Good Weekend

October 1, 2007 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

I’m tired, but happy.

Friday evening I headed out to church to be the 2nd wave driver for the Sr. High retreat.  There were a few youth who played football who needed to leave later than the 6pm departure time.  I got there at 6:15, and the first wave in the big van didn’t leave until 6:30.  Ultimately we all got to camp and settled in about 9pm.

We headed out to the waterfront and held a campfire, complete with singing and S’mores.  I’m not usually a big fan of s’mores (I prefer to eat the components separately), but I had one anyway so that the vegetarian youth could roast a marshmallow (they contain gelatin, you know).  After that we finally got to bed around midnight.

The next morning was quiet.  After breakfast, we headed into the woods and did a trust/togetherness exercise that involved walking along a rope strung between trees with your eyes closed.  It was done alone, then with a guide, then alone again.  It’s sort of a “walking with Jesus” exercise.  After that we had a talk about when God is and is not present in your life and the youth got into some pretty heavy topics.  I was very impressed with the way that this group handled people’s difficult times without making fun – that’s pretty rare in this age group.

The rest of the morning was “free” time.  A group played football in the meadow while others rested in the lodge.  We ended the morning with a game of “Have you ever….” Jenga.  This uses the book “Have you Ever …?” along with a Jenga game with the tiles numbered (by hand).  Each participant pulls a tile out of the stack, places it on top, and the number on the tile is used to find a numbered question in the book.  If tiles are recycled you just add 100, 200, etc. to the tile number.  We got the stack up to 29 levels before it fell.  (The record is 40 plus two tiles.)

We had lunch, and then headed home.

This was an incredibly low-key and relaxed retreat for Senior Highs.  We had no serious problems with behavior and even though we had a gender split of 7 boys and 1 girl, the girl did fine.  I came home exhausted but I had a great time.  This was also the first time that I felt that I really bonded with the youth.  I was a bit worried about that – I missed the mission trip in the summer and was worried about being “outside”.

Sunday was another church-packed day.  The morning service included an introduction of our 3 seminary interns (with CAKE at the Fellowship Hour).  After Fellowship time, Temple Micah invited us to join them in the sukkah that they’d built on the front lawn of the manse.  There was also the 2nd half of an adult forum series on Presbyterian beliefs that I attended (tough choice, but I’d already done the homework for the forum).  (Discussion for another post – what the heck are we doing listing people’s pledges by size for comparison when we’re doing Consecration Sunday that is supposedly NOT about the numbers?)

At the end of the adult forum I got recruited to usher at the afternoon Jazz Vespers service, which brought me back to church after a 2 hour rest.  The music was provided by Presbybop, a jazz quartet founded by Presbyterian clergy.  The service was attended by about 130 people, and was wonderful.  Presbybop has taken some traditional hymns and jazzed them up while retaining the proper feeling and words.  We sang two of those, and other music was included.  Rev. Bill Carter did the homily.  The service was based on the Book of Common Worship’s “Evening Prayer” order of worship – appropriate to the setting sun.  The congregation was energized by the service.

After the service, dinner was provided by the choir.  Excellent food was catered from Chuckles with dessert from church members and the leftovers from Fellowship Hour in the morning.  Carolyn and I sat with the youth group for dinner, and met Rev. Karen Hernandez-Granzen of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Trenton.

After dinner we headed back to the sanctuary for a one-set concert by Presbybop.  Folks, these guys know their jazz.  You can find them on iTunes, and their CDs are for sale at CDBaby.com.  The congregation was brought to their feet at the end for a standing ovation (and we did get an encore).  It was hysterical to see the upright and sometimes elderly Presbyterians swaying and nodding their heads to the wonderful jazz.  I saw one guy air drumming using the pens from the prayer card racks in the pews.

I’m still short on sleep, but it was a truly wonderful weekend.

Meetings and trip

September 27, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Religion 

It’s been another busy week in Mark-land.

Sunday we had the real Sr. High youth group kickoff session.  We had fun, got introduced to each other, played around, and ate ice cream.  It’s a good group of youth including not one but TWO exchange students.

Monday evening we had the first meeting of the Welcome and Outreach Task Force that I am co-chairing.  As I’ve said before our charter is to study visitors, inactive members and the local community and then to make recommendations on what the church could do to create an atmosphere of hospitality and invitation.  It was a good meeting – mainly kept to start up tasks and ideas.  We have two challenges.  First is scheduling meetings – the folks on the team are really busy and it’s hard to find a 1.5 hour time slot that works for everybody.  Fortunately I discovered (after some hints from the pastor and another team member) Meet-O-Matic.  That should help.  The second challenge is that we have one team member who has no Internet access (or inclination to get access).  We’ve appointed a team member to be that member’s “Internet buddy”, and we’ve covenanted not to make any decisions via e-mail without getting her input.

The team is very diverse (as diverse as we could get given the congregation’s demographics).  We have people who have only been attending our church since last spring and people who have been members for over 25 years.  We have a pretty good age spread, and the gender balance is good.  The skills and interests of the group members are fairly well balanced, too.

One interesting concept that came from this meeting is the definition of our “mission field” – the land area that we are targeting.  The traditional idea was that we serve a 3 mile radius from the church building.  However, over 1/2 of the team lives outside of that radius.  This means (by extrapolation – and it does work out that way) that a significant percentage of the church membership drives past another Presbyterian church or three (not to mention other denominations) to get to our church.  We are thinking that we might have two tiers – the 3-mile “local” tier and a larger area.  We decided to add “active members outside the 3-mile radius” to the list of groups studied to see what draws them to drive a distance to be part of our community.  We’re also going to be mapping the households using software yet to be determined (Google Maps?).

So that was Monday evening.  Did I get a break Tuesday evening?  No.  Carolyn decided that this was the week to re-seal the driveway while it is still warm enough.  (It did need it)  So I got home Tuesday evening and it took the two of us just about 1 hour to put a coat on the driveway.  She was nice to me Wednesday evening and put the 2nd coat on herself (a thinner coat).  I just had to cook dinner.

Tonight is laundry, and then Friday evening I’m going with the Sr. Highs up to Camp Johnsonburg for a quick overnight retreat.  We’ll be home about 3pm on Saturday – just in time to see Rutgers play Maryland (my brother’s alma mater) in football.

Sunday I’ll have church in the morning.  I’m attending an adult forum on what makes Presbyterians different from other denominations.  I have homework to do – matching the names, dates, and a short summary of the Confessions.  Sunday evening the church is doing the first ever Jazz Vespers.  The youth are attending together, and I’m probably going to bring Carolyn along too.

Who was it that said “You can sleep when you’re dead.”?

Re-Connecting with Faith – Finding Your Home – Adult Retreat January 25-27, 2008

September 7, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

Re-Connecting with Faith: Finding Your Home – Adult Retreat
Johnsonburg Presbyterian Center, Johnsonburg, NJ
January 25-27, 2008

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.  Presbyterianism is optional – the program does not assume any particular denomination.

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 is yet to be determined but should be between $50 and $100 per person; if money is what’s keeping you from the retreat contact the camp – we have limited assistance available.

An article about last year’s retreat can be found HERE.  This year’s program will be very similar.

Retreat update

June 23, 2007 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Religion 

I’ve updated my post on my church’s All Church Retreat with a few photos – check them out!

2007 All-Church Retreat

June 11, 2007 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Religion, Youth 

This past weekend, Carolyn and I attended the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville Annual All-Church Retreat at Camp Johnsonburg.

We arrived early on Friday in order to avoid rush hour traffic on the way there.  This enabled us to choose our room in the lodge (a good move) and to sit in outdoor lounge chairs when everybody else arrived.  Most of the group arrived in time for dinner Friday night, followed by tie-dying preparation.  Friday night itself was hot and muggy and sleeping was not easy.

Saturday was lovely but still a bit humid.  We started the day with breakfast.  Carolyn and I were both signed up for Low Ropes (group building and personal challenge activities near ground level).  We both participated in the first two activities (marshmallows on the dangerous Chocolate River – get the group across, and untying human knots while balancing on a teeter platform).  At that point anybody participating in the Leap of Faith had to leave in order to get there.  Carolyn continued with Low Ropes and did some challenge exercises like walking a steel cable balancing with a rope and crossing a series of tire swings.

Low Ropes
Here we are crossing the dangerous chocolate river on floating marshmallows.  I’m the one in the green shirt and Carolyn is right behind me.  I’ve mentioned Jill Cifelli here a number of times – she’s the woman in gray standing in line.

The Leap of Faith is a zip line suspended above a low spot in the trail – forming a bit of a valley.  Somehow the Ropes course staff managed to run 30 of the 35 people signed up through in the morning.  I helped out (as a former staffer always will) by being the person who unhooked the last participant and running the zip line back to the top of the hill.  For this activity I was rewarded with praise and sweat (lots of sweat).

After lunch on Saturday we finished tie-dying and I got my chance on the Leap.

Leap of Faith - Mark #1
This is me in flight.

Leap of Faith - Mark #2
This is me waiting to be unhooked. (A thought bubble would say “Hurry up – this harness is giving me a serious wedgie!”)

After the Leap I assisted with the kids who were doing High Ropes.  The High Ropes course is run between trees about 20-30 feet off the ground.  You have a choice of starting with a “helicopter”-style ladder and then crossing a steel cable using a guide cable or the harder option of crossing on a cable using ropes as handholds.  The other option is to climb an inclined ladder to a platform, and then crossing more cables and wooden boxes to the final platform.  Both starts lead to a zip line at the end.  Our church is apparently populated by monkeys – the kids did the High Ropes course mainly with no fear and very quickly.

Between all of the Ropes activities we only had 3 refusals – one very small girl who didn’t do the Leap, and a boy and a girl who didn’t complete (or start in one case) the High Ropes.  I add myself to the list – having done it 20 years ago as a counselor I had no interest at all in doing the High Ropes.

Saturday after dinner, we made banners depicting our concepts of faith and God that will hang in the Fellowship Center at church.  After that, the traditional campfire complete with S’mores.

Saturday night sleeping was easier due to lower temperatures.

Sunday morning after breakfast we had worship outdoors by the waterfront.  One of the parents in the group played a carved flute and pan pipes for the Prelude and Postlude.  The rest of the service was run by a family that directed music, our Director of Children’s Ministries, and one of the Interim Associate for Pastoral Ministry folks (she’s also my new co-chair of the task force).  Worship was nice, and ended just before the rain started.

It rained the rest of Sunday morning, and after lunch we headed on home.

It was a nice weekend.  I was more relaxed than usual as a result, and I’m having a tough time with “re-entry” into the work world today.

One thing that was a bit odd was that Carolyn and I were the only family without kids.  I believe that this retreat used to be the “Family Retreat” and in recent years has been the “All-Church” retreat.  It was a little easier for us than it could have been – we both like kids and since we’ve been doing work with the youth group we were familiar to many of the parents.  I did get to meet about 15 families that I didn’t know (or know well) before.  Hopefully the retreat will attract more younger singles or couples without kids in the future.

I tried to serve as a goodwill ambassador (a title vested on me by one of the parents) for the camp to the church.  There were two of the youth that I tried to recruit for the camp’s Leadership Training Program and it looks like one might consider it (the other isn’t old enough yet).  I hope they do – they’d both make great Johnsonburgers.  I only hope that I wasn’t too pushy – Carolyn’s opinion is that I went right up to the line and didn’t cross it.

Today I’m pooped and a bit sore (there are a few muscles that don’t get used that often) but still more relaxed than usual.

Another Clump of Church

June 4, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Religion 

I find that my church-related events tend to clump.  In April, I had Youth Sunday on the same day as the Earth Day presentation by the Environmental Stewardship committee.

I’m in the middle of a clump now.

This past weekend was devoted to the Silent Auction fundraiser for the Youth Mission trip to Louisiana.  We received 80-something donations of goods and services (babysitting, music for a dinner party, etc), and on Sunday night during a rainstorm (remnants of Tropical Storm Barry) we raised $3,400.

Next weekend is devoted to the All-Church retreat at Camp Johnsonburg.  We’ll be there from Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon.  Carolyn and I (mostly I) will be serving as “native guides” for the trip due to our current and prior involvement with camp and the number of first-time visitors in the group.

I got a gift from God this week in the form of the co-chair for the Welcome and Outreach Task Force.  Jill Cifelli has been serving the church as Interim Associate for Pastoral Ministry along with Nolan Huizenga this past year while the church searched for the new Associate Pastor.  Jill’s responsibilities included the new member process.  She is leaving that position at the end of the month when the new Associate starts, and will be going back onto the session.  She will also be my co-chair and the liaison to the session from the task force.  Jill is one of the first few people that I talked to at the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville about joining, and I if I’m remembering correctly every conversation that I’ve had with her has included laughter.  I’m really looking forward to this.

To that end, we are meeting with the pastor on Thursday to tie up some loose ends for the task force.  We still have to nail down the rest of the membership (we have one solid member, but the rest of the team is just a list of possible names at this point), and work out the beginning activities.

Things should quiet down after next weekend.

Work is also a bit busy this week, so don’t be surprised if I don’t get a chance to write much.

Reconnecting with Faith – Finding Your Home retreat 2007 – How’d it go?

January 29, 2007 by · 8 Comments
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

Reconnecting with Faith Retreat 2007 Group

The Reconnecting with Faith – Finding Your Home retreat was a big success this past weekend at Camp Johnsonburg!

We had 10 paying participants, plus 4 staff (and a few other camp folks floating in and out during the weekend).  The participants were a very diverse group in several dimensions.  We had people from age 20-something to age “I don’t want to guess and be wrong”.  We had people in churches, people not in churches, and people looking at alternatives to Christianity.  We had some racial diversity.  We had theological diversity in that we had folks all along the spectrum from conservative to progressive.  Most of us came from a Presbyterian (PCUSA) background, and there were a few Catholics in the group.  We had 3 couples, a few singles, and a few married folks whose spouses didn’t attend.

The weather was a bit cold (particularly Friday, though it wasn’t the 4-degree F cold that the camp folks had to put up with before we arrived Friday morning).  There was just the right amount of snow on the ground; we got a little each night – just enough to cover the ground but not enough to slow us down.  The lake was frozen over except for an oval about 1/3 of the size of the lake.  The geese and swans were camped out on the frozen part.

We began the weekend by doing some get-to-know-you games Friday evening, followed by some fellowship and food time.  We also outlined the Johnsonburg standard core values of “No Discount” (of yourself or others), “Challenge by Choice” and Permission-Giving.  Because some of the participants knew each other outside of the retreat and the knowledge that someone might want to leave their church could be dangerous in the wrong hands, we added a new rule – “What happens at Johnsonburg stays at Johnsonburg”.

Saturday morning, we had a very emotional and uplifting session where each group member was able to tell the story of their faith journey.  These stories brought the group even closer together and allowed each to unburden themselves of the reasons that they might be looking to join a church or switch churches or leave the church.  A participant said it best:  “Mark and I can’t really do justice to the beauty of the stories that were told at the retreat this weekend.”

Saturday afternoon we did some brainstorming: what people wanted in a faith community, what people were looking to avoid in a faith community, and what stumbling blocks were keeping them from making progress in discerning whether or not to join a faith community and if so, which.  This session provided some good ideas for each person when they are considering a new faith community.

Saturday afternoon we had some free time.  Some of us took a 4-mile hike along the Yellow and Red Trails, while others connected with each other, relaxed, or even napped.  The camp canteen was open for a while so that folks could purchase a souvenir of their retreat experience.

Saturday evening, we completed the afternoon activity by brainstorming ideas on how to look for a new church.  Use of the Internet, friends, neighbors, coworkers, church visits, church staff and other resources were highlighted.  Those who had taken this route before were able to add their own experience to the bounty of ideas.

Reconnecting with Faith Spirituality 101

We then experienced a fascinating lecture – Spirituality 101.  In 90 minutes, our retreat’s minister leader went through the breadth of spiritual options in the world, along with the options within Christianity and the historical reasons for the number of denominations that we have.  It was amazing – I’ve had full semester religion classes that contained less information than this presentation.

Reconnecting with Faith Fellowship

Later Saturday evening we had food and fellowship again, with S’mores and Banana Boats cooked on the fireplace in the dining hall.

Camp Johnsonburg labyrinth in winter

Sunday morning after breakfast (including a wonderful body prayer for grace) we began with Quiet Time.  A number of the group ventured out into the cold to walk the camp’s outdoor labyrinth in the quiet stillness of the sunny winter morning.

We followed that with a worship service planned by the retreat participants WITHOUT the aid of the religious professionals.  The service was very camp-like and yet still had all of the reverence of a church service.

After worship we concluded with evaluations, lunch, and an invitation to enjoy the camp facilities for the rest of the day.

For this retreat, the people ARE the program.  I’d like to thank the folks pictured above for their wonderful contributions.  I’d also like to thank all of them for the mutual respect that we all felt – in this era of Christians tearing each other apart we were able to assemble a group from all parts of the spectrum who worked together to help each other while respecting the conscience of each of us.

I’d also like to thank the Johnsonburg staff who helped plan/staff/support the retreat – including Lorelei, Kurt, Alicia, Harry, Josh, Shelly, and everybody else.  Additionally, I’d like to thank Dave Myers, who served as our minister-in-residence and all-around expert on things religious.

Based on feedback received, there’s a pretty good chance that we’ll try to do this retreat again.  Watch this space or the camp website sometime this fall for more information.  As I’ve stated before, any suggestions on how to advertise this retreat to the target audience (particularly those NOT in a church at the moment) would be appreciated.

If you have any questions about this retreat, please feel free to contact Lorelei at the camp or me.

Off for the Weekend

January 25, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Life, Religion 

Carolyn and I will be headed up to Camp Johnsonburg for the weekend for the 2nd Reconnecting with Faith – Finding Your Home retreat (which I’ve written about here and here).

We’ve got a good group – about an even split between last year’s group coming back for followup and new folks (including a few new to the camp).  Carolyn and I are going up early Friday afternoon to meet with the camp folks and finish the planning, and then the rest of the crowd arrives in the evening.  It’ll be COLD (a high of 17F is predicted Friday at camp), but the group will be warm.

See you next week!

Reconnecting with Faith retreat update

November 29, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

We’ve finally determined the cost for the Reconnecting with Faith – Finding Your Home retreat January 26-28, 2007.

The cost will be $45 per person.  However, we are determined that money will not keep anyone away from the retreat.  If money is an issue contact the camp – we have financial assistance available for those who need it.

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.

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