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

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12 hours of church

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

(Most of my readers will be here looking for news on the Moderator Candidate event last Friday.  It went really well – and I want to give it more time than I have right now when I write it up.  So today you get other news.)

Yesterday, I spent 12 hours doing church stuff.

First, I got to church a few minutes early so that I could return and put away the tablecloths from Friday’s event.

Then I got roped into preparations for Confirmation Sunday.  I helped settle the confirmands and get them busy filling out surveys on the whole process, and then got sent on an errand to get an older youth or two to help sell hoagies that the Boy Scouts donated to us.  Those sales benefit the summer’s mission trip and trip to Montreat.

The Confirmation portion of the worship service was wonderful.  We received 11 9th graders as full members of the church.  Each was invited to come forward with their mentor, and in pairs they were received through kneeling and laying on of hands by the pastors, their mentors and the youth director.  Then the congregation read words of welcome as one, and we followed with the hymn “Here I Am, Lord” (one of my favorites from Camp Johnsonburg).  It was all very moving.

After the service there was cake and such celebrating the confirmands.  There was a little unpleasantness as an attendee (former member married to a still-member) behaved badly and scared some people, but after that the room turned brighter.  Later the confirmands, parents, mentors, and a few others like me gathered to close out the process with recognition of the mentors and confirmands and prayer.

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Then back to the church for an hour or so of downtime.  I changed into my evening clothes and had time for about an hour nap before it was time for the youth group activity.

Our Senior High youth group partnered with two other churches in the area through Presbyterian Youth Connection to clean up the path along the Delaware and Raritan canal in Lawrenceville.  Confirmation hampered our numbers, but our church fielded 4 adults and 1 youth.  Another church brought 2 adults and 2 youth, and the 3rd church fielded 3 or 4 adults and about 20 youth.  We worked for about 30 minutes and cleared an area about 20 feet wide and 400 feet long.  It was tough because the terrain was a steep bank from the road down to the path, and then another bank to the canal.  We found a few interesting items among the 7-11 coffee cups, soda bottles and beer cans – one gay porn DVD, a “teach your child French, age newborn to 2” CD, and an entire purse that was stolen from the nearby mall 5 months ago.  We hauled out about 8 or 9 full bags of trash and about 3 or 4 of recyclables.

After that we headed back to the Lawrenceville church and had pizza with the entire group.  This was followed by a short discussion and devotional on Earth Day and stewardship of the earth.

Then I went home – arriving almost exactly 12 hours after I had left in the morning.

It was a good day.

Locals: Project Open Door needs your help!

April 23, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

My longer-term readers know that I’m chairing a task force at the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville.  It’s called
Project Open Door (POD), and is a team that is studying how we can be most effective in our ministry of hospitality – that is, how we welcome and embrace the new people who come into our doors and how we can reach even more people in our community who need our ministry.

We need your help!
We have created a new survey designed to assess what people experience when they come into our doors as newcomers.  We’re asking you to help us by 1) visiting the church as, well, “secret shoppers”; and 2) filling out the survey.   You can use either an on-line or paper version.

If you are willing to help us out and are in the Greater Lawrenceville, NJ area (Trenton, Princeton, Central Jersey), here’s what we would ask you to do:

1) Visit the church for a 10am Sunday service!  (Sometime in the next month or two) If you want information prior to your visit, about the church or the logistics of visiting, go to

2) About a week after your visit, please fill out a survey. You may do so by any of the
following means:

a. You can fill out the survey online at We understand that this is often the quickest and most convenient way to fill out the survey.

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b. One will be in the visitor packet you can pick up after church at our visitor’s table.

c. You can print out a copy by going to our website (

3) Mail the completed paper survey (if you didn’t use the online version) to:

Project Open Door
Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville
2688 Main St.
Lawrenceville, NJ 08648

Thank you for helping us understand how we can be more faithful in our ministry of hospitality.

– The Project Open Door team

Carolyn’s badge

April 23, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Can't Make This Up, Life, Work 

(Before I go any further, I want to note that Carolyn gave me permission to put this on my blog)

Yesterday, Carolyn (my wife) made a trip to the Ladies’ Room.  At her office this is her own private domain – they had to build it for her specially when they moved her and a few other engineers out to an office in the factory.  She’s the only woman working in that building.

While doing her business, she noticed something on her shoe (dust, lint, who knows?).  She bent forward …

She wears her badge on a lanyard.  The badge descended below the seat at which point she realized and sat up.  The badge got caught on the seat and popped off the lanyard.  It didn’t fall into the water in the toilet but rather laid there on the porcelain.
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However …. it was at this point that the urge to pee overtook her.

She reports that the badge looks fine after being rinsed off.  As of last night she hadn’t checked to see if the little smart chip on it still worked on her laptop.

Her co-worker is reported to have said, “I’m not going near your ID badge again!”

Why did God rest?

April 21, 2008 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Religion, Youth 

Genesis 2:2  And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he
rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.

Last night during youth group, one youth asked a very deep question:  Why did God rest on the 7th day?

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What do you think?

Funniest answer from a youth:  “He just freakin’ created the Earth!  He was tired!”

Sorry about the spam

April 19, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Admin 

Yesterday, I followed a link and signed up for

The site asked to look at my Contacts in my e-mail account so that it could tell me which people were related to me.  What I didn’t know was that it was going to send a spam e-mail to EVERY account that I’d ever sent or received e-mail from.
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Please accept my apologies.

Animal Health Report

April 17, 2008 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Life 

Last night Albert and Isaac (12-year-old cats) went to the vet for their annual checkup.

Isaac lost 1/3 of a pound.  He is generally healthy, and the vet considers his weight to be pretty good.  Last fall we found a lump on his back leg that the vet tested at that time and determined to be a fatty tumor and not worth worrying about unless it gets bigger.  This time we had him check a lump on his front leg.  It was biopsied and we should get the results either today or around the 28th (the vet is going on vacation).

Albert found the 1/3 pound that Isaac lost.  He is also generally healthy, and the vet considers his weight to be about right.  The cats now weigh exactly the same; at one point Isaac weighed 3 pounds more than Albert.  Albert has some gingivitis.
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The dentist has suggested another tooth cleaning for both cats.  This is a procedure that requires heavy sedation.  The last time, Albert’s blood work showed possible kidney problems (that cleared up on their own) so he got gas while Isaac got an injected drug.  Albert came home annoyed but completely normal.  Isaac was a psychotic kitty for 24 hours;  he’d hiss at us and Albert for no apparent reason and then purr 10 seconds later.  We had to keep Isaac in bed with us – a rather sleepless night.  The doctor promises that this time he’ll use a different drug that should provoke fewer reactions.

We’ll hear about the blood work and biopsy the week of the 28th.  The blood test results are only good for 2.5 weeks for surgery (the dental work), so we’ll have to make a quick decision.  We’re also waiting to hear about Isaac’s lump.

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).

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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!

Prayers and Celebrations – Confirmation

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

I’d like to request your prayers and celebration for the 11 confirmands who will be meeting with the church session on Wednesday evening.  Ditto for their mentors.

Working with the confirmation class this year has been very rewarding.  I’m very impressed with the depth of faith and knowledge of things churchy coming from class members.  Their mentors have been involved and have been helpful participants in the classes (and undoubtedly with their confirmand – I haven’t been there so I wouldn’t know).
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Please pray for them as they face the big scary (not really) session, and then are confirmed on April 27.

Youth Sunday

April 13, 2008 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Religion 

Youth Sunday today went very well.

All of the sermons (we have three youth do 5 minutes each rather than asking one to do 15 minutes) were well-written, full of examples linking the message to the text, and well-delivered.  (You can listen to the sermons HERE.)  The music was up to standard as usual.  All of the folks playing other parts (doing prayers, readings, ushering, etc) did well.  The adult message was particularly funny.

The sanctuary was decorated with origami cranes, hanging on fishing line.  The cranes were handed out to the congregation last week as flat pieces of paper, and the congregation was asked to write prayers on them.  We then folded them into cranes and created the art.  Congratulations to Peter and his team for conceiving and completing the idea.

Congratulations to our seminary intern David Berge – Youth Sunday was his main project for the internship.
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I got to participate a bit in front of the crowd in contrast to last year’s behind-the-scenes work.  I played djimbe (an African hand drum) on one anthem.  I also did a plug for Project Open Door’s request for members to invite others to the church and then fill out a survey (so that we can see how we’re doing on hospitality) with Jeff Vamos.  In preparing for the 1 minute skit, we decided that Jeff was the ham and I was the cheese.

I also participated in the laying on of hands for a new deacon (elected in January to fill an unexpired term).

The youth should be commended for their hard work.  One adult who attended the service was heard to say that Youth Sunday just keeps getting better every year.  Last year was hard to top.

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