Monday, October 31, 2005

Mayoral Race in Pleasantville?

The Valley News Dispatch today recognized that the mayoral race in Tarentum is interesting. The same opposing candidates as in 2001 have switched parties this year. It sounds very polite, but maybe there is more going on under the surface.

Both candidates are in agreement that the downtown Tarentum business district should be promoted, but I'm looking forward to hearing more from each of them about how to do so. Tarentum does have much to offer that is not found at the new Pittsburgh Mills.

I hope that both of the candidates will give us more information about how they'll help to encourage people to discover what is available here. The new borough website does give the borough a web presence, but so far there is nothing on the site even approaching a survey of the options available for someone considering moving here, much less for someone thinking about having a cup of coffee in downtown Tarentum.

I don't sense a disagreement between the candidates about the positive value of encouraging new business, but I'd also be interested in hearing from each of them about what they would actually do to encourage new business in Tarentum.

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Congratulations to Hometown Treasure Christa Beck

Congratulations are due to Christa Beck who was identified as a "Hometown Treasure" in today's Valley News Dispatch. The article tells about the innovative "Kindermusik" program through which she helps children to grow in and through the appreciation of music.

There should be a small correction to the story, to correctly name the church in Tarentum where the music program happens as the First United Presbyterian Church.

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Regional Asset District defensive, but without explanation for shortchanging Valley

A letter to the editor in today's Valley News Dispatch responded to the October 19 article about the intention of the Regional Asset District not to fund the Rachel Carson Homestead. I previously blogged about this article here.

The letter writer is Daniel J. Griffin, a member of the board of the Allegheny Regional Asset District. He writes as follows:

Regarding your article of Oct. 19, "Local groups again shortchanged by asset district," I take exception with the implication that Valley Residents are neglected by the Regional Asset District.

Indeed, Valley residents receive library services not only from their closest branches, but from any library throughout the county via the regional delivery service and computerized catalogue.

Valley residents are served by 14 district-funded parks throughout the county, including several in the northeast corner (Harrison Hills, Deer Lakes, North Park and Hartwood Acres).

Valley residents are also served by the municipal share of the 1 percent sales tax that comes back to their municipalities.

Moreover, residents throughout the county, including the Valley, are served by all of the regional assets, places like the Pittsburgh Zoo and Phipps Conservatory, and arts and culture and recreational facilities and programs.

While assets, through performance and good management, must earn the support of the district board, we recognize, support and welcome eligible applications from throughout the county, including the Valley.

This reads like a defensive response to me, and it does not give an explanation for the failure of the RAD to support the Rachel Carson Homestead, other than that they have decided not to support it.

The original article pointed out that there are substantial grants made to some assets perceived as having a wide reach in the county. But when grants are made in other parts of the county to groups and organizations having a narrower reach, why are similar grants not made in the Valley?

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Fog in the Allegheny Valley

The sun rose this morning over thick fog in the Allegheny Valley. Tarentum is somewhere under that fog as seen from Lower Burrell.
fog in the Allegheny Valley 10-31-05
fog in the Allegheny Valley 10-31-05

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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Surprising search result

I was checking out my visitor logs and was surprised to see that there had been a number of internet searches with Google for "Carl Magnetta". I ran the search myself with the key words "Carl Magnetta" and discovered that of all the sites in the internet, this blog was the number 2 source of information on the President of the Tarentum Borough Council.

I wonder why the searchers were looking for information about this guy, and whether they found the photo of him in this article.

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Portrait taken at Thrivent Mobile

portrait ov volunteers James Legge, Stewart Pollock, and Glenn Gross at Thrivent Builds Mobile in Pittsburgh

Just in case the photos I took of the Thrivent Builds Mobile on Friday were not enough evidence that I was actually there, this is the portrait taken at the event of (left to right) the Rev. Dr. James Legge, me, and Glenn Gross, three members of the board of Habitat for Humanity Allegheny Valley. The yellow vests were to identify us as volunteers.

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Saturday, October 29, 2005

Stewart needs

I don't usually play meme games, but I found this on Adam's blog. Google your name along with the word "needs" and find the first ten sentences.
  1. Stewart needs help ...
  2. Stewart needs an anger management refresher.
  3. Stewart needs 22nd place finish at Miami.
  4. Stewart needs a lawyer.
  5. Stewart needs a ladder.
  6. Stewart needs steroid injection.
  7. Stewart needs to cover this area of risk.
  8. Stewart needs publicity.
  9. Last Thing Stewart Needs Is A Brickyard 400 Distraction.
  10. Stewart needs substance far more than style.

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My blog is worth $8,468.10.
How much is your blog worth?

I found this on the Technorati blog. It's a very, very rough way to estimate the value of a blog on the basis of a number of assumptions that may be way off the mark. But it does begin from a specific set of data for the sale of Weblogs Inc. to AOL.

It is interesting stuff, and an enticing non-offer. But this blog is not for sale.

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Friday, October 28, 2005

Thrivent Builds Mobile in Pittsburgh

Thrivent Builds Mobile outside the David L. Lawrence Conventions Center, PittsburghThe big red truck I've been writing about here and here is more than just a pretty logo. Today I was privileged to volunteer to support its presence outside the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, where it was parked in the Alco Parking Lot at the corner of Penn and 10th Avenues in the heart of the Pittsburgh Cultural District.

Doorway that opens on the experience of poverty housingThe 48-foot truck is a museum on wheels, a "mobile education unit," containing a moving (literally and figuratively) multimedia experience to inform visitors about the conditions and consequences of poverty housing, as well as the difference it makes for families to find their way out of poverty housing through participation in Habitat for Humanity. One enters the exhibit at the back through a weathered door that foreshadows the experience inside.

This educational exhibit is a project of Thrivent Builds, which is a partnership of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans with Habitat for Humanity. The partnership intends to build $105 million in new housing over the next four years.

volunteers in front of the exhibit as seen from corner of Penn and TenthVolunteers at the exhibit understandably included an excellent representation of Lutherans, but there were also Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and United Methodists among the volunteers from the three local sponsoring affiliates of Habitat for Humanity. Today there were also some students from Duquesne University present to help out.

The exhibit was right across the street from WAMO, and we had some visits from people connected with that radio station. This is one more reason why Habitat loves WAMO.

volunteers at the Thrivent Builds Mobile in PittsburghThe day started out cold and overcast with occasional drops of rain. My job today was to encourage the passing pedestrians to visit the exhibit. Armed with tiny handbills I walked back and forth along Penn Avenue near the exhibit to let people know what the big red truck was all about, and that there were free hot dogs and popcorn at the tents outside the exhibit. By about the middle of the four hour event I was pretty chilled and then greatly relieved when the sun started to break through the clouds.

Trying to talk to passersby was a good experience for me. Some people tried hard to avoid eye contact. Most were in a rush; after all, this was Friday, and they certainly had end-of-week deadlines they had to meet. If you were one of the people who didn't have time to talk to me, please know that I have been in your situation. I myself don't always have time to talk to people when I am trying to get somewhere. You did not offend me and I hope that my attempts to inform you were not intrusive. I had a number of positive conversations with people, and even many of the people who could not stop to talk let me know that they appreciated the work that Habitat does.

The exhibit will be in the same location on Saturday, October 29, 2005 from 11:30 to 3:30 PM. After that it will be packed up and head off towards its next stop, which is Austin, Texas. Yinzers need to be aware that Saturday will be their last chance for a while to see this exhibit. If you're free on Saturday, don't miss it!

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

And if you get to where the Trackside Inn used to be you've gone too far.

Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dali, 1931The resistance to accepting change in old communities like Tarentum often seems quaint to a newcomer to the area. A month ago someone who remembered eating at McCool's as a teenager told me about eating there the previous week. I thought I knew all the places people could sit down for lunch in this town, and had to press to learn that the diner I knew as the Homestyle Restaurant had once gone by a different name under other management.

Sometimes talking to people in Tarentum gives a newcomer like me the feeling of being in some kind of twilight zone where the memories of long closed establishments are still an almost visible and palpable reality to many of the locals.

photo of where the Trackside Inn used to beThe Trackside Inn was demolished this month. For the benefit of people who will come after me, I decided it would be helpful to share a picture of the place that someday soon the locals probably will refer to as the place "where the Trackside Inn used to be." So if you get directions through town, and you need to know what empty space is the place where the Trackside Inn used to be, now you have a chance of recognizing it.

sign reading "Chew Honest (S)crap"The demolition has further revealed an old advertising sign painted on the exterior of the adjacent building. No, the sign does not say what it looks like. It is an advertisement for a tobacco product people used to chew called "Honest Scrap." And somewhere down the street is the place where people used to buy it. And in another part of town is the place where the people who used to buy and chew "Honest Scrap" used to work.

A news story this week in the Valley News Dispatch tells about the demolition of a former home in another Valley community. That is the place where over two years ago police found the 11.5 pound body of four-year old Kristen Tatar. Her tiny corpse had been wrapped in plastic and stuffed into a cooler in a shed. The parents who starved her to death are now incarcerated.

photo of Kristen TatarDuring the months that Kristen had been bound and starved, some of the neighbors did not even know there was a little girl in that house. The neighbors feel an understandable need for the house to come down.

Questions remain about how a child in a neighborhood of nice people, and in a home periodically visited by social workers, could have slipped so badly through the cracks in our society's protections for vulnerable children.

I don't believe in haunted houses, not even at Hallowe'en. Nor do I trust that demolition alone can erase bad memories. In addition to facing the hard questions, there is a need to take steps toward building a future in which children will be appreciated and safe.

When we can start talking about a vacant lot as a place where something good will come to be, when we can start talking about that future as if it were an almost visible and palpable reality, that will be hope. Even if it is only glimpsed from afar.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Substandard housing and solutions to be shown on campus

Big Red Truck logo from Thrivent Builds with Habitat for HumanityA "Mobile Education Unit" containing exhibits about the issue of substandard housing will be located in the university campus area of Oakland at the William Pitt Union, 3959 Fifth Avenue on Thursday, October 27, 2005 from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM.

Supported by three local affiliates and a student chapter of Habitat for Humanity, the big red truck that will be on campus is a project of Thrivent Builds with Habitat for Humanity, a four year $105 million partnership of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans with Habitat for Humanity.

Inside the 48-foot truck one will be able to have a free 12-minute experience of substandard housing together with descriptions of how building with Habitat for Humanity can change lives.

The three local Habitat affiliates sponsoring the visit are: Pittsburgh Habitat for Humanity, Habitat for Humanity Allegheny Valley, and Washington County Habitat for Humanity.

If you miss the big red truck while it is on campus, it will be outside the David L. Lawrence Convention Center on Friday and Saturday. Don't miss it while it is in the Pittsburgh area, because its next stop will be Austin, Texas.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

And, speaking of flash animation on entry pages

... and, speaking of flash animation on entry pages, I love the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches. But the flash animation on their site's entry page is about worth the paper it could be printed on. I might as well be clicking on a blank piece of paper to get past the entry page.

First, the flash animation does not play for me in FireFox, the browser I choose to use. (It doesn't play in the print version either, but you expected that.)

Second, there is no text link to get past the entry page to the site's content.

Third, there is not even a comment hidden deep in the source code of the entry page to indicate what the URL for the main index to the content might be.

Fourth, when I succeed in running the animation by starting Internet Explorer, the animation does not add anything to the website. The animation consists of flying letters that say "welcome" and then a couple more lines of text while a wordless verse of "Amazing Grace" plays in the background. It takes a full minute to play and then automatically load the small index page that has plenty of space for the very same text displayed in the animation.

Fifth, the link within the shockwave flash animation does not immediately interrupt the show to load the index page.

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We are a work site

Men at work on the Central Presbyterian Church buildingIf you have been near Central Presbyterian Church over the last couple weeks you've probably seen signs that there is external work going on.

Mariani & Richards have been working on repointing the masonry.

When they finish the repointing, there will be some further work done to the interior of the building by another contractor.

Aw dry upI don't usually like the flash animations that some websites use as entry pages. Most of them are far too long for someone who wants to get information from the website. The Mariani & Richards website has a short animation that I find entertaining. And they politely offer a text link to skip the animation for people who won't tolerate the wait.

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Monday, October 24, 2005

A reminder of generosity and recovery time

A front page story in today's Valley News Dispatch had good news about a grant from the Alcoa Foundation to four local agencies to help people who are still recovering from last year's Hurricane Ivan.

It was very positive to see the example of generosity set by the Alcoa Foundation as well as the trust placed in the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches.

On the other hand, the fact that survivors of Hurricane Ivan are still working to solve the problems caused by the local flooding should tell us something very significant about how long the recovery from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma might take.

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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Christianity Without Borders

Choir of Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church singing at Festival of FaithThe Allegheny Valley Association of Churches was forty-one churches strong when it gathered Sunday evening for the 2005 Festival of Faith with the theme "Christianity Without Borders." The Holy Martyrs Roman Catholic Church in Tarentum hosted the annual event this year. The visually striking worship space spoke to me about the love of God that embraces both the continuities and discontinuities of human existence.

Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church Choir singing at FestivalChoirs from a broad spectrum of Christian churches across the Alle-Kiski Valley led the ecumenical congregation in exuberant singing. Churches who provided special music included: Janes United Methodist Church of Creighton, Holy Martyrs Roman Catholic Church of Tarentum, Natrona Heights Church of the Brethren, Center United Methodist Church of Natrona Heights, Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church of Natrona Heights, Bull Creek Presbyterian Church, Trinity United Christian Church of Lower Burrell, and the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Tarentum.

Rev. Dr. James Legge and Mrs. Karen Snair
The Rev. Dr. James Legge, President of the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches offered remarks about the many ministries of AVAC that are taking place because of the support of the churches in the Valley -- ministries that in some cases began when the economy was a lot better, but which the churches have continued to carry out even when there has not been as much money to go around. Mrs. Karen Snair, Executive Director of the AVAC introduced the preacher of the evening, the Rev. Dr. Dan Merry, Associate Pastor to the Pittsburgh Presbytery.

Rev. Dr. Dan MerryDan Merry and his family had recently returned from a year as missionaries in Malawi. He preached an inspiring message on Mark 6:30-44, the story of the feeding of five thousand men. Each time I hear Dan preach this sermon the math comes out different. He points out that the Biblical writers only record the count of how many adult males were present, and then asks the congregation how many women and how many children they think were present. If he preaches this sermon in your congregation, remember that he'll try to trick you by seeing if you remember to add thirteen (for the twelve disciples and Jesus) to the grossly rounded estimates of the number who were fed. Tonight the total came to 30,013 people.

Holy Martyrs Church Choir singing at Festival
In the story of this miracle there is a difference between the solution the disciples offer ("send them away") and the solution Jesus directs ("you give them something to eat"). Dan reminds us that our resources together with God's power are sufficient.

The offering taken this evening will support the many important ministries of the AVAC. Its outreach has grown a lot over the last year, with 150 more clients for the food bank.
Fellowship and refreshments in the social hall of Holy Martyrs Roman Catholic Church of Tarentum

Following the service Father Aaron Kriss, the pastor of the host church, invited the whole congregation downstairs for a time of fellowship and refreshments. It looked like most of them stayed.

This was another successful celebration for the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches, and a time when Christians joined together, ignoring denominational and sectarian divisions to worship and serve the Risen Lord together.

Father Aaron Kriss, Holy Martyrs Roman Catholic Church, Tarentum

Bull Creek Presbyterian Church Choir

Trinity United Christian Church Choir

Center United Methodist Church Choir

Center United Methodist Church Praise Band

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Saturday, October 22, 2005

Faith in God does not preclude learning good science

This story from the Episcopal news service tells an important story about a Christian on the Kansas State Board of Education who does not want to sabotage public education to the teaching of bogus science.

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Violence in missionary video for youth

The Jim Elliott Story - DVDIn 1956 five young men who had gone to Ecuador as missionaries were killed by mistrustful members of a tribe who called themselves Huaorani, but whom the missionaries called Aucas. The five young men were Jim Elliott, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Fleming and Roger Youderian. The Jim Elliott Story is a DVD that tells the story of these five young men, and of how the Huaorani came to receive Christian missionaries after the deaths of the five.

The Jim Elliott Story is the first video in the Torchlighters: Heroes of the Faith series, produced by the Christian History Institute with the Voice of the Martyrs. The 30-minute animated story is intended for youth ages 8-12. In my view the real treasure on this DVD are the 83 minutes of special features including an interview with Steve Saint (son of Nate Saint), and an interview with Marj Saint Van der Puy (widow of Nate Saint).

Steve Saint explains that the name of the tribe was always Huaorani; that is what they called themselves, and in their language it means "The group of True People". The Quechua name for the tribe is "Auca" which means "Naked Savages." The Huaorani did not wear clothes, were extremely mistrustful of others (sometimes justifiably so), and their response was to spear to death those who were thought to be a threat.

The animated feature depicts the Huaorani ambushing and killing workers for an oil company. I was somewhat troubled that the animation showed the Huaorani warriors gloating over the dead bodies of the men they killed. But there is no depiction of a witness who saw these warriors to tell someone what happened after the killings. There also was no depiction of the preceding murder of some Huaorani by an oil company worker. There is a risk in showing such oversimplifications of violent events to young people who might only carry away negative racial stereotypes.

The evangelical church culture that tells and retells the stories of the five martyrs is one that persists in talking about the tribe as the Auca, using the pejorative name assigned by the tribe's neighbors. That the five missionaries did not know the true name of the Huaorani was not their fault. That Vision Video or the Christian History Institute today describe the tribe as "Auca" or "Auca (Huaorani)" (here and here) is simply backwards.

The thrust of the story told in the animated feature is to encourage young people to dedicate themselves wholly to God, and it uses the example of the martyrdom of the five to inspire such dedication. The animated feature only begins to tell the story of how Christianity came to the Huaorani, and what the results were.

To get a better idea of the full story, one needs to go to the special features on the DVD. Steve Saint tells amazing stories of how Christian missionaries are reaching across cultural barriers in an ongoing relationship with the Huaorani. He speaks from the position of someone who has followed through on his father's commitment to get to know the Huaorani so that he can communicate a life-giving message in their language.

My copy of the DVD came as a free sample to a church using other resources from the Christian History Institute. My advice: Get the DVD, ditch the animated feature, and use the special features.

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Friday, October 21, 2005

Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting at Westminster: (4) Worship

sheltered park at Westminster Presbyterian Church
This is my fourth article about the October 20, 2005 meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery at the Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Worship is an important part of every Presbytery meeting. The October meeting is traditionally the one at at which Pittsburgh Presbytery observes the Lord's Supper and gathers for a memorial prayer for the ministers and elders who have joined the Church Triumphant duing the past year. In addition to nine minister members of the Presbytery, there were one hundred thirty-six elders memorialized. One of the 136 was an elder of Central Presbyterian Church of Tarentum: June Southward who died June 25, 2005.

steeple of Westminster Presbyterian ChurchPastor Jim Mead preached the sermon on Luke 10:38-42, the story of Jesus coming to visit the home of Martha and Mary, when Mary sat to be taught by Jesus while Martha was busy providing hospitality to the crowd. Pastor Mead spoke about how tired many pastors are at this time in the fall, having been working hard ever since the beginning of summer. He acknowledged the difficulty in maintaining the spiritual disciplines that are good for our spiritual health, while he encouraged us to continue to make them a priority.

My other articles about this meeting are 1 2 3 4

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Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting at Westminster: (3) Budget and going paper-lite

Thumbnail of PDF file of Presbytery BudgetThis is the third of my articles about the October 20, 2005 meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery at the Westminster Presbyterian Church.

One of the anticipated highlights of this meeting was the adoption of a budget for 2006.

Pittsburgh Presbytery has been going paper-lite, with an attempt to use technology to save on printing and mailing costs. So all the reports to this meeting were turned into compact PDF files that people in the churches could download and print (if they thought they would need a copy of the report).

When the budget was introduced we were told that it was printed on yellow paper. Nobody told me to load yellow paper into my printer before I printed out my copy of the budget. Somebody had yellow paper, and I'm just not in the loop. (Is it because I'm in Tarentum?) I'll just chalk this one up to "Printer error."

The total budget of $3,190,485 is a decrease over the 2005 budget. It includes monies collected to be sent on to the Synod and General Assembly. The decrease reflects a planned and intended shift in the responsibility for supporting mission agencies from the Presbytery to the congregations.

Pastor Jim Mead gave an informative set of figures showing that in aggregate the total amount being given to the mission agencies by Presbyterian entities has gone up while the giving specifically from the Presbytery has gone down. Congregations have indeed been shifting their giving as suggested by the Presbytery. Nevertheless Pastor Mead did note that there are some risks that mission agencies that are less strong in fund-raising may be falling through the cracks in this transition.

The per capita apportionment (the amount raised per member for supporting ecclesiastical costs of the Presbytery, Synod, and General Assembly) will go up to $21.26 in 2006.

The budget was adopted without debate.

My other articles about this meeting are: 1 2 3 4

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Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting at Westminster: (2) Considering "A Season of Discernment"

Front cover of "A Season of Discernment"One of the highlights of Thursday's meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery at the Westminster Presbyterian Church had originally been billed as a presentation, discussion, and questions with representatives of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church. This blog entry is the second in my series on today's presbytery meeting, as well as my second (in a slowly developing series) on "A Season of Discernment" - the final report of the Task Force.

In the original mailing for the meeting, we had been hoping for two members of the task force to be present: Elder Mary Ellen Lawson, the stated clerk of nearby Redstone Presbytery, and the Rev. John B. (Mike) Loudon, a pastor from Tampa Bay Presbytery. Unfortunately, a family illness prevented Elder Lawson from being present.

I had an opportunity to chat with Mike Loudon before the meeting began. He is a graduate of Westminster College, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, and McCormick Theological Seminary. He has been a pastor in New Castle. The news about Hurricane Wilma was more than just idle talk about the weather. When he would finish his presentation he would head to the airport to fly back to Florida, ending close to the path of the storm.

Unfortunately, the presentation that took place did not really include the meaningful dialogue for which I had hoped. Mike presented some very good information, and explained it very clearly. Perhaps it was the absence of a second member of the Task Force, or perhaps it was the weariness of pastors (to which Pastor Jim Mead would refer later in the meeting). The presentation was not dialogical; it was essentially a very linear communication, with the opportunity for only a couple of questions after it was all over. It was very heartening to discover after Mike had left, that there had already been some conversations about the possibility of Pittsburgh Seminary hosting a day-long event to have dialogue about the report. It was even more heartening to discover from the straw poll that there was a high level of motivation among those present to participate in such an event.

Mike gave a good overview of the history of the Presbyterian Church's handling of issues on which Presbyterians have disagreed: numerous splits and reunions that involved tensions between local autonomy and discretion and the authority of the higher governing bodies to set and establish policy.

From the very early years, the Adopting Act of 1729 was the action by which the colonial Presbyterian Church established the Westminster Confession as the church's system of doctrine. It was recognized that some ministers seeking admission might not wholeheartedly embrace every statement in that document. In such cases, the minister could declare a scruple, and then the presbytery could determine whether the scruple was essential to the faith of the church.

Part of Mike's report was an explanation of "Recommendation 5" which in my view restates the balance our polity strikes between national standards and local autonomy. It would be an administrative nightmare if the General Assembly were to be responsible for applying the church-wide standards for ordination. It makes the most sense for the local presbytery to be the body that makes the ordination decision, given the deeper knowledge that the local presbytery has of the individual's gifts, character, strengths, weaknesses and the setting where the minister will work.

Mike really got my attention when he stated explicityl that it was his opinion that Recommendation 5 "reverses Kenyon." He was referring to a 1975 decision in Maxwell v. Pittsburgh Presbytery by the Permanent Judicial Commission of the General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. That decision was that "action of Pittsburgh Presbytery in voting to ordain Walter Wynn Kenyon was not in conformity with the requirements of the Form of Government." The salient fact was that Mr. Kenyon had stated that he believed that the policy of our denomination was wrong to ordain women. The PJC said that the church had expressed "its understanding of the equality of all people (both male and female) before God .... with such clarity as to make the candidate's stated position a rejection of its government and discipline."

There is clear tension between Recommendation 5 and the use which the church has made of the Kenyon decision over the last thirty years. Kenyon interpreted a church constitution that ceased having effect over twenty years ago when the PCUSA was formed by the reunion of the UPCUSA and the PCUS. At reunion the new church also inherited a line of PJC cases from the "Southern Church" (PCUS) including the 1983 case Hambrick v. PJC, Synod of North Carolina. In Hambrick the PJC gave instructions for how the presbytery was to re-examine the candidate, and what the presbytery should determine on the basis of those answers, a markedly different result from the Northern decision in which Kenyon's ineligibility for ordination was a closed matter.

Recommendation 5 includes an attempt to set a legal standard to be applied by a Permanent Judicial Commission, in addition to the constitutional standards described in the Rules of Discipline. It is not clear yet that the General Assembly's PJC would accept this limited standard. It would take a test case to learn what the PJC's decision would be. I would expect the GA PJC to show some deference to the standard until and unless they get a case in which the presbytery's decision is so plainly in error that it offends the sensibilities of the commissioners.

Unfortunately, such a hypothetical test case would represent someone's failure to follow the exhortation of the Task Force in Recommendation 5e that "[a]ll parties should endeavor to outdo one another in honoring one another’s decisions, according the presumption of wisdom to ordaining/installing bodies in examining candidates and to the General Assembly, with presbyteries’ approval, in setting standards.

I'm looking forward to the discussion at Pittsburgh Seminary.

My other articles about this Presbytery meeting are: 1 2 3, 4
My other articles about "A Season of Discernment" are: 1 2

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On being persecuted by being denied privilege over others

Moon posted a challenge to one reader who thought the Establishment Clause did not support the separation of church and state here. His discussion of "incorporation" of the First Amendment through the Fourteenth Amendment is good, but his challenge is excellent:
If you don't like it, pass an amendment. But I don't think you can. Which means that self-described red-blooded Americans (whose idea of freedom is privileging their own parochial views over those of others (even to the extent of implying that those who disagree with them are less worthy of the title "Americans"), notwithstanding that this country is, to a person, a nation of immigrants with equal claim to its privileges and freedoms) aren't quite as numerous as they'd like everyone to [believe].

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The church bulletin typo that almost got away

This one shouldn't end up on one of those emailed lists of humorous statements that the friend of someone's cousin saw on an actual (?) church bulletin.

This is the time of year when churches need to remember a week ahead of time to remind parishioners that Daylight Savings Time is ending. On proofreading the bulletin for Sunday I found a reminder:
... remember to set your clock backs.
Obviously, it's not the backs we care about. It's the fronts. But we didn't correct the typo by reminding people to set their clock fronts back.

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting at Westminster: (1) Why have I become parochial?

Hill Church painting at WestminsterAs I headed out the door this morning to drive to the meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery at the Westminster Presbyterian Church, one of the church members said she hoped I had a nice meeting. I quickly acknowledged that I hoped so too.

I was dreading the drive that would take me from Tarentum to Upper St. Clair, and I reflected on why it was that I did not look forward to this trip. I knew that when I got there I would enjoy seeing people I had not seen in a while, but I still dreaded the trip.

In the last presbytery where I had been a member I was accustomed to much longer driving times and distances to meetings; my friends from Rhode Island would laugh about their own reluctance to leave a state so small that they said you might miss it if you sneezed while driving through it. Yet today, driving across Allegheny County seemed like a trip to the other side of the universe.

Almost back on trackI knew what I dreaded: crossing the bridges and going through tunnels that I so rarely had to use. These are times when I always end up in the wrong lane and then off on a side trip through an unfamiliar part of Pittsburgh. Sure enough, it happened again.

I even drove slowly as I crossed the Fort Pitt Bridge, looking carefully for signs to tell me which lane would get me to the Fort Pitt Tunnel. Of course none of the signs said any lane was for the tunnel, and once the tunnel was in sight there was no time to get into a lane that would go into it.

The trip back was more of the same. Being in the wrong lane inside the tunnel committed me to another long detour before I found bridges and roads that would get me back to 28 North.

It is no wonder to me that people who have lived in the Alle-Kiski Valley all their lives are reluctant to go into Pittsburgh or through it to shop or to attend meetings.

I wonder whether anyone has ever given any thought to the possibility that better signage could enhance the social and economic cohesiveness of the region? Or is the goal to keep people from venturing outside their own bailiwicks?

My other articles on this meeting are: 1 2, 3, 4

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

On its way from Green Bay

Big Red Truck logo from Thrivent Builds with Habitat for HumanityThe Green Bay Press-Gazette on Monday had an article about a mobile educational unit sponsored by Thrivent Builds with Habitat for Humanity - a partnership between Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and Habitat for Humanity.

The Big Red Truck contains a traveling exhibit that shows the conditions of substandard housing and the difference Habitat for Humanity makes through its work to end poverty housing.

According to the itinerary, the exhibit will be in Columbus, Ohio on October 20-21, in Grove City, Ohio on October 22, and Worthington, Ohio on October 23, before coming to Pittsburgh on October 27-29.

There will be a need for volunteers to help with the visit to Pittsburgh. Those who are interested in volunteering are invited to download the volunteer brochure here.

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Who is Rachel Carson and why should the Allegheny Regional Asset District care?

There was a rather disturbing article in today's Valley News Dispatch about a proposal of the Allegheny Regional Asset District to deny funding to the Rachel Carson Homestead.
In the 10-year history of RAD, the [Alle-Kiski Valley] historical society has received $32,500 of the more than $752 million given to these annual assets. The society is the only local group to get any annual asset money.
So the Rachel Carson Homestead has not received funds from the RAD. And this year no local (i.e., Alle-Kiski Valley) group will get any funds. What is this about? Does the tension between centralism and regionalism as alleged by Bill Hall explain it? Or does it perhaps have something to do with this area's ambivalence about Pittsburgh's legacy of being known as the "smoky city?"

A writer and naturalist, Rachel Carson was born and grew up in Springdale and graduated from the institution that is now Chatham College. She wrote articles and books about the environment inhabited by so many living creatures, and is perhaps best known for her 1962 book Silent Spring, challenging the overuse of pesticides to humanity's own loss and harm.

A small river town in Allegheny County produced a world-recognized spokesperson for the environment. According to the Homestead's site:

The mission of the Rachel Carson Homestead Association is to preserve, restore, and interpret Rachel Carson's birthplace and childhood home; and to design and implement education programs and resources in keeping with her environmental ethic.

The Rachel Carson Homestead is the only site in the world that is dedicated to interpreting Rachel Carson's legacy to the public.

Sounds like a unique and worthy local asset to me.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Tuna Noodle Dinner

I pulled up to the cash register at the Community Market and saw that Margie was bagging groceries at the next register over. Margie asked me what was for dinner tonight at the Tuesday Evening Meal and Ministry at Central Presbyterian Church in Tarentum. I pointed to the groceries about to be rung up and said, "Tuna Noodle Casserole."

Tuna noodle casserole"I like the way you make it better than the way I have to make it for my husband," Margie says. In no time at all I am in a conversation with two cashiers and a bagger about how to make Tuna Noodle Casserole.

By the way, when my car was broken into last week, the thief did not make off with Central Presbyterian's secret recipe for ham loaf. I pity the foolish thief, to imagine that I would carry that prized secret in my car! However, unlike our recipe for ham loaf there is nothing secret at all about my recipe for Tuna Noodle Casserole.

So here is my recipe for a successful Tuna Noodle Dinner.

3 pounds of pasta shells, $2.37
2 12 ounce cans of tuna, $3.98
2 26 ounce cans of cream of mushroom soup, $3.98
2 4 ounce jars of pimientos, $1.98
2 15 ounce cans of sweet peas, $.99
1 7 ounce can of mushroom pieces, $.49
grated cheese
bread crumbs
cole slaw, apple sauce, and desserts (left over from sell-out ham loaf dinner), FREE
Birthday cake and jello salad, donated

Cook the pasta, drain and place in greased pan.
Mix tuna, mushroom soup, drained pimientos, drained peas, and drained mushroom pieces. Add pepper to taste. Pour mixture over pasta and stir together. Sprinkle with grated cheese and bread crumbs.
Heat in oven at 350 for about 35 minutes.
Serve with cole slaw, jello salad, apple sauce, and desserts.
Distribute any leftovers to those present who would otherwise be hungry the next day.

Follow dinner with Bible study and prayer meeting.

Serves 20 people trying to find their way in this world, redeemed at the price of God's gift of God's Son
Time with the Master, priceless.

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Monday, October 17, 2005

"They're only alive at night."

Tarentum Borough SIgnI attended the Tarentum Borough Council meeting tonight to try to learn more about how our local government works during an election season when issues might get more heated. I didn't get to see the big picture of how things work, but did observe a number of smaller and intriguing interactions.

During one report the Council learned about the difficulties in replacing specially designed lamp posts after they were apparently knocked down by passing trucks. Someone asked a question about places where exposed wires were sticking out of the ground and the repair would involve rebuilding the box for the wires, and a base for the pole. The question was whether there was power going to those wires. The official answer was that "they're only alive at night." The Council reacted with astonishment. Unanimously. The exposed wiring has now been covered. Before the meeting ended.

Near the beginning of the meeting Council President Carl Magnetta congratulated borough employee Mark Anuszek for getting his CDL license so that he may now operate the borough's street sweeper. This should be fair warning to M. Isaacs of Squirrel Hill to be wary of visiting Tarentum. Watch out, pittgirl! Tarentum will soon rival the Burgh for clean streets!

Following up on the committee meeting I attended last week, it seemed that the borough council was almost unanimously of the opinion that it did not make sense to sign a 1.9 million dollar ten-year contract with Neptune Technologies to replace all the water meters for the borough. Joe Davidek voiced his distress that the process of upgrading the water maters was already taking too long, but the other council members reminded him that the borough had to act within budgetary limits in solving the problem.

Along the lines of my previous post, the council unanimously voted to extend the waste removal contract with Waste Management for two more years. The borough is paying $92.68 per ton this year, and will pay $96.04 in 2006, and $99.78 in 2007. No one on the council asked whether these rate increases reflected any increased efficiency on the part of the hauler.

The Tarentum borough council is an interesting group. And Tarentum itself is quite alive both by day or by night.

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Efficiency of recycling

Today's Valley News Dispatch has an article about problems with recycling. Unfortunately some of the conclusions reached in the article are very short-sighted.

Small towns like Tarentum stop curb-side recycling when their populations drop below the level at which Pennsylvania mandates it. The rationale stated in the article is:
But recycling -- especially curbside recycling -- isn't efficient and costs taxpayers according to most haulers, municipal officials, and researchers.
As if the haulers were paying municipalities for the privilege of carrying the unsorted trash so that the municipalities and taxpayers could show a profit!

The article states that municipalities were told that they would make money on recycling, but that they never did make money. I was not here when the case was made for recycling in Pennsylvania, so I don't know what was actually said. I know in communities in other states the advocates of recycling have been very open about the fact that the transition to a recycling economy would be a bumpy road, and that there would be times when supplies of recyclable materials would need to wait for markets to develop. Communities succeed with recycling programs when the municipal leadership is ready to invest energy in hunting down markets for their recyclables.

This article judges recycling as inefficient on the basis of very short-term measurements. The bottom line for the municipalities is that they did not make money on recycling, which is a fair criticism if the carrot of profits dangled before them were the only justification for recycling. But municipalities do many things that do not generate profits, such as police protection, or the maintenance of streets and parks. None of these activities turn a profit for most municipalities, and it would be unfair to judge their efficiency on this kind of profit-based analysis.

Under a longer-term view, the true inefficiency is in the wasteful way our whole society uses costly resources once before burying them. Can someone explain to me the efficiency of mining bauxite, making aluminum, transforming it into packaging, using the product and then placing packaging at the curbside, and paying someone to truck it to a landfill that will eventually fill up, so that the cost of the next product I buy in aluminum packaging can include the cost of making and processing new aluminum? Where is the efficiency in pumping petroleum out of the ground, making it into many forms of plastic packaging that people place at the curbsides to be picked up, paying someone to truck it to a landfill that will eventually fill up, so that the cost of the next plastic product I buy can include the cost of making and processing new plastic?

If the current recycling laws and municipal recycling systems do not work, maybe we need a better way to think about how our society will reduce waste and reuse and recycle materials to deal responsibly with the world that has been entrusted to us.

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Tiny pieces of paper are missing, and I don't know how to feel about it.

Earlier this month I put up posters with tear-off slips, the ones that asked "Are you being abused?" and the tear-off slips had the number for the HOPE Center. I "primed" the sheets by tearing off one of the slips on each poster, as an invitation to anyone who was interested to go ahead and tear off another.

Today the secretary told me that more of the slips have been taken.

I don't know how to feel about it. There is a mix of feelings cascading. For a moment I feel confirmed, that my intuition was right that there was a need for even this minor form of ministry. I also feel sad, knowing that each missing slip after the first one represents someone's painful story of abuse experienced or observed. I hate being right. I wish I could have been right about anything else. I wish I could go back to the time when the external confirmation of having done the right thing came simply in a handshake and the words "Nice sermon, pastor." I am hopeful that each tiny slip of paper taken privately also represents a step that might lead to someone's healing and safety.

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Sunday, October 16, 2005


imitationGiven that this was the third Sunday in Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I decided to include some information about it in my sermon this morning. I did not find the suggestions in the Reflections on the Lectionary for October 16 very helpful, especially given that the page lacked any comments on the Gospel.

I was talking about what Paul, Silas, and Timothy were saying in the epistle lesson (1 Thessalonians 1:1-10) about how imitators become examples.

A child who observes battering behavior, even if not struck herself is a victim of domestic abuse. In addition to the trauma of seeing a loved one beating and a loved one being beaten, the child is handicapped by the poor example given for how to handle frustration, disappointment, anger, or disagreement. These are very sad, long-term consequences of domestic violence, and they produce adults who may tend to perpetuate the same behavior they observed.

The flip side is that parents who are at their wits' end in dealing with frustrations and disappointments, and are asking themselves "What is God trying to teach me with all this, that I have not learned already?" might want to remember that God might be using their example of patience and appropriate handling of difficulties as an example for someone else.

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Subscription options

It has been gratifying to discover that there are people reading this blog in some faraway places, and that they are not necessarily the family and friends who know me very well.

I know some people check my blog more regularly than others. So I decided to write this blog entry about feeds, pings, aggregators, and readers. These terms have to do with technical stuff I don't fully understand, but how to use them might be helpful for people who want to be able to subscribe to my blog (or someone else's) or otherwise be notified when something new has been posted. Don't expect me to be able to explain how this stuff actually works; I'll probably give a dismissive hand-waving answer like the line in Ghostbusters when Bill Murray was asked by Sigourney Weaver what he is doing with an odd piece of puffing equipment, and his response was "It's technical." But I can explain how I use it and what the end result is.

When I first set up this blog on I clicked a little check box in the settings for the blog that said "Publish site feed." A feed is a way for the content of my blog to be picked up by someone else without actually going to my website.

So Blogger created a small file called atom.xml for my blog. The file contains information about the recent posts to my blog, including the text and any images in the particular post. There are a couple of different formats for feeds, and Atom is the format used by Blogger. Another format that is very popular is RSS. I discovered that can make an RSS feed for my blog. So now people who use either of these two major formats for feeds can take my articles and incorporate them into a website or some other use.

My Atom feed is

My RSS feed is:

Pings are signals sent out (I don't know from where) to notify something listening for pings somewhere else that my blog has been updated. I had Blogger set up my blog to ping so that as soon as I publish the waiting world learns about my deathless prose. If you visit you'll be overwhelmed by how many new posts occur every minute from all over the internet, so don't try subscribing to my blog there.

Newsreaders help you look at specific feeds that you want to follow. I downloaded a newsreader called FeedReader from When I installed my newsreader I could tell it to follow certain feeds. So I scan Yahoo News, Reuters news, a UN feed of news about Africa from IRIN, and a feed of somewhat local news from FeedReader can handle either Atom or RSS, so I also have been able to add to it the feeds for blogs that keep my interest once they get my attention.

Subscription option 1. Someone who wants to subscribe to my blog can get download a piece of newsreading software and install my feed in it along with other feeds of interest.

There are free newsreaders available and there is no charge to read the feed.

Advantages. Free. Can be left running and will notify of updates within about a half hour, or on whatever schedule you choose.

Disadvantages: You need to remember to start the application. Depending on your system the small use of your system resources may have a negligible effect.

Subscription option 2. Feeds can also be picked up by news aggregators. My favorite is Pittsburgh Webloggers at Within minutes of my publishing a new post, it is picked up on that website. One can scan the recent posts by title, or read whole pages that have a chronological stream of the actual weblog posts by the more than 250 Pittsburgh bloggers. It is a good way to find out what the local bloggers are talking about.

Advantages: Free. Information kept very current. You can read the text of my blog only at anonymously (at least regarding me) because no graphics are downloaded, nor do you deal with any cookies from my blog (if cookies are an issue for you).

Disadvantages: No alerts given so you need to remember to browse to the website. You may have to wade through far more information than you want, or you might wish you just went straight to my blog. You still need to come to my blog to see photos or to leave a comment.

Subscription option 3. Customized web pages can also use feeds. One example is

I recently discovered that, which some people use as their customized start page can be set up to use a blog feed. Once you set up your account and sign in, you can customize the page to add content. My Yahoo needs the RSS version of the feed.

Advantages: Free. Current information is available when you are ready to look at your news.

Disadvantages: Some of these customized web pages, such as My Yahoo, sell ads. You still need to remember to visit the web page.

Headline animator graphic for Central Park BenchSubscription option 4. You could always put a link to the graphic to the left on your home page or another web page. That is, don't save the graphic itself, but save a link to the URL of the graphic, and hyperlink it to my blog. This is FeedBurner's "Headline Animator" for my blog. When you load or refresh your home page, your browser will download the current graphic with the most recent five headlines rotating.

Advantage: Free. Small graphic downloads fast. The only ad is the "Powered by Feedburner" line. Private (at least regarding me) because the graphic comes from FeedBurner instead of my website.

Disadvantages: Code for the graphic must be on a page that reloads - and in a browser that shows graphics. You need to click to my blog to read the story behind whatever headline intrigues you.

Subscription option 5. Of course if you'd rather have me print up a copy of each blog entry, place it in an envelope, and mail it to you postage prepaid, let me know and I'll work up a quote for you.

Advantage: Paper you can use to line your birdcage when you are done reading.

Disadvantage: You probably can't afford it.

Update 11-27-05: I have just added an option for email subscriptions. Read about them here.

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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Talk about the Sanborn maps

Skip CulleitonOn Monday, October 17, at 7:00 PM, Skip Culleiton will give a talk to the Tarentum Genealogical Society about the Sanborn maps.

The Sanborn maps were made around the early part the 20th Century for use by insurance companies. Updated every few years they showed the locations of houses, the type of construction, and the use of the building. Culleiton will explain a number of ways genealogists can use these maps to come to a better knowledge and understanding of their ancestors.

Culleiton has made copies of a number of the Sanborn maps for communities in the Alle-Kiski Valley and has donated these copies to the Alle-Kiski Historical Society, located in Tarentum.

This talk will take place in the social hall of the Central Presbyterian Church of Tarentum, and is open to all who are interested.

Update 10-15-05. The Sanborn Map Company, Inc. is still in business today providing similar services. Digital Sanborn Maps from 1867-1970 are available online on a subscription basis.

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Turkey dinner and tour of area churches in coming weeks in Tarentum

The two Presbyterian churches in Tarentum have events coming this month.

On Saturday, October 22, the First United Presbyterian Church of Tarentum at 913 Lock Street, will hold a Turkey Dinner fundraiser for mission from 4:00 PM to 7:30 PM. The price will be $7.50 for adults and young people over 12, $4.50 for children ages 7 to 11, free for children 6 and under.

The menu will be turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean almondine, cole slaw, rolls with butter, apple or pumpkin pie. For tickets or reservations call 724-224-2550.

The following Saturday, October 29, the Deacons of Central Presbyterian Church of Tarentum are hosting a tour of area churches with lunch at Jimmy G's Restaurant in Sharpsburg. For More information on the church tour, look here.

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Friday, October 14, 2005

Tea with International Peacemaker Helen Zhao

Helen Zhao, International PeacemakerToday I was privileged to be among the local church people who were invited to the Puckety Presbyterian Church in Lower Burrell to have tea with Helen Zhao.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) brought Ms. Zhao to this country in September as part of its International Peacemakers Program. Ms. Zhao is one of a the thirteen 2005 International Peacemakers.

She works with the Amity Foundation in China. The Amity Foundation was formed in 1985 as an independent Chinese non-governmental organization. It seeks to represent a new form a Christian involvement in Chinese society. It promotes education, social services, and rural development in China through more than one hundred different projects. The Amity Foundation has a number of international partners, one of which is the PCUSA.

Some of the projects involve AIDS prevention and education. She says that a number of people contracted AIDS through the selling of their blood. Blood of the same type from a number of donors would be combined, and the plasma removed for medical use, but then the donors would get the cells back from the mixture. So one infected person quickly became five and so on.

The Amity Foundation has projects to help socially isolated and unsupported people who are HIV positive. One of the projects is an Income generating project in which a person is given a female pig or a goat to raise and sell the offspring. The Amity Foundation also supports micro-credit projects.

Ms. Zhao showed slides of schools in China with crude desks and benches made by the students themselves. The Chinese government pays for the salary of a school teacher, but does not provide the school buildings. The Amity Foundation has a school building project to help a community build a decent school. Participation in building a school is good both for the self-esteem of the poor communities that participate and for the long-term sustainability of the project.

The "one child" policy in China has led to the rejection and abandonment of children who are unwanted either because of deformities such as cleft palate or club feet, disability, or gender. Some problems can be helped medically, but Amity also encourages getting children back to school where they can learn basic skills.

The Amity Foundation works to provide training for village doctors and has provided training for 18,000 rural doctors and has provided mobile medical vehicles that can even double as a mobile operating room in a rural area.

Ms. Zhao will speak again this weekend at the Saturday evening service (7 PM) at the Puckety Presbyterian Church in Lower Burrell, and on Sunday morning at the 11 AM service at the Puckety Presbyterian Church.

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