars, we still follow a vaguely agrarian timetable on Sunday morning.


Quite a few of us, as our members have developed the more complicated schedules of work in 2018, have added services. An 8 or 8:30 am early service, Sunday afternoons are coming back, and many have a Saturday evening service. Other "non-traditional" worship times are getting more and more common; weary preachers are all too aware of the fact that we're also doing more services sometimes just to reach the same number – or less – in worship, but that's what happens as the 24/7 culture and rotating shift schedules eat away at our personal options.


I have to admit I've been trying to explain to some of my fellow believers who bemoan downturns in worship attendance that it's not a simple lack of faithfulness, or a devaluation of church that pushes down attendance at the old familiar 10:30 or 11 am hour. It's for many a question of work, or lose your job. The idea of Sunday being sacred is something you're welcome to believe personally, but it's not going to get you out of your four days in a row ten hour shifts, then four off, with Sunday just one more column heading on the time sheet.


What's a church to do? Part of it is to remember that there's nothing sacred about one particular worship time. Obviously, the counterpart to that is teaching and preaching about the importance of setting aside time to come together with fellow believers (Bible verses available on request, but there's many!).


Some tell me reading this column is their church. I honor the intention meant by saying that, but it does pain me to hear. This is a wonderful chance to converse, and for me to share some thoughts, but it's not a worship experience. My email and messages become a kind of community, but in the narrowest and most limited sense.


The challenge moving forward into 2019 and beyond is for faith communities to wrestle with exactly that, though: how to expand forms of community that look different than we're used to. We don't milk the cows on Sunday before riding a horse into town; we may have to find creative ways to use technology and communications to maintain community between chances to physically be present with each other. But it can't be just the virtual! Actual community will always be at the heart of how we come together in unity.



Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's glad to respond to any number of questions by email, but he's also likely to tell you to go to church, too. Write him at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter. 

Faith Works 11-17-18

Faith Works 11-17-18

Jeff Gill


Sometimes, you just gotta preach



Look, I am a preacher, but in this column, I do my best to not be preachy.


The running topic of "Faith Works" is how faith and belief and religious practice shapes and moves and informs our life together in Licking County, and in general I avoid sectarian claims and particular assertions. You can come hear me on a Sunday or Wednesday if you want, and that's more what you'll get, but here we're looking out across the Newark and central Ohio landscape.


But sometimes there are some things I just want to proclaim, to get a little bit preachy at you for the good of your heart, if not your soul.


You should be thankful.


Seriously, it's good for you. As a Christian pastor, I have particular reasons for thankfulness, but there's a baseline reality that's accessible to us all: we are here, you are reading this, there are options available to us while we have breath, and for that and maybe a bit more, we need to be thankful.


I believe that thankfulness is as essential in a longer term way as breathing is for right now. If you have your breathing restricted, your energy and awareness and general well-being can be impacted; if you stop breathing long enough, you will die. On a different timeline, if you stop being thankful, it starts to hit your thoughts and understandings like a blood oxygen level below 95% starts messing with your head.


And a complete absence of thankfulness can kill you dead, even if your body is still walking around for a long while after that.


There are always reasons to not be thankful. Stuff you don't have, health that's not at what it should be, people who let you down, problems that are coming which can't be avoided. Sure. I've got 'em, you've got 'em, we all have them.


This is where service to others is so crucial to having a thankful heart. I have this conversation with people in hospitals all the time as a minister: there's always someone down the hall worse off. It's true. You can dread being in their shoes all night, or you can be thankful for what you have, where you can go, the hope and time you have. It's a choice, really.


You may have heard that Scott Hayes and the Licking County Jail Ministry (LCJM) have launched a new ministry of their own, outside of the Licking County Justice Center.


It's on S. 5th St., and it's called Vertical 196 for the address; some of us know it as the old Red Cross building. Vertical 196 is a day center for homeless people.


You may not know that, for all sorts of practical reasons, homeless shelters have to ask all their guests to leave for the day, 8:30 am or so, and not return until about 5 pm. The Salvation Army shelter on E. Main St., the St. Vincent Haven on Wilson St., other emergency shelter programs on a smaller basis in the community all have to impose such rules. But where does a homeless, if sheltered person go during the day? Let alone a person who is homeless and unhoused, making their own shelter somewhere by the rivers or stairwells of our city?


Vertical 196 is a partial answer to this question. They completed two weeks of operations yesterday, and they have seen 35 to 45 people for lunch every weekday they're open, from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm.


Scott is chaplain for the LCJM, and he's excited about how this extension of that ministry is involving even more people to make the meals, serve and sit with the guests for lunch, and help with expanding the outreach program they offer. Soon they'll add laundry and shower services for guests, and with five church teams at work to start, he's hoping to add enough committed volunteers to go to a 9:00 to 4:00 schedule.


Their immediate needs, though, are XL sweatshirts and sweatpants. The idea is folks can wear them while washing the clothes they came in with, and take them with them as another layer for the walking and searching and sometimes sleeping wherever they may go.


Vertical 196 already has evening programs for a variety of audiences, such as a Celebrate Recovery group with a meal on Thursdays. They also plan to be open as usual on both Thanksgiving and Christmas Day with a meal, and warmth. You can ask questions or offer to help through Scott@JailMinistries.org.


If you go there, though, you know what people who are homeless say about it? They are thankful. And I'm reminded to be thankful, as well.



Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what you're thankful for at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Notes from my Knapsack 11-15-18

Notes from my Knapsack 11-15-18

Jeff Gill


Community and continuity



We've passed the most recent school levy, and no doubt will have to face questions of how public education is funded again within a few years, because that's the system our state legislature has created.


Property taxes do not increase with land valuation, so there's something called a rollback built into the system. Add in unfunded mandates for expenditures from federal policies, fluctuations in enrollment while square footage and other fixed costs stay the same, plus the overall cost of everything, and you have a system which as is well-known has been declared unconstitutional by our state Supreme Court, but is still the prevailing model.


Our statehouse points out, accurately, that they are spending more on education in biennial budgets, and that they keep moving more money to less fortunate districts, which is also true. So a residentially blessed area like Granville has the weird double whammy of having less business tax base to absorb some of the cost of running a top-flight public school district, but we are having state formula funding taken away even as by law the district doesn't see benefit from increasing property values unless we choose to give and re-gift it to them in property tax renewals.


So we now have an income tax basis to try to add some stability to our education budget, and reduce the frequency with which the school board and administration is forced to come to the voters for funds. I think it was a good idea, and it's done, or as done as any such voter driven process can be.


I wrote my way towards this last request for levy support through our local and state history about education funding, not wanting to make the story about an endorsement per se. That's not what the Sentinel really wants to see these contributor columns doing, anyhow. But I do want to figure out how to do an endorsement of a different sort.


What I think needs support and endorsement and a public campaign of some kind, with the involvement of school board, staff, civic officials, business and commercial interests, and indeed all of us, is this: consider staying in Granville. I'd like to make a formal endorsement for a plan I am already acting on myself . . . staying in Granville after my child has graduated from our excellent and high achieving schools.


Because it dawned on me as we approached our son's high school graduation that a startling number of the friends and fellow parents we'd been associating with and chaperoning alongside and working shoulder to shoulder by were putting out "For Sale" signs the day the "Graduation Open House" signs came down.


I'm still wrestling, almost three years later, with what this means. I know it's true almost anywhere to some degree, and it's hard to find hard data on the phenomenon (I've been trying).


But my anecdotal evidence, and general conversational inputs, have all told me it's remarkably common here, and perhaps more than in most places, maybe even more here than in other high achieving school districts. Families come for the schools, and my wife and I have to admit we moved here in the middle of our son's first grade year, and they leave quite often once the kids are off to college.


Downsizing makes sense when the nest empties, and it can be hard to downsize in Granville. That's no doubt part of the problem. And taxes are higher here, but not by as much as folks seem to think. I want to continue this discussion into 2019, and ideally carry it into this question: what would it take to help make Granville a place people would want to stay in after the school years are over for a family?


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he and his family have lived in Our Fayre Village since 2004. Tell him about why you came, and stayed, at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.