Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Thinking (of a way to get) outside the box

Chipmunk invasion!

There were looks of alarm on the faces of two women yesterday morning when I reached out to open the door to the work room at Central Presbyterian Church. "Don't go in there! We've cornered a chipmunk," they told me.

I tried to imagine what kind of vorpal chipmunk had terrorized the church secretary and another church member. I learned that earlier that morning the chipmunk had surprised the women by running through the church office.

They had chased it around with a cardboard box trying to trap it, only to be shocked and startled when the chipmunk would jump over the box. I don't know who was more frightened, the chipmunk or the women.

I cautiously went into the work room and observed that the terrified chipmunk was really there. I found him hiding behind a radiator. I tried to get a picture, but he would run quickly across the room to another hiding spot whenever he knew I had identified where he was. "Alvin" would not stand still for a photo moment, much less to sign a release form.

We did not have a humane trap in the church building, and a normal mouse trap would have been cruel. Trying to confine him in smaller and smaller spaces would only make the creature more anxious and unpredictable. So I redefined the problem. The goal was not to trap him; the goal was to get him out of the building.

We propped open the windows in the work room, and used yardsticks and a piece of lumber to create ramps to each of the windows.

ramps in the work room

I went to the church kitchen and put a spoonful of peanut butter on each of two small dishes, which I then set on each of the windowsills in the work room.

The bait is set.

Then I left the work room, closed the door behind me, and went off to do other work for about a half hour.

When I came back into the work room "Alvin" was sitting on a window sill, eating the peanut butter. I advanced toward the window and the chipmunk behaved predictably by scampering out the window and jumping to the ground. Once the windows were closed the problem was solved. I went outside to check, and was surprised to see that "Alvin" was already trying to figure out how to get back inside so he could eat the rest of the peanut butter.

Constructing a way out of the church was actually quite easy. Now if only a congregation in a denomination that lost 48,474 members in 2005 could be as ingenious about creating ways into the church.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Harvest Festival pictures

In spite of some rainy weather, Central's Harvest Festival on Sept. 23 was a success.

quilts by Central Quilters

Our quilters were showing off a number of the quilts they were in the process of making, as well as some they had finished.

Steelers Quilt

They even had a Steelers quilt. (Only near Pittsburgh would the words "Steelers" and "quilt" go together.)

Tarentum Genealogical Society quilt

The Tarentum Genealogical Society was raffling off a quilt as well, and were showing some of their research tools to people who were interested in learning about genealogy.

Home canning

Members of Central Presbyterian Church had donated crafts they had made, vegetables they had canned, cookies and cakes they had baked. Vegetable soup made at the church was also on sale.

Our mini ham loaves sold out very early in the day.

Car wash

When the rains let up, we were even able to have the car wash we had planned.

And my fears about the rains affecting the hoagie harvest came to naught. Through Fazios in Arnold we had some nice Italian hoagies.

There were some good things left over from the flea market, so we will do a repeat of the flea market and car wash on October 7.

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October 7th 9am to 2pm 2006Flea Market & Car Wash— at Central Presbyterian Church, 305 Allegheny St., Tarentum, PA 15084
Continuation of the 2006 Harvest Festival, with another flea market and a car wash (weather permitting)

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October 21st 4pm to 6pm 2006Ham Loaf Dinner — at Central Presbyterian Church, 305 Allegheny Street, Tarentum, PA 15084
Central Presbyterian Church's famous ham loaf is featured in this fundraising dinner

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

First of three Allegheny Valley Habitat houses dedicated

Habitat for humanity house dedication and open houseToday's Valley News Dispatch has a good story on the completion of the first of three houses to be completed by Habitat for Humanity of Allegheny Valley in 2006.

The house on McCargo Street in New Kensington was dedicated yesterday, and will be the home of Joyce Leonard and her family.

There was a great representation of local Lutherans present because of the significant role of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans in building this house. The Dominion Foundation was also well-represented.

Now, on to houses 2 and 3.

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Religious liberty, the culture wars, and a Merry Christmas to all

Click thumbnail to read larger version of editorial from Sept. 21, 2006 Valley News DispatchYesterday's Valley News Dispatch had a pretty good editorial on religious liberty. I tend to agree with much of what the editorial says, but the characterization of a right to the "freedom from religion" seems like a misstated over-simplification of the rights afforded by the First Amendment.

Mr. Gibbs' religious motivation in representing his clients, including one side of the Terry Schiavo case does not seem like a religious intrusion to me. (For that matter, should the fact that my own faith is a motivation for caring about a number of issues require me to keep silent about those issues?) But if Mr. Gibbs ever convinced a judge to hold that a particular legal outcome was necessary because of the view that our nation was based on the Bible that would be a far different story.

I know that there are some people who take offense when they see a religiously oriented message on a commercial billboard along the highway, and complain that their "freedom from religion" has been infringed. As far as I am concerned their problem is the same as that of religious people who take offense at receiving a secular greeting at the holidays.They would like the privilege of being out in public without having to deal with the diversity that is there.

We have a freedom from established religion, i.e. from governmentally-supported and imposed religion. I think there is a difference. The "freedom from religion" slogan asserts a right that is not constitutionally protected.

(So if you want to see a real First Amendment issue, consider the locked, official bulletin board on the Tarentum Borough Building, where a poster from the Harvest Baptist Church advertising Mr. Gibbs' appearance stood alongside official borough notices. Why should a governmental entity be advertising a religious event at one church involving a speaker on only one side of a major policy issue in our nation?)

As to the controversial views of Mr. Gibbs, the Valley News Dispatch gave him publicity by making his appearance in New Kensington front page news on Monday. Was that really the most important story that day?

Christmas at Eckerds on September 21, 2006Meanwhile, here in the Valley it is now the Christmas season at Kmart and Eckerds and many other stores. This makes me far more aware of how the church is so counter-cultural. In late September I am still looking forward to World Communion Sunday, All Saints' Day, Thanksgiving, Christ the King Sunday, before I even get to Advent 1, 2, 3, and 4. The secular creeping of the holidays seems odd.

With the appearance of the red and green and gold packages with angels and snowmen and nutcrackers appearing on the store shelves, can the bickering over the holidays be far behind? I am not looking forward to the whining about how someone was greeted at Walmart, or whose holiday deserves to be celebrated, or who is offended because someone is even aware that there are other people celebrating other holidays. I am looking forward to celebrating the fact that Jesus Christ, truly God and truly human, the unique Savior of the world was born in Bethlehem. And if the stores are giving me an earlier opportunity to announce that Good News, then I will just start wishing folks a Merry Christmas.

God bless us every one.

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Habitat to dedicate house in New Kensington

Habitat for Humanity of Allegheny Valley is about to dedicate a new house at 300 McCargo Street in New Kensington. I reported the wall-raising for this house on June 3, 2006 here.

The VND did an earlier story on this house here.

September 22th 2pm, 3pm 2006Dedication of Habitat for Humanity house— at 300 McCargo St., New Kensington, PA 15068
First of three houses to be completed in 2006 by Habitat for Humanity of Allegheny Valley will be dedicated at 2:00 PM EDT.

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The egg that didn't get away

My heart sank when a mother contacted me to tell me that her child had left an egg in the church kitchen and needed to be sure it was retrieved.

That kitchen has been the site of an enormous range of activities this week. In addition to the food preparation for our Tuesday Meal and Ministry, people have been bringing in ingredients for vegetable soup to be made for the vegetable soup sale that will be part of Central Presbyterian's Harvest Festival. People have been bringing in jars of relishes and preserved vegetables to be sold at the Festival. People have been moving things around in the kitchen to make sure that it is ready for the ladies who will make the mini-hamloaves that will also be sold at the Festival.

And people have been throwing things out that look like they don't belong there.

I was told that the egg was a container shaped like an egg, that it looked like a normal chicken egg and was white, and would be near the coffee-maker. In my heart I was sure the egg was doomed.

Then an adult who had been present on Tuesday told me that she saw that the child had left the egg behind and that she had taken it from the church to be sure that it did not get misplaced.

The egg turned out to be a novelty item that, when kept submerged in water, will hatch and produce an underwater lizard of some sort.

Egg getting ready to hatch

The child is no longer missing her egg. And you should be sure not to miss Central Presbyterian Church's Harvest Festival this Saturday, September 23, 2006 from 9 AM to 2 PM.

September 23rd 9am 2pm, 2006Harvest Festival— at
Central Presbyterian Church, 305 Allegheny Street, Tarentum, PA 15084

Church fundraising event featuring a la carte lunch, vegetable soup sale, bake sale, hoagie sale, sale of mini ham loaves, car wash, children's activities, displays by Central Quilters and Tarentum Genealogical Society

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Some things really are carved in stone

Sunday schedule for First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh carved in stoneThey told me that for some churches the schedule for Sunday is carved in stone, but I never thought I would actually see the stone.

I am feeling really behind in my blogging, and want to give a more complete recounting of what I learned at the churches we visited on Saturday's church tour from Tarentum into Pittsburgh. That is all still to come.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

This is just backwards

This is just backwards.

The Highlands School District School Board spent millions on a new football stadium, and now will not give even $10,000 to support the Allegheny Valley Community Library - the community libraries that are open when the schools' libraries are not.

There is so much that needs to be done in this area to promote even basic literacy. Does the school board care?

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Tarentum Boro Council meeting: The paradox of Tarentum's appearance

There were about 27 observers at the September 18, 2006 meeting of the Tarentum Borough Council. During the hour-long meeting I was struck by the paradox that at the same time that the Council was dealing with issues of vacant and abandoned buildings, and poor upkeep of occupied properties, there were many items of news about positive events happening in Tarentum.

Once the Council got past the issue raised by citizens of the residence of one of the Council members, the citizen comments had to do with the upkeep of property by neighbors, air quality along the First Avenue truck route, recent structure fires in West Tarentum.

Regarding the recent fires, Fire Chief Tim Firko of the Summit Hose Company thanked the Council, the Police Department, and the Code Enforcement Officer for assistance. Chief Firko wanted to make it clear that Tarentum does not have a serial arsonist. There have been intentionally set fires recently in West Tarentum, but the two are so different that it is unlikely that the same person was involved. He also spoke about the grave risks to firefighters when they must enter poorly maintained buildings to stop fires that could easily involve neighboring buildings.

Solicitor Strellec reported on a proposed ordinance to control the conversion of single-family residences into two family residences in R-2 zones. Council members raised issues such as requiring separate utilities for the units and requiring a slightly larger number of square feet in each unit. The solicitor will revise the proposed ordinance for action by the Council at a subsequent meeting.

Tarentum will be used on September 25 and October 16 for filming a movie! Part of East 6th Avenue will be blocked off each day of filming.

Groundbreaking for the skateboard park was held up on Monday, but is expected to take place sometime this week.

An Allison Park Church is going to use the bandshell in Riverview Park on October 28, 2006 for a free community event like a picnic.

The Salvation Army is going to have a parade on November 5 when they move into their new facility in Brackenridge. Their parade will go from the Tarentum location down Second Avenue to their new facility.

Tarentum's Holiday Parade has been shifted to November 25 and will be a joint event with Brackenridge. This year the parade will go from Tarentum to Brackenridge; next year from Brackenridge to Tarentum. The route will not involve hills, and many bands have been lined up for the parade. The two towns will light a single Holiday Tree following the parade.

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Monday, September 18, 2006

They are fibbing if they tell you they roll up the streets at night

Night-time sidewalk destroyerAnyone who tells you they roll up the streets at night in Tarentum is fibbing.

We save the night-time for removing broken sections of sidewalk.

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Local arson fires of concern to Tarentum

Today's Valley News Dispatch has a front page story "Arsonists start young" discussing the progression of arson by children. There is also a story in the paper, "Motive may be tied to age of arsonists," on the differences in motivation of young arsonists and older arsonists.

The Summit Hose Company has some pictures of Tarentum's arson fires. The top pictures on that page are of a non-arson fire that happened this morning. Scroll down to see the photos from the arson fires. (HT: ~ZAK~)

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Central's 2006 church tour

On Saturday the Deacons of the Central Presbyterian Church of Tarentum sponsored our third annual tour of local churches. The tour was a social/fellowship event with an educational edge. About 27 people of all ages went on the tour, some from Central Presbyterian Church, and some from other Valley churches.

Our bus driverOur bus driver had never done a church tour before, so he was curious what the tour was about. Were we going to have worship services at each of the places we stopped? I explained that we were going to invite people at each church to tell us about the space they used and how it related to what was important to that congregation about what they were doing.

In a way we heard a sermon at each of the churches we visited. Sometimes it was in familiar language. Sometimes it was in such an unfamiliar form that it got us thinking about what was important to us about our own faith and the houses of worship that are our church homes.

Our tourbus, seen over a stone lectern in front ot the First Presbyterian Church of PittsburghWe chartered a bus through Lenzner Coach Lines, part of the CoachUSA family.

We visited the Smithfield United Church of Christ, the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, Max's Allegheny Tavern (for lunch), the Allegheny Center Alliance Church, and St. Anthony Chapel in Troy Hill.

Stained glass window at Smithfield UCC showing Penn granting deeds to three churchesIn 1787 heirs of William Penn granted deeds to three historic Pittsburgh churches. The first churches we visited were two of those three. So our tour was a walk through Pittsburgh history even as the congregations told us about their current work and mission.

I'll be writing something about each of the churches we visited in the next few days.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

But you don't have to go that far for bagels and cream cheese.

sign asking "Hungary?"There is no need to go to Hungary for bagels and cream cheese when they are available right here in New Kensington.

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Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting on Sept. 7: G. Vocational matters

Camp Crestfield's labyrinthPittsburgh Presbytery welcomed or approved a number of people for new paths of service at its meeting on September 7 at the Crestfield Camp and Conference Center.

We enrolled as Inquirers: Robert A. Rufle, Jr., a member of the Hillcrest United Presbyterian Church; Betsy Rumer, a member of the Memorial Park Presbyterian Church; and Michael Stanton, a member of the Bellevue United Presbyterian Church.

We examined Inquirer Joshua Brown of the Hebron United Presbyterian Church, and received him as a Candidate for the Ministry of Word and Sacrament.

We approved calls for the Rev. James Austin Gilchrist as pastor of the Westminster Presbyterian Church, and for Alice Fisler as Designated Pastor of the Bethesda United Presbyterian Church, Elizabeth.

Rev. Linda Ruby is the interim pastor at the Carnegie Presbyterian Church; Rev. Stewart Lawrence is the interim pastor at the Oakdale United Presbyterian Church; Rev. Howard Newman is the interim pastor of the Whitehall United Presbyterian Church; Rev. Nancy Titus is continuing as the interim pastor of the Liberty Presbyterian Church.

Our Presbytery Moderator, the Rev. Carol Divens Roth, has become the Interim Associate Pastor to the Presbytery for Medium-size churches.

The Presbytery elected the Rev. Catherine Purves to a vacancy on the Committee on Preparation for Ministry, and elected the Rev. Mary Lee Talbot to a vacancy on the Permanent Judicial Commission.

One departure of note to the folks at Central Presbyterian Church is that the Rev. Daniel Ekas is no longer at the Oakdale United Presbyterian Church, but has gone on to be the pastor of the Burgettstown Presbyterian Church in Washington Presbytery.

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My other articles about this meeting: A. Preliminary thoughts B. Overview C. Worship D. Ordination Overture E. Reflective listening F. Administrative Commissions G. Vocational Matters

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Progress on the Tarentum Skateboard park

This is a follow-up on my post from earlier this week, asking what was happening with Tarentum's skatepark project.

fenceposts ready to be taken awayIt was reported to Tarentum's Recreation Board last night that the Streets Department had just taken down the fence Wednesday at the site of the new skatepark to be constructed near Dreshar Stadium.

On Monday, September 18 preparation of the site for construction will begin with the removal of the topsoil. The new skateboard park may be completed by sometime in October.

where the fence used to beThis is exciting news and a good sign.

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Paola Corso to speak in Pittsburgh

On Sunday October 1 at 2 PM at the Carnegie Lecture Hall in Oakland Paola Corso will read portions of her book of short stories Giovanna's 86 Circles and Other Stories. (reviewed on this blog here)

The Tarentum native lives in Brooklyn, but will be in Pittsburgh to participate in the Coffee, Tea, and Read literary event sponsored by the Junior League of Pittsburgh.

Her stories in the genre of magical realism reflect her deep roots in Tarentum and the Pittsburgh region.

As a transplant to Western Pennsylvania I owe a debt of gratitude to Corso because her writings have helped me to gain insight into the lives and stories of the people for whom I care.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting on Sept. 7: F. Administrative Commissions

claypits banner at Crestfield CampPresbyteries frequently work through administrative commissions. Sometimes this work is non-controversial, such as ordaining or installing. Sometimes presbyteries use administrative commissions to handle some really muddy situations.

At the meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery on September 7, 2006 at the Crestfield Camp and Conference Center, we formed an administrative commission for a church that was reported to be affected by disorder. This particular commission was not formed with a huge amount of specific authority, but it surprised me that the Presbytery approved this commission without a single question from the floor. The stark lack of questions struck me as evidence that there is a huge amount of trust when this Presbytery's Committee on Ministry says that a commission is necessary.

At the very same meeting we received the final report of an administrative commission formed a few months earlier to deal with alleged trouble in a different congregation. I drove to and from the meeting at Crestfield with a member of that congregation's session. She was relieved when that commission was dismissed, but was disappointed by some statements in the commission's final report that created the impression that the good things now happening in the congregation had not been happening before the commission was formed.

I am very grateful for the members of the presbytery who are willing to serve on commissions that step into situations that may be better or worse than they were perceived to be when the need for a commission was first proposed. Given the headache and heartache for all who are affected by the unnecessary formation of an administrative commission, I wonder whether it might be better to ask a question or two from the floor next time.

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My other articles about this meeting: A. Preliminary thoughts B. Overview C. Worship D. Ordination Overture E. Reflective listening F. Administrative Commissions G. Vocational Matters

Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting on Sept. 7: E. Reflective listening

"Wall" banner at Crestfield CampPastor Jim Mead led Pittsburgh Presbytery in a reflective listening exercise during the meeing on September 7, 2006 at the Crestfield Camp and Conference Center.

He instructed us to form up in groups of three, but not with the people we know well. With about 240 participants that would have been about 80 small groups.

He then asked each of us within our groups to share our answers to the following three questions:

1. What are your hopes about the Peace Unity and Purity actions of the GA?
2. What are your concerns about the Peace Unity and Purity actions of the GA?
3. What are some implications for your congregation and how it focuses on its mission in Christ?
4. How do you hope we in Pittsburgh Presbytery deal with the actions of the GA regarding Peace Unity and Purity?

At the end of our small group discussions he invited anybody who felt moved or led to share something they heard (i.e., not something they said). There were some long silent pauses as two hundred forty people pondered what they had heard, and then some stepped to microphones and said what they had heard (perhaps from total strangers) without commentary.

I did not know any of the people in my small group, and I did not go to the microphone. I had heard one elder tell me that she was much more concerned about the Trinity report than about the Peace Unity and Purity actions. I had heard another elder say that he hoped that Pittsburgh Presbytery would deal fairly with any congregations that wanted to leave the PCUSA.

I was glad we went through this reflective listening exercise. It was markedly different from the debates in which the speakers are so full of the importance of what they want to say. I was glad people had the opportunity to value what others had said.

Pittsburgh Presbytery's conversations about the Peace Unity and Purity actions will continue on September 20.

September 20th 7pm, 8:35pm 2006Prayerful Conversation in Response to PUP Report— at Great Room, Pittsburgh Presbytery Center, 901 Allegheny Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15233
Worship and Dwelling in the Word together (20 minutes) Brief input about the actions of the 217 th GA (5 minutes) Q & A for clarity about the actions (10 minutes) Reflecting with a neighbor (10 minutes) Open conversation as a whole group (40 minutes) Prayer together (10 minutes)

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My other articles about this meeting: A. Preliminary thoughts B. Overview C. Worship D. Ordination Overture E. Reflective listening F. Administrative Commissions G. Vocational Matters

353 days - a very unwelcome sign

sign reading "Only 353 days left!"Today I saw this very unwelcome sign at Lee's Chinese Restaurant in Tarentum.

Greg Honzo has been saying the restaurant will close, and now he has started a countdown for the closure of the restaurant that keeps being voted the best Chinese restaurant in the Valley.

I've enjoyed eating there many times, so this is an unwelcome sign, but fair warning.

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Those milestones come faster

A little bit earlier today this blog had its 20,000th counted "hit." The first ten thousand hits took a little over a year. The second ten thousand took a little over five months.

Thanks for reading!

But there are mysteries that puzzle me. An inordinate number of my international visitors land here (I think) through a Google image search that leads to the "@ symbol" graphic I made that appears on the page explaining how to decode my email address. I've tried to figure out the Google search that gets them there, but with no success.

Between that mystery and the European popularity of a grainy photo of a wall of Hot Wheels cars at Superior Sports Cards, it leaves me wondering what this blog is really all about for my readers.

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Where do people skateboard in Tarentum?

skateboarder in TarentumThe public parks in Tarentum have signs prohibiting skateboarding, but young people in Tarentum find places to skateboard anyhow.

When I arrived early for a meeting at Central Presbyterian Church on Monday evening, I found a young skateboarder practicing in the church parking lot.

He was a bit self-conscious when he saw me take out my camera, but before long he was showing me a lot of what he could do.

skateboarder in Tarentum

skater 3.JPG

skater 4.JPG

All of this leaves me wondering what is happening with the Tarentum skateboard park project. Bids were opened, and contracts awarded, but this summer does not seem to have been a time when anything was built on the site near Dreshar Stadium. Perhaps information will be shared at the Borough Council meeting next Monday.

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting on Sept. 7: D. Ordination overture

Pittsburgh Presbytery did some initial processing of a controversial matter early in its September 7 meeting at the Crestfield Camp & Conference Center. The sessions of four congregations (Union Presbyterian Church of Robinson Township, Lebanon Presbyterian Church, Riverdale Presbyterian Church, and the First Presbyterian Church of Bakerstown) had submitted an overture on ordination standards. Presbytery Council had determined that the overture was controversial, with the result that it would not be before the Presbytery for final action until the next Presbytery meeting.

Discipleship banner at Crestfield CampThe one-page overture asks the Presbytery to do three things: first, adopt a principle that compliance with the approved ordination standards is an "essential" of reformed polity; second, to resolve that there would be no exceptions to the policy that Ministers of Word and Sacrament must "live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or in chastity in singleness"; and third, to prohibit Ministers of Word and Sacrament from conducting same sex-marriages within the jurisdiction of Pittsburgh Presbytery.

In order to facilitate handling the overture, the Stated Clerk moved it. Debate initially involved challenging the Council's determination that the overture was controversial. The Council's explanation was that the time it took them to discuss the overture was sufficient evidence that the overture was controversial. By a very strong standing vote the Presbytery affirmed the Council's finding that the overture was controversial.

The other big procedural question the Presbytery handled was whether the overture should be referred to committees that might work on the overture for a long time before being ready to report it out. That motion failed, so the overture will come to Pittsburgh Presbytery for vote in October.

Because of the two procedural issues at this meeting it was necessary to extend debate, and one member of the Presbytery asked for people to focus in debate on the main question rather than the procedural issues. It seemed to me that it is very hard for us to talk about the main question, and that this overture was one more occasion for us to talk about procedures rather than get down to the main question.

Love banner at Crestfield CampAt one point in the debate there were moving statements: first by an elder with a gay son voicing his concerns about how our church's policy excludes someone so dear to him; and second by a minister with a lesbian granddaughter voicing her concerns that her deeply loved granddaughter should not be in ordained ministry in the PCUSA. That interchange seemed to be the point where we got the closest to dealing with the real issue.

Maybe we'll get closer and stay closer to the main question in October.

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My other articles about this meeting: A. Preliminary thoughts B. Overview C. Worship D. Ordination Overture E. Reflective listening F. Administrative Commissions G. Vocational Matters

Friday, September 08, 2006

Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting on Sept. 7: C. Worship

Rev. Leslie Boone providing music for the presbytery's worship, September 7, 2006Pittsburgh Presbytery began its meeting on September 7, 2006 at the Crestfield Camp and Conference Center with a worship service.

The Rev. Leslie Boone provided the music for the worship service. She led us in three praise songs that I do not remember singing before. "Ain't No Rock" and "Cry of My Heart" were particularly meaningful to me.

Pastor Jim Mead preached a powerful sermon entitled "What Counts" based on Micah 6:6-8 and Matthew 28:16-20. The sermon was about the Missio Dei. He acknowledged that many people were reacting in various ways to the Peace, Unity, and Purity report and the General Assembly's actions on it.

There was a ripple on this pond at Crestfield at 9:35 AM on September 7, 2006.He told us what he was hearing. For some people the PUP report was something really big, and for others it was just a ripple. There are rumors about schism, and reports about an African church setting up a presbytery in this country to receive disaffected Presbyterian congregations. He acknowledged that the response to the PUP report was far more than a ripple in his life.

He spoke about the importance of the mission of each congregation, in each community in the Presbytery. "In every community people are caught in systems that take life away as God intended it," he said. "Reaching people in your community with the whole of the Gospel is a mission."

He also pointed out that there is no Biblical example of of a faith community with perfect peace, unity, and purity.

The Presbytery received a Hunger Offering of $1,337.

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My other articles about this meeting: A. Preliminary thoughts B. Overview C. Worship D. Ordination Overture E. Reflective listening F. Administrative Commissions G. Vocational Matters

Update 10-14-2006: Pastor Jim Mead's sermon, "What Counts" has been posted on the Presbytery website.

Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting on September 7: B. Overview

Crestfield signThere were 122 ministers and 122 elders representing 77 churches at the September 7, 2006 meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery at the Crestfield Camp and Conference Center in Slippery Rock, PA. We could not have asked for better weather.

The mood was upbeat, with many of the ministers and elders having conversations with friends they had not seen in months. Re-establishing connections and making new friends is one of the major side activities at any presbytery meeting.

some of the Pittsburgh Presbytery commissioners having lunch outside at Crestfield, September 7, 2006The beautiful weather (and the Crestfield staff) made it possible for us to have our lunch outside.

The lunch break was an opportunity for a number of those in attendance to get a hayride tour of the camp.

I also paid a visit to the labyrinth. While I was checking it out there were three people walking it, one of whom commented that the labyrinth was rather like our meeting in that you could never quite be sure where it was going but you kept passing the same spots anyhow.

non-parliamentary labyrinth at CrestfieldIn the course of the meeting we worshiped God, did some preliminary work on a controversial overture from a number of sessions, listened to one another, handled some important vocational matters, and learned about a number of upcoming opportunities and events.

The meeting adjourned at 3:18, which was a bit of a relief knowing that the docket could have kept us there until almost 5:00.

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My other articles about this meeting: A. Preliminary thoughts B. Overview C. Worship D. Ordination Overture E. Reflective listening F. Administrative Commissions G. Vocational Matters

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting on Sept. 7: A. Preliminary thoughts

Tomorrow morning Pittsburgh Presbytery is going to begin a meeting at the Crestfield Camp and Conference Center. According to the docket, this promises to be a full meeting, with adjournment happening sometime around 5:00 PM.

Travel to meetings has always been an issue for me, but by now I am reasonably comfortable with the route to Crestfield. The Presbytery has taken additional steps to help us with good directions that do not assume that everyone who matters will be travelling north on I-79. The directions page suggests the use of Mapquest from our individual starting points, and even gives the address we should use for our destination to take into account a spelling error in the Mapquest database.

Another positive development in the papers for this meeting is the way the Presbytery has provided the PDF files on its website. As usual, there is the possibility of downloading individually each of the reports. This time there is also the possibility of downloading the full packet in a single file. Those of us who routinely print out all the papers with the understanding that all the business matters should find this print job an easy one to accomplish.

The meeting is going to include a report from each of the commissioners to the General Assembly, and will also include an overture from three sessions concerning ordination standards. The Presbytery Council is recommending that this overture be referred to the Committee on Ministry and Committee on Preparation for Ministry and not be presented for action until the October meeting of Presbytery.

Given that the Presbytery has not met in three months, there is more than enough of the basic business a presbytery must conduct to consume our attention at this meeting.

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My other articles about this meeting: A. Preliminary thoughts B. Overview C. Worship D. Ordination Overture E. Reflective listening F. Administrative Commissions G. Vocational Matters

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

So where is the persecution?

1. Take a Bible Study out of the church.

2. Go to a public park, maintained with tax dollars for the benefit of all.

3. Find and occupy a vacant picnic table.

4. Exercise your First Amendment right to Freedom of Worship without State endorsement of religion.

5. Now, explain to me again why you are so convinced that religion is banished from the public square, and why you believe Christians are being persecuted in the U.S.A.

Tonight the Bible Study following the Tuesday Evening Meal and Ministry at Central Presbyterian Church of Tarentum took advantage of the nice weather and moved itself two blocks to a picnic table in Riverview Memorial Park.

We studied Acts 22:22-29, in which Paul successfully asserted his rights as a Roman citizen when he was about to be flogged by the Roman authorities in Jerusalem.

No one interfered with our Bible Study. No one objected to our presence. And if they had objected, I don't think they could have done so successfully.

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Friday, September 01, 2006

One local website back up, no signs of another

This week I checked the website for the Highlands School District again, and discovered it is back up. It had been down for most of the summer after some kind of security breach.

I like the appearance of the new website, and find it warm and inviting. It appears that there are still parts of the website that have yet to appear, but the existing website does have a lot of the useful information that I would expect to find. There is an unnecessary disclaimer that the site is still evolving (what part of the web is not?) The promise that content is being added daily makes it exactly what I would want to see in a large organization's website.

My main criticism of the school district's site is that takes a very long time to load on a dial-up connection. What loads first does not help a visitor start navigating to the desired information. Instead, the visitor must wait until lots of pretty but useless items load on the main page before finding how to get to the useful stuff.

Meanwhile the Tarentum Borough website (www.tarentumboroughpa.gov) is still down. Advertising signs at all the entrances to the borough show the url for this non-existent site. I was told that the site was taken down so that incorrect information could be corrected and the site could be redesigned. I simply don't understand this philosophy. One establishes a website in order to have a presence on the web. Continuous presence is important. Typos could have been fixed in an hour without requiring the whole site to be taken offline. Redesign can be done offline, and for a site the size of the borough's the actual posting of the redesigned site would have taken 15 minutes.

I have some understanding of the delay for the Highlands School District site, which is more than a set of web pages -- it is also an interface for sharing confidential information between teachers, students, and parents, and absolutely has to have a lot of secuity features. I am baffled by the missing Tarentum website.

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