2008: My personal year in review

December 31, 2008 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Admin, Job Search, Life, Religion, Work, Young Adult, Youth 

Good riddance.

It’s not that the year was all bad.  Some of it was really very good.  It’s just that the bad outweighed the good.  Most of this was due to one very bad thing.

This was a particularly bad year.  I’m not going to go into details, but you should assume that life at my former employer wasn’t particularly fun before August.  In August, I was laid off from a job that I’d held for 13 1/2 of the last 15 years.  It only helps slightly that this employer ultimately filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November.

And if that wasn’t enough – the economy tanked at the same time.  The cause of the company’s failure wasn’t solely the economy, but it was a big part of it.  Jobs just plain dried up from September through early December.  There are signs that things are easing now.

If it weren’t for positive things and positive people in the rest of my life, I don’t know how I would have handled this.

The good:
I LOVE my youth group.  The young men and women that I work with more or less every week are all wonderful, and I learned a lot about myself, them, life and God over the last year.  Sunday afternoon/evening is the high point of my week.

The summer trip to the Montreat Youth Conference was one of the top 10 experiences of my life.  I truly feel that God spoke to me that week in some fashion.  I know that my faith deepened, and that the same happened to most if not all of the group from our church that went on the trip.  I also feel that I grew outside of the religious aspects.  (Of course, this high leaves me wondering where God is in my life now, when things are not so good.)  The biggest thing that I learned this year – while I care a lot about our youth, they care about me too.

Putting together the Moderator Meet and Greet event in April was a lot of fun as well as being a lot of work.  I met a lot of new and wonderful people.  The event was well attended, and I hear that it helped commissioners make a decision at General Assembly.

Meeting in person and working online with other church leaders has been mostly positive.  I’m amazed at how strong the online Presbyterian-and-beyond religious community is.  I’ve felt support when I needed it and given and watched it flow the other way when others needed it.

Serving as a deacon has been rewarding.  This is work that I know that I can do and do well, and that is relatively easy, and that aids the church.  That’s sort of the point, isn’t it?  I just have to be careful not to schedule myself too heavily (like the Sunday that I had coffee service AND served communion AND agreed to set up tables for a later event).

My committee studying hospitality, visitor and community issues for the church has nearly completed its work.  We have identified 19 issues and more than 19 suggestions for how to change/fix/handle those issues.  We present to the Session in February.  The team has worked hard and learned a lot.

Serving as the new webmaster for the church’s website and weekly e-mailed newsletter has been a growth experience for me.  It has forced me to learn new technical skills and also to generate a little content independently.

The bad:
The worst has to have been the controversy over my blog in March/April/May/June of this year.  I don’t know if people realize it, but the church was about 12 hours from losing me in April – the only things keeping me were the facts that Youth Sunday and the Moderator Meet and Greet were imminent responsibilities of mine.  This event only took 2nd to the loss of my job in how poorly I felt while in the middle of it.

I am also continually dismayed by the negative tones in some conversations/fights/battle-royales in the church community over the hot button issues of today.  Those of us within the church fight harder and with less love than we do with our colleagues in other denominations or religions, even though the points of disagreement are far smaller and unimportant.

Home life continues to be solid.  Carolyn and I have ridden out the very rough patches of the 2nd half of the year with no negative effect on our relationship.  Most of this is due to Carolyn’s very conservative nature when it comes to money, and the strong planning ability that both of us have.  She continues to be supportive at a very difficult time in my life and it has brought us if anything closer together.

The cats are still fine.  They turn 13 tomorrow.  Isaac is still suffering from a bit of arthritis in his hips, but the daily Cosequin is helping.  Both of them still have a fair amount of kitten left and still go running around like crazy animals occasionally.  Albert has had no recurrence of his kidney issues.

The house is fine.  We have had to put off a bit of home repair work (mainly fixing the fireplace chimney that failed a while back) for economic reasons.  Nothing important is wrong, and we continue to love living here.  It’s a great neighborhood – not too noisy, not too quiet, and plenty of kids running around.
My car has had a rough year.  I was rear-ended in July and minor damage was done to my rear bumper.  It was fixed pretty quickly, but it took about 4-5 months before the insurance companies paid my deductible.  Here’s a tip – no matter how late you are, don’t pass on the right on a one-lane on-ramp.


No major changes.  On the Montreat trip I lost a number of pounds due to the stairmaster-like qualities of the village of Montreat (to get anywhere you have to walk down a big hill and up a big hill).  The emotional strain of being out of work took off some more.  I’ve managed to end the year a net 10 pounds down.  Otherwise, my health remains the same.

I’m hoping that 2009 will be a combination of the continuance of good things, and an end to the bad things that are happening now.  I see new hope in the elections of both our PC(USA) Moderator and the new President of the USA.  It remains to be seen if that hope turns into a better reality for the country, church, and me.

Happy New Year!

Moderator Candidate Meet and Greet – How did it go?

April 29, 2008 by · 6 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

It went very well.


On Friday, April 25, 2008 fifty-eight Presbyterians (and one Catholic) descended on the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville (NJ) in order to meet and hear from all four candidates for Moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  They came from as far away as New York City, Philadelphia, and Delaware.

The evening started when the candidates arrived before the event.  At their request we gave them a private room in which to eat dinner and generally get to chat – this is apparently the first time that all four of them were able to meet privately.

A little after 7 we introduced all members of the Central Jersey Moderator Candidate Host Committee – a group that was put together to hold this event.  We also sang “Happy Birthday” to Rich Richards, as it was the right day.  (Apologies to Andy James – it was also his birthday but we didn’t know it at the time.)

Then we introduced all four candidates and were led in prayer by Rev. Jeff Vamos – the pastor of the Lawrenceville church and a commissioner from the Presbytery of New Brunswick.

After the prayer, and at the suggestion of a commissioner, we had each commissioner, alternate or advisory delegate quickly stand and give their name and presbytery/seminary.   Then each candidate was given up to 5 minutes to make an opening statement from the lectern.  The order of introduction and statement was determined randomly earlier in the week by my Catholic co-worker (who could care less who is elected Moderator :-).

Bruce Reyes-Chow

First up was Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, of the Presbytery of San Francisco.  Bruce’s address concentrated on his experiences in his unusual home church and how it reaches out to those who have not felt an affinity for “traditional” churches.  He asked the difficult question of whether or not we are willing to work to make the church a place that young people will feel welcome – “Do we really want young people in the church?”

Bill Teng

Then Rev. Bill Teng of National Capital Presbytery spoke.  Bill’s address spoke of how he is a product of PC(USA) mission through his great-grandfather, who was one of the first Presbyterian elders in China.  This has created a sense of call to express gratitude towards those who worked with his ancestors.  He also spoke of the importance of the basic goals of the church – mission and evangelism.

Roger Shoemaker

Then Elder Roger Shoemaker of Homestead Presbytery followed.  Roger’s address spoke of the need to enrich the roots of the church rather than spending time chopping branches off the top of the structure.  He believes that an increased focus on local congregations will help stem the loss of membership.

Carl Mazza

And last Rev. Carl Mazza of New Castle Presbytery completed the opening remarks.  Carl spoke of his years of mission work through Meeting Ground, and of a new definition of the church that isn’t bound by 4 walls.  He told a story of a woman who experienced the love of God and connection to others while washing dishes at Meeting Ground’s shelter.

The seating area of the room was laid out in 4 U-shaped “pods”.  After the opening remarks, we had the candidates each take a pod.  Every 15 minutes we rotated the candidates so that all pods got a chance to speak to all candidates.  The folks at the tables came up with the questions.

Pod 1

Pod 2

The questions in the pods covered a variety of subjects, and centered on the big questions.  I was busy keeping things going, so I was unable to hear many of the questions, but others have told me some of what was asked.  A topic mentioned by many is the problem/question of keeping young people involved in the church after confirmation or high school.  As always, homosexuality was talked about – one pod asked a question about it of each candidate and the responses covered all parts of the spectrum.  There were many questions and answers about how we can work together while disagreeing – about how we can stay together.  The Form of Government rewrite and the Belhar Confession were covered.  All of the discussion was earnest, open, honest, and respectful.  Laughter was heard at all tables from time to time.  (If you are looking for specifics of the candidate’s position, I invite you to go to their websites (linked above under the pictures) and ask them directly.  All have encouraged such conversation.)

After the Q&A time was completed, we had time for 20-25 minutes of unstructured mingling.  I invited those who still had questions to “find … hunt for … stalk their favorite candidate” to get to hear their answer.

We ended the evening with a prayer led by Rev. Jon Seitz, in a circle of joined hands.  After that people continued to talk and arrange other times to talk.

One very important aspect of the evening was the connection of the commissioners, advisory delegates, and other Presbyterians with each other.  Friendships were renewed and made and many people who knew each other only as an e-mail address, blog or Facebook friend were able to meet in person.

The host committee would like to again thank the session, deacons and staff of the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville for lending us the building and equipment and helping us find what we needed.  Jeff Vamos was also indispensable in the planning and execution of the evening, as well as providing some discretionary financing.

Central Jersey Moderator Candidate Host Committee

  • Mark Smith, Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville
  • Carolyn Smith, St. Gregory the Great R. C. Church, Hamilton, NJ
  • Sara Ferguson, Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville
  • Laura Ferguson, Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville
  • Bob Smith, Presbyterian Church of Toms River (NJ)
  • Ellen Smith, Presbyterian Church of Toms River
  • Rev. Jon Seitz, parish associate at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Trenton, NJ
  • Rev. Neal Presa, pastor of Middlesex Presbyterian Church (NJ)
  • Rich Richards, youth director, Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville
  • Grier Booker-Richards, Princeton Seminary student and intern at Lawrenceville
  • Peter Billings, Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville

Moderator Candidate Meet-and-Greet Reminder

April 15, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Uncategorized 

Lawrenceville Moderator Meet and Greet Flyer
Click the image to download a PDF of the flyer.

This is just a reminder.  The Moderator Candidate Meet-and-Greet event will be held Friday, April 25, 2008 from 7 to 9pm at the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville (NJ).

Apparently the Times of Trenton published an event notice listing April 15 as the date.  We were informed of the error by a very nice woman who unfortunately was standing in the parking lot of the church looking for the event.  The Central Jersey Moderator Candidate Host Committee would like to apologize to anyone who showed up at the church today expecting the event.

We’ve gone back and checked, and the press release that we sent out lists the correct date of April 25.

We hope to see you there a week from Friday!

The Moderator Candidate Meet and Greet and Presbyterian Outlook

March 27, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Religion 

In today’s Presbyterian News Service releases, there is an article about the Moderator Candidate Meet and Greet event at the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville NJ on April 25.

The article makes mention that usually the first joint appearance of the moderator candidates happens at the General Assembly site itself, at a dinner held by Presbyterian Outlook.

The Central Jersey Moderator Candidate Host Committee would like to make clear the fact that we are not in competition with Outlook.  Some of us are subscribers to this fine publication.  We feel that this event is different than the Outlook dinner.  Our event is aimed at local Presbyterians, local GA delegations and others in NJ and surrounding states while the Outlook dinner is intended for General Assembly delegations.  We’re a little more like the conference tournaments which serve as a run-up to the NCAA’s March Madness Tournament.

UPDATE: I got a note from Jack Haberer.  He’s cool with the NJ events and even excited about them.  He does need a reporter to cover them – if you’re interested contact him at the Outlook link above.

Week Roundup

March 20, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Life, Religion 

This week’s roundup comes a little early – I’m taking Good Friday off from work.

Sunday – After worship I went to the Adult Forum on the capital campaign which included a manse tour.  The manse tour included lunch.  This solved a problem for me – Carolyn was in North Jersey at a wake for a cousin-in-law of hers.  Later in the evening I went to Sr. High youth group where we prepared further for Youth Sunday.  I have an assignment – I need to find Old Testament scripture(s) to match up with the Prodigal Son.  (Feel free to suggest some in comments or e-mail)

Work this week has been quiet.  My boss passed her Project Management Professional exam on Monday (on the first try!) and we celebrated with donuts and bagels on Tuesday.  The entire group is taking her out for lunch next week.  Other than that I’m doing design work for a project.

Planning for the moderator candidate event is progressing.  I’m finding a huge disparity in how presbyteries handle the list of commissioners.  Some are treating it like I’m some kind of identity thief and insisting on forwarding the event information to their commissioners.  One stated clerk said that he’d look at the invitation and determine whether or not it was “appropriate” for the commissioners.  Other presbyteries are being very forthcoming and giving me all of the information that I ask for in minutes.  I have to wonder who abused the list of commissioners at some point and how that caused the very prickly reaction in some places.

Monday evening at church Project Open Door met (well, actually at the manse – it solved a child care issue for the pastor).  Most of the meeting went very well.  Then we got to the subject of whether or not racism is an issue in our church (which is 90+% white) and whether or not we’ve introduced bias into our visitor survey.  I’m amazed at how passionate people were about their positions (given that it was a room full of white people) and at how much disagreement there was.  After this painful experience we’re going to revisit it again later – probably with the help of an expert.  Ironically, Barack Obama covered all of the issues that we discussed in his speech the next day.

Tuesday evening I ended up serving as the pick-up Net Control Station for a ham radio weekly drill.  This was the weekly Mercer County SKYWARN/RACES/ARES net – to test radios and procedures in case our services are needed due to a disaster or severe weather.  It went relatively well given that most of our members were attending a club meeting at the time and were unavailable.

Wednesday evening was quiet for a change.

Tonight I plan to go to our church’s Tenebrae (Maundy Thursday) communion service.  It will reportedly be very powerful.  They gradually dim the lights throughout the service and end in darkness and silence.  With the strong winds that we’re going to get it should be interesting.

Friday evening we’re off to see the Trenton Devils play the Dayton Bombers with my sister Laura.

Saturday evening we go to the Philadelphia Wings vs. New York Titans lacrosse game at the Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton.  My friend Jill has a crowd coming.  My sister bought two tickets and after a friend dropped out Dad is coming with her – they’re riding with Carolyn and I to the game.

Sunday morning’s Easter service will probably be Catholic this year – we did Presbyterian last year.  Sunday afternoon we’re hosting Easter dinner with the Smiths and Brennans at our house (anywhere from 9 to 13 people depending on who comes).

Happy Easter!

PC(USA) Moderator Candidate Meet and Greet, Lawrenceville NJ, April 25, 7-9pm

March 10, 2008 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

Lawrenceville Moderator Meet and Greet Flyer
Click the image to download a PDF of the flyer.

What: A meet-and-greet event with all 4 candidates for PC(USA) moderator:
Rev. Carl Mazza
Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow
Elder Roger Shoemaker
Rev. Bill Teng

Where: Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville
2688 Main Street (US Route 206)
Lawrenceville, NJ 08648
See below for directions.

When: Friday, April 25, 2008 7-9pm EDT

Who: The event is presented by the Central Jersey Moderator Candidate Host Committee, a group of local Presbyterians who have come together to put on this event.  The Lawrenceville church is thanked for providing the building free of charge.

Who’s Invited: You.
The event is primarily intended for General Assembly commissioners, YADs, TSADs, presbytery moderators and presbytery stated clerks but all who are interested are invited to attend.

What do I need to do? Please RSVP if you plan to attend to markrsmith@gmail.com or the phone number in the flyer image above (not after 10pm Eastern, please).  Please provide the names and any General Assembly status (commissioner, YAD, etc) for those attending as well as a way to contact you in case something changes.  Contact Mark with any questions, too.

Any other Useful Information? Light refreshments will be provided.  Child care will not be provided.


See the church website directions at http://pclawrenceville.org/directions.html

Basically, you want to get to I-95 northeast of Trenton, or US 206 coming south from Princeton.  Here are a few suggestions:

From the northwest: Take either NJ 31 South to I-95 North to US 206 North (exit 7B), or US 206 South through Princeton.  On 206 North from I-95 the church is very shortly after the 3rd light on the right.  On 206 South from Princeton the church is on the left after Cold Soil Road.

From the northeast: (NYC/Long Island/points Northeast) Take the NJ Turnpike to exit 7A, then take I-195 West towards Trenton.  Take I-295 North which turns into I-95 South as it crosses US 1.  Take exit 7B for US 206 North.  The church is very shortly after the 3rd light on the right.  In case of traffic issues on the NJ Turnpike you may take Route 1 South from Turnpike exit 9 (take Route 18 North to Route 1 South) and then get on I-95 South.

From the east/southeast: (NJ Shore)  Take the Garden State Parkway to I-195 West if necessary.  Take I-195 West towards Trenton.  Take I-295 North which turns into I-95 South as it crosses US 1.  Take exit 7B for US 206 North.  The church is very shortly after the 3rd light on the right.

From the southwest: (Delaware and points south)  Take I-295 North from the Delaware Memorial Bridge all the way up to US Route 1 where it turns into I-95 South.  Take exit 7B for US 206 North.  The church is very shortly after the 3rd light on the right.  In case of traffic problems on I-295, take the NJ Turnpike to exit 7A and follow the northeast directions above.

From the Philadelphia area: You have three choices.  1.  Take I-95 North across the Scudder’s Falls Bridge to exit 7B.  2.  Take US Route 1 North across the Morrisville Toll Bridge (no toll this way) and continue north to I-95 South to exit 7B.  3.  Cross the river and get on I-295 North until it changes into I-95 South at Route 1.  From any choice, the church is very shortly after the 3rd light on the right once you get off exit 7B on I-95.

If you need help with directions contact Mark at the e-mail or phone above.

The Central Jersey Moderator Candidate Host Committee

  • Mark Smith
  • Carolyn Smith
  • Rev. Jon Seitz
  • Richard O. Richards
  • Grier Booker Richards
  • Laura Ferguson
  • Sara Ferguson
  • Rev. Neal Presa, Press Contact

Moderator Candidate Meet and Greet – Save the Date

February 29, 2008 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Religion 

On the evening of Friday, April 25 there will be a Moderator Candidate Meet and Greet event at the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville, NJ.  All 4 candidates for Moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the PC(USA) have agreed to attend as long as timing and schedules permit.

More details will be forthcoming.  The event is being run by the Central Jersey Moderator Candidate Host Committee.  The session of the church has graciously allowed the use of the building without charge.

I’ll have more information as time goes on.  We will be inviting all commissioners, YADs, Presbytery Moderators and Presbytery Stated Clerks from the 7 NJ presbyteries.  We will also invite the TSADs from local seminaries once they are chosen.  There should be room for other interested Presbys as well.