Friday, September 30, 2005

Senate fails to vote to renew Violence Against Women Act

According to this story today from the Episcopal News Service, the U.S. Senate has failed to renew the Violence Against Women Act.

The 1994 Act was scheduled to expire today, September 30, 2005.

According to the Senate website the Senate adjourned at 3:04 PM without voting on HR 3402, which had passed in the House by a 415 to 4 margin. This failure to act leaves many programs with an uncertain future.

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Presbyterian Seminary to offer workshops on domestic violence

The Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary will hold a series of three workshops on domestic violence on October 26, November 2, and November 9.

The three 2-hour workshops are free, but registrations are due October 19.

The workshops appear to be focused on helping men see domestic violence as a men's issue and on getting men involved in opposing domestic violence.

It is a very positive thing that a Presbyterian seminary is taking the lead in offering such workshops.

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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Shelter kits for hurricane survivors

Central Presbyterian Church started making shelter kits and Hope-in-a-box kits for Hurricane Katrina survivors. As described in this post, we learned that Presbyterian Disaster Assistance was not going to be able to accept them. After searching for a way to get the kits to hurricane survivors in the Gulf Coast region we have made contact with UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, which is able to receive the kits we have made.

Presbyterians and United Methodists work together on many worthwhile projects and it is wonderful to discover that our ecumenical connections continue to extend our mutual outreach to the world in this way.

So far, under the guidance of our Deacons, we have made 23 Personal Health Kits and 17 Hope-in-a-Box kits (for children). The Deacons are collecting more materials to complete incomplete shelter kits, so our small church hopes to make an additional 18 Personal Health Kits and and 15 Hope-in-a-box kits.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Review of "A Season of Discernment": 1. An invitation to walk a path with fellow Presbyterians

"Gracious God, may we look back upon this time of trouble, in repentance and hope, and see that in coming together to confront our differences, we found a new measure of the peace, unity, and purity that were already ours in our loving Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
- Prayer at the close of Section I of "A Season of Discernment"
Front cover of "A Season of Discernment"On August 25, 2005 the Theological Task Force on Peace Unity and Purity of the Church approved its final report, "A Season of Discernment", to be distributed across the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) before it is presented to the General Assembly in 2006. The approval of this final report begins a final year during which the members of the Task Force will itinerate around the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to interpret the report.

This report is a valuable gift to the church from the 20 members of the Task Force who have worked together, listened to each other, disagreed with each other, and sought to comprehend our Presbyterian identity over almost five years. Almost anyone who seeks primarily validation of one's own current position will be disappointed by this report, and many already have expressed their disappointment. [See this list of responses.] Nevertheless, the core gift of this report is in the Task Force's agreement and faithfulness in following a process of dialogue and reflection, and not in whether they found a final position which will solve all the problems of the PCUSA.

The formation of the Theological Task Force in 2001 emerged out of deep conflicts within the PCUSA. An annual cycle of polarizing debates at the General Assemblies followed by similarly polarizing debates in the presbyteries had been draining energy away from our common mission concerns, and had been straining the fabric of our fellowship. Even in small membership churches, where members are accustomed to getting along with one another, there has been an awareness of a certain level of tension within the Presbyterian Church at large.

When the 213th General Assembly met in Louisville, Kentucky in 2001, the first year of the 21st Century, there was already business being proposed for that meeting that had the potential for continuing or even intensifying the cycle of divisive debates and votes. Early in that meeting, on Wednesday, June 13, the first day of plenary business when the assembly committees began presenting their reports, the assembly approved a recommendation to form the Task Force by a 91% majority.

The charter for the Theological Task Force was as follows:

The Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church is directed to lead the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in spiritual discernment of our Christian identity in and for the 21st century, using a process which includes conferring with synods, presbyteries, and congregations seeking the peace, unity, and purity of the church. This discernment shall include but not be limited to issues of Christology, biblical authority and interpretation, ordination standards, and power.

The task force is to develop a process and an instrument by which congregations and governing bodies throughout our church may reflect on and discern the matters that unite and divide us, praying that the Holy Spirit will promote the purity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The members of the Task Force were to be appointed by a group consisting of the moderator of the 213th General Assembly and the two immediate past moderators.[see this] They solicited nominations from across the church and received over 500 names representing the breadth of the PCUSA. [see this] The group of moderators were working together in Louisville on forming the Theological Task Force on 9/11/2001 when the terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia shocked the world.[see this] On October 4, 2001 the three moderators appointed a 21-member Task Force, explaining that they had decided that they needed more than the original 17 to reflect the strengths and diversity needed for the task force. [see this] The Task Force began its work on December 6, 2001. [see this]

The Task Force did their work during a time of deep conflict both for the church and the world. In the report's footnote 11, the Task Force lists "the devastating attacks of September 11, 2001, a war in Afghanistan, another war in Iraq, polarizing presidential elections, controversies over the nature and scope of democracy in both the United States and abroad, and ongoing racial tension and cultural division over moral and social issues."

The report begins with a description of the theological basis of a Christian identity in the 21st Century. It states and discusses three core convictions: that the triune God loves us, that the triune God saves us, and that the triune God empowers us with a calling and commission. The study guide for this section asks Presbyterians to discuss how the Theological Reflection compares to our core convictions as Presbyterian Christians, and what do we find compelling about our Presbyterian identity. I look forward to being part of such a discussion, and I also hope that some of the participants will be non-Presbyterian Christians. As I think about these core values, I wonder whether the core convictions that we identify as foundations of our Presbyterian identity are not actually core convictions for Christians in general.

I would urge us to take some time to walk with the Theological Task Force. Although the various advocacy groups on both sides are already generating their statements disagreeing with the conclusions in the report, and have tried to fit the conclusions into one side or the other of the big debates, we should consider carefully what the Task Force offers, and begin where they do. Are the core convictions right? They look accurate to me, and they certainly reflect the understanding of the Christian faith that I have acquired in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Let’s take the time to begin where the Task Force began, and to listen to what the Task Force is saying about their experience of dialogue. Let’s take the time to study and discuss what the Task Force offers us, and to have risky dialogue with others. Let’s take the time to follow a process similar to the process they followed, and let’s see whether we do not discover a unifying sense of our identity given by God.

“A Season of Discernment” describes a process modeled by the Task Force that might turn out to be a way off the unmerry-go-round on which the PCUSA has been turning for a few decades. And if it is not a way off, “A Season of Discernment” at least shows a way to live within the current conflicts with a deeper appreciation of one another and of the grace of God in Jesus Christ who has claimed us all.

As we gather at the Lord’s Table this World Communion Sunday, we will gather to receive the gifts of God for the people of God. Let us be ready to trust that the peace, unity, and purity we seek are among those gifts from our loving, saving, and empowering God.

Over the coming weeks I will be looking more closely at various parts of "A Season of Discernment."

Other installments of this review of "A Season of Discernment" are: 1 2

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Monday, September 26, 2005

Three wishes for New Kensington - a time for dreaming

Three Wishes logoToday's Valley News Dispatch has an article "Searching for Wishes" about the need for nominations from the New Kensington area for the new NBC television show "Three Wishes." The show debuted Friday evening with stories in which Amy Grant, the host of the show, granted three wishes in a California town. The producers are interested in shooting an episode somewhere in the New Kensington area. New Kensington is very close to this virtual park bench, so this news prompts some dreaming about possibilities.

The VND article has contact information and instructions for those wishing to nominate a deserving individual or a whole community for the program. The wishes must be specific

The VND article mentions the Alle-Kiski Learning Center in Arnold as a possible recipient of a gift of a new learning center with childcare space. I admire the work they do on literacy which broadens the horizons of so many in the area. Their GED programs also help many to be able to enter the job market.

One crazy wish that I have thought of has to do with our local Habitat for Humanity of Allegheny Valley. The region would certainly benefit from having someone do something nice for us, but there is even more benefit for the area when people work together and make new connections around a shared task. The local Habitat affiliate wants to increase its capacity for building homes, and it is also participating in "Operation Home Delivery", which will involve pre-building a home here, disassembling the components, and shipping them in a container to a Habitat affiliate in the Gulf Coast region to assist that affiliate in getting back on its feet after the devastating storms. What if "Three Wishes" provided the materials for our local affiliate to organize volunteers to assemble the "home in a box?" It would stretch the local affiliate, but in a direction the local affiliate definitely wants to stretch.

What ideas and dreams do you have? You can certainly share them on this blog, but your ideas will have the most impact if you share them directly with NBC following the directions here.

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Sunday, September 25, 2005

You're next

Photo of reflection in movie poster with slogan "You're Next"I've now had my first experience of a 3D movie at the new Cinemark IMAX theater in the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills, when I went to see Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D.

When I caught my reflection in the glass over the movie poster, I could not resist taking a self-portrait under the movie slogan "Only 12 have walked on the Moon. You're Next."

Before the movie began there was a short film describing the special IMAX theater with projection on a screen ten times the size of other movie screens. The short film also showed off the impressive sound system which included speakers positioned behind the screen. The screen had small perforations to enable sound to pass through it to the audience.

There was also a trailer for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The experience of seeing the trailer on the massive screen was stunning, and left a strong impression that seeing a feature film in the IMAX theater would be memorable. I wish that the theater had given more directions about when one should wear the special 3D glasses, because there was nothing in the Potter trailer that required the glasses, and in fact the glasses detracted from fully appreciating the trailer.

Magnificent Desolation was an inspiring story that mixed original film footage and sound clips with CGI animations and the voices of actors reading quotations from the astronauts. Tom Hanks narrated the 45-minute documentary.

I think that there was a major inaccuracy in the way the movie used sound. Perhaps they felt it was necessary to add sound effects because the theaters would have such outstanding sound systems. But they made the cinematic experience of being on the moon unrealistic by adding sounds that one would not have been able to hear from the perspective of the observors sitting in the theater. There were a number of occasions when the recording of a historic moment was punctuated by the sound of a camera shutter clicking and the camera's motor advancing film. Although there is a very thin lunar atmosphere, I maintain that we would not have heard the sounds the way they were played through the theater speakers.

Filmgoers have been misled by decades of science fiction movies that feature loud explosions in outer space, most recently in Revenge of the Sith. When I talked with some of the teenagers at Central Perk about the problem that sound does not travel in a vacuum, some of them maintained that the explosions would have made noise but it would have been quieter. I'll let any scientist readers correct me, but it seems to me that any "sound" an observor would hear from an explosion in outer space would be caused by particles ejected from the explosions striking the exterior of whatever vessel contained the observor. Ridley Scott had it right back in 1979 with the Alien tagline: "In space no one can hear you scream." (CORRECTION: According to IMDB, the tagline for Alien is credited to Barbara Gips.)

Setting aside the sound inaccuracies, I enjoyed the 45 minute documentary, and felt that the animations were very helpful in giving a sense of the vastness of space and the significance of the events they depicted.

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Mission/Evangelism Sunday: the Ministry of the AVAC

PPT slide shown during sermon by Karen Snair on the Ministry of the AVACAcross Pittsburgh Presbytery, churches were observing Mission Weekend by celebrating the work of the mission agencies that extend their ministry.

At Central Presbyterian Church of Tarentum this morning our guest preacher was Mrs. Karen Snair, executive directory of the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches. Her sermon on "The Ministry of the AVAC" told a remarkable story about how the 41 member churches are making the love of Christ known locally and far away through the AVAC.

She described the increasing needs being met through the food bank. Some of the increase is due to higher visibility of the AVAC now that it has its own location on Freeport Road in Natrona Heights. Some of the increase is due to the sale of the Dayspring Christian Center and the abrupt cessation of its food bank and feeding program. Some of the increase is a reflection of increasing levels of local poverty. In the very recent past much of the food that would be distributed through local banks has been moved South to be available for survivors of the recent hurricanes. This shift is an appropriate response to the crisis, but our local food banks will be working with diminished resources as they deal with hungry people nearby.

AVAC is partnering with the Habitat for Humanity of Allegheny Valley in "Operation Home Delivery," through which the local Habitat affiliate will pre-construct a home to be shipped to a Gulf Coast region Habitat affiliate.

She also described trends in homelessness being met through the Interfaith Hospitality Network. Families are the fastest growing sector of homeless people. The average age of a homeless person is 9 years old. There is a need for volunteers to help any of the host churches of the hospitality network, and for new churches to volunteer to participate in the network.

In addition to three ecumenical worship events a year, AVAC also had a Dial-a-Devotion line. People can call (724) 224-1444 any time of day, on any day of the week, and they will be able to hear a short devotional/inspirational message recorded by volunteers. The messages are changed daily. Frances Elliot, a member of the Central Presbyterian Church, is AVAC's coordinator of the Dial-a-Devotion program. There are about 600 calls a month to the Dial-a-Devotion line.

This worship service was a good wrap-up for our Mission Weekend which also included an informative training event on Saturday about domestic violence.

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Saturday, September 24, 2005

Once every nine seconds

Once every nine seconds someone is beaten by an intimate partner.

This was only one of many statistics shared by Cathy Dutko from the Alle-Kiski HOPE Center as she led a workshop on domestic violence at the Central Presbyterian Church in Tarentum.

Eighteen church leaders were present from nine congregations, as far away as the Bethel Presbyterian Church in Bethel Park and the Prospect Presbyterian Church near Butler. The Cheswick Presbyterian Church, the Janes United Methodist Church of Creighton, and the Central Presbyterian Church of Tarentum each sent their full pastoral staff.

Cathy DutkoCathy Dutko led the two-hour workshop, which included information about the many forms that abuse can take, as well as an appreciation of the various types of people who are abused.

It was important to understand how many reasons influence a victim's perception of his or her freedom to leave an abusive situation. The pattern of abuse takes a toll on a person's self-esteem, and often the victim has been isolated from any external support network and may lack awareness of how many forms of help are available.

The issue of respecting the victim's choices provoked a healthy discussion of how one determines when to intervene and the level at which one should intervene in an abusive situation. A very helpful observation was that when a person is asking for help it should be clear that the victim is in the middle of a crisis. That would be a time when action would be warranted.

Because victims may not be aware of their options, churches can do a lot to increase awareness. Some of the simple things a church can do would include having literature, posters, tear-off sheets with crisis phone numbers available and visible. Having a pastor preach a sermon on domestic violence would also help to create a climate of awareness within the congregation and community.

We ended the morning knowing we had only scratched the surface of this issue, but before we parted we prayed for the Spirit's guidance as we returned to places where we would minister.

The path ahead at Central will unfold in October, which happens to be Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Our Session has approved the Presbyterian Peacemaking Offering to be received on October 9, and our congregation uses the local portion of that offering to support the work at the HOPE Center.

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Friday, September 23, 2005

Moving storm ceremony

It's obvious how this one slipped past the spell checker. It's not so obvious how it slipped past the proofreader.

Today's Valley News Dispatch had a front page story with the headline, "Hurricane Rite draws closer to Texas coast."

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Green building in Tarentum

The largest green building in the USA might be the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, but the newest one in Tarentum is the PNC Bank at the Pittsburgh Mills.

A recent article by Jennifer Yates tells us that PNC Bank has become a leader in building environmentally friendly branches. The new branch at Pittsburgh Mills is one of ninety green branches the bank plans to build over the next three years.

For more information about green buildings, check out:
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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Battle of the gods for Tarentum: Some thoughts on polytheism

I came across a blog entry by ares_star who, upon discovering my blog said:
I'll save my comments on the gods battling for possesion of Tarentum later.
I'd be interested in hearing those comments, because I don't know much about polytheism or how it might explain the occasional wierd thing that happens in Tarentum.

I readily admit that I am a monotheist who sees many of the events happening around me as part of the unfolding story of the one God who created the universe and continues to bring forth new things. Part of my own focus in this blog is to record some of those events that may be happening without many other people noticing them.

statue of Hebe in Riverview ParkBut I have not seen signs of a battle of the gods for Tarentum. We do have a couple of nice statues of Hebe here. Hebe was the Greek goddess of youth, the cupbearer of the Olympian gods, the one who gave them immortality by serving them nectar and ambrosia. She also married Heracles (Hercules).

There are two statues of Hebe in Tarentum. The one shown here is in Riverview Park. A replica of the same statue stands at the foot of the bridge, facing the traffic arriving from New Kensington.

Statue of Hebe in Riverview Park, bridge in backgroundIs Hebe involved in a battle with other gods? Not that I can tell. She is the only greek goddess I've found in Tarentum. In case she will be a threat to anyone we keep her in a nice cage in the park. I am not threatened, and I don't need the cage.

I also readily admit that there are events that have happened in Tarentum for which I have no explanation, and I don't know what they mean, if anything. For instance, I can't explain the break-in at a small church, and the burglar's decision to jimmy open an unlocked filing cabinet containing nothing of value. I don't know why all the alligators in Brackenridge want to come to Tarentum. And when I saw a van that had run two stop signs before stopping against the outside wall of a bar, it just looked odd. So, with no way to explain what these events mean, I decided I could always exploit these incidents by making a segue, however weak, to a blatant promotion of a church fundraiser. (By the way, did I mention that there will be a ham loaf dinner at the Central Presbyterian Church in Tarentum on October 15?)

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Some thoughts on atheism

I am now facing with some bemusement the fact that I have been quoted approvingly by local Pittsburgh blogger Austin Cline on here. He comments on something I wrote, saying:
I think that Pollock is expressing a similar sentiment as I do when I argue that the government doesn’t have the authority to single out any particular religion for promotion or endorsement. However, he is expressing it from a particularly Christian viewpoint and using Christian language, which is valuable.
Cline understood my position correctly, although the comments he quoted were more about what I thought the Christian Church should be doing than about what the government should be doing.

So what do Christians and atheists have in common? For one thing, when they refuse to bow down at the altars of the cultural deities, they each pose a threat to the status quo.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

No Holds Barred: book review

No Holds Barred : Wrestling with God in Prayer

No Holds Barred : Wrestling with God in PrayerMark D. Roberts, pastor of the Irvine Presbyterian Church in Irvine, California has written a fine book on prayer entitled No Holds Barred. This book invites the reader to the practice of passionate and honest prayer. The title, which advocates setting aside conventional rules of politeness in prayer, attracted me to the book because recent conversations had suggested to me that those same traditional rules had become barriers to prayer for some of my parishioners.

Working with the different types of prayer exemplified in the Psalms, Roberts illustrates the kind of openness that is possible and necessary in a lively and personal relationship with God. For example, statements of doubt may seem out of place in the faith community, but Roberts interprets Psalm 77 to show that God welcomes prayers of doubt and desperation:
I am a well-worn doubter, so I know all too well the contours of this darkness. I know how tempting it is to stop praying. After all, what am I supposed to say to God when I question whether he exists or whether he cares for me? Am I supposed to pray, Lord, I don't even know if you're there to hear this prayer. And if you are, I'm not sure you care enough to pay attention? If we take Psalm 77 seriously, then the answer is "Yes, exactly. Pray your doubts! Yes, question God's existence or his goodness!" (p. 85)
Prayers of anger and vengeance violate all the conventional ideas about how one should pray to the God who forgives and who commands us to be forgiving. Roberts explains the imprecatory psalms such as Psalms 3, 58, 69, 137 to show that such prayers are appropriate.

As I read the book, I found that it stimulated an ongoing personal reflection on what is happening when I lead public prayers. Although Roberts did not explicitly ask these questions, I am giving some long thoughts to the possibility and likelihood that the style(s) of praying I model in public prayer might contribute to inhibitions in private prayer among my parishioners. Knowing full well that the rules of politeness are out of place in private prayer, I wonder how far I can go in public prayer.

This book would be very useful for individual reading and spiritual growth. Each chapter closes with suggested prayer exercises the reader might try. The book also includes a discussion guide which would be very useful if a study group used the book together.

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Vanity of vanities

Yesterday I was visiting a shut-in who from time to time has asked to receive tapes of the worship services. It is flattering to think that someone wants to hear what I have to say. She starts to tell me one of the things she likes about my sermons, and I start to prepare myself to receive a compliment.

"You say what you have to say and then you stop."

So one of the best things about my sermons is that they end.

Enough said.

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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Sports Card business to move into Tarentum

Today's Valley News Dispatch carries a news story by Jason Walker with the title "Highland Mall still open for business." Although much of the story is a reminder that the remaining businesses at the Highland Mall are still open to assist customers until January 31, the highlight of the story for me was movement of business into Tarentum.

Superior Sports Cards is moving to Tarentum from the Highland Mall. former CC's Antiques building, corner Fifth and Lock, TarentumThe 18-year old business is moving to the CC's antique building at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Lock Street in Tarentum. The building is one of the examples of charming architecture in town.

The wall of the building along Lock Street has an attractive growth of ivy.

The move is likely to be welcomed by neighbors in Tarentum because the location has been vacant for some time.

ivy growth on Lock StreetI welcome the arrival of this business into Tarentum because it will be one more store that complements the existing businesses in downtown Tarentum, and it also does not duplicate any of the stores in the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills. It will be another store I can add to my developing list of things that can be done in downtown Tarentum but not at the Galleria.

The store will be across the street from a pediatric clinic, and next door to a professional building. It will be in easy walking distance to Joan's Kiln Korner, the Tarentum Station, the Corbet Street Central Perk, and the Eckerd's Pharmacy. It is just three blocks from Central Presbyterian Church. The neighborhood is looking up.

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Saturday, September 17, 2005

Zoundry responds with a solution to my folksonomy issue

Zoundry logoWow! barely two weeks after a major update the Zoundry team has responded with a new build (0.9.126) that can be configured to set up categories for my Blogger based blog using my tagspace.

The solution is described here, and spelled out in more detail here.

Once again, the new build of Zoundry Blog writer installed easily. Editing the Myquicklinks file as suggested was fairly easy, and I was glad their instructions reminded me to test out the edited xml file in Internet Explorer before running Zoundry.

This is the kind of responsiveness by which the Zoundry team has impressed me, especially given that they picked up my need from my review of the last major update.

This is my first post using the new feature (and adding a new category to my tagspace). See how nicely it works!

Update 10-06-05. I originally learned about making the tags from this article.

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Habitat for Humanity of Allegheny Valley to participate in hurricane relief

Logo for Habitat for Humanity of Allegheny ValleyA press release from Habitat for Humanity International describes a three-fold response to assist throughout the Gulf Coast region following Hurricane Katrina.

The first phase of the response will be to help the affected Habitat affiliates to restore. It has been reported that some of the Gulf Coast affiliates lost half the homes they had built.

The second phase will be to work as a catalyst with many organizations, governments, corporations, and foundations to address low-income housing and plan for recovery on a scaale Habitat could not do alone.

The third phase will be for many affiliates around the country to pre-build homes, then disassemble them and place them in containers that can be shipped to the affected areas. Habitat's "Operation Home Delivery" is the name of this home-in-a-box project.

The local affiliate, Habitat for Humanity of Allegheny Valley will participate in this response. At this time donations should be made to Habitat for Humanity International, and mention the local affiliate.

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Allegheny Valley Association of Churches expanding

Allegheny Valley Association of Churches logoA page 3 article by Jason Walker in Friday's Valley News Dispatch (apparently, the article is only available offline in the print edition) describes expansion plans of the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches. The building at 1913 Freeport Road in Natrona Heights is being expanded on the second floor to accomodate growing program needs.

Forty-two member congregations from a wide range of denominations support the work of AVAC, which includes a homeless program for women and families, a Dial-a-Devotion phone line, financial assistance, a food bank, and a hospital chaplain.

Central Presbyterian Church of Tarentum is one of the 42 member churches. Next weekend. September 25, 2005, AVAC's executive director, Mrs. Karen Snair, will preach at Central Church in the main worship service, as part of the Mission Weekend promoted by Pittsburgh Presbytery.

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Friday, September 16, 2005

Dawn in Pittsburgh

On Thursday I was painfully reminded that there is a lack of shelter space for homeless men in the Alle-Kiski Valley. A series of phone calls to regional shelters who told me they were already at capacity led me to a dark Pittsburgh street this morning before dawn.
Dawn breaks through the clouds 9-16-05
A handful of men arrived early more than an hour before the shelter opened, each hoping that there would be space. The neighborhood had signs of decay ...
alongside signs of cleanliness, care, and life.
tree growing beside brick wall and window
Today there was space available at the Pleasant Valley Shelter of Northside Common Ministries.
welcoming sign for Pleasant Valley Shelter
As we drove into the city in the dark, George had commented to me that he felt he was at a new beginning. Because the people in this part of the community were working together, a new beginning became a possibility for him.

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

Domestic Violence event registrations coming in

icon of Domestic Violence event flier Registrations are coming in from a number of churches and other organizations who would like to participate in the domestic violence training program at the Central Presbyterian Church of Tarentum, Saturday, September 24, 2005 from 10 AM to Noon.

The event is free. Registration will help ensure that adequate materials are available for participants and that we set up the room appropriately. Cathy Dutko of the Alle-Kiski Hope Center will provide the training.

Those wishing to register may do so at Directions to the church can be found here.

icon of invitation letter with directionsSpecial thanks are owed to Pittsburgh Presbytery, Beaver-Butler Presbytery, the Presbyterian Synod of the Trinity, the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches, and the Alle-Kiski Hope Center for publicizing this event.

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This kind of spooked me

Within minutes of posting my last blog entry I am getting hits from a page featuring a Newsweek article. Newsweek? I didn't say anything about any Newsweek article! What is going on? How did my blog get linked from a Newsweek article? And so quickly?

So I go to the Newsweek article and check it out. Lo and behold:

cutout from screenshot of the Newsweek article

Newsweek has got a widget that integrates with Technorati and had picked up my blog based on the tags I had used.

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Flexible responses needed to Hurricane Katrina

Yesterday I received an email message from the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Rapid Information Network. Apparently the specific kinds of shelter kits Central Presbyterian Church is preparing for PDA are not needed there now. We are encouraged to find a local agency who can use them. If we fail to find a local recipient we are encouraged to pack and store the kits, and to notify PDA of the number and type of kits we have ready to ship when they are needed. More news will follow as we identify a local recipient of the shelter kits already made and assembled.

This is a similar piece of news to that in a front page story in today's Valley News-Dispatch, describing the primary need of the disaster response agencies for money, given the shifting needs for specific supplies and materials.

Central Presbyterian Church of Tarentum will continue to receive monetary gifts for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and to encourage the congregation members to give either through the local church or directly to PDA.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Which part of "Stop" do you not understand?

This is a series of photos after a traffic incident at approximately 4:00 PM today at the intersection of Corbet Street and 4th Avenue in Tarentum.
Intersection of Corbet St and 4th Ave
This is how the intersection looks when it is free of traffic (some of the time) and marauding alligators from Brackenridge (most of the time).
Police car and vehicle against building
Officer, I'm sure the bar was not in the middle of the intersection when the stop sign turned green.
Van vs. Praha
Note to self: It's a sharp -- like 90 degrees -- turn here to get to where they'll serve the ham loaf on October 15.
Van vs. Praha
Doesn't a driver get partial credit for dodging the speeding lamp post?
Bystanders at 4th and Allegheny. No alligators in sight
None of the bystanders saw any marauding alligators. No alligators were cited for disturbing the peace.
scarred exterior wall of Praha Hotel
The Praha Hotel is badly scarred but should survive. The best ham loaf in town is not served at the Praha, but a block away at the Central Presbyterian Church. October 15, 2005. In Tarentum.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Lilly Endowment and Fund for Theological Education bring students to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

A September 12, 2005 press release from the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary announced that for the first time in the Seminary's history it had enrolled a student from the Lilly Endowment's Program for the Theological Exploration of Vocation, as well as a Fund for Theological Education fellow. A telephone conversation today with Melissa Logan, Communications Coordinator, confirmed that each of these events were independently historic firsts for the Seminary.

The Lilly Endowment's Program for the Theological Exploration of Vocation started in 1999, intended to identify and nurture a new generation of leaders for church and society. Amanda Zervos, a sophomore psychology major at the College of Wooster, is the recipient and will attend Pittsburgh Seminary on an exchange program this year.

The Fund for Theological Education has awarded more than 5,600 fellowships for theological study since 1954. Kevin Thomas is the recipient of the fellowship and is earning a dual degree in Master of Divinity and Master of Social Work.

Why is this news significant to me? I am not an alumnus of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, but as a local pastor I have been very blessed by the Seminary's orientation toward the local church. I congratulate the Seminary for attracting such well-qualified students.

News about the Fund for Theological Education always gets my attention. My college chaplain nominated me to the FTE. My interview with the FTE committee was the most significant interview I have had in my life, ahead of any interview I have had for any position I have held. I remember that I left that interview with a far stronger sense of my calling to ministry than I had known I had when I entered the room. A few weeks later I received the letter telling me that I did not get a fellowship. Even as I read the rejection letter I knew I had gained something better. I am very grateful to the people on that FTE interviewing committee who helped me recognize the path I was to follow.

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When the Moon became a place

When I was a child I delighted in the wonder of the night-time sky when distant stars and the full moon were visible. I would think about what I had learned in school about the moon being an enormous object orbiting around the earth, which itself was an object orbiting around the Sun, which itself was moving along a path that no one had yet been able to describe.

The analogies that were used to help me appreciate the relative sizes of the Earth, Moon, and Sun and the distances between them left me with a sense of awe at the size of the whole Universe and of the power of God who had created it.

walking on the moonI remember the day in 1969 when the television screen showed astronauts stepping out of their spacecraft and walking on the Moon's surface. I would sit inside in front of the TV and watch the drama unfold in amazement, and then for weeks afterward I would step outside of the house and find the moon either in the day or night sky, and remind myself that what I had seen on television had happened up there on that distant object. The experience stretched my comprehension of my place in the universe.

That experience would stretch language itself. We talked about "landing" on the moon, the lunar "landscape", or people finding their way on lunar "terrain", and at the back of my mind was the dim awareness that we were using words that previously had rather conventional meanings in utterly new ways; we were searching for the right analogies to describe a new reality. What did it mean to talk about a terrain that was not on Terra? What did it mean to "land" on a thing that was neither earthly "land" nor even a platform floating on an earthly sea?

walking on the moonThe scenes of astronauts walking on the moon changed the way I pictured the moon. It was transformed in my mind from an object to a place where a human being could walk, or stand still and observe the earth, a place where the the inner ear and the illusion of fixedness could assist the earth-learned skills of orienting oneself in one's environment, but a place where "up" and "down" were no longer dictated by the imaginary vectors pointing to the center of the earth.

I'm looking forward to the world-wide release on September 23, 2005 of "Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D", and to being able to see it at the local Cinemark IMAX theater in the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills in Tarentum. I know that part of the movie will be CGI renderings of what the scenes must have been like, not actual film taken with an IMAX camera. But I look forward to an experience that will remind me of how my mind was stretched in 1969, and will refresh the ways I think of my place in the universe when, outside the theater, I look up and see the moon.

The stories of the twelve human beings who have walked on the moon are for me not so much stories of human achievement, as they are stories of humans who gained for all of us a better perspective on how vast the universe really is, and how small a part of it we really are.
"I often think of the heavens your hands have made and of the moon and stars you put in place. Then I ask, 'Why do you care about us humans? Why are you concerned for us weaklings?' You have made us a little lower than you yourself, and you have crowned us with glory and honor."
- Psalm 8:3-5, Contemporary English Version, (c) 1995 American Bible Society.

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Help with transportation to NO

I just had a phone call from the leader of Girl Scout Cadet Troop 932 here in Tarentum. The troop will be assembling book bags, school supplies, and Girl Scout supplies for people affected by Hurricane Katrina in the New Orleans area.

They are trying to figure out how to transport these items and distribute them. I'm posting the inquiry here in case someone knows a way to get our local Girl Scout Troop connected to a Girl Scout Troop in the New Orleans area so that we can get past these hurdles.

Please post any suggestions here, and I'll pass them on.

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Monday, September 12, 2005

George Bush the modern Constantine and other musings

Following up on my commitment to review all the planned bulletin inserts from the Glimpses series of the Christian History Institute, I have decided that the issues in my possession pass muster for distribution to the Central Presbyterian Church of Tarentum even though I have some minor issues with things that are not necessarily stated clearly or accurately.

Issue # 192, entitled "Constantine: Christian or Opportunist" describes Constantine's challenge as having to decide how far he could push a Christian agenda in a largely non-Christian society. The authors state that President George W. Bush faces the very same issue today. They then go on to state:
And many ask if Constantine himself was truly a Christian? Or was he merely an opportunist, using the Christian faith for purely political ends? Historians would debate this question down through the centuries.
The authors tactfully avoid raising the same questions about President Bush, apparently leaving room for future historians to make their own evaluation.

Issue # 189, entitled "Nettie McCormick: It Is Better to Give" is a brief biography of the widow and heiress of Cyrus McCormick, inventor of a mechanical reaper. The article describes her philanthropy and use of the McCormick fortune to support church work. There is a misleading sentence in the penultimate paragraph where it states that "She became a leading benefactress of the Presbyterian Church in America."

This sentence is misleading because there is a modern-day denomination called the Presbyterian Church in America, organized in 1973 - fifty years after the death of Nettie McCormick. The institutions named in the article that she and her husband had supported so generously, McCormick Theological Seminary and Tusculum College, are both related to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). During Mrs. McCormick's lifetime this modern-day denomination went by the name the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. I can deal with the possibility of confusion on the Sunday we use the insert at Central.

Issue # 188, entitled "Presidential Inaugurations: 'I do solemnly swear ...'" is an interesting one about the use of the Bible at Presidential inaugurations. There is a minor and unnecessary use of exclusive language in the penultimate sentence. The Twenty-First Century started a few years ago, so I would have expected better.

Issues # 190 and 191 are interesting topics and the articles don't raise any concerns for me.

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Awareness Rally in Mellon Square Park

The following blog entry is an email from Dave Carver, Pastor of the First United Presbyterian Church of Crafton Heights, Moderator of Pittsburgh Presbytery, and is reposted in full with his permission.

Dear friends of Africa:

September 9 was the anniversary of the day that the US Government determined that the Darfur region of Sudan was the site of the first genocide of the twenty-first century. Many of you are familiar with the horrible stories that have come out of the camps and the ways that the Janjaweed Militia, with the support (or at least indifference of) the Sudanese government, has killed hundreds of thousands of innocents.

Recently, there have been signs of peace. Small, but promising signs. There is cause for hope.

David Sarasohn, writing in the Oregonian, says that Americans are afflicted with "Africa Attention Deficit Disorder. (AADD)" From time to time, shocking images of famine in Niger or brutality in Darfur or AIDS patients in South Africa flood our consciousness. But mostly, we forget that Africa exists. Were we to pay attention, we might respond to crises as they develop, rather than after they explode. But, as Sarasohn says, "there's no footage in a famine forecast."
Will you raise your voice to help cure AADD? On October 6, millions of concerned citizens from around the world will be fasting and sharing the money they'd have spent with a relief organization targeting Darfur. On that same day, the Pittsburgh Darfur Emergency Coalition will sponsor a noontime rally in Mellon Square Park (downtown Pittsburgh). Local fasters will join government officials in reading a proclamation from City Council and delivering petitions to Sens. Specter and Santorum. There will be a percussion ensemble and a few remarks (the main "program" will run from about 12:30 - 1:00).

We need people to come downtown and raise their voices! Will you come - in African garb, if possible - to show the world that Africa is not forgotten?

News coverage of the fast will be broadcast into Eastern Chad and Sudan to encourage those who are still hanging on. You can make a difference. You can save a life.

"The real problem with our AADD," says Sarasohn, "is that the people who have it aren't the ones who suffer from it."

Read about the Pittsburgh Darfur Emergency Coalition at

Read about the national fast at

Read Sarasohn's column here

I hope that you'll make an effort to participate.


Dave Carver

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Magnificent Desolation in Tarentum

No, that is not a description of Tarentum.

"Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D" is the name of an IMAX (R) film to be released on September 23 in a record number of theaters worldwide according to a company press release. Locally the film will open in Tarentum at the Cinemark at the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills. (Among the other 84 theaters worldwide where the film will open is the Rangos Omnimax Theater at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh.)

Tom Hanks narrates the film, which also includes the voices of Morgan Freeman, John Travolta, Paul Newman, Matt Damon, and Matthew McConaughey. The images are a combination of NASA footage, CGI rendition and live action.

The Playtone/IMAX production was sponsored by Lockheed Martin.

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Sunday, September 11, 2005

The truth about the wall of separation

I had an unhappy learning experience this morning. I learned that I need to review every bulletin insert proposed for inclusion in the church bulletin, even when the source has been trustworthy in the past.

When I arrived in Tarentum almost three years ago, I discovered that Central Presbyterian Church had a tradition of including a bulletin insert called "Glimpses" from the Christian History Institute on Communion Sundays. Today was a Communion Sunday. The "Glimpses" for today was Issue #187; the article was entitled "The Truth about the Wall of Separation", written by Constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead and was reprinted by permission from The Rutherford Institute. I wish I had read it before the bulletin was assembled for Sunday.

The Constitutional analysis in this issue was good. I blame myself for not pulling this article for three gratuitous and unhelpful comments that feed a whiny version of American Christianity that I would like to leave in the dustbin of history.
"Unfortunately, this phrase ["separation of church and state"] has been used by special interest groups to oppress religious Americans and keep them from exercising their basic rights. However, both history and logic dispute the false claim that this oppression is authorized by the Constitution."
Who are these "special interest groups?" Who are these bogeymen intent on oppressing religious Americans? What forms does this "oppression" take? In the context of this paragraph - or of the first three pages of the article - the author is silent. He leaves to the reader to assign to these terms whatever meaning the reader desires. If the reader has already been told that she or he is being oppressed, these sentences buttress that impression, whether it is well-founded or not.

Whitehead's organization, the Rutherford Institute, describes itself as a "civil liberties organization that provides free legal services to people whose constitutional and human rights have been threatened or violated." They also publish occasional reports on pending or decided cases that affect religious liberty. I wish the comment above had been supported by a couple of the examples Whitehead could have given. There genuinely are situations in which government entities err with oppressive effect as they try to find a path that honors the prohibition against the establishment of religion. I am glad that there are attorneys such as Whitehead defending First Amendment liberties, but I don't believe that there is a general oppression of religious Americans. This morning I stepped into a pulpit to preach the Gospel in a sermon I prepared without any government oversight, to a congregation who were not in any way hindered by the government in their access to the house of worship - well, except for the construction site on the New Kensington bridge that delayed everybody, churchgoer or not.

It was in the penultimate paragraph in the article that the article unnecessarily gave an explanation for the false allegation of oppression:
Jefferson's wall-of-separation philosophy was one of the Supreme Court's major arguments in removing prayer and Bible reading from the public schools.
This is a very unfortunate oversimplification of what the Supreme Court decided. The Supreme Court did not remove prayer and Bible reading from the public schools. It banned school-administered prayer and Bible reading from the public schools. At least Whitehead did not claim that the Supreme Court had banished the Almighty, Eternal, and Omnipresent God from the public schools.

In closing the article Whitehead says:
The First Amendment, therefore, provides freedom for religion. It does not, as we so often hear today, provide freedom from religion.
Maybe I move in the wrong circles, but I can't think of a time when anyone has ever told me that the First Amendment provides freedom from religion. And I've talked to people who would like to shut me up, but they've just told me to shut up without the pseudo-Constitutional rationale. Maybe in Mr. Whitehead's litigation practice he encounters people who say this frequently, but I do not believe that it is an argument offered that commonly.

I do not like the whiny approach to the Christian faith that tries to make the schools, the courthouses, or the state responsible for the Church's failure to tell the good news to others. It is high time for the Christian Church to accept the responsibility the Risen Christ gave us in the Great Commission and be about our work without blaming others for our imagined "oppression."

And, yes, it was my fault I did not read the insert before the Sunday bulletin was assembled. As a penance I'll review all the upcoming Glimpses tomorrow.

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Saturday, September 10, 2005

Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting at Crestfield: 6. Award given to peacemaking ministry at South Side church

During the meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery at the Crestfield Camp and Conference Center on September 8, 2005 the Presbytery's Peacemaking Taskforce reported on its availability to meet with Sessions to talk about peacemaking.

John Helgeson, chair of the Peacemaking Network for the Synod of the Trinity gave a synod award to the Co-Creators Youth Club of the South Side Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh.

Nora Johnson, chair of the Presbytery's Peacemaking Taskforce reminded the Presbytery that the Peacemaking Offering this year would be received in many churches on World Communion Sunday, October 2. This is one of four special offerings of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and she left hanging the question whether those present could name all four special offerings. That is an easy one: One Great Hour of Sharing (which, incidentally, earlier in the year raised the first half million dollars that the PCUSA committed to Hurricane Katrina relief before Presbyterians knew about the devastation in the Gulf Coast), Pentecost, Peacemaking, and Christmas Joy.

Here at the Central Presbyterian Church of Tarentum, we are planning to receive the Peacemaking Offering later in October. Twenty-five percent of the offering is kept locally to use in peacemaking work approved by the session of the church. We will be giving our local portion to the Alle-Kiski Hope Center, our local domestic violence agency. Appropriately enough, we'll be receiving the Peacemaking Offering during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. We are also planning a domestic violence training event for religious workers, to take place on September 24, 2005.

My articles about this Presbytery meeting are: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

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Friday, September 09, 2005

Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting at Crestfield: 5. Valley churches recognized for support of mission

There was some good financial news shared at the meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery at the Crestfield Camp and Conference Center on September 8, 2005. At the end of June, fifty-three churches have given more to shared benevolences than at the same time in 2004. The better news is that at the end of June 2005, twenty-seven churches have given more to shared benevolences than in all of 2004. The Presbytery asked representatives of these twenty-seven churches to stand.

Some of the churches were close neighbors to Central Presbyterian Church of Tarentum: First United Presbyterian Church of Tarentum and the Natrona Heights Presbyterian Church. Congratulations to both of them for having stepped up!

My articles about this Presbytery meeting are: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting at Crestfield: 4. How the church is not like an assembly line

We Presbyterians pride ourselves on doing things "decently and in order." Sometimes the procedures we develop may seem too rigid, but at other times the underlying orderliness is not immediately apparent.

During the meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery at the Crestfield Camp and Conference Center on September 8, 2005, the Committee on Preparation for Ministry presented five inquirers (who have been exploring their sense of call) to be received as candidates (and continue a more intensive discernment process about their call to ministry).

The Presbytery voted to receive local Pittsburgh blogger John Creasy, a member of Memorial Park Community Presbyterian Church, as a candidate. The Presbytery also voted to receive inquirers Joan Hogge, Shanea Leonard, Robert Sparr and Brian Snyder as candidates. Congratulations to all! This is an important step on your paths toward ordained ministry.

At the conclusion of the committee's report there was a question from the floor from a minister who had concerns about the timing of the process of preparation for ministry. He was noticing that some of the individuals being received as candidates had already graduated from seminary, and would remain in the process for at least another year before they were eligible for ordination. Jim Tinnemeyer, the chair of the committee explained that the committee's process is a discernment process and that the fact that the person's educational timeline was not in synch with the discernment process of the church with the individual should not be a concern.

I agree that it is not in the committee's power to force the two processes to follow the same timeline. Our church's discernment process has some inflexible requirements, but is flexible enough to take into account the fact that the sovereign God calls individuals into ministry on God's schedule not on ours. I have seen seminary graduates, after they have all the academic degrees that are required, enter our discernment process. I have also seen people enter the process before they applied to seminary. Our church has a process that works for all because it accepts the fact that we are each at different stages of spiritual and academic development when we respond to God's call.

My articles about this Presbytery meeting are: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

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Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting at Crestfield: 3: At worship

Worship is an integral part of church meetings. I've been in a number of meetings where efforts to fit items of business into an order of worship format have felt contrived. At the meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery at Crestfield Camp and Conference Center on September 8, 2005 I felt that Moderator David Carver did a good job of making sure that our business was done in a worshipful atmosphere. The flow seemed very natural.

Dan Merry talking to friends during lunch breakEarly in the meeting there was a service of the Word at which Dan Merry, Pastor to the Presbytery for medium-sized churches, preached. Dan has been in Africa for a year, "on loan" to the Blantyre Synod of the CCAP in Malawi. His presence there was an expression of Pittsburgh Presbytery's mission partnership with the Blantyre Synod. Dan spoke to us about the serious famine facing Malawi.

Dan preached to the Presbytery on the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. WIth the assistance of the Presbytery he did some very rough math to estimate the full size of the crowd, given that the writer was only counting the men who were present. His rule of thumb total was that the crowd may have been twenty thousand people. Dan explained that when Jesus told the disciples to feed the crowd, the disciples reacted with puzzlement because they had forgotten two things: their own resources and the power of God.

During this part of the meeting the Presbytery learned and sang a song called "Praise Together" by James D. Lueers. Rob of Unspace is probably already familiar with this song, as it is sung frequently at PHCPC.

During this part of the meeting the Presbytery received an offering that is to be split evenly between Hurricane Katrina relief and Malawi famine relief. Later in the meeting it was announced that the total offering was $3400. It's a start toward the million.

My articles about this Presbytery meeting are: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

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