Thursday, December 20, 2007

Objects in the distance may be larger than they appear

Photo of 2007 Tarentum Brackenridge holiday tree as seen from First Avenue
There seems to be no end of grumbling about the size of the Tarentum-Brackenridge holiday tree this year. I guess people don't want to complain about genuine issues, such as the number of people who are experiencing homelessness right now, or the fact that young people they know are far away fighting a war that was started with dubious justifications.

The holiday tree for Tarentum and Brackenridge was planted along the boundary between the towns in an open park area. The absence of any other points of reference nearby make the tree look particularly small and lonely, especially when viewed from the distance of First Avenue.

I've heard people swear that the tree cannot be taller than six feet. They should take a short walk and stand next to it. The tree actually is eight to ten feet tall, as was intended by those who obtained it.

It is a living tree; it will grow each year. I like it.

Photo of 2007 Tarentum Brackenridge holiday tree from a closer viewpoint
In the past Tarentum has had cut trees so tall that it was a challenge to decorate them. This year's tree is decorated evenly from top to bottom.

If you have an opinion about the tree go ahead and vote in my poll or leave a comment.


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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Brrr! it's cold

It's so cold ...
snowmanrobot-121707.JPG
... that even the robot rolling the halls of the Allegheny Valley Hospital has turned into a snowman!

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

An unexpected guest at the manger

Robot dog that appeared in a creche scene

Of course none of the guests at the manger were exactly expected.

This was the scene that confronted me when I made my way to the back of the church at the conclusion of the service this morning.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Will you be renting that cat or would you like to eat it here?

Yellow page ad for Cat Rental Store appearing below display ad for a Chinese buffet

The advertisements above appear on page 171 of the November 2007 Verizon Yellow Pages for New Kensington, PA.

It was hard to convince two cat-deprived children not to call the store that offered to rent cats.

But no one noticed the display ad that appeared immediately above the ad for the cat rental store.

Whoever does the layout for the yellow pages must have a bizarre sense of humor.

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Learning a little bit about headhunting on the web

Central Presbyterian Church of Tarentum is looking for a part-time administrative assistant.

In the course of starting up this search I have learned a few new things about how the web can help us in the search.

I knew the obvious: we can post the information on our own website. So I posted the most informative help wanted advertisement on our own site, with a link to it from the site's entry page. That was something we also did a few years ago when we were looking for an organist.

Also, as we had done in the previous search, I set up a special email address that any interested people might use to contact us about the position.

As in the previous search we also used our internal publications and word of mouth, letting members of the congregation know through an announcement in the bulletin that we were looking, and encouraging them to tell people they know. The announcement encouraged people to go to the website for more information.

I also knew the somewhat less than obvious: There are places where job listings can be posted on the web for free. One such place is the classified ads on Topix. So I took out a free ad on the page for Tarentum. This is the ad on Topix.

Pittsburgh Presbytery has a page on their website where its churches can post their announcements about positions they wish to fill. So I asked for a short notice to appear there. It was up in a flash.

In addition to the internet we knew we would have to bite the bullet and take out a paid classified ad in the local paper.

What I didn't expect was that the ad in the paper would be picked up by HotJobs. Ordinarily we would have to pay to get a listing there. I could tell that HotJobs got it from the classified ad, because the listing slavishly matched the classified ad right down to the hyphenation inserted to keep the ad short. This is the way we are listed on HotJobs. The connection between the newspaper and HotJobs seems to have been a TribTotalMedia company called PaJobMatch.com.

So far the responses to our job listing include: one person who found us through word of mouth, one who found us through HotJobs, two who found us through the printed newspaper, and one who did not identify how she learned.

If I were to do all of this over again, one thing I would change is the hyphenation in the newspaper ad. Knowing that the text that appears in the newspaper could be picked up and replicated elsewhere, I'd rather spend a couple extra bucks on an extra line in the ad than have hyphens appear where they are totally unnecessary.

Meanwhile, the search goes on. If you know someone who would be interested in a part-time position as an administrative assistant in a small membership church in Tarentum, let them know about us.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The sustainable border conflict

Rice said the border needed to be drawn up in a way that was "sustainable" for both sides.

If this is accurate reporting of what U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, there should be no wonder that the border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea seems to be heading nowhere good. It is not the drawing of the border that needs to be sustainable. Rather, it is the ways the parties relate to one another about the correct border that needs to be sustainable.

In 1998-2000 the two countries fought a war that took 70,000 lives over this border. They ended the war with an agreement to submit their dispute to final and binding arbitration. The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission, part of Permanent Court of Arbitration, established the legal description of the boundary between Eritrea and Ethiopia, but the two countries did not permit the boundary to be demarcated.

Rice's statement as reported by Reuters is likely to be heard by Eritrea as further evidence that the US is backing Ethiopia's desire to re-open the whole question of where the boundary is or ought to be. Constantly re-opening settled questions is a sure recipe for sustained conflict.

Imagine you were having a boundary dispute with your neighbor. Thorough surveys of the legal descriptions of your property establish that your neighbor has built a fence, or a garage, or an extension of his own home, across the boundary between your property and his. There is nothing unsustainable about establishing where the boundary legally is. But once you and your neighbor know where the line lies, you will be in a position to work out what the consequence of his -- or your -- trespass should be.

The undemarcated boundary between Eritrea and Ethiopia will have consequences for the people who live and work on each side thereof. The time for talks about how sustainable relationships can be established around the border is after its demarcation, once all those involved can see exactly where they stand with respect to the border.

Sadly, Ethiopia and Eritrea have opted to allow the border not to be demarcated, and have each moved large numbers of troops into the border region. There was a much better way to resolve this dispute.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Welcoming sign saying "Have a very Blessed Thanksgiving", Central Presbyterian Church's Community Thanksgiving Dinner, Nov. 22, 2007We had a wonderful time at the Community Thanksgiving Dinner this afternoon. We had a record number of volunteers helping us serve over eighty meals to people who came for many different reasons. Some came because they could not afford to get the ingredients to make a Thanksgiving meal at home; some couldn't cook; some came because they did not want to have their Thanksgiving meal alone; and some came to serve. Some came promptly at 1:00 when the meal began; and some came at 2:45 when we were in the process of cleaning up and putting away our leftovers.

There was a good spirit in the room as old friends and new gave thanks for God's many blessings.

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Steel City Grill House continues great traditions

At risk of having to wait for a seat at a nice local restaurant, I just want to add a ditto to today's review in the Valley News Dispatch of Steel City Pizza.

I first learned about Steel City early in the summer when some young people were passing out menus/fliers in Riverview Park in Tarentum. They explained that Tarentum was part of the area to which Steel City would deliver. I learned that Steel City was at that time in the same place locals had come to know as Portofino Pizza (that had a reputation for a great place to get a gyro). "Steel City Pizza and Wings" (as it was named on the sign out front) was being run by the same family that had operated Portofino for 16 years. I found that Steel City was a great place to order pizza, wings, or gyros earlier in the summer.

A few months later a banner appeared in front of the former Babe's Restaurant at 2709 Leechburg Road in Lower Burrell, announcing that "Steel City Pizza and Grill" would be there. Once they opened I paid a visit for dinner, and was not sorry.

I can't make any comparisons with the former Babe's Diner (that closed just before I moved to the area). The gyros are still great at the new restaurant, as are the pizzas and sandwiches. It is also a good place to go for an evening meal. They offer a few very nice pasta entrees.

I am only mystified by the constantly changing name. In addition to the banner out front they now have letters on the high illuminated sign, naming the restaurant the "Steel City Grill House." I am sure that eventually they will settle on one name. But in the meantime I just like the fact that the food is great.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

What is a small church without a trophy case supposed to do?

2nd place trophy awarded to Central Presbyterian Church for its float in the 2007 Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday ParadeI had mentioned earlier that one of the big events this month was the 2007 Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade.

The parade was a lot of fun, as I described in the last post. When the parade ended the children who had been on the float went on to the other events happening in Tarentum, while some of us set to work taking the float apart so that we could return the trailer to the person who let us use it. In the middle of our work I received a text message that our float had won Second Prize among the floats that had been in the parade.

This was really funny because all the people who had been involved in the project had not been aware that there would be any judging of the floats. We just went into the parade as an opportunity to participate in a community event and show a little bit about what our church was like.

Central Presbyterian Church float in line before the 2007 Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday ParadeThe kids who went to receive the trophy were just delighted.

I've been told that our church does have a few trophies from various events over the years, but we have no trophy case. We probably don't need one. I hope we'll continue to be involved in events around Tarentum without feeling that we have to compete with other organizations.

There is a full list of the prizes awarded for the 2007 Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade here.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade 2007

The Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade on Saturday, November 17 continued the great tradition the two towns established last year. The parade took about 40 minutes to pass the place where I viewed it, and it is clearly become the kind of community event people turn out to support.

While I was waiting for the parade to start, the Highlands Education Association was giving out free cups of hot cocoa and hot apple cider.

The parade had a number of marching units.

Highlands Varsity Marching Band, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

Highlands Varsity Marching Band, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

an unidentified dance group, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

Steel City Ambassadors, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

Butler Vagabonds, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

There were lots of local fire departments in the parade, and it seemed that some came from further than the previous year's parade.


Eureka firedog, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

New Kensington Fire Department, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

There were floats from a number of organizations.

Abundant Joy Fellowship's float, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

Central Presbyterian Church's float, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

Holy Martyrs' float, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

In addition to all the politicians who made an appearance, we even had a meteorologist in the parade. But with the weatherman busy riding in the parade I was wondering who was making sure the rains would hold off?

Don Schwenneker, WTAE meteorologist, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

And there were mascots of all sorts:

The Pirates' Parrot, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

Steely McBeam, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

The King's Frownie, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

Hot Dog Guy, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

KFC Chicken, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

Red Robin, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

Wendy, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

And of course the parade concluded with the arrival of Santa.

Santa, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

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Friday, November 16, 2007

You can't always see the gritted teeth behind the smiley



This is the kind of lawsuit that I think will give lawyers and litigation a bad name among the public. (HT: Pittsblog for writing about the suit and some of its anticipated problems.) The notion that a company can claim an exclusive right to draw a facial expression that is at least as old as the human race on a cookie seems absurd. Although lawyers can picture how the case might go either way, I think the public is going to see through it all to recognize the fierce greed that motivates a lawsuit like this.

If you give someone a smile you lose nothing, and can gain so much. If you sue to defend a claimed exclusive right to draw smiles, there is nothing to gain but perhaps a lot of money. I am likely to remember the obvious greed behind the smiley the next time I dine at an Eat'nPark and see the display of cookies at the counter as I leave.

Those aren't friendly smiles on the cookies. They are just the distracting smiles of someone who is eyeing your wallet.

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McDonald's in Lower Burrell opens new restaurant

McDonald's Restaurant in Lower Burrell, PA, November 15, 2007Yesterday was the day that the new McDonald's opened in Lower Burrell, right next to where the previous McDonald's had been on Leechburg Road. The opening was eagerly awaited by many in the Valley, including a group of retirees who were accustomed to meeting at the old restaurant each day for coffee; they were forced temporarily into a nomadic existence when the old restaurant closed and was demolished.

As someone who drives past the site twice a day, I was impressed by the speed with which the new restaurant was built, and the coordination of the workers who accomplished so many different tasks simultaneously on a small piece of land. They worked quickly and efficiently from the time ground was broken for the new restaurant, to the time the old restaurant was closed and its demolition began, through the time they paved the parking lot and finished the new restaurant. I don't think there was a day when I did not notice big changes on the construction site.

There was a crowd in the new restaurant yesterday, eager to see what it looked like from the inside. I thought the dining area was attractive; the large windows let in more sunlight than there had been in the old restaurant. There were two flatscreen TV's mounted to the wall, and a variety of possibilities for seating in booths or at tables with different sizes.

Outside, there was a lot of fascination with the drive-through window. The new restaurant has a double drive-thru lane. It is easy to see how two drivers can be placing orders simultaneously. What is not yet obvious to me is how people in the two drive-thru lanes pick up their food.

It's good to have the McDonald's back.

And have I mentioned that McDonald's is socially responsible in working with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to ensure better wages for the people who pick their tomatoes?

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Did Choppers turn out as advertised?

When the owners of Choppers Bar And Grille came to the Tarentum Borough Council in May, they went to great lengths to emphasize that the establishment for which they were seeking a liquor license was going to be different from the previous "Hog Heaven" that had closed in the same location (see here or here). The owners had not been part of the previous bar's operation and did not want to be held responsible for the problems of the past.

They described their dream of having an upscale biker bar -- a place where doctors, lawyers, and bankers who ride motorcycles could bring their families for dinner. They pointed out that there was no restaurant in the borough of Tarentum where one could go out for supper on a Monday night, and that Choppers would make Monday night dining a possibility in Tarentum. A dining area out along the sidewalk was going to be another draw for their desired upscale clientele.

Meanwhile, people who lived in the neighborhood on streets uphill from the bar wondered whether Choppers was going to be a new manifestation of the previous nuisance bar.

As the renovations and decoration of the space proceeded, ambivalent messages kept the question unresolved as to what kind of establishment Choppers would be.

sign announcing "Chopper's Bar & Grille opening soon Under New Management", photo taken June 30, 2007 In June a sign announced that Choppers Bar and Grille was opening soon "under new management". According to what had been told to the Borough Council, Choppers was brand new to Tarentum, and was to open under its very first management in Tarentum. The phrase "under new management" does point to a new reality and a new way in which things will be done, but at the same time, it hints at some degree of continuity with something in the past. The only explanation I can imagine for this phrase is that Choppers wanted to communicate something to the customers of the former Hog Heaven, hoping to get them in the door.

In any event, it is not clear whether Choppers is a new business in Tarentum or just an old business with a new name and new management.

When Choppers opened, the Valley News Dispatch carried a review of the "upscale biker bar", describing in very positive terms a visit by the paper's Lunch Bunch. I visited it on a Monday evening, and did not post anything about my experience, which was not as good. I thought the food was adequate and appropriately priced. The service was extremely slow -- I waited over a half hour for a sandwich. They did comp my beverage, which was a soft drink. It might just have been a problem of getting the kitchen up to speed shortly after opening, but I am not likely to go back. I did not observe any delays in serving drinks, but I saw other people waiting a long time for food as well. Better staffed to function as a bar than as a restaurant, the setting did not feel comfortable to me as a place for family dining.

According to a neighbor two streets away from Choppers, the noise from the bar is very disruptive through the evening and into the night, getting even worse right after closing at 2:00 AM when the customers leave and warm up their motorcycles.

I understand that Choppers has a bouncer carding people on weekends. On the one hand, this points to the clear intention of the owners for the bar to be a place where problems do not occur. On the other hand, it also points to the potential for problems to occur, and raises the question whether Choppers genuinely intends to provide bikers with a family restaurant where liquor is served, or whether it is just a biker bar that occasionally serves some items of food. After all, this is the only restaurant in Tarentum that has or needs a bouncer while claiming to be an option for family dining.

I am interested in how other people see this. I started a poll on Topix.com, asking the question "Did Choppers in Tarentum turn out as advertised?" You are welcome to vote there. What was promoted to the Borough Council back in May was a restaurant that would play a role in the revitalization of Tarentum. I wonder whether Choppers will have that positive influence.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Can you hear me standing now?

sign with message "American Christians stand up and be heard!"

I thought normally the cliche was to "stand up to be counted", but something is lost when it is mixed with other ideas like speaking out in order to be heard.

So here I am standing up as loudly as I can, but not even I can hear my own joints creak. Can you hear me standing?

Some other turns of phrase can lose a lot when elements are dropped out of the middle. The other day I overheard one worker warn another: "Be careful when you handle that glass or it will slice your hands like hot butter."

And yet ... no restaurant that gave me a dish of melted butter ever warned me of the dangers of being sliced by my food.


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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Looking ahead at a busy month

As if the past week has not been busy enough I have been looking ahead at four major events for Central Presbyterian Church this month.

This Saturday, November 10, we have our last ham loaf dinner of the year. These dinners are the fundraisers that have a real following in the community, and when this one is past I anticipate a few months of people asking me through the winter when the next one will be.

November 10th 4pm - 6pm 2007Ham Loaf Dinner— at Central Presbyterian Church, 305 Allegheny Street, Tarentum, PA
Our Final Ham Loaf Dinner for 2007, Ham loaf, parsley potatoes, green beans, apple sauce, cole slaw, and a selection of desserts.

The next day, Sunday, November 11 will be Veterans Day, and the people of the church have been going all out to plan a special observance of the national holiday during our main worship service. Some new and old voices have been recruited to augment the Westminster Choir for a special anthem, "Hymn to America", being planned for the day. We have collected photographs of war monuments and honor rolls from many of the communities in the Alle-Kiski Valley, and the slide show will be projected during the anthem. Following the service, our deacons will provide a luncheon.

November 11th 10:50am - 11:50am 2007A Salute to America's Veterans— at Central Presbyterian Church
The main worship service at Central Presbyterian Church will be a special time of recognizing veterans for their contribution to our nation.

The very next Saturday, November 17, will be the Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade. This would not normally be a church event, but this year some of the creative people at Central have been working on having a float in the parade. This will be the first time in many years (if ever) that Central has participated in a community parade in this way. I am looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

November 17th 10am, 11am 2007Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade— at First Avenue
This is a cooperative parade organized by the communities of Tarentum and Brackenridge. The parade will follow the First Avenue parade route between the towns. It will be followed by a "Santa Fest" at the Tarena. The tree lighting will be in the park at the corner of Cherry Street and First Avenue. Highlands Variations will perform in Dreshar Stadium at 4:30 PM.

And later during that week Thursday, November 22 will be Thanksgiving, when Central Church will host a Community Thanksgiving Dinner. We have done it five years in a row, and a few times before that -- and it has been a blessing every time. The free dinner has been deeply appreciated by many of our neighbors and friends in the community.

November 22th 1pm - 3pm 2007Community Thanksgiving Dinner— at Central Presbyterian Church
Central Presbyterian Church will host a Thanksgiving dinner for church members, their relatives, and friends and neighbors from the community. Reservations are recommended, but not required; call 724-224-9220.

Many volunteers will be needed to help prepare and serve the dinner, and to donate food items for the dinner.

These hCalendar events brought to you by the hCalendar Creator.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Tarentum Skateboard Park lockout is over

Last night I drove past the James E. Wolfe Skateboard Park in Tarentum. I was pleased to be able to see in the dark that the gate on the skate park was unlocked and open. I assume that this means that the lockout that began a month ago after some vandalism in the Dreshar recreational complex has now ended.

Given that warmer temperatures are being predicted for the weekend, there are a number of people I know who will be glad to have a place to skate.

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Pay no attention to the hole behind the fence

Pile of dirt beside the sinkhole at the Giant Eagle parking lot, New Kensington, PA, November 4, 2007Over the last few months if you had asked me to compose a sentence using the words "ground" and "Giant Eagle", I would probably have composed something like:

"If you shop at the Giant Eagle in New Kensington, remember that the ground could open up beneath your feet and swallow you whole."

This morning I opened my door to pick up my Sunday Valley News Dispatch, and the top story with a headline in a font I thought they were saving for the next time the Steelers go to the championships was "Giant Eagle ground beef recalled". And I thought to myself, "that's a new way to put those words together."

At various times during the summer the sinkhole repair site has had equipment positioned such that it was hard for anyone outside to see just what was happening. In recent weeks a huge pile of dirt appeared between the sinkhole and the Clarion Hotel parking lot. And the pile is so high that it obstructs the view of the hole from the higher ground. I have been wondering whether all that dirt actually came out of the repair site, or whether it was brought here in order to keep filling the sinkhole.

Repairs ongoing at the sinkhole at the Giant Eagle in New Kensington, PA, 11-04-07Near the end of this week it became possible to see into the repair site again. It seems as if the contaminated meat scare pulls attention away from the unexplained hole in the ground. The story that there is bad meat that you can throw away or return to the store gets headlines. The story that there is an unexplained hole in the ground that has grown since it first appeared in mid-July gets yawns -- as big as the yawning hole one can now see through the fence.

This is such a strange place to live.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Trick or Treat 2007

Halloween in Tarentum was a very safe day because of the hard work of the police and fire departments who patrolled the streets. Of course, there were others who helped to keep the streets safe.

part of the Highlands marching band in the Grandview Halloween Parade, 2007

The religious were hard at prayer during the Grandview Halloween Parade.


Some of the teachers in the Grandview Halloween Parade, 2007

There were superheros to keep the vampires in line.

Batman, in Tarentum on Halloween 2007

There were lots of versions of Batman out keeping evildoers at bay.

Mustard and Ketchup in Tarentum on Halloween 2007

Wheaties, in Tarentum on Halloween, 2007

Food can be non-threatening, sometimes.

Geisha in Tarentum, Halloween 2007

The exotic and beautiful, the strange but harmless were all out on the streets.


Scary Ghost, in Tarentum on Halloween 2007.

And Halloween would not have been complete without at least one scary ghost.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Boo Who?

The Tarentum Recreation Board provided a special event for the community's children on Monday night, October 29, 2007 in Riverview Park. The "Boo Fest" was held two days before the actual night of Trick-or-Treating on Hallowe'en. Over 250 children were registered for the event. Children were given booklets on safety tips for when they would go door to door.

There were a number of community leaders present to help with the Boo Fest. It was not necessarily easy to identify who was behind the make-up or masks.

Tarentum Borough Council President Carl Magnetta as a clown at the Boo Fest, October 29, 2007 Tarentum Recreation Board President Harmon Boston as a clown at the Boo Fest, October 29, 2007

One of the clowns above was Tarentum Council President Carl Magnetta. The other clown was President of the Tarentum Recreation Board Harmon Boston. Can you tell which is which?

Tarentum Borough First Ward Councilman Tim Rapp as the Tim Woodsman at the Boo Fest, October 29, 2007

This Tim Woodsman was played by Tarentum Borough First Ward Councilman Tim Rapp.

Tarentum Borough Manager Bill Rossey as a Satanic Bill Clinton at the Boo Fest, October 29, 2007

The Satanic Bill Clinton was played by Tarentum Borough Manager Bill Rossey.

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Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting at Mount Hope

Elder David Green moderating meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery, October 18, 2007 at Mt. Hope Presbyterian ChurchOn Thursday, October 18, I attended the meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery at the Mt. Hope Community Church. High points in the meeting included our time of worship, our action to dismiss the Beverly Heights Church, and ongoing vocational matters.

There were 131 ministers and 129 elders representing 77 churches; there were also 25 non-voting visitors.

Communion elements for worship during meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery, October 18, 2007, at Mt. Hope Presbyterian ChurchWorship. We began the meeting with a time of worship including Holy Communion. During the service we received the Hunger Offering of $1544.16. Acting Pastor to the Presbytery Doug Portz preached on the changing ways in which mission is being supported within the PCUSA. As part of the service we also remembered the ministers and elders who had died in the past year.

Dismissal of Beverly Heights church. One of the big events at the meeting was the debate and vote on the request for the dismissal of the Beverly Heights United Presbyterian Church to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

In order to understand the debate and decision, one needs to remember how the Pittsburgh Presbytery got there. Almost nine months earlier the Presbytery Council had set up three teams to deal with situations that might emerge as some congregations were considering asking for dismissal from the PCUSA. One of the teams created was a negotiated settlement team (NST) "to pursue the possibility of mutually-agreed upon terms whereby a church could be dismissed without ecclesiastical or civil proceedings." On April 22, 2007 the Beverly Heights church voted to request dismissal through a presbytery-observed vote of the congregation. From the time that the NST and the Beverly Heights representatives began meeting together, the Presbytery had virtually accepted the notion that some form of separation with the Beverly Heights church was going to happen. The primary reason for reaching a settlement agreement seemed to be that it was a way for Christians to avoid suing each other in the secular courts. The two negotiating teams did reach an agreement, which the Presbytery Council approved on July 17. The Presbytery had a first reading of the settlement agreement on September 6, and it was brought to this meeting for final action.

The debate began with a remarkable speech against the proposal by Prof. Andrew Purves, who said that "separation and complicity in separation are acts of unfaithfulness." His comments were theologically grounded with quotations from John Calvin. It was a remarkable speech, and I noticed that one of the people present was using his cell phone to record it. I wish I had thought to have a recording device running before he started to speak.

My heart rose with the expectation that we were actually going to have a theological debate, but then I did not hear any speaker in favor of the proposal offer so much as a Bible verse in support of the dismissal. There were a lot of speeches in favor of local option, that if a congregation wants to leave the PCUSA, the presbytery ought to let them go. There were criticisms from speakers on both sides of the debate for the Beverly Heights church's history of withholding per capita. There was a concern about whether the ballots with different colors for ministers and elders (assigned to match the colors of our name tags) in some way violated the privacy of those voting; the moderator ruled that the colors of the ballots would not interfere. We voted 174 to 73 with 2 abstentions in favor of the dismissal. (see also this article)

I found Dr. Purves' comments highly persuasive, but I consider the dismissal decision the Presbytery made in light of the Christian unity that Christ is leading us to seek and make real through our ecumenical relationships. We did not simply dismiss the Beverly Heights church to the outer darkness; rather, we approved the transfer of the congregation to the care of a church body that is one of our ecumenical partners. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church is a member church (along with the PCUSA) of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. Officers of the EPC have been ecumenical guests at PCUSA meetings I attended, a fact that indicates the number of ecumenical relationships we have with the EPC.

I wish the Presbytery had had a deeper discussion of the issues Dr. Purves raised. Those issues have serious implications for how we will act as a church. A more effective time for us to have that discussion would be prior to any negotiations between the NST and representatives of a church.

Vocational matters. In the remainder of the meeting, life went on as Christ continued to call men and women to different forms of service. The Committee on Nominations nominated the Rev. Lowell Meek for Senior Vice Moderator; There was a nomination from the floor of Rev. Don Ewing for the same position. This means that there will be an opportunity to hear from both candidates at the next meeting. The Committee also announced a number of nominations that it will make at the December meeting to fill existing vacancies and the class of 2010 on standing committes and the council.

The Presbytery received the following as Inquirers: Carrie Hanson (First Presbyterian Church of Edgewood), Cinda Isler (Mt. Lebanon United Presbyterian Church), Michael Ludwig (Oakmont Presbyterian Church), and Bethany Portz (Hampton United Presbyterian Church). The Presbytery received the following inquirers as candidates: Christopher Graham Ford (Westminster Presbyterian Church), Janice Holmes (Central Presbyterian Church, McKeesport), Laura Strauss (Whitehall United Presbyterian Church), and Meredith Weaver Yuckman (Bethel Presbyterian Church). The Presbytery approved the oral parts of trial for Todd Leach, who will be ordained to serve as an Associate Pastor of the Shadyside Presbyterian Church.

The Presbytery also approved calls for the Rev. Mark Simonds to be the pastor of the Oakdale Presbyterian Church, and for the Rev. Theodore Martin to be Designated Pastor of the Hampton United Presbyterian Church.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Some pictures of a foggy morning

Yesterday morning there was a lot of mist rising from the Allegheny River.

mist rising from the Allegheny River, Tarentum, PA

sun shining through clouds and mist on Allegheny River, Tarentum, PA

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