Saturday, February 22, 2020

Faith Works 2-29-20

Faith Works 2-29-20

Jeff Gill


Pain from the past, healing for the future



Yes, I had an "extra" column last week about the recent announcement that the Boy Scouts of America is declaring bankruptcy due to past claims against the organization around child abuse, and changes in many states to open up the statue of limitations to the 1970s and earlier. I won't rehash my sad acceptance of the necessity of that act, or why I'm still committed to the Scouting program as it is today.


The stories of former cases woke a number of memories for me. I have never been molested, but dealing with multiple cases of that horrible circumstance, and the denial so many in authority were in back in the 1980s & 90s, and still in some quarters today, is not a pleasant recollection.


And then at the end of the week, a person I've never met but whose work and writings have long inspired me, Jean Vanier of L'Arche (a global ministry with people having disabilities and cognitive impairments) was revealed after an investigation to have had inappropriate relationships with a number of people, while in his position of authority and responsibility. He died last year at the age of 90, but it was still hard to read those stories today. I was surprised and shocked and in sorrow over it. Again. But I shouldn't have been, I guess.


The Catholic priest who first talked to me, at Scout camp, about my having a call to ministry -- in my own tradition, not his! -- and encouraged me in developing those gifts was slated to do a scripture reading at my ordination. At the last minute, he was transferred to Arizona. I learned later he was suspected of molesting young men at his parish, and is now in prison for life after being convicted of molesting young men in Arizona.


So another friend, a Methodist pastor who had served as waterfront director at the Scout camp I ran one last year after getting married, stepped in and did the scripture reading. He was later convicted of molesting boys in his care, released after serving his time, and re-offended. He was married with a child, a Vietnam veteran and former police officer. He almost certainly committed acts at camp but was never charged with any. He died a few years ago, his family insisting he never did anything wrong despite multiple witnesses and convictions to the contrary. His obituary broke my heart.


I've been lied to and lied about by regional ministers in my own tradition. Plural. And I've had to help clean up the damage in pastoral mopping and sweeping, up to and including suicide, left by fellow clergy who have had affairs while in service with congregations that trusted them. I've lost count of the conversations I've had with people whose faith is rattled but not shaken in God's grace, but their trust in the church is demolished down to the foundations and a wobbling remnant cornerstone.


Thomas Merton's relationships with women, outside of the monastery where he did so much good work that's blessed many for so long, were inappropriate at best, exploitative at worst; Vanier's were not with the core members of L'Arche but still with volunteers and peers and so were still unhealthy and abusive, as he would have well known. Painful though it might be, I think we have to talk about these things and admit them and try to learn from them, to be cautious if not suspicious, to exempt no one from following the rules no matter how respected or loved. Guidelines exist to keep you on the road and out of the ditch; anyone who says they have a special right to wander all over the road and on and off the right-of-way at will should be mistrusted immediately.


You cannot tell at a glance, or even necessarily on long acquaintance, who is going to transgress, and some need up to protect them from themselves, let alone to be on guard on behalf of those who can't protect themselves.


Because you really can't tell other than: do they follow the rules and honor restrictions, or do they think the rules are for other people? The only way to know is to insist everyone follow them, and enforce accordingly.


I should know by now, but I keep getting surprised anyhow.


It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.

~ Psalm 118:8


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he knows to trust in the Lord but keeps hoping a few more people could be trustworthy. Tell him how you hold onto your faith at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Notes from my Knapsack 2-27-20

Notes from my Knapsack 2-27-20

Jeff Gill


Waiting to see what develops


Apparently the question "Is Granville welcoming to business?" is right up there with clickbait like "one weird trick" and "you won't believe what happened to" for getting people interested in what you're saying.


When I wrote my last column, I was actually entirely ignorant of what Adam Weinberg, president of Denison University had said at a public event; when I was asked about the coincidence, I replied "this is what happens when two people who've both been paying attention, and are both interested in this community, start thinking out loud about where we're going."  


I saw what Adam said up on the hill, and how the mayor and council responded from their viewpoint on Broadway, and honestly, I think both have useful things to say, and I look forward to hearing an extended conversation between those perspectives.


But time is, as they say, a'wastin'. I've milked more than my fair share of columns over twenty years from watching the formerly bucolic drive from Franklin County to Newark turn from a two-lane road to an overcrowded artery to a highway paralleling the old road to seeing the interchanges start to erupt with new construction and expanding businesses. My wife and I lived in Newark while she earned her Ph.D. at The Ohio State University, and we both got to know the Old Worthington Road all too well in the 1990s.


But she got her doctorate, and years too late we got a speedy drive that looped us around New Albany, cut down the trip to Port Columbus, now John Glenn International Airport, and pulled us so close to Easton people grocery shop there.


As for the concerns about "losing a way of life" . . . well, yes. I mean, I get it, but . . . if you know anything at all about our local history, you know that the story from 1805 or 1802 or 1773 or go back a few thousand years is that our lifestyles keep changing in Granville.


We got here too late for multiple markets on Broadway; I'm glad I knew Taylor Drug as it was in the middle of the block, and have fond memories of Hare Hollow and Victoria's Parlour and so many recollections of the Granville Times bookshop basement. I dream about some of those places. I really do.


And we got to know Denison before the Slayter Crater was dug, when parking was scattered and rare, when Sigma Chi lived in Sigma Chi and the pool was where the weight room is. I remember the locker rooms right out of "Hoosiers" and labs out of "Son of Flubber." Sure, it's all fun to recall.


Heraclitus told us 2,500 years ago that life is change, and the last couple of millennia have only worked to prove him right. Things are changing, and will continue to change. The question is, will we attempt to anticipate and direct those changes, or will we try to play the role of King Canute, and order the tide to roll backwards?


Ask Canute how that worked out for him.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he has seen some change in his time and expects to participate in a bit more yet. Tell him how we can help guide Granville's changes at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The problem with Boy Scouts

Special to the Advocate 2-20-20

Jeff Gill


The problem with Boy Scouts



If you're looking for someone who's giving up on the Boy Scouts of America, I'm not the right person to talk to.


I have now been a member of this 110 year old organization for 50 years. I started as a Bear Cub in third grade and haven't looked back. Webelos, Arrow of Light, Eagle Scout, Woodbadge, Scout camp staff for many years and still part of Cub Day Camp volunteering (Up in the air, Junior Birdmen!).


And if you want to know about problems in the organization, I'm like any other adult leader, usually called a "Scouter," who has been in Scouting for more than fifteen minutes. Local unit leaders like to complain about the district, district folk beef about how the council makes decisions, and we all wonder how national manages to find the light switch in the morning. Sounds like most large organizations, doesn't it?


That's the blessing and the curse of Scouting: we're a large organization, hidden behind small groups of Scouts out hiking at camp or doing service projects on your street. Cub Scout dens or Scouts BSA patrols are the heart of the program, five or six young people at a time learning to work together, learning from each other as they work to complete a task or achieve an award (usually a patch, Scouting is big on patches). You can easily never notice the forest as you work among the little trees as they grow; the Scouters in the program can go years and not even be sure of their council name, let alone where the national offices are (Irving, Texas).


But to support and maintain the mission and values of this century and more old organization across two million and more Scouts, you need the forest. There has to be a national council, providing oversight and maintaining leadership standards for the adults who make sure kids are safe and activities are appropriate.


When I went from being a Scout to becoming a Scouter as an adult, I had that moment of shock that is nowadays referred to as "adulting." I learned that like the duck on the pond, the visible part may look calm, but beneath the surface, the feet are paddling fiercely. It turns out that even as Scouts BSA, the older group in Scouting, strongly affirms youth leadership in decision making, the grown-ups still have plenty to do. Not just driving us to camp. Paperwork, plans, rules, training.


Today, I would put the Youth Protection Training that Scouting mandates for ALL adult leaders at the top of youth serving organizations. It's so good we share it for free online. But I'm also old enough to know that in the 1970s and earlier we didn't have it. We assumed good will and best wishes, and allowed predators leeway without meaning to, struggled to deal with the aftermath of harm in an era when even law enforcement and prosecutors flinched from dealing with child abuse.


The bankruptcy filing the national organization is going through is a deferred payment for the failings of that era. Victims deserve compensation and support; I also want them to know that Scouting is different and better because of their honesty and courage.


Today, I think Will Rogers' opinion from the 1920's is still true. When there were controversies around the program back then, he went to a Boy scout jamboree, and after looking around and listening, Rogers said "The only problem with Boy Scouts is, there aren't enough of them." 

Monday, February 17, 2020

Faith Works 2-22-20

Faith Works 2-22-20

Jeff Gill


Practical reasons for going to church



Obviously as a parish minister, I have a bias in favor of attending weekly worship.


There are many arguments made for regular church attendance, and I know non-attenders can find many of the usual ones somewhat self-serving, especially when working clergy are making them.


I can't change who I am, but I'd like to offer up some slightly different reasons that are why I go to church regularly, even when I'm on vacation or on the road. It may not be my tradition or even faith, but a religious service each week is important, for what I think of as practical if personal reasons.


Well, practical to me, anyhow.


Why do I attend worship?


Reason one: to stop time. Science fiction author Ray Cummings first said a hundred years ago that "Time is what keeps everything from happening at once," and many physicists have borrowed that line. But in ordinary existence, especially our modern 24/7 lives where everything is always open and anything can be ordered at 2 am and text messages or email show up all hours . . . we need something to give order and structure to our week.


Sabbath-keeping and Sunday observance is another subject for another day, but in pure practical application, I need Sunday worship to help me know, in my bones, that one week ended, and a new one begins. I could be all theological and half-religious and talk about being renewed and strengthened for a new week, but I just need sometimes to be able to say "stop the world, I want to get off." Church is where I get off the merry-go-round for a moment, before I have to clamber aboard again and head into Monday.


Reason two: to defeat time. Just as a Sunday service puts a punctuation mark on the week, the nature of the words and music and architecture puts me in touch with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (let alone Jesus), with Catherine of Siena and Julian of Norwich, with Thomas Cranmer and T.S. Eliot. In worship, I hear my grandmother singing in certain hymns; in the sanctuary, I see Van and Joe and Jane in their usual pews, if not quite visible to the ordinary eye.  I anticipate the End of Days with equanimity, and recall the purposes of Creation with satisfaction. During the average worship hour, I'm all over the last four thousand years and anticipating eternity. Time is different, even if they do have a clock where I can see it as I preach.


Reason three: to find peace. No, not always where you think. Different orders of worship put silence or prayer in various locations of the service, but the peace I find in a worship gathering is in the gently swinging hinges of the elements of the liturgy. During communion, it's more in the waiting than in the partaking; out of the music, it's the rests, the pauses as much as the notes themselves that make my heart sing. There's peace in certain faces out in the assembly; there are angels in the architecture, but not always in art as much as the obscurer parts of the structure. But I do find peace in worship, even when I'm the worship leader and preacher. I hope everyone else gets more than I do out of it, but I get plenty.


Reason four: to remember who I am. Rick Warren had a lovely summary of the Bible at the opening of his "The Purpose Driven Life." Pastor Warren says "It's not about you." Yep! Rick's on to something there. Out in the world, in line at the BMV, writing newspaper columns, you can start to crawl inside your own head to where you start to think "it's all about me." Church is a great place to find antidotes to that.


Sometimes, I get called away. A crisis at the hospital, once I just got sick, and I wasn't at church, where I'm the senior minister. And ya know what? Church still happened. Yay God! The basics were handled, and they didn't need me at all. For any of us, worship is a communal experience, which both lifts each of us up, but also reminds us that we ourselves are not the whole deal. Even a soloist needs a choir behind them and an accompanist with them. And yes, worship reminds me Whose I am, which is the core reality of who I am.


Which brings us to Reason five: to meet God. Because God does show up in worship. Yes, yes, you can meet God anywhere. But at church I know I will.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he goes to church. Tell him about your experiences with the practical benefits of attending worship of any sort in any place at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.