Thursday, October 03, 2019

Notes from my Knapsack 10-10-19

Notes from my Knapsack 10-10-19

Jeff Gill


Greek Revival and humane renewal


Ann Lowder recently stepped down as executive director of the Robbins Hunter Museum after a baker's dozen years of service.


Thirteen lucky years were good for the Avery Downer House and the museum which Robbins Hunter, Jr. bequeathed to the community. We will miss her, but she's earned a little extra spare time to pursue her grandchildren and other interests.


I got to meet her soon after the village bicentennial in 2005, and we had much to talk about around the characters of both Granville and of that remarkable architectural gem – previous Robbins Hunter Museum directors, and Robbins Hunter himself, whom she knew.


Avery House Antiques has a near-legendary history in this community, but those were raucous and cluttered days when that business was in the heart of the village. Today the grounds and interior are peaceful and orderly, as well as welcoming, and that's in no small part due to the personality as well as the leadership of Ann.


We started talking early on about Victoria Woodhull, whose memorial was one of Robbins Hunter, Jr.'s last additions to the Greek Revival gem on Broadway, his way of saluting the national bicentennial coming in 1976, so he honored the first woman to run for President of the United States by putting her figure into a clock tower, at the top of the hour gliding out to regard the state of the nation from her balcony.


Some weren't sure that this was an animated monument that suited a Greek Revival masterpiece, but Ann saw her way clear to restore and renew not only the clock, but our local appreciation of Victoria Woodhull, bringing both local and national speakers in to share aspects of her remarkable story.


And it occurred to me, as we honored Ann Lowder's story, that in many minds was the recent premier of the "Downton Abbey" movie. It's set in 1927, and that happens to be the year in which Victoria Woodhull died at the age of 88. We often talk of her first 44 years in the United States, but the fact of the matter is that she lived another 44 years as a grand lady in a manor house at Bredon's Norton, just up the road from Tewkesbury Abbey where her only other memorial can be found, behind the high altar.


Dowager Countess Violet at Downton Abbey is 85 and unwell in 1927; the very real Victoria Woodhull was in her last decades a fascinating mix of both her and Lady Cora, the American bride of Lord Grantham. Woodhull didn't marry a lord, but she came close, and got a house filled with servants and a role in an abbey that, from a distance, doesn't look too far off of Highclere Castle where the TV show and movie was shot.


Ann, I noted at her retirement fĂȘte, combined the strength of Mr. Carson the head butler, and the grace and humane gifts of Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper, in how she brought the staff and board and volunteers and guests of the Avery Downer House together for so many wonderful events.


But for most of us, she will always be our Lady Mary, beautifully greeting one and all as we came to see what the Robbins Hunter Museum had to share next. We honor her best by carrying on!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's looking forward to the next 170 or so years of our local history! Tell him what you're looking ahead to at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Faith Works 10-5-19

Faith Works 10-5-19

Jeff Gill


How changes will change church



For the last two weeks, I've been attempting to outline some major social changes that, in my opinion, have a major impact on church life not just in Licking County but across the United States (and Canada, for that matter).


These aren't things which I'm attempting to forecast or predict, but I'm letting y'all know are happening right now; in most cases, have been happening and are continuing to gather in intensity and scope. Where it will all end is another question – I could just refer you to the book of Revelation, but that's a slightly longer-range forecast than I'm engaged in here.


As I've already said, I'm not going deep, and I'm not describing it all, but I am trying to sketch what's rocking and unnerving congregations even as many are unclear about what external factors are creating the internal stresses. And I want to wrap this series up with two areas which are somewhat more subtle, but I think even more momentous for how they have and are changing the lives of gathered faith communities.


Entertainment is usually a dirty word when applied to worship and a church organization. As in "that's entertainment, not prayer and praise" et cetera. People use the label "entertainment" to condemn worship styles they don't like and youth programs they don't approve of (there's a whole column series right there).


But as both a congregational minister and historian of sorts, I have read lots of old newspapers, including much of the run of this fine publication coming up next year on its bicentennial, since Benjamin Briggs founded the Advocate in 1820. And as I read Ohio newspapers from earlier centuries, and church newsletters from even just decades before, I have to point something out: churches and Sunday worship, both the morning and evening services (remember evening services?), were for most people for a very long time the one form of, well, entertainment they received. They had the Holy Bible and Pilgrim's Progress at home, and they heard music each weekend in church. It wasn't meant to be a concert, and yes, militia companies and other groups would occasionally put together a band, but the one regular musical offering and spoken presentation, telling stories and weaving in current events, was in worship.


Traveling performers might come through once a year or so, but until radio and movies and television and earbuds came along, for a very long time church had an unintentional but very real monopoly on visual and aural entertainment. As media became an equally unintentional competition, Christendom still pervaded popular culture enough that it didn't quite feel like competition. But over the last century, and even more intensely in the last twenty years, church is competing and faith is struggling against direct competition for worldview and mindset and tastes and expectations in terms of, well, entertainment. And in a consumer culture, that has implications.


If I lost you on how entertainment culture has shifted to change the landscape for delivering a worship and congregational experience, the other topic may find you even more bewildered, but bear with me, because this I suspect will make sense to quite a few. We also, in the life of the church, have seen our former near-monopoly on fundraising change in some very dramatic ways.


Again, this was never (as far as I can tell) intentional, but on the American frontier and in early Ohio if there needed to be funds raised to do good and better humanity, the hub was the local church or churches. Those dollars flowed through congregational life, and both directly and indirectly helped maintain the local church while going to causes and families and missions and such wherever else.


Today, what checkout can you go through – even self-checkout interrogates you electronically! – and not be asked to give to some charity? And I hasten to note I am NOT implying there's a nefarious purpose there, either: all that money, I'm fairly sure, goes where they say it does. But you now associate the good feeling of giving and your empathy with that cause with [insert major retail outlet here].


Giving is by card and by text and by individual choice; group efforts, even non-church ones today, are struggling. That consumer culture again is prevailing in people's hearts and mind; for church life, our former near-monopoly on the concept and impact and practices of philanthropy has long ago ended, but the ripple effect into our contributions and budgets is only recently being wrestled with, by our boards and organizational officers.


What does it all mean? Stay tuned, friends…


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's still figuring all this stuff out himself! Tell him what you think it all means at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.