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?).
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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.”?

Church: Getting your money’s worth

September 24, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Religion 

This Sunday the congregants at the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville experienced a trifecta of worship events.

It started with a 5 minute plus speech by a member of the Stewardship committee.

Later we followed that up with a baptism.

After the sermon, we had ordination and installations.  One elder was recently elected to fill the term of a brand new elder who had to move for his job.  Two deacons had been unable to attend the ordination and installation the week after the election back in June – one had to be ordained.

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The staff managed to keep the total time to 1 hour 15 minutes through the creative use of short hymns and short prayers.

After the service a number of us were joking about how we should have added Communion and a Wedding to the service.

In other news:  tonight is the first meeting of the Welcome and Outreach Task Force that I’m co-chairing.  I have all handouts copied, and I’m just about to send a reminder e-mail.  Wish me luck!

Prayer Request

September 21, 2007 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Life 

On of my fellow IT employees – based in Minnesota – had a heart attack on the flight home today.  He was defibrillated three times by a doctor on board.

UPDATE:  He passed away at the hospital.  He leaves a wife and 4 children aged toddler to high school.

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I was in two meetings with him yesterday.

Rhythm for the Soul – Jazz Vespers, dinner, and a mini-concert

September 20, 2007 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Music, Religion 

On Sunday, September 30, 2007, the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville will be holding its first Jazz Vespers service.  A flyer can be found HERE.

The evening kicks off at 4pm with the jazz vespers service.  Dinner follows at 5pm ($5 donation requested).  After dinner there will be a mini-concert at 6pm.  The Rev. Bill Carter and Presbybop will be the performers for the concert and will be featured in the service.  Presbybop is a jazz quarter made up entirely by Presbyterian clergy.
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All are welcome.  Come on down!

Secular Politics and the Church

September 18, 2007 by · 7 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

I’m a bit concerned.

I have said in some places, but perhaps not this blog, something about my feelings on secular politics and the church.  The short version is that I feel that the church should teach its members how to make moral judgments, but that the church should NOT be involved in advocating a position on current secular political events.  In other words – the church should be for peace, but not for peace in the Middle East by creating a Palestinian state (to give one example).  The church is in the field of giving us moral toolkits, but should not be instructing us on exactly how to apply them to specific situations.  Otherwise, at some point we stop asking people to make proper personal decisions on secular matters and start dictating those decisions – we create essential tenets that have little to do with God but much to do with the country or world.  I know that my opinion is in the minority among church leaders, though I’m not so sure about the pew sitters in general.

My pastor said something in his sermon this past Sunday about the church and politics.

I want to ask us to consider a kind of variation on that Peter Drucker question [mentioned earlier].  To ask whether the business we’re also in as a community of faith is about changing our Common Life … our life together as a people … our participation in the body politic.  Does this message have something to say about how we participate in the political realm and in the social realm?

Also, the church has scheduled an event for the church to give their feedback on this issue to our pastor before he delivers a sermon series on the topic.

People to Preacher Symposium on Faith & Politics –

Convener: Jeff Vamos. Two Sections (choose one)

Tuesday, October 30, 6:30-9:00 pm (dinner); or Saturday,
November 3, 9-11:00 am.
What does the Bible say about the relationship between faith and politics? How have Presbyterians dealt with that issue? Is it appropriate to speak of politics from the pulpit? What did Jesus have to say on this? These are questions we will discuss in this symposium. Each one-time conversation is designed to provide Jeff with “grist for the sermon mill” before a twopart sermon series on Faith & Politics in early November.
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Please call the church office, 896-1212 or email to register for one of the sessions. Preparatory reading material from the Book of Confessions will be expected.

I don’t think I’m alone – after he made this statement (and a few others) in the sermon the couple sitting next to me got fidgety and wrote a few notes to each other on their bulletin.  I got the idea that the pastor’s words made them uncomfortable.

This concerns me because I sense a desire for our church to make more political pronouncements and to become involved in political causes.  Other churches do this – some on the left and some on the right.

When I came to Lawrenceville, one of my concerns was the political strife in the church and beyond and the degree to which it would affect me as a member.  The church and society as a whole has been polarized into two sides:  The Right – evangelical, conservative, fundamentalist, Republican and the Left – progressive, less religious, tolerant, diverse, Democrat.  The leaders of government – particularly Republicans – have co-opted the Christian religious establishment as a voting block.  I was assured by the Interim Associates for Pastoral Ministry (temporarily filling the Associate Pastor role) that the culture of the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville intentionally chose to embrace members from all parts and ends of the political/religious spectrum.  That the congregation was willing to discuss controversial issues openly (as opposed to some congregations that avoid them) but in a manner where all points of view are respected.  Discussions, not fights.  Very even tempered.

What concerns me is that I based my decision to join this church on many factors, and chief among them was this “Big Tent” philosophy.  I know that Jeff Vamos (and apparently Mary Alice Lyman as well) falls on the left end of the political/theological spectrum.  The church in general tips towards the left end as well.  But there is still a respect for those who disagree, and an unwritten agreement that the congregation as a whole (and the Session too) will not take a corporate position on secular political issues.  It is probably impossible to impose a similar moratorium on theological positions, though the church does try to be inclusive of all in at least membership.

So I’m worried.  Is the church trying to change in a way that goes against one of the bigger reasons that I chose it?  Do we stop being the church where all are welcome and become the Church of the Left?  Do I need to leave if that happens?

I have signed up for the “symposium” described above.  We’ll have to see where it goes.

Theology on Tap

September 14, 2007 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion, Young Adult 

Theology on Tap

The Princeton, NJ Nassau and Witherspoon Street Presbyterian churches, the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville, and the Princeton Seminary have jointly started a young adult program called “Theology on Tap”.  Every 2nd Thursday this fall (and if last night is any indication, it will continue beyond fall) at 8pm young adults gather at the Yankee Doodle Tap Room of the Nassau Inn in Princeton for community and some light theological discussion.

Last night was the first event.  I estimate that 20-25 people showed up by the time I left at 9:30 (gotta be at work today).  There was a mix of church members, church leaders (clergy and staff), and seminarians plus perhaps one or two “bring a friend” folks.  I heard some folks saying that they’d invite friends to the next one, and I know that the postcards (with the image above) were taken to be given out.  We may have more people next time.  Ages ranged from the low 20’s through me at near 40, to a few who I suspect were older than 40.

Each of us was given an 18oz glass (call it a pint) with the PCUSA logo on one side and “Theology on Tap” on the other.  We used them for drinking and were able to take them home.  (I’m not clear on whether or not to bring them back for the next meeting.)  Only one was broken – my fault – I stood up to let somebody by and the chair hit the table behind me and it tipped and CRASH!  Oops.

The meeting organizers bought food for the group, and the rest of us paid for our drinks.  I suspect that the glasses were the biggest expense and otherwise this program is pretty inexpensive to run.

After a short introduction of everybody to everybody, we broke into small group and were asked to discuss any burning theological questions.  The questions weren’t easy.  At my table (from memory, I think I’m missing a few):

  • What does Jesus’ death on the cross mean to me?
  • Is God still involved in the world today?  Does prayer work?
  • A brief discussion on the Trinity and the paradox of three-in-one
  • A statement on morality and society
  • Where do people of other faiths fit into God’s plan and/or salvation?

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As I said – that’s what I remember.  I think we covered 6 or 7 just throwing ideas around.  The crowd was highly educated on the relevant issues – the few who weren’t ministry professionals or seminary students were highly involved laypeople like me.  After the theology the group continued with basic socializing.

For those on Facebook, there is a group for Theology on Tap in Princeton at Theolodoodle.

Now for my personal impressions.

I’m a fairly strong introvert, though I can present a brave face to new people and the less sensitive might not pick me out as an introvert.  Because of that, parties (and hanging out at a bar counts) tend to sap my energy.  I generally don’t enjoy them.  I tend to arrive early and leave early.

Last night was nothing like that.  I felt comfortable with the folks that I met and felt that “instantly comfortable” feeling with the new folks that I met.  I left at 9:30 not because I wanted to, but because I had to get sleep before going to work today.  That’s rare for me – I usually leave because I want to but last night I left because I had to.

The other rare thing is that I liked everybody that I met.  That is nearly unique in my experience and it is unique to church-related events (Youth Advisory Delegate events, church camp, and this).  I enjoyed meeting Barbara, Kate’s friends Sarah and Sarah (apologies if the spelling is wrong) and Grier at our small table.  I enjoyed meeting the others in other groups and next time I’ll make sure to mingle more with people that I don’t know.  I was also pleasantly surprised at how well I fit in at almost-40 with the folks from age 23 to slightly-older-than-me.

The theological discussion was also deep and meaningful for its brevity.  These folks have actually thought about the questions and have something very real to say.  It was all said without judgment of those who hold an alternative view.

I’m 90% sure that I’ll be there for the 3 scheduled meetings to come.  I might miss next month because of my schedule.  I’m also going to see if Carolyn wants to come.

If you’re in the Princeton area and interested in meeting some great people and talking theology, stop by on the 2nd Thursday starting at 8pm!

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.

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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  The camp website is found at
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.

What I needed to hear

September 6, 2007 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

Sometimes, you go to church on Sunday and hear the sermon that you needed to hear, on the day that you needed to hear it.

That happened to me two weeks ago.  Our new Associate Pastor, Mary Alice Lyman, preached a sermon called Where the Heart Is.

One quote:

Religion should incorporate principles, not constrictive rules and regulations.  Many people, in the time of Jesus, were committed to God, but they failed in how to maintain the commitment.  Many people, now, are committed to God, but we fail in how this commitment is maintained.  I think commitment to God is determined by many factors but one that I feel is key is the renewal of the human heart.  And the
renewal of the human heart is something that comes from inside us. Social reforms or education cannot renew the heart.  Armed conflict cannot enact it.  Initially, it is the human mind that makes the
decision to accept Christ; but it is the heart that will make the decision to follow Christ to the end of one’s life.

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Our religion should not kill our compassion.  When people are in need and love is called upon we should act with a human heart.  God prefers love to law, and hearts over habits.  Our first priority should be our
devotion to God not the fear getting in trouble for breaking Sabbath law.  We should be living from the heart and not under the constraintsof habit.  If our religion is standing in the way of doing a good deed
then it might be time to examine our beliefs.  They might be killing our compassion.

In her verbal delivery (but not in the written sermon), she actually said that she’s worried that this is exactly the problem that the Presbyterian Church faces.  Sound familiar?

Side note:  The Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville has a new website at  It’s pretty nice.