Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Preaching in January 2011

In January I will have a full month of guest preaching, with commitments made for each of the five Sundays.

January 2, 2011, 11 AM at the Presbyterian Church of Goheenville, Templeton, PA.

January 9, 2011, 9:30 AM at the NuValley Presbyterian Church, Rural Valley, PA.

January 16, 2011, 8:15 and 10:45 AM at the Westminster Presbyterian Church, Greensburg, PA.

January 23. 2011, 10:45 AM at the Worthington Presbyterian Church, Worthington, PA.

January 30, 2011, 10:45 at the Apollo United Presbyterian Church, Apollo, PA.

Some of these are churches where I have preached before, but there is always something new. This will be my first time at the Presbyterian Church of Goheenville, but I have been past it a number of times. This church is along the route I normally follow when I make the long drive from Lower Burrell to visit my parents and siblings in Cooperstown, New York. I pass it during the first hour of my journey up, and it is one of the landmarks that tells me I am getting close to home on the return trip. I am probably not the only preacher whose attention is drawn to houses of worship when on long trips. I usually find myself wondering about how the congregations that use those buildings reach out to their communities. I am looking forward to the first time that I actually will stop in Goheenville.

When I saw that I was going to preach at NuValley Presbyterian Church, I did a double-take. My printed 2009 directory for Kiskiminetas Presbytery does not list that church. Then I learned that this is a new congregation formed from the merger of two congregations that had done many things together over the years. In fact, just last January I preached for both of the congregations that went into the merger. At each church I had conversations with leaders of the two congregations in which they told me about their upcoming decision on merger. They felt trepidation about whether they could get the merger to happen, but it was clear to the leaders on both sides that the merger was something that had arisen out of the shared lives and ministries of the two congregations. I am looking forward to January 9 when I will guest preach for the first time at the NuValley Church, barely five months into its existence and service as one congregation.

I have not preached at the Westminster Presbyterian Church before, but that was where I met with a team from the Committee on Ministry of Redstone Presbytery about being put on their pulpit supply list. This will be an interesting and full morning of two services, with an informal service with Communion early, and then a traditional service later.

I believe this will be my second time at the Worthington Presbyterian Church. I preached there at the beginning of this month for a service of Communion. They have many friendly people and a lovely, intimate worship space with the Table in the center.

I have preached a few times at the Apollo church, and look forward to being back with their friendly people and fascinating architecture.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sights, sounds, tastes, feelings at the end of November

This is just a description of random observations from yesterday.

When I woke in the morning I was hearing gunshots in the distance from various directions. It was the first day of rifle season for hunting deer and my apartment was on the top of a hill overlooking the Allegheny valley, so I often hear sounds that come from a distance. I remembered that the previous day in worship at Puckety Presbyterian Church one of the prayer requests was for the hunters. Ever since I moved to Western Pennsylvania, it has been my consistent experience that someone makes this prayer request in church on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. So the day started with sounds that reminded me to pray.

Part of my day involved making a hospital visit at the Alle-Kiski Medical Center. Before I made it in the door I was amazed at the beautiful clouds in the sky. Truly the heavens declare God's handiwork!

Photo of clouds 11-29-2010

Photo of clouds 11-29-2010

When I stopped for lunch in the hospital cafeteria, I was surprised to hear the sounds of accordion playing in the dining room. A musician was there playing for the entertainment of the volunteers, staff, and visitors. He only played a few polkas, but people sitting at the table closest to him were making requests, and he clearly knew a lot of music. The cafeteria was offering kielbasa, pierogies, potato pancakes, and halushki. It must have been in honor of some Polish holiday. I found on the internet that November 29 is a celebration called Andrzejki (St. Andrew's Eve); I was not sure if the day was special for that or if it was a remembrance of the November uprising in 1830. Whatever was the occasion for this Polish theme, it made for a memorable and tasty lunch.

I went back to Puckety Church in the afternoon to do some cleaning out of my office. On Sunday I had not noticed the creche set out in front of the church.

Photo of creche in front of Puckety Presbyterian Church 11-29-2010 Lower Burrell

I took home from the office the few items I had brought at the start of the month: my preaching robe and the selection of stoles I had planned to use for the month. As I folded them up I recognized that I was going through another transition in my life. Even though I was only going to be at Puckety for a short time, it had been significant to me to have a place to hang my robe, where it would be ready for me on Sunday morning. Of course, I still have a place to hang my robe in my closet at home, but there is a different feeling when one has a regular workplace where a few personal tools and items can remain for when they are needed. I was reminded of how many offices, cubicles, or lockers have been vacated by so many people affected by the downturn in the economy. So many people have been going through these transitions. God is leading us somewhere.

Sunday was the last of the series of four Sundays where I had preached at Puckety, and a number of people had kind words to say about how I had been helpful during the month. The congregation is definitely is looking forward to the arrival of Rev. Kirk Orr this week. This will be a good Advent season for them, and I am glad if I was able to do anything to help them prepare for it.

For those who are interested in where they will be able to hear me preach in December, I have been booked for two Sundays next month. This Sunday, December 5, I will be at the Worthington Presbyterian Church. And then Christmas Eve, I will lead the service at the Calvin United Presbyterian Church in Scottdale.

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Saturday, November 06, 2010

My work in November

During the month of November I am working at the Puckety Presbyterian Church here in Lower Burrell. The congregation recently elected the Rev. Kirk Orr as pastor, and I will be providing pastoral care services before he moves up here and starts.

In addition to preaching every Sunday in November and doing some pastoral visitation, I will moderate one meeting of the church's session.

From the pastor's study I look across the church parking lot to the Burrell High School.

It feels good to be back into a weekly work schedule connected to a congregation. In supply preaching my responsibilities have been limited to preparing a sermon and leading worship.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Storm approaching

This picture was taken minutes before heavy rains and winds arrived.

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Adult Sunday School class - developments in the PCUSA

A gap developed in my supply preaching schedule, so the United Presbyterian Church of New Kensington (the congregation where I worship when not out preaching somewhere) invited me to do a two-session adult class on polity changes in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The class will be held in fellowship hall at 9:30 AM on Sunday September 19 and 26.

There are so many things that came out of the 219th General Assembly, including seventeen different proposed amendments to the church constitution. The congregation has done some creative things with the arts in worship, so I will probably want to speak at least briefly about the opening worship service at the Assembly. The congregation has an active youth program, so I probably will also want to say something about the contributions of the Young Adult Advisory Delegates to the Assembly.

Each of the seventeen proposed amendments is about something important to the life of the church. Three of the proposed amendments are going to be getting a lot of attention, so I will probably use my limited class time to open conversations about them in the class. (Of course, I wouldn't be myself if I didn't believe that at least one of the apparently innocuous proposals was a bad idea. I may have to sit on those thoughts and save them for a rainy day - or for debate in presbytery.)

On September 19 we'll discuss the implications of adding the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions, and then turn to a discussion of amendment 10-A (the one about ordination standards).

On September 26 we'll look at the Revised Form of Government, and discuss the implications of the paradigm shift envisioned in this major amendment to our Form of Government. If there is time, we may be able to have a discussion of some of the other proposed amendments.

If you'll be in the area on either of those Sundays, please join us.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

A day in the life of a Self-Sufficiency Services Coordinator

Yesterday was a good day, so I thought I would use it to give some examples of the kinds of things I've been doing since February in my job at the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches as a Self-Sufficiency Services Coordinator. My job is one of those rather directly created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and its goal has been to help people affected by the downturn in the economy get back to self-sufficiency.

The first half of the day revolved around the audit of my program's files by the monitor from Allegheny County. This was the third of the quarterly reviews in which I have participated, having come into this position four months into its program year. These audits are an important part of being accountable for the services we provided. I was pleased that this review went well.

In the remainder of the day, I saw two clients when they came in for the food bank, I played phone tag with two other clients and succeeded in connecting with one of them, and met another client off-site.

The off-site meeting was with an unemployed man who I transported to the Alle-Kiski Career Link in New Kensington for help with his resume and to refer him to the Pennsylvania Way to Work Program.

One of the clients I met at my office is starting classes at a local university next week, after having taken some required classes through the summer at the New Kensington campus of Westmoreland County Community College. Two of my clients are finishing a course at the University of Pittsburgh Manufacturing Assistance Center this week; they each just received certifications in machining that should make them more employable. I am really happy for them about their accomplishments.

One of the clients I saw talked with me about getting some help for a family member, and we identified some steps that can be taken now.

This was a good day. I did not have quite as many frustrations with tracking people down as I do sometimes, and I was able to celebrate some significant steps forward.

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Thursday, August 05, 2010

The promise seen from afar

Moses on Mt. Nebo, stained glass at the Mt. Nebo Presbyterian Church, Sewickley, PA

I am not accustomed to seeing stained glass depictions of Moses. This past Sunday I preached at the Mt. Nebo Presbyterian Church, and the window shown above was in the center of the chancel. (I think this is the first time in my life that I have seen a stained glass of Moses in a Presbyterian Church.) I find that I am still reflecting on it days later.

The story it depicts, of Moses on Mt. Nebo (Deuteronomy 34:1-5), is a story about denial and promise. Moses is allowed to see the promised land, but is reminded that he will not enter it with the people. It's not really news to him. In Deuteronomy 32:48-52, God commanded Moses to go up Mt. Nebo, described what he would see, and reminded Moses that he was not going to enter the land because he had broken faith with God earlier in his life.

How had Moses broken faith? Moses was denied entrance to the promised land because in Numbers 20:1-13, in the story of the miracle of bringing forth water from the rock, Moses and Aaron had not trusted God. It hardly seems fair to me. Moses and Aaron were in a bad spot, they turned to God, they sort of followed God's directions (although not in the bold way they were commanded), and the miracle happened anyhow. No harm, no foul? Not according to this story. And because of it God decided that neither Moses nor Aaron would lead the people into the promised land.

Even after Moses was obedient to God the rest of his life in leading the people of Israel in the wilderness, God held to the decision that Moses would not lead the people into the promised land.

So on Mt Nebo, God allows Moses to see the vast expanse of the promised land, and reminds him that he is not going there. But the focus in this part of the story is on the promise, and Moses is not just someone being denied entry, but he is the witness of the promise given.

One of the striking features of this story is that Moses has no lines. Moses has spoken through most of the previous 33 chapters. But here his role is merely to witness God's promise and then die. His personal feelings about the whole thing are not revealed, which seems unusual to me given the many times when a reader of Moses' story is shown how Moses felt about his experiences. His angers, his fears, his love for the people have been described in so many other events in the story; but here there is no clue what Moses is feeling. Is he disappointed that he won't actually enter the land? Is he content with knowing that the people will enter? It is not reasonable to conclude that a man whose vigor is not abated would have no feelings about the situation. He must have feelings, but they are not revealed.

The concealment of Moses' feelings is an invitation for readers like me to project onto Moses the feelings that we imagine we would have in his place.

I suspect Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. may have made some reasonable guesses in his final address/sermon in which he alluded to the story of Moses on Mt. Nebo:

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Is your congregation ready for the Revised Form of Government?

Earlier this month the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to submit an amended version of the Revised Form of Government (called nFOG by some) to the Presbyteries for their affirmative or negative votes.

During a break in the work of the Assembly Committee on the Form of Government Revision an observer voiced a concern to me that I summarize in the following hypothetical:

After adoption of the Revised form of Government, the session of a PCUSA congregation discerns that in order to participate in God's mission, a specific step must be taken that requires an affirmative vote of a congregational meeting. A member of the congregation is unhappy with the decision made by the rest of the congregation, and goes to court challenging, among other things, whether the members of the congregation had adequate notice of the meeting and whether a quorum was present. He argues that because Revised Form of Government gives the congregation the authority to determine its quorum and this congregation has not adopted a rule stating its quorum, the congregation needed to have at least half of the membership present in order to have a quorum. He also argues that the session had a responsibility under the Revised Form of Government to give adequate notice of the meeting, and that the way the session publicized the meeting did not meet that vague standard of adequacy.

What is the best way to head off this problem?

(a) The session should never let the congregation vote on anything with which anyone might disagree.

(b) The session's presbytery should overture the General Assembly to propose an amendment to the Form of Government that would specify what the quorum is for every congregational meeting, and determine what adequate notice would be for every congregation in the PCUSA.

(c) The session should call a congregational meeting at which the congregation could agree on its quorum and what notice of a meeting would be adequate.

(d) Stop the nFOG! The session should exert all of its efforts to ensure that the Revised Form of Government never gets adopted and they never get put in a situation where this hypothetical situation might occur.

(e) Maybe you have ideas of your own.

And now, as our vice-moderator would say, "Set phasers to stun ... we await results."

(a) If you selected (a), you are partly right that the session needs to do some groundwork (and sometimes a lot) with the congregation before taking important actions. But if the fear of displeasing a single member of the congregation will prevent the session from leading the congregation to join in God's work, this session may be too risk-averse to attempt anything.

(b) If you selected (b) you might do well to revisit the history of the PCUSA's trial with this very approach to specifying the quorum of a congregation. Only two years after the 1984 Reunion the church adopted the rule expressed in the current Form of Government as a replacement for a formula that specified the quorum of every congregation - a rule that was not working for many congregations.

(c) Option (c) makes the most sense to me, and is in accord with the advice of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution to the 218th General Assembly (2008), in which it said "the right to establish a quorum for meetings of the congregation is assigned to the congregation itself by G-7.0305. It is not a power assigned to the session, or to any other governing body."

(d) If you chose option (d), you may have many valid reasons for opposing the Revised Form of Government, but you failed to recognize that it is a red herring in this hypothetical. If your congregation has not acted to determine its own quorum, you are just as vulnerable to a challenge in court under the current Form of Government as under the Revised Form of Government.

Let's take a look at what our current Form of Government at G-7.0305 actually says:

The quorum of a meeting of the congregation shall be not less than one tenth of the members unless the particular church upon application to the presbytery shall obtain the consent of the presbytery to a provision for a smaller quorum. A congregation by its own vote may fix a higher quorum. No meeting of fewer than three members shall be considered a congregational meeting.

Your disgruntled church member could go into court and argue that the first sentence does not say what the quorum is, but what it is not. If the congregation has never voted to state what its quorum is, how would you plan to show the judge that your quorum is not what this one church member claims it is?

(e) If you chose option (e) you may have other ideas, and I am eager to hear them.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

What do demonstrations accomplish? or Did Soulforce save the Presbyterian Church?

I am accustomed to seeing demonstrations at or around meetings of the General Assembly. I don't mind people exercising their freedom of speech as long as they don't interfere with the orderly conduct of the Assembly's business. I observed two demonstrations at the 219th GA, and they each have me wondering what the demonstrators hoped to accomplish, and what did they actually accomplish. (Obie Holmen asks about the effectiveness of civil disobedience strategies.)

On Wednesday July 7 there was a demonstration at the Assembly by a group from a Korean-language congregation in the Chicago area.

faction of Canaan Presbyterian Church demonstrating at the Minneapolis Convention Center, July 17, 2010

As I made my way from the Convention Center back to my hotel, members of this group handed out stapled packets of documents that adequately explained to me why an administrative commission of the Synod of Lincoln Trails was justified in taking the actions against which these protestors were demonstrating. Their distribution of literature may have been against some policy of the General Assembly. At no time did these protesters obstruct my passage to or from the Convention Center. Nor did they (to my knowledge) intrude into the meeting of the General Assembly.

This demonstration seemed particularly pointless to me. The protesters' concerns were not related to any piece of business that was properly before the Assembly, and the deadline for commissioners to introduce new business had passed days earlier.

On the other hand, the enthusiasm of the group in lining up to take photos to commemorate the trip does suggest that the demonstration may have served some group-building purpose for members of this faction of the congregation. They had gone on an adventure to Minneapolis, had taken a stand for something important to them, and could go home thinking they had done the right thing.

But the demonstration that received the most attention at the 219th General Assembly was the Soulforce civil disobedience action on Friday, June 9, when protesters entered the assembly hall and prayed in front of the podium until the Minneapolis police removed them. This protest was an expression of frustration over decisions not made by the Assembly.

On Thursday evening the Assembly had considered the report of the Assembly Committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues (Committee 12). This issue had its own committee because the 218th Assembly had authorized a Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage, but also because a number of presbyteries had sent overtures to the General Assembly asking for various actions concerning marriage. The special committee's report recommended that the issue continue to be studied across the church with a number of resources, but did not make any specific recommendations for policy change. A minority of the Special Committee had also filed a minority report with a different slant on the issues. The Assembly decided to send both the majority and minority reports from the Special Committee to the whole Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for further study.

The Assembly then disapproved two overtures that would have reaffirmed the traditional understanding of marriage, and voted to answer a number of overtures calling for change by the previous action to send the majority and minority reports from the Special Committee for study. This action left those hoping for a change in policy frustrated by no sign of movement.

demonstrators calling for reconsideration of action on Committee 12, July 9, 2010The next morning when I walked to the Convention Center through the skywalk I passed demonstrators calling for the Assembly to reconsider the action. I don't know whether this sign-posting and sign-holding violated any rules, but they never slowed up my walk to the Convention Center.

During the morning session there was a motion to reconsider the previous night's action. It was debated at length and defeated.

In the afternoon the Assembly approved changes to the Pension Plan that would extend spousal and dependent benefits to same-gender domestic partners of plan members.

Then came the report of the Assembly Committee on Church Polity, in the middle of which the Soulforce protesters entered the Assembly hall. The timing of this protest is significant to me. The issue is not that it came after a series of successes for those working for full inclusion of LGBTQ Presbyterians. (John Shuck puts the protest in the larger context of the General Assembly's actions on LGBTQ issues. Antony offers a critique of the view that people should be happy with "a few legislative crumbs.") What is significant to me is the specific item the Assembly was considering when the protest began. The Assembly was discussing Item 05-21, a proposed authoritative interpretation about authoritative interpretations - a topic that may appear to some as a highly obscure point of Presbyterian Polity, but one which could have had significant implications.

In order to explain what I want to say about the protest, I need to make a brief digression to explain Item 05-21. (Dan Saperstein offers a detailed explanation of the issues, with which I largely agree. But it is interesting that Dan's article makes no mention of the protest that interrupted debate on 05-21.)

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has two ways of getting authoritative interpretations of the constitution. One way is that the General Assembly in plenary, after being advised by the Advisory Committee on the Constitution, may adopt an authoritative interpretation by a majority vote. The other way is that when the General Assembly's Permanent Judicial Commission is deciding a case or appeal, it may authoritatively interpret the constitution. The most recent authoritative interpretation is binding upon the whole church.

The question that was being debated was whether the authoritative interpretations by the General Assembly in plenary have an authority that trumps the ability of the General Assembly's Permanent Judicial Commission when it is deciding a case. They don't, but an argument can be made to suggest otherwise, and a minority on the Assembly Committee on Church Polity offered such an argument.

The argument for this view depended on painting the GA PJC as just another commission of the General Assembly. The counter-argument, if there were commissioners ready to make it, would have been that unlike other commissions that the Assembly might appoint, the GA had no choice about whether to form its PJC, and could not give its PJC instructions, except perhaps to meet at a specific time and place.

It had been suggested to me that the energy for the minority report came from certain recent decisions of the GA PJC that included dicta apparently contrary to the clear intention of more progressive authoritative interpretations rendered by recent assemblies.

I had heard the argument for the minority view a couple times before Item 05-21 came up. Each time I had heard it, I found it difficult to grasp. Short of some appeal to emotion that would motivate the commissioners to support it, the success of the argument would require the Assembly commissioners to give it their undivided attention.

In the floor debate the proponents of this minority view carefully placed the elements of their argument before the assembly. They had a good rhythm, and were skillfully creating the impression that their view was rising out of the full body.

Enter the Soulforce protesters.

Moderator Bolbach stopped the proceedings, rebuked others who started to boo the protesters, had the Assembly sing and then pray, then let the Assembly be in a brief recess while the police came and removed the protesters.

During that short break the ACC huddled near our table to vote on verbal advice (that we would never give, as it turned out).

When the Assembly came back to order to continue debate, those on the podium needed to remind each other (and the commissioners) what they had been doing before the protest started. The debate continued, but with much less commissioner participation and more comments from Microphone 9 (the one used by elected members of the Assembly). The minority report was not approved, and the assembly approved the committee's recommendation.

Why? Part of me would like to think that it was because the ACC's written and spoken advice was so clear and persuasive. It is also possible that the minority never had enough votes to succeed from the beginning. But it is also possible that the interruption by the group of protesters tilted the playing field of the debate against the committee minority.

I'm glad this vote turned out the way it did, but I wonder: Did the hand of God intervene through that group of Soulforce protesters to protect the Assembly from making a mistake?

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Upcoming worship opportunities

I'll be preaching in a number of different churches over the next few weeks.

July 25, 2010. 9:00 AM at the Crooked Creek Presbyterian Church.
and 10:15 AM at the Appleby Manor Presbyterian Church

August 1, 2010. 9:30 AM at the Mt. Nebo Presbyterian Church

August 8, 2010. 9:30 AM at the Jacksonville Presbyterian Church
and 11:15 AM at the Ebenezer Presbyterian Church

August 15, 2010, 10:00 AM at the Boiling Springs Presbyterian Church

August 22, 2010, 10:00 AM at the Cross Roads Community Presbyterian Church

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

About those manuals

FOG-cover-th.PNGJust a week ago the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved the Foundations of Presbyterian Polity and Revised Form of Government, with a number of amendments, and submitted the documents to the presbyteries for their approval.

One of the significant changes in this form of government has to do with increased flexibility in each of the governing bodies (called "councils" in the proposal). If approved, this flexibility will come with new responsibilities at every level of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

In the months before the General Assembly, I heard numerous people voicing concern about the manuals required by the Revised Form of Government. The current manual provision in the Book of Order at G-9.0405 has mandated manuals of administrative operations for every governing body above the session since 1984. It would be reasonable to assume that these manuals exist by now, and do not require radical revision.

The new manual provision in the Revised Form of Government at G-3.0106 would mandate manuals for each council. This would give sessions the responsibility to develop manuals, if they have not already done so. Contrary to the fears voiced by opponents of the Revised Form of Government that it was a charter for presbyteries to control sessions, the manual provision would give sessions a charter for taking ownership of how they will participate in God's mission in the world.

If the task of developing a manual at the session level seems daunting, sessions will be able to start with the handbooks approved along with the Revised Form of Government. In many cases, the session may already have addressed questions asked in the handbooks, and will already have established policies that can be gathered into the session's manual.

Without regard for whether the presbyteries will approve the Revised Form of Government, it would be a healthy exercise for sessions to review the questions asked in the handbooks and determine whether they need to develop additional policies.

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Monday, July 05, 2010

In Minneapolis for GA219

waterfall fountain in park near Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis

My feet are already getting tired and sore from all the walking but there are some very attractive sites near the Convention Center. The waterfall in this park reminds me of the theme of this General Assembly, "Rivers of Living Water."

portico at Minneapolis Convention Center

kiosk announcing new website

Happy Cog has redesigned the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) website. Its a nice, new look.

When the redesign first was rolled out this week, there were a number of broken links. Those seem to be getting fixed pretty quickly.

There are other technical difficulties during this assembly. The usual voting system had been destroyed in a warehouse fire. The assembly is using a wireless voting system, but during the election of the moderator, there were problems with making sure that everyone's vote registered.

I appreciated the Sunday worship service. The Order of Worship was a much thinner handout than we usually get. I am sure it saved a lot of paper as well as expense for the assembly. These are good things. Unfortunately, during worship the lighting was dim in a lot of areas, and I found the handouts virtually unreadable. This was compounded by the projection screens not carrying much of the liturgical information for the various responsive parts of the serviced. We usually have a necrology report listing the ministers who have died since the last assembly. This long list was projected on the screen at a pace that made it hard to read. Maybe I will find the list available somewhere else, such as on PC-Biz.

Minneapolis skyline from below

Sunday afternoon I gave a short talk to Assembly Committee 07. I discovered a few hours ago that a reporter in the room had written a news story about it.

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Friday, July 02, 2010

They must love the smell of sticker shock in the morning

Overheard at breakfast in a hotel restaurant:

Customer: Excuse me, where are the prices on the menu?

Waiter: Those are the numbers...

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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A snazzy, new sign

sign outside Allegheny Valley Association of Churches, Natrona Heights, PA. June 30, 2010

The Allegheny Valley Association of Churches has a snazzy, new sign to help visitors find the place they are seeking.

No longer will directions end with the words "two doors from McDonalds."

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Monday, May 31, 2010

Fire, Beatles, and worship

Here are a few pictures from the weekend.

fire in playground

fire in playground

When I came home from work on Friday I could see that something strange was happening in the playground near the parking lot. When I checked it out I could see that smoke was rising from a number of wood chips around the swings. Strong winds with shifting directions were making the individual chips glow.

I had not seen something like this before. The coals were scattered over an area, but possibly had been ignited at the same time. I had seen lightning activity in another part of the sky as I drove home, but these separate glowing coals had totally unburned areas between them.

Fortunately, within about twnety minutes of my taking these pictures the whole area was drenched by a heavy rain.

Cast of Beatlemania performing in Greensburg, PA, May 28, 2010

I went to see the performance of the Cast of Beatlemania at the Greensburg Community Days. These guys do a good show that brings back a lot of memories.

Portico at the Apollo United Presbyterian Church

Sunday it was my privilege to be the guest preacher at the Apollo United Presbyterian Church. They are a very friendly congregation, and give a warm welcome to visitors.

open stain glass window depicting Christ knocking at a closed door, Apollo United Presbyterian Church

I was fascinated by seeing this stained glass window depicting Christ knocking on the closed door, with the window rotated open to let cool air (and light) into the room. There's a sermon illustration in there somewhere.

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Happy Pentecost

This morning it was my pleasure to be able to be the guest preacher for Pentecost at two churches in Ford City. I started the morning at the Crooked Creek Presbyterian Church.

Then I went on to the Appleby Manor Memorial Presbyterian Church.

Following the service at Appleby Manor they had a special reception to celebrate Pentecost. There was a nice turnout, and a lot of refreshments, including a special cake.

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Sunday, May 09, 2010

Some pictures from my life

photo of assorted building blocks

On May 1 I went to the "Building Block Blitz" in Macy's Court of the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills. Ten teams of young people competed to build houses out of building blocks, the trademark name for which is not being used. The young people were way ahead of us. A number of them were thinking about green architecture and sustainability, but we did not even have a category for judging them on those criteria. The young people did this to raise funds for Habitat for Humanity of Allegheny Valley.

Photo of Riverview Park, Tarentum, May 5, 2010

On Wednesday evening I went geocaching in Riverview Park in Tarentum with a few others. We found two well-hidden nano caches. There are no spoilers in the photo above. I just included it because it is a pretty park.

cover art for Nadina's Cube album 'Shipwrecked: from birmingham to jericho with no prozac'

On May 8 I went to the CD release party for Nadina's Cube's CD "Shipwrecked: from birmingham to jericho with no prozac." What an adventure getting into downtown Pittsburgh - couldn't find a place to park. Lots of visibly empty, well-lit parking garages with signs out front saying the garage was full, and not an open parking meter for blocks around. Eventually found a place to leave my car.

The release party was happening in SPACE on Liberty Ave. I've been waiting a number of years to get a copy of this CD. Good stuff.

There was a neat exhibit at SPACE called "Rock, Paper, Scissors" featuring art in a wide range of media from a large number of artists. I gravitated to the piece above. Maybe it reminded me of people to whom I must relate from time to time. Or maybe I recognized something of myself in it. Or maybe it just dominated that corner of the room.

Yeah, that's it. It was big and filled that corner of the room.

photo of Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church, Templeton, PA

This morning I was the guest preacher at two churches where I had never preached before. I've driven past the Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church, pictured above, a number of times when driving from my apartment in Lower Burrell to Cooperstown New York. Now it is a place I've been, with people I've met, rather than just a place I pass.

photo of Concord Presbyterian Church, Dayton, PA

The Concord Presbyterian Church is the second place I preached this morning. Usually I am pretty successful in determining the location of the churches where I will go for the first time. I blew it when I was programming the location for this one into my nüvi. My nüvi would have taken me a few miles further down the road, but I noticed the sign as I drove past this church. If I hadn't turned back to check the sign I would have been late for church.

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Friday, April 30, 2010

The month of May

I have an interesting month ahead. I understand that May is Mental Health Month and National Stroke Awareness Month, among other special observances.

My own activities will include the following:

May 1, 12:30 PM: Building Block Blitz, in Macy's Court of the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills. I'll be there taking pictures of children building houses with Legos™ to raise funds for Habitat for Humanity of Allegheny Valley.

May 2, 11:00 AM: I'll preach at the Pine Run Presbyterian Church in Apollo.

May 9, 9:30 AM: I'll preach at the Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church in Templeton. At 11:00 AM I'll preach at the Concord Presbyterian Church in Dayton.

May 16, 11:00 AM: I'll preach at the First Presbyterian Church of Avonmore.

May 23, 9:15 AM: I'll preach at the Crooked Creek Presbyterian Church in Ford City. At 11:00 AM I'll preach at the Appleby Manor Presbyterian Church also in Ford City.

May 30, 10:45 AM: I'll preach at the Apollo United Presbyterian Church.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Moon and clowns

These are a couple of the pictures I took recently.

Photograph of moon through the bare branches of a tree on an early spring evening

The moon seen through a tree outside my apartment last night.

Photograph of clown figurines

Quite a group of donated clown figurines being sold at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in New Kensington.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It's time for the US Senate to support the Nonprofit Mortgage Clarification Act

Habitat for Humanity is perhaps the best known of a number of non-profit organizations who use zero or low interest mortgages in order to accomplish their mission of ensuring decent housing for different groups of people.

After the passage of the S.A.F.E. Mortgage Licensing Act of 2008, some states were told that they must apply the provisions of the S.A.F.E. Act to affiliates of Habitat for Humanity. But the motivation for the SAFE act was to curb bad practices by some for-profit lenders who issued mortgages.

Habitat for Humanity works to end poverty housing by partnering with families who are living in substandard or overcrowded conditions. The families put in a certain number of hours of 'sweat equity' by working on the home that is being built for them, or on another project for Habitat. They pay a modest downpayment, and establish an affordable, no-interest mortgage with the local Habitat affiliate for the remainder of the value of their home. As new homeowners they build up equity in their homes, and their pride of ownership in a decent home contributes the the improvement of the neighborhood. Their mortgage payments to the Habitat affiliate enable homes to be build for other families, who become homeowners.

The Nonprofit Mortgage Clarification Act will make it clear that the S.A.F.E. act was not intended to be applied to certain non-profit organizations that issue mortgages. In the House of Representatives H.R. 4400 is intended to accomplish this purpose. Senators to support or co-sponsor the similar version, S. 3106, are needed.

Rep. Shuler, supporting the House version said, "Organizations like Habitat for Humanity partner with struggling Americans to provide them with an opportunity to become responsible homeowners. Because of this unique partnership, foreclosure and default rates on Habitat for Humanity loans are currently and consistently well below national rates."

Senator Kay Hagan, the sponsor of the Senate bill said, "This is a bipartisan bill which will ensure that nonprofits, such as Habitat for Humanity, can continue to help struggling American families purchase affordable homes. These nonprofits should not be burdened by these costly requirements which were intended for for-profit lenders."

Call or write to your senators to urge their support of S.3106.

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Monday, March 08, 2010

In which I prove that I have nerves of steel and a center of mass by having science fun

Nerves of Steel + Center of Mass = Science Fun!

The full slogan on the I-beam says "Nerves of Steel + Center of Mass = Science Fun!"

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I am not sure what to make of this

At work today we had our choice of Dove chocolate candies for dessert at the end of lunch. The inside of the wrappers had little inspirational messages. People went around the table sharing what message was hidden on their wrappers.

I saved mine for last.
scan of inside of wrapper of Dove candy
I was the sole male at the table, and everyone else had a gender-neutral message.

Maybe this is anecdotal evidence that fortune cookies are not accurate. But anecdotal evidence is not to be trusted.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Now I understand why some people who are not computer-literate hate computers

I think of myself as a somewhat technologically-savvy person but now I have a better understanding of why some people have no use for recent technologies.

I was helping an unemployed veteran fill out an online application for a job with the Veterans Administration. So I helped him figure out how to access the Hotmail account that someone else set up for him, assigning him a password he didn't choose for himself. I helped him find the job listing for the job he already knew and to which he needed to apply. I helped him find the online application manager where he needed to key in his prepared answers to questions he had printed out. I leave him typing slowly while I continue with some paperwork.

Suddenly I hear a gasp. His laborious hunt and peck typing stops. He tells me that everything is gone. I tell myself it can't really be gone, as I walk back to the computer to discover that he has been logged out of the website. I help him log back in so he can continue with his application. Yes, even what he had typed while I at first was watching over his shoulder is indeed no longer in the application he was completing. That's what we all need - programs that log out ungracefully.

I ask myself, "Did this man accidentally click on something that logged him out?" I learn that in fact he did not click on anything by mistake. While entering text into the form, I see a window pop up with fine print telling him that he is about to be logged out unless he clicks a button in order to to stay online. Great, there is some kind of script in the web page that starts the logout process without any regard to ongoing keyboard or mouse activity.

His answers eventually get entered into the application. I help him upload his resume to go along with the application. He still needs to submit one of his military forms to prove his army service. He has a hard copy of the necessary form but no way to scan it and attach it to the application. He has been told that veteran information is now online. It turns out that what is online is not access to an uploadable pdf file of his veterans information, but an online process to ask for a hard copy of his information to be mailed to him in a couple weeks. That's a great way to help him meet an application deadline - a deadline set by an organization that won't accept a mailed application.

We dig around on the application website and find that there is a way to fax documents that need to be part of his application. There is a link one can click to generate a fax cover page. Could anything be more foolproof? I look at the cover page as it is printing and notice that it has large boxes with large letters identifying his application. There is even a matrix barcode in two places to make sure the faxed document will be attached to the right application. "Now, that is a great use of technology," I say to myself. But before I carry the pages to the fax machine in the other room I take another look at the cover sheet.

The fax cover sheet does not include the number to which it is to be sent.

Honest. No recipient fax number.

It turns out that the destination fax number is buried in fine print in a web page of instructions for completing the application.

As if everybody who uses a fax machine keeps it right beside the computer monitor for ease of keying in the number of the destination fax.

<end of rant>

This would not be a good time to get me started on the new, simplified Facebook where everything users use has been moved to new locations on the web page ... or removed completely.

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

Snowed in

I used to live in upstate NY, so I will admit that for several years I have scoffed at what the Pittsburgh "severe weather centers" have called snowstorms. I have seen worse than this weekend's storm, but this one does merit being called a snowstorm.

When I woke up this morning and looked out the window of my third floor apartment, I was surprised to see a foot of snow piled up against the window. This thin pile of snow is more a testimony to how much the snow was blowing last night.

We have about 22 inches in this area, and a few more inches coming.

They were just beginning to plow the parking lot an hour ago.

My car is covered with deep snow, and I think it's not worth trying to clear it off until it would be reasonable to think of going anywhere.

Later this afternoon I should be able to get my car ready to drive up to Kittanning in the morning to preach at the West Glade Run Presbyterian Church.

Photograph of snow-filled parking lot in Lower Burrell, PA, Feb. 6, 2010.

Photograph of snowplow beginning to clear parking lot in Lower Burrell, PA, Feb. 6, 2010

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Good coffee

One of the local TV stations had a story last week that began with a misleading teaser that "your coffee" was going to be more expensive. The story wasn't even about the coffee I drink, but was about a change in the pricing structure for a large chain of coffee stores selling already overpriced coffee. I don't think the story was even newsworthy. Of course the chain that got its name mentioned on television was able to get a few more plugs through the day as if they were where anybody who is anybody gets coffee. I guess branding is important if you want people pay premium prices for mediocre products just for the status.

My coffee matters too much to me to waste money on being able to show off a corporate logo on a cup. So if you come to my neck of the woods, I'll tell you where you can get good coffee at decent prices.

The Donut Connection at the corner of Riverview Plaza and Tarentum Bridge Road in New Kensington is a place I can go that isn't even out of my way. Their coffee brand "The World's Best Coffee" may amusingly overstate the case, but it is reliably good coffee at a decent price.

My new job is going to be next door to the McDonald's in Natrona Heights. Don't get on me about their fast food, that I probably will only eat occasionally, but McDonald's does know how to make good coffee at an affordable price.

This morning on my way out to Apollo, I stopped at the T.J. Bean Coffee Company in Allegheny Township. (When I first learned about this place, I had a hard time finding them with online maps. They are at the corner of Hyde Park Road and 56, on the south side of the intersection, and across from the McDonalds.) It's out of my way most of the time, but worth a stop when I am near it.

I pay the regular prices for my coffee at each of these places. My mentioning of these establishments on my blog is not compensated by any gifts, rebates, or kickbacks from the stores. (I wonder why the local TV station did not include this kind of disclaimer at the end of their 'story' about big corporate coffee.)

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Upcoming work

After a long period of being unemployed, I can finally say that I will start a new full-time job on Monday. I will work for the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches as the coordinator for the Self-Sufficiency Program. Today's Valley News Dispatch had an article about the program. I just spent three and a half hours today following the current coordinator, and I know that I will be on a steep learning curve.

When I was the pastor of a church and frequently had to deal with people who came to the church door looking for various kinds of help I was glad I could rely on the expertise of the staff at AVAC. Now I will be in a different role, but still trying to help people in need.

In addition to this new full-time job, I will continue supply preaching in various churches. My preaching schedule during February will be as follows.

February 7, 10:30 AM, at the West Glade Run Presbyterian Church in Kittanning.

February 14, 11:15 AM, at the Tunnelton Presbyterian Church.

February 21, 9:30 AM, at the Jacksonville Presbyterian Church in Kent, and 11:15 AM at the Ebenezer Presbyterian Church in Lewisville.

February 28, 11:15 AM, at the Tunnelton Presbyterian Church.

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