New Member Class – Day 2

October 28, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

Today, we all struggled out of bed into the driving rain and heavy winds to reach Lawrenceville Presbyterian and the 2nd day of new member class.  At one point on Route 206 the road was partially flooded due to leaves blocking the storm drain.

This time, we started with each person telling a story of their experience with church.  Most (if not all) were positive stories of their experiences in church during a previous life.  A few were non-church stories involving church camp or even a special Christian performance.  A surprising number of people indicated a fondness for the formal ritual of church, but this isn’t surprising as many of the group had experience in a Roman Catholic or Byzantine Rite church (Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, etc) church.

After that we took a tour of the church buildings.  Normally this would end the second session, but Temple Micah (a Jewish temple sharing the church building on Fridays and Saturdays) had a Bat Mitzvah  (congratulations, Rachel!) scheduled for the morning so we had to get our tour in early.  We heard about the history of the church and saw most of the church rooms.

After that, we were almost out of time.  Pastor Jeff pointed out some important points in the handouts on Presbyterian terms and the importance of membership and talked about the Book of Confessions and the Book of Order.  We were then exhorted to read up at home.

Next week will be on stewardship and we will do Lectio Divina.  Pastor Jeff will be in Israel and Palestine with a presbytery group, and won’t be able to attend.  Joan Semenuk will be joining us.

There were a few faces missing this week.  I’m hoping that they were unable to make the class rather than deciding not to join.  We were also blessed with whole families this week because the terrible weather cancelled soccer games.

Reconnecting with Faith: Finding Your Home Retreat – January 26-28, 2007

October 27, 2006 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

Re-Connecting with Faith: Finding Your Home – Adult Retreat
Johnsonburg Presbyterian Center, Johnsonburg, NJ
January 26-28, 2007

Are you considering a church home?  Do you currently attend a church, but feel like you’re not getting everything you need?  Are you looking at spiritual alternatives?  Have you recently moved and need to find a new church?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, this retreat is for you!

For a variety of reasons, a large number of adults leave the spiritual home of their youth, or spirituality altogether.  However, after a while, many of these people feel like something is missing in their lives.  Returning to a spiritual community after an absence can be a bit challenging for many people.  Will you encounter the situations that caused you to leave?  Will you be accepted?  Will you be fulfilled?  All too often these challenges result in the person staying away from a spiritual community altogether, and everyone loses.

Or perhaps you’ve moved to a new area and are having trouble finding that church home like the one you left behind.  This can often be a long and difficult process.  After all, how do you go about “trying on” churches, or even denominations for that matter?

This weekend long retreat is held for adults who are currently without a spiritual home, or who are attending a church but don’t feel fed there.  We’ll take some time to tell our own stories; who we are and what it is we’re seeking.  We’ll also look at some of the challenges in finding a spiritual home and what some different churches have to offer.  Come and join those who have gone through this discernment process before and who can help you find your way.

For more information, contact the camp office at 908-852-2349 or info@campjburg.org.  The camp website is found at http://www.campjburg.org/.  The cost will be $45 per person, but if money is what’s keeping you from the retreat contact the camp – we have limited assistance available.

NJ Gay Activists – Pause While You’re Ahead

October 27, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Current Affairs, Life, Religion 

Gays and lesbians in NJ are celebrating the Supreme Court decision on Wednesday that will eventually give them the right to marry or enter an equivalent union.  However, some don’t believe that the decision goes far enough.

In this article, Steven Goldstein (the head of Garden State Equality) is quoted as saying that he will continue to fight for the term marriage to apply to gays and lesbians until there is “blood on these knuckles”.  He continues:  “We will outwork, outplay, outthink and demolish the other side”.  The Garden State Equality website says:

Those who would view today’s Supreme Court ruling as a victory for same-sex couples are dead wrong.  So help us God, New Jersey’s LGBTI community and our millions of straight allies will settle for nothing less than 100% marriage equality.  Let decision makers from Morristown to Moorestown, from Maplewood to Maple Shade, recognize that fundamental fact right now.

My day job is that of an IT Project Manager.  In both my college days and in the years since, I’ve received training in change management.  One fundamental principle of change management is that you must leave those impacted by the change enough time to process the change and make it a part of their world view.  Attempting to force a change upon masses who may not agree with the change in a short period of time by fiat is a bad idea – the change is doomed to be actively resisted at best and to fail at worst.  The bigger the change, the bigger the amount of time required to process it.  Any attempt to force change to happen faster merely causes a backlash against that change.  In the workplace that results in passive and aggressive behavior:  refusing to use the new process, intentionally working slowly to punish those forcing the change, excessive sick days, negative comments passed behind the backs of those making the change, etc.  In society, imagine failure to recognize the change as the best case, with actual violence as the worst case.

When a minority (numerically) wins a victory over the majority, they must behave as a good winner.  That means acknowledging the loser’s value even though they have not triumphed, and choosing not to emphasize the loser’s attributes/mistakes/ability.  “Yay, we won!” not “Yay, you lost!”  Then, the losers need to be given space to grieve for their loss and incorporate the new reality into their worldview.  Pressing for the next concession immediately is only going to infuriate those who are already wounded by the decision.  That puts them in fight or flight mode, and with societal change flight isn’t really a possibility.

This is a huge gain – in NJ in 178 days gays and lesbians will have full spousal rights after getting married/unioned.  It’s a complete win in all except the name.  Take the win, act gracefully, and if the term “marriage” is really so important come back later and push for it.  Come back in 2, 5, 10, 20 years and have the law changed to match what society is (will already be) doing – recognizing gay unions as marriages.  And that’s what my title means.  It’s not “quit while you’re ahead”, it’s “PAUSE while you’re ahead”.  Give the straight, non-supportive community time to process the change in their lives and build a track record where the world doesn’t end when the gay couple next door get married.

Let’s face it, time is on the side of the gay community.  Polls show that gay rights are increasingly supported by the public, and that the support is more positive among those who are younger.  Time will finally erase the stigma incorrectly applied to non-heterosexuals, but it will take time.  Just as it has taken time to reduce racism and gender bias.

Winners have a responsibility to losers to ensure that the loss is not so painful that the losers walk away from the game (or worse, change the rules to cause the winners to lose next time).  Losers have a responsibility to accept the loss and act graciously towards winners.  Both must do this because next time, they could be on the other side.

This principle is too often lost in today’s society, religion, and politics.

NJ and Gay Marriage

October 26, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Current Affairs, Life, Religion 

In case you missed it, the NJ Supreme Court made an important ruling on gay marriage yesterday.  In a 4-3 vote, the court ruled that while the NJ Constitution does not guarantee the right to “marry” to gay people, the court requires that the NJ legislature in the next 180 days pass laws to give all rights, privileges and responsibilities of married straight couples to committed gay couples.  Those include:

  1. a surname change without petitioning the court (after a marriage or union)
  2. ownership of property as tenants by the entirety, which would allow for both automatic transfer of ownership on death, and protection against severance and alienation
  3. survivor benefits under New Jersey’s Workers’ Compensation Act
  4. back wages owed to a deceased spouse
  5. compensation available to spouses, children, and other relatives of homicide victims under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act
  6. free tuition at any public institution of higher education for surviving spouses and children of certain members of the New Jersey National Guard
  7. tuition assistance for higher education for spouses and children of volunteer firefighters and first-aid responders
  8. tax deductions for spousal medical expenses
  9. an exemption from the realty transfer fee for transfers between spouses
  10. the testimonial privilege given to the spouse of an accused in a criminal action
  11. the requirement for an employer to extend health care coverage to a spouse
  12. statutory leave to care for an ill spouse
  13. the requirement that a bequest is automatically revoked to a spouse after a divorce
  14. the requirement for an estate to pay for support and maintenance of a surviving spouse when a will is contested
  15. parentage, custody, visitation and child support rights when a child is born during a marriage
  16. support requirements after a divorce (alimony)

It is important to note that the minority set of 3 justices in this case filed a dissent stating that they would prefer to grant marriage rights to homosexuals immediately rather than letting the legislature take action.  That means a 7-0 unanimous vote for gay marriage in some form, and a 4-3 split on whether or not to use the word “marriage”.

At least one state legislator has announced her intention to create an amendment to the NJ constitution restricting marriage to one man and one woman.  Another legislator has announced his intent to create and amendment to the NJ constitution to specifically redefine marriage to include gay couples.  Yet another legislator has announced his intention to impeach all justices involved.

I applaud this ruling.  I want to make my feelings and beliefs very clear.

While growing up, I was subject to the misconceptions and outright lies about gay people told to me by my parents.  I remember one conversation in the car at about age 13 in particular – so vividly that I remember exactly where on the street we were when it took place.  In that conversation, my parents informed me that all gays were diseased, that they all had sex with anybody and regularly had multiple partners, and that they were all drug addicts.  In their defense I will state that we do have one gay cousin on my mother’s side who at the time did fit all of that.  My parents’ bigoted attitude is shocking to me, particularly given their more permissive and understanding attitudes towards racial issues, gender issues, and even those of other religions.  Since then their attitudes have softened a bit but they are still against homosexuality in general and gay marriage in particular.

Luckily for me, my church activities brought me into contact with homosexual people.  At events like the Synod meeting and the Presbyterian Youth Triennium I came in contact with Presbyterians for Lesbian and Gay Concerns (PLGC – now known as More Light Presbyterians).  I discovered a group of people who had the same life issues that I had – going to work, buying groceries, changing cat litter, etc.  These were folks wrestling with the same issues that I did – issues of faith, issues of life.  Unfortunately, these folks also had other issues – being accepted in society, being accepted in the church.

Shortly after that I found that I had some gay friends at college.  Again – just regular folks who prefer romantic partners of the same gender.  All of the same joys and concerns were there, including building solid romantic relationships with one person and searching for a lifetime partner.  The only difference was that I couldn’t talk to others openly about these friends for fear of what others might do to them.

And that has continued until today.  I have one good friend that I met through camp who is a lesbian and in the middle of her search for a soulmate.  She may have found that soulmate now and I celebrate as I watch that relationship grow.  She’s having to make up for lost time – the issues that society (and particularly the church) have with her sexuality have slowed down her personal growth in relationship areas but she’s moving along now and will probably catch up soon.

So – to be clear.

I am in favor of full equal rights for homosexuals.  I include bisexuals and transgendered people in that group.

I am in favor of full marriage rights under the name “marriage” for a joining of two people of the same sex.

I am opposed to polygamy.

I feel that polygamy, bestiality and pedophilia are often linked to homosexuality by those whose arguments against homosexuality are weak.  This linkage is false.

I am in favor of full rights including marriage for homosexual couples within the church.  I have read the biblical arguments for and against.  I remain unconvinced that the Bible passages used to prohibit homosexuality are actually speaking of a committed relationship as opposed to temple rituals or prostitution.  Additionally, there is clear speech from Jesus regarding marriage, but there is also clear speech from Jesus regarding divorce and we seem to be free to ignore that as well.  In short – in the face of contradictory biblical arguments I must go where the Spirit leads me, and that is this position.

I believe that all parties in this debate must learn to speak to each other.  The folks at both extremes talk past each other.  On the one hand, the gay lobby fails to take into account the beliefs and fears of those who oppose them.  On the other hand, the anti-gay lobby fails to take into account God’s creation of gay people, the fallacy of choice of sexuality, and the effect on people’s lives that accusations of antisocial behavior hold.

I look forward to the day that I can attend the wedding in NJ of my friend mentioned above.

New Member Class – Day 1

October 22, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

Yesterday was also the first day of New Member Classes at the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville, NJ.  Classes are 9am to 10:30am and will continue on October 28 and November 4.  These classes are run about 3 times a year.

The classes are actually intended to explore membership and prepare you should you choose to join.  It looks like most of the group is headed towards joining.

There are about 20 people in this group.  Yesterday, 14 of them were there (several spouses were off handling soccer duty).  This was a very diverse group in terms of age and some other factors, though not racially.

The format was remarkably similar to the Johnsonburg Reconnecting with Faith retreat.  We all sat in a bit circle (well, oval – it was a big group) with the pastor and the Interim Associate for Pastoral Ministry (in this case Jill Cifelli) mixed in the group.  Each of us were asked to introduce ourselves and talk about what we do during the day.  Jill started, and because her daytime work is church-related we ended up with each person describing briefly their church search as well as their day job.  Carolyn came with me and explained that she is a practicing Catholic (seems she’d get good at it at some point!) and was there to support me.

After that, we watched the video Who Are We Presbyterians?.  This is a 20-minute video that does a good job of presenting the high points of Presbyterian faith and organization, though it does tend to concentrate a little too hard on diversity.

Then we were asked to talk about what we saw in the video.  A few people who are new to Presbyterianism stated that they really liked Salvation by Grace as compared to their prior church.  A few group members brought up the liberal/conservative divide (it wasn’t me, honest!) and we batted that around for a while.  The jist of that discussion is that this church favors the open discussion of issues while staunchly defending freedom of conscience.  The phrase used was “generous orthodoxy”.  In short – we have people all over the spectrum and we LIKE that, and encourage people to speak their mind.  Rigid control of belief within narrow confines is not required.  Having said that, the church averages out to someplace between the middle and liberal end of the spectrum.  Not quite far enough to be a More Light church, but certainly not at the conservative end.

The one thing that people said over and over is that this church cares more for each person as a PERSON than they do about their particular ideology.  People are not representatives of a theological or political position – they are PEOPLE who happen to have a personal theology and political opinion.  At least 1/2 of the group said that this was an important factor in their choice of Lawrenceville as a church home (and I’m in that list).

One last similarity to the Johnsonburg retreat appeared.  Carolyn put it best on the way home – “There are some hurt and angry people here.”  This makes complete sense to me.  You come to a church as a new adult member for one or more of a short list of reasons:

  • You left the church at some point because you were not spiritually at home, unhappy or even hurt by the church.
  • You drifted away from the church because of disinterest.
  • You have children, and need to find a church home for baptism, sunday school, etc.  Or maybe you want to get married in a church.
  • You’ve recently moved and need to find a new church.
  • You’ve never been involved in a church, but you’ve found the redeeming power of Christ.

Based on the stories that were told, the latter reason may have been a part of one or two people’s reasons out of 14.  The rest of the reasons covered everybody.

I was amazed at the distances that people travel to join this church.  One new member is driving from upper Bucks County, PA.  A few others are coming from Princeton.  I’m coming from Hamilton.  We had one couple where one of the two people cited “it’s the closest church” as the reason for joining.  These folks either came back to the church that they grew up in or had a deliberate search path (not as regimented as mine, but just as comprehensive).  (Side note – just by listening I’ve learned a lot to incorporate in the next retreat.)

At the end of the session, we had a moment to fill out some paperwork.  We have to write a brief biography that will be published in the church bulletin and newsletter after we join – I’m still working on that.  We also had our pictures taken to be put in the bulletin and newsletter.

Next week we have a session on stewardship.  At some point, we’re going to participate in a session of Lectio Divina but I’m not sure which week.  In mid-November on a Wednesday we meet with the session, and then are introduced (and in some cases baptized?) on November 19.

I’ll write up the remaining classes as well.  Keep watching this blog!

The Interim Associate for Pastoral Ministry is my co-pilot; God is in the back seat

October 22, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Flying, Religion 

Yesterday afternoon, I went flying with Nolan Huizenga, the Interim Associate for Pastoral Ministry at Lawrenceville Presbyterian.  Nolan and another person are sharing the duties of the Associate Pastor at the church while the church undergoes a search for a new Associate Pastor.  (and I’m pretty sure he’s a Candidate for a call – he’ll make somebody a great pastor someday)

Nolan is a little ahead of me in flying – he has his Private license and his Instrument rating while I’m just finishing the work for my Instrument rating.  However, he doesn’t get to fly much (I imagine that a church paycheck will do that).  When he learned that I am an active pilot, he made his interest in accompanying me known (we pilots call that “begging” with the same cool demeanor expected of us).

So, yesterday we went up.  I needed 2.5 hours of cross-country time.  We flew from South Jersey Regional Airport (VAY) in Mount Holly to Cape May airport (WWD) flying essentially due south across the lower 1/2 of the state.  On the way home, we headed up the coast past Atlantic City most of the way to Barnegat, then turned inland, over Lakehurst, and up to Robbinsville.  We then headed to Lawrenceville and after contacting the Trenton tower, we took pictures of the church from the air.  Then we headed south to Hamilton and I showed Nolan the aerial view of the solar panels on my house.  We headed south back to Mount Holly (with a few zigzags to make sure we had the required hours) and landed.

We had a good time.  The weather was pretty good for pictures – a bit overcast and a little windy but not too bad.  He will let me know when the pictures are uploaded and I will point you there as well.

Update – the pictures are uploaded at Nolan’s Site.  Here is a picture of the Lawrenceville Presbyterian Church.

Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville from the air

Friends in need

October 18, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Life, Religion 

I have a few friends in need.

These are folks that I know both in person and through the Internet.  Most of us live far enough apart that we don’t see each other often, but we do communicate just about every day (with lots of other people) online.

These folks are all going through some rough transitions in their lives.  I know what two of them are about, and in the third case I don’t even know what’s going on – just that this person needs prayers or good karma or something.

So, please pray for/think good thoughts about/send some good karma to my friends A, J and L.  (No, they don’t wear black suits and don’t work under a bridge in Brooklyn.)

On “They” and “We”

October 17, 2006 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

The crisis in the Presbyterian Church (USA) is being fought by minorities from opposite ends of the conservative/liberal spectrum.  The fighters might not like us calling them conservative or liberal (though they don’t have a problem using those terms for the OTHER folks) – they prefer terms like “Biblically faithful” or “non-discriminatory”.  But the bottom line is that the noise is coming from those at the ends.

The folks at each end will tell you that THEY actually represent the silent majority.

From where I sit, it appears that perhaps 10% of the church represent the liberal activist point of view.  Another 20% represent the conservative activist point of view.  That leaves 70% in the middle.  (For the record – I consider myself to be part of that 70% but I lean towards beliefs congruent with the liberal activists.  I feel the need to compromise – the folks at the ends do not.)

What concerns me most is that the language used in the church today is increasingly “They” language.  “The liberals refuse to be faithful to Scripture.”  “Evangelicals continue to discriminate against gay people.”  We are all about THEY.

What happened to WE?  We are the followers of Christ, in our sinfulness.  We are the joyful people of God, celebrating His majesty.

I got very close yesterday to e-mailing the church and cancelling my place in Saturday’s new member class after reading one of these divisive blog posts.  As someone returning to the church, I feel somewhat like a child being adopted.  Adoption agencies look at the stability of the family before allowing an adoption.  I feel a bit like the family that I’m about to join isn’t very stable, even though home life looks good on Sundays.

We all need a little more WE and a lot less THEY in the church.

12 or 19 Years

October 15, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Life 

Twelve years ago today, Carolyn and I were married at St. Anthony of Padua church in Butler, NJ.

Nineteen years ago today, Carolyn and I had our first date, attending a showing of Monty Python and the Holy Grail at the Rutgers University Student Center in New Brunswick, NJ.

We’re still happy.

(This is being time-posted.  We have better things to think about today than blogging.)

Presbyterian Podcast

October 13, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Religion 

A couple of younger pastors have gotten together to produce Decently and in Order – the first Presbyterian podcast.  About every 2 weeks they get together in person or on the phone, and chat about various topics related to the Presbyterian Church (USA), Christianity in general, or other subjects.  Their programs run about an hour, and are also available from iTunes.  The latest episode is found here.

(For those who don’t know – a podcast is an audio recording, usually in MP3 format, consisting of a program on some subject.  They are often listened to on an Apple iPod.)

This week’s episode talks a lot about the current troubles in the church, prompted by some web postings by More Light Presbyterians.  The episode also talks about our moderator’s question “Why do we need presbyteries?”  There are several frivolous articles on this one.  Be warned – the discussion of one website comes right up to the line of Not Safe For Work.

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