A Great Sunday, part 2

January 28, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Religion, Sports 

PCOL Youth at Devils game

On Sunday afternoon, I treated the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville Sr. High Youth Group to a suite watching the Trenton Devils vs. Wheeling Nailers.

I get a free suite for a game once a year as part of my season ticket package, and I decided to use it for the youth.

The group numbered 21 including my wife and I and included regulars and some youth who don’t attend often.  The afternoon was fun but theologically ambiguous – when the mascot comes to your suite is it OK for Presbyterians to yell “The Devil is here!  The Devil is here!” and then run TO the devil?

Unfortunately the team lost the game, though we got to see every possible second of hockey.  It took the 6th round of the shootout to decide the contest 6-5 for Wheeling.
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We got away with no lost youth and only one minor injury.  Here’s a safety tip – if you are sitting directly below the TV mounted on the wall, be careful when you jump up to celebrate!  We’re hoping some of the non-regular youth will participate in future activities such as the lock-in in two weeks.

We have got to do this again next year.

The best part of the whole evening was having the seminary student get his picture taken with the Devil.  We’re planning to send it to his CPM.  (for the non-Presbys – the committee in charge of his development as a candidate for ministry)

Check back in a day or two for the picture.

A Great Sunday, part 1

January 28, 2008 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Religion 

Yesterday, the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville held “Levi Sunday”.

The name is a reference to the Levites, and also a sign that we were encouraged to wear jeans (brand not important).  The keyword for the day was service.

We started in the sanctuary for worship.  It started normally, and this week had the choir out of the loft and in front of us along with the children’s choir.  The readings were from Numbers 8 (we left out the bit about the bull) and James on good works.  The sermon was a quick tag-team conversation by both pastors.

When we reached the offering, the service relocated.  All of us were asked to put our paper offerings in the plate as we exited the sanctuary to head for multiple parts of the church to do service projects.  When we came in before the worship service we were each given a name tag with a color on it.  The colors separated us into our tasks.  One group assembled hygiene kits for Crisis Ministry of Trenton and Princeton.  Another group made Baby Kits for Church World Service and yet another group made School Kits for them – these are to be used in disaster areas.  Yet another group (mine) assembled bag lunches for the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen.  We were given worksheets to complete if we had time after the tasks.

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Chaos and order were clearly in tension as the tasks were completed.  In the lunch assembly room we had more people than we could possibly use, and ended up with each person building a lunch piece by piece or making sandwiches while another group formed an assembly line.  In about 20 minutes we assembled over 100 lunches using something like 30-40 people.

I also think everybody got the messages.  We are saved through faith but good works are also important.  Good works are the offering that we make in thanks for grace.

Our congregation is really good at mission.  We send lots of money out into the world to do good things.  We send lots of people out to do good things – disaster relief, service in the community and beyond.  This day linked that service to our beliefs.  I believe that I said something about our youth in a meeting recently – they know (and do) the right thing to do, but they’re a little fuzzy on the reason why.  I think the whole congregation is sometimes a little fuzzy too.  This helped.

End of Week roundup

January 25, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Ham Radio, Life, Religion 

Here’s what’s going on.

  1. I managed to decompress from the congregational meeting last weekend.  There are still some hard feelings among the young adults who work with youth, but we’ll get over it.  I did express my feelings to my pastor.
  2. Last night my committee co-chair and the pastor and I had a conference call.  We’d had to cancel the committee meeting because so many members were unavailable for the meeting (including a disturbing number who chose to drop out and prioritize something else higher – after they’d agreed to be there).  We have a strategy for moving forward (but I can’t discuss it here until we’ve announced it to the team).  How do you staff church committees when the really involved people are also really busy?
  3. I passed my ham radio Emergency Communications course, with 100% on the test and 100% of my assignments accepted on the first try.  Next month or in a few months I’ll take the Level II course.
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  5. Tonight Carolyn and I are headed to the Trenton Devils game.  We’re skipping Saturday because 3 games a weekend is too much.
  6. Sunday the church is doing a service project in lieu of (or technically during) the worship service.  We’ll start in the sanctuary, but then break early to spread out around the building making School and Baby kits for Church World Service, and hygiene kits for the Crisis Ministry of Trenton and Princeton, and sandwiches and wrapped utensils for the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen.  Then we’ll gather for lunch and close worship.  It’s Levi Sunday (named for the Levites – get it?  We’re supposed to wear jeans).
  7. Sunday afternoon the Sr. High (and some Jr. High) youth group will go to see the Trenton Devils hockey team (ECHL).  My season ticket plan includes one free luxury suite a year, and I’m treating the youth.  It should be fun!

I have been tagged in the book meme, but I don’t know if I’ll get to it today.  Maybe later.

Youth Elder … that was interesting

January 20, 2008 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Religion, Youth 

Today, the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville (NJ) held it’s Annual Corporation Meeting and the Special Congregational Meeting.  This church holds the annual corporate and congregational meetings at different times and the special meeting in January is normally to approve the terms of call for the pastors and fill any open partial officer terms.

During the Congregational meeting, a change to the bylaws was proposed.  The number of elders has previously been set at exactly 15, in 3 even classes.  This change was to allow a minimum of 15 and a maximum of 16 elders in nearly equal classes.

The intention of the change was to allow for the first-time election of a youth (under 18 in this case) to the Session.

This was originally brought up back in the fall when the Session and Youth and Young Adult council members talked about it (not the entire group – there is some overlap).  The original plan was to create the post of Youth Elder.  I did some research on their behalf (since I know a lot about all of this through past personal history and interest) and pointed out that under the Book of Order, there cannot be a position restricted/intended for a certain group.  Instead I recommended that they increase the number of seats available and allow for flexibility in the classes.

I knew we were in trouble when the sanctuary was packed for a congregational meeting week worship service.  Most of the folks were older.  After the service there was a Benediction but no Choral Response or Postlude.  Folks were asked to remain.  Usually about 1/3 of the folks who attended the service will stay for the congregational meeting.  Today almost everybody stayed.

The bylaw amendment was the last item on the agenda of both meetings.  At the beginning of the corporation meeting (which was first) the pastor recognized the confirmation class that was attending the meeting as part of their education.  He asked them to stand up.  Some stood up.  Others did not, and a few were in the balcony and not visible.  The pastor made a statement about some of them being present.

The bylaw amendment was presented by the nominating committee chair.  It was presented as allowing us to have a youth elder, who would be a rising senior [elected in June – someone who would be a senior in the fall] who would serve one year of a 3-year term.  If the student remained in the area for college he/she would be able to finish the full term.  If not the student would resign just like anyone else who was unable to finish their term and we would likely elect another student to replace them.  This youth elder would not be expected to chair a committee (as the other elders are) and would be paired with another elder to serve as a mentor.

The first speaker from the floor asked why we needed an additional seat, and stated that perhaps the nominating committee should have been choosing a youth for Session all along.  The answer given was that since we would not expect a youth to be a committee chair, we couldn’t afford to give up an adult seat – we needed all 15 to chair committees.
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It was also pointed out that under the Book of Order there is no such thing as a youth elder.  I was recognized at one point and read from G-14 where the BOO requires that the congregation elect officers from all ages, racial-ethnic background, disabilities, etc.

The controversy was expressed as a question of why an additional seat was required for most of the 15 minute discussion until one elderly member got up and gave her opinion.  She stated that if the Session required the advice of a youth they could simply ask one to come to a meeting, and that elders should be people who have been involved with the church for a long time, have experience with the church, and are more mature.  At least 7 or 8 people raised their hands to answer that discriminatory attitude.

A few speakers later, the chair called the question (with support from others).  In a voice vote the motion to change the bylaws passed.  My estimate is that it was about 66-34 or maybe 60-40.  The chair ruled that the motion passed and noone called for division.  The meeting was ended with prayer.

After the meeting the woman who was the first speaker was heard to say “we’re voting on a youth elder and they aren’t even HERE!”  I think the pastor did the youth a disservice by actually saying that only a few were there.  I think that the youth (older than confirmation age) did themselves a disservice by failing to attend worship and this meeting.

One woman who I spoke to after the meeting said that she thought that the argument over 15 vs. 16 seats was really code for whether or not to have a youth elder and particularly for whether or not to change anything.

Even worse, this meeting shows a split in the congregation that my work on Project Open Door has hinted at.  There is a core of the congregation for whom you are a new member until you’ve been there 5 years or more.  They are also opposed to change of any type.  There is an old/young split, and a new/long-time split.  I fear for what this means when the Project Open Door team is expected to fulfill our mandate by suggesting changes to the visitor and community ministries of the church.

I’m glad that the vote went in favor of the youth, but also disturbed at the anti-youth sentiment shown by the debate.  It seems nothing has changed in some congregations in the last 20 years.

Youth and Homosexuality and the church – jodie’s questions

January 19, 2008 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Religion, Youth 

jodie in the comments on yesterday’s update has posted a lot of questions.  They deserve their own post, so I’ll answer them here.

How do the youth in your church view the Evangelical hostility to gay ordination? Is there a generational gap there too, besides the theological one? In my church the youth are flabbergasted that anybody should care. It seems that among college kids and younger, homosexuality just is. There is no scandal in it at all. There is huge support for kids that are gay but don’t get parental support, and if the Church has a problem with gays then it’s because the Church has forgotten what Christ was all about. Not only that, but if someone says that Homosexuality is a sin because the bible says so, then for them that is just proof that the bible is wrong. In other words, the Evangelical war is actually undermining the authority of the Scriptures. Are you guys seeing the same thing?

The answer requires a little background.

First, my church is tending toward the liberal end of the denomination.  The town surrounding the church tends to be a bit more liberal as well.

Second, the youth group hasn’t talked about sexuality per se since I started working with them.  It was the subject of a retreat last year before I joined them.  So I’m working from conjecture.

Third, our youth are not homogenous in their views on sexuality.  I know that we have some outspoken proponents of gay rights.  I also know that we have some youth that I suspect hold more conservative views on the subject.

We’ll take the questions in the order that my brain spews text.  Hopefully I’ll answer all of the questions.

We have one or two youth who participated on their own initiative in the National Day of Silence last year (and will participate this year).  I’ll put them at the pro-gay end of the spectrum.  We have had a youth who is the daughter of a pair of gay men (who were one of the first civil union couples in the state) – she has graduated now.  Several members of the rest of the group talk about generally liberal causes (poverty, environment, the distrubution of wealth throughout the world).

We don’t talk about evangelicals using that name.  We do talk about judgmental Christians (the implication being Too judgmental).  Our youth group has as part of our covenant that the group is a safe space to talk about things that are important to you without ridicule from other group members.  We don’t expect everybody to agree, and we do debate issues sometimes, but in the end we respect and love the person and at worst listen to the idea.  The group does speak negatively about those Christians who are unable to love each person – who condemn them and use loaded names and terms for people.  Please be clear – when I use the term “we” I mean the youth, the adult advisors, and the paid staff.  As a group we only talk about judgmental Christians (we don’t even use a term for them) in passing.  It’s not like we spend a night talking about them.

I think you’re right.  Gay people are just a fact of life for these youth.  They have grown up in an era where prejudice against identifiable groups (even groups attacking our country) is not tolerated.  This attitude naturally carries over to homosexuality.  These youth recognize that anti-gay speech (up to and often including “homosexuality is against God’s will”) is just not expected.  If anybody harbors anti-gay feelings I haven’t seen it openly.  Now, this is New Jersey where civil unions are the law of the land and are practically the same legally as marriages.  I can see how it would be different in other parts of the country.

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Another problem that we are fighting in our youth group is pressure from church members (most often parents of youth who do NOT participate) not to make the church youth group too “churchy”.  Our youth director reports that he’s actually had parents tell him that mentioning the Bible too often will drive the youth away from the group.  I think that this is true for some youth, but hey!  This is church.  That’s what we do.  We’ve made a conscious decision to up the theological and scriptural content of the youth program one notch and see how it goes.  The youth know right from wrong and have a vague sense that it’s the Christian thing to do, but I believe they’d be hard-pressed to link their right actions to our beliefs.  We aim to fix that.

Not only that, but if someone says that Homosexuality is a sin because the bible says so, then for them that is just proof that the bible is wrong. In other words, the Evangelical war is actually undermining the authority of the Scriptures.

I repeat that quote because it’s huge.  I can’t say if this war is turning youth away from the church or the Bible, but I can speak for myself.  It DOES turn me away from the church sometimes.  It doesn’t turn me away from God, Christ or the Bible because I understand the concept of interpretation and “Reformed, Always Reforming”.  Of course, I have experience with the church above and beyond what our youth have plus a religion minor in college including 50% Christian courses backing my thoughts.  They don’t.

Speaking purely of my unchurched and formerly churched friends in their 20’s to 40’s, this legalistic attitude in the church does turn them away.  Many of them were previously heavily involved in church but aren’t now – and the judgmental nature of the media image of Christianity (and their own experience with it) keeps them away.  They speak of themselves as “still a Christian, but I don’t want to be part of a church”.

It’s also important to realize that Generation X and to a lesser extent Generation Y have an attitude of “waiting for the world to change”.  They know that someday the leaders (corporate, church, governmental) will retire and die off and at that point the Gen X and Y folks will be able to make the changes that they see need to be made.  There’s a feeling that gay marriage will inevitably be accepted by society and subsequently the church so why worry about it.  It’s just a matter of time.  In the mean time they go on about their lives without regard to the “outdated” rules.

And the Millenials? They aren’t waiting.  They’re just forging ahead with their own rules and their own structure and succeeding.  They aren’t waiting for the rules to change – they are going around the obstacles in their path.  These are the folks who need to understand why a work assignment needs to be done and how it fits into the larger picture before they’ll lift a finger.  The Gen X and Y folks are going to find that they waited too long for control and the Millenials already grabbed it from the Baby Boomers.

And the Millenials don’t understand what the fighting is about.  Gay people are gay people – what’s the big deal?

One last note – the youth at my church barely understand what ordination is.  We’re working on that – in part by adding a seat to Session intended for one year terms for a youth in high school.  But the gay ordination fight isn’t on their radar.  It’s not an issue in our church (yes, we’ve ordained openly gay people) and they just aren’t plugged into the news or greater church enough to understand the gay ordination debate.  They just see it as more discrimination against a minority group.

So what’s up?

January 18, 2008 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Ham Radio, Religion, Sports, Work, Youth 

So what’s going on, Mark?

I’m glad you asked.

This week has been eventful.

Earlier in the week, we got the news that the company is looking into some form of ownership change for all or part of the company.  I’ve already written about that.

Today we actually got good news.  IT has gotten permission to give an allowance to IT employees who are required to be on-call for support issues.  The department will pay up to $75 of our home broadband Internet and cell phone charges.  For me that means $40 for Internet access.  My cell phone usage for work is minimal and always within my plan.

At church I got the Project Open Door meeting scheduled for next week – we’ll be going over inactive members and how to interview them gently.  I had a good Sr. High youth evening last Sunday and a great Youth and Young Adult council meeting on Tuesday.  The YAYA council actually reduced the amount of logistical stuff that we go over to focus on the substance and theology of our program.  We’re going to be more intentional about linking our activities to our theology in the future.
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Hockey – there are 3 games this weekend.  I’m going to tonight’s game with Carolyn, and tomorrow night’s game with Carolyn, my sister and a friend of hers.  Sunday’s game will get skipped – 3 in a weekend is too much.

Ham Radio – I got voted in as a member of the Delaware Valley Radio Association last week. Last weekend I went to their radio “shack” and got an orientation on the building, antennas, and radios.  I’m also nearly finished with the ARRL EC-001 Level 1 Amateur Radio Emergency Communication online class.  That class will teach me how to be useful in an emergency (like a flood, hurricane, or other disaster).  The class is going really well – my mentor told me that I’m the first student out of the 100 or so that he’s worked with who managed to format all 4 sample emergency messages correctly on the first try.

In the Presbyterian world, things have been busy.  We’ve had a presbytery approve a lesbian candidate as ready to receive a call to ministry, we got a young adult candidate for General Assembly Moderator (for the non-presby’s, that means roughly “head Presbyterian”).  These actions (particularly the first one) have prompted the expected reaction from the conservative wing of the church.  Our General Assembly this June will also be considering a complete re-write of the Rules portion of our constitution.

At my own church we have a congregational meeting this Sunday that will consider a change to the bylaws to loosen up the rules on the number of Elders and their term length.  This is intended to allow the church to ordain it’s first Elder under age 18 for a term shorter than 3 years (because the youth probably couldn’t serve a full 3 years).

Life is a roller coaster, but in retrospect it’s been more up than down this week.

Job Security (or lack thereof)

January 15, 2008 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Work 

Days Since Job Security

Yesterday, my company announced (wait, I have to get the language right legally) that they have decided “to conduct an orderly and comprehensive review and evaluation of strategic, operational and financial alternatives available to us including, but not limited to, a potential sale or merger of the Company, a potential sale of part of the Company, or raising additional equity capital to enhance the growth prospects of the business.”  My reading:  the Board of Directors is putting us up for sale AGAIN.

A little background.  My insecurity calendar starts October 15, 2001 when a jerk of a boss took over my department over the head of a good boss that I had.  Six months later he practically fired me and put me under a hellish boss for a year.  Six months after that (and after I challenged an incorrectly harsh review) he backed off, and we had years of simmering dislike.  Then in August of 2004 our former owners made an announcement that they were sending one of their up and coming executives to evaluate the company.  6 months after that they made an announcement like the one above.  A year later we were sold to a smaller company and the CEO ran us into the ground.  She was fired last January and a restructuring company was brought in.  Now this.
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I really need to figure out how much job insecurity I can take.  There has not been a day since October 2001 when I felt that my job was safe.  Safe today – yes.  Safe in the short term – maybe.  Safe in the long term – no.

I invite prayers that God will assist me in rapidly discerning the right career path.

Youth Group and Instant Replay

January 14, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Religion, Youth 

Last night I experienced the first use (for me) of video instant reply at youth group.

We were playing a game of Human Tic-Tac-Toe.  For those of you who haven’t heard of it, I’ll describe it below.  The rest of you can skip the next paragraph.

You have to have at least 11 people.  The group divides into two teams and one person is the gamemaster.  You set up 9 chairs in a square (3 x 3) on a gym floor.  The two teams assign a number (1 to however many there are, but the teams must be evenly sized) to each person.  The game starts with the chairs empty and the teams lined up behind lines an equal distance from the chairs (opposite sides of the room).  The gamemaster yells out a number, and the person from each team with that number runs, walks, moseys, to their selected chair.  This continues until the game ends in a deadlock (alternately the team with the most people in chairs wins in case of a deadlock) or one team getting Tic-Tac-Toe.  You continue as long as you want with new games.  It’s both mental and physical – our most successful player walked over slowly and sat down rather than racing for the obvious play.

The game was a lot of fun.  One game resulted in an epic collision between me and one of the other adult advisors that ended with both of us on the floor, the youth director asking “Are you guys OK?” and the rest of my team yelling “Mark!  Sit in the chair!”  Nobody was injured.
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The gamemaster took out her digital camera and started taking videos of the game.  We had one game where two teams simultaneously got Tic-Tac-Toe in two different rows of chairs, and we had to resort to her video to determine who sat down first.

That’s gotta be the first use in OUR group of instant replay in a youth group activity.

Has anybody else used it?