July 2009

‘Music Week’ loses mid-summer Caswell spot

July 22 2009 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

Summer spaces at Fort Caswell Baptist Assembly are too rare and precious to leave half of them unfilled during any given week, so a specially designated “music week” will no longer be held there, according to Baptist State Convention (BSC) Executive Leader for Business Services John Butler.

Butler and the Business Services Committee reported to the BSC Executive Committee June 16 that a two-year effort to fill a mid-summer music week at Caswell, the popular beachfront assembly on Oak Island, had fallen significantly short. The result is that music week will have to be at the beginning or end of the summer if it is to be held at Caswell. Those two weeks typically have a smaller registration.

“It’s not a business decision, but a ministry decision,” Butler said after the meeting.

Caswell has an effective capacity of 1,000 to 1,100, limited by seating in Hatch Auditorium, although there are sleeping quarters for closer to 1,150. Music week registration this July was 512.

“To take a prime week of summer and operate at half capacity is not good stewardship of the resource,” said Butler, who fields the calls and letters from churches “berating” the Convention for not finding a place for their youth in the summer.

With a waiting list of such churches, Butler said it is not feasible to operate a specialty camp that does not utilize more of the facility’s capacity.

Reaction from music ministers who feel devalued has been swift.

Brian Childers, minister of music at First Baptist Church, Mount Holly, wrote BSC leaders to express his dismay. “Anyone who claims it is ‘just’ about music has obviously not personally experienced the power of music week at Caswell,” he said.

“This decision speaks loudly and clearly states that those of us who give of ourselves in worship leadership in the local church are no longer vital to or valued by N.C. Baptists. This is indeed an unfortunate situation which I believe will have much deeper and far-reaching implications than simply providing an additional week for other programs during the busy summer months.”

Childers’ daughter Hannah also wrote state staff and said music week “is too good of a thing to take away and I can’t believe it has come to an end.”

Sylvia Sutter, minister of music at Rock Creek Baptist Church in Nashville, said she was just “very, very sad” for the exclusion of music week from Caswell summers.

“A music week can be held someplace else,” she said. “My sadness is it cannot be held in a place as special as Caswell and that belongs to us.”

She said music week is the only week in which children, youth, college and adults are studying, learning, playing and worshiping together.

An additional and related issue for music ministers is that no successor has been hired for worship and music ministries consultant Dan Ridley, who retired in November 2008, a delay Sutter finds “appalling,” and compounds the sense among them of being devalued.

Lynn Sasser, executive leader for congregational services, said an active search has been underway since Ridley retired. He expressed his own frustration at the length of time such searches take.

Tony Spencer, minister of music at First Baptist Church, Forest City for 28 years was more pragmatic about the venue. He said, “Caswell doesn’t own our faith, nor is it large enough to hold our faith.”

He said there are other places music week can be held because it is not the place, but the activity of music week that is important.

Spencer, a former BSC Executive Committee member, felt the call of God to music ministry in 1971 while attending Caswell and has been going to music week nearly three decades.

A big issue for all summer camps is the changing and expanding school year. The typical 10-11 weeks of summer of 15 years ago has shrunk to eight. The first and last weeks are typically smaller because of school schedules. They are not attractive for music camp because churches conduct their mission choir tours early, and college music professors who comprise much of the faculty are not available in August.

Butler said he understands the pain for musicians who love music week at Caswell, but said, they had two years to rally attendance this year, knowing its continuation hung in the balance, and registration was 512.

“They just can’t justify a middle week with the numbers,” he said. An allocation to support music week remains in the budget, but “if they must keep it in the middle of summer they’ll have to look at a different venue,” he said.

While Butler said the decision is more ministry than business related, he said keeping Caswell filled to capacity in the summer enables rates to be held low for other ministry events there throughout the year.

7/22/2009 7:22:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 3 comments

Youth ‘lost’ on island rescued from law

July 22 2009 by BR staff

Youth from five churches learned in a dramatic way June 17 how God’s word fulfills the law and sets them free.
Travis Crocker, youth minster at First Baptist Church in Beaufort followed up special events from two previous years built around the “Lost” television series theme, with “LOST 3: The Initiative.”

Contributed photo

A youth, center, who succumbed to one of the seven deadly sins is escorted away.

Participating churches were First Baptist and Calvary Baptist in Beaufort, First Baptist and Cherry Branch Baptist of Havelock and Woodville Baptist.
After youth received pre-flight instructions from Matthew Hosher, youth minister of First Baptist Church, Havelock they were sent to the Beaufort boardwalk to load onto boats. Three quarters of the way to Carrot Island, youth “wrecked” and had to swim to shore.
After crossing the forest into an open plain for lunch, youth made their way down to the beach to see the plane wreckage from their crash. Wreckage was real, as remains of a real plane crash in which no one was injured were scattered on the shore.
Youth enjoyed water games and football until interrupted by news that several people were missing. They banded together to search, only to discover the island was not as deserted as they had believed.
“They progressed through seven traps, representing seven deadly sins, and at each stage youth — who were in on this — fell in their sins and were captured by the evil Dharma Initiative, a group researching the effects of sin on our lives,” Crocker said. “Youth were pulled into the forest, lassoed and pulled onto a boat, one chaperone betrayed the group for a boat ride off the island from Dharma, and another youth was pulled by a camouflaged rope that seemed to magically pull him over the dunes.”
After losing seven youth to seven deadly sins, everyone emerged from the forest and watched silently as the captives were loaded onto boats. The others followed to the enemy camp on nearby Radio Island.
“To this point we had been unable to rescue youth as the enemy was bearing the Dharma cockra symbol meaning ‘wheel of law,’” Crocker said. “Since we could not get past the law, we were powerless to intervene in these abductions. However, upon arriving at Radio Island, we found one of our lost youth who had been experimented on but was well and free from Dharma. He had survived and went free because he had God’s word that fulfilled the law and he no longer lived by the law.”
Crocker said “with God’s word, we advanced to find the captives tied to torches slowly being covered by the tide.”
The free participants taught the others the nature of sin and the redemptive nature of Jesus who loosens the bonds of sin. Saved by Him, the captives shook off their ropes and went free, concluding the event, and converting Dharma to Christians, Crocker said.
“The youth really enjoyed this event, and most importantly grew in their knowledge of what is taught in Romans 8, that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ,” Crocker said.

7/22/2009 3:24:00 AM by BR staff | with 0 comments

Extra Lottie gifts yield more missionaries

July 22 2009 by Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. — Gifts from several sources are enabling the International Mission Board (IMB) to send additional missionaries to the field this year after a shortfall in the 2008 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions forced suspension of some programs and restricted new missionary appointments.

BP photo

Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, presents Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board (left) with a check for $100,000 during the IMB report during the evening session June 23 of the annual meeting.

IMB President Jerry Rankin expressed appreciation to individuals, churches and Baptist entities for their additional financial support in response to a drop in Lottie Moon receipts.

“I cannot adequately express my heartfelt thanks for these gifts,” Rankin said. “This tangible expression of love for Christ, a heart for missions and a desire to reach a lost world will help Southern Baptists be faithful to the Great Commission by sending more missionaries to the field.”

The 2008 annual offering totaled $141 million, $29 million short of a $170 million goal. It was also $9 million less than receipts from each of the past two years. As a result, appointments to International Service Corps and Masters programs were suspended and other missionary appointments severely restricted.

Speakers at the annual Southern Baptist Convention and the Pastors’ Conference — both meeting in Louisville, Ky., in June — noted that sending missionaries to fulfill the Great Commission must remain Southnern Baptists’ priority.

An offering was taken at the Pastors’ Conference and a check presented by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) during the SBC annual meeting.

Ed Litton, Pastors’ Conference president, asked those attending for a special offering to help IMB. More than $43,000 was given by attendees at the two-day pre-SBC gathering.

Jim Richards, executive director of the Texas convention, presented a check for $100,000 during the IMB annual report to the convention to show their support for international missions.

Several churches have contacted IMB, indicating that their churches are taking special offerings.

“The money will be used to send missionaries called and qualified to go who we would not be able to send and support this year without these gifts,” Rankin reported.

Rankin emphasized that this is not just about the number of missionaries and meeting the needs of the mission board. “God is moving in amazing ways through global events to reach a lost world,” he said. “The opportunities are unprecedented to impact lostness and engage unreached people groups.

“We are seeing record baptisms and church growth, and God is calling missionaries to join Him in His work around the world. This will help us to more effectively respond in reaching the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Reported by the International Mission Board’s communications staff. To support the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, go to imb.org/offering.)

7/22/2009 3:21:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 1 comments

SBC: by the numbers

July 22 2009 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Official registration figures for the 2009 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Louisville, Ky., have been released by SBC registration secretary Jim Wells.

A total of 8,795 messengers were sent by 3,642 churches from 48 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. While attendance was up significantly among the 35-39-year-old demographic, it was down in the 45-49 and 55-59 categories and up among those 60 and over.

Kentucky Baptists had the largest number of messengers, 1,680, at the June 23-24 meeting at the Kentucky Exposition Center, accounting for 23.61 percent of the registration total.

The next four leading states in messenger count were Tennessee, 805 messengers (11.31 percent of the total); Georgia, 730 (10.26 percent); North Carolina, 537 (7.55 percent); and Alabama, 526 (7.39 percent).

Official state-by-state registration numbers follow: Alaska, 8; Alabama, 526; Arkansas, 239; Arizona, 21; California, 122; Colorado, 25; Connecticut, 3; District of Columbia, 13; Delaware, 4; Florida, 393; Georgia, 730; Hawaii, 20; Iowa, 13; Idaho 4; Illinois, 287; Indiana, 347; Kansas, 53; Kentucky, 1,680; Louisiana, 210; Massachusetts, 2; Maryland, 86; Maine, 1; Michigan, 62; Minnesota, 7; Missouri, 354; Mississippi, 422; Montana, 2; North Carolina, 537; Nebraska, 5; New Hampshire, 1; New Jersey, 7; New Mexico, 23; Nevada, 25; New York, 35; Ohio, 249; Oklahoma, 204; Oregon, 5; Pennsylvania, 41; Puerto Rico, 2; South Carolina, 414; South Dakota, 6; Tennessee, 805; Texas, 389; Utah, 4; Virginia, 313; Vermont, 5; Washington, 12; Wisconsin, 4; West Virginia, 66; and Wyoming, 9. No messengers registered from North Dakota or Rhode Island.

By gender, 61.51 percent of the 8,795 messengers were male, 38.49 percent female.

According to data from 846 messengers who provided additional information during the registration process, messengers ages 18-29 accounted for 5.56 percent of the total; ages 30-34, 5.20 percent; ages 35-39, 8.16 percent; ages 40-44, 6.15 percent; ages 45-49, 8.39 percent; ages 50-54, 15.25 percent; ages 55-59, 16.78 percent; ages 60 and over, 34.52 percent.

The age categories that showed the most dramatic changes over the 2008 meeting were 35-39, up from 5.51 percent; 45-49, down from 13.10 percent; 55-59, down from 18.90 percent; and 60 and over, up from 31.25 percent.

By vocation, according to the data compiled from the 846 messengers, 44.80 percent were senior pastors; 10.87 percent were homemakers; 10.99 percent were other church staff; 4.14 percent worked in associational missions; 3.55 percent were state convention, entity or institution staff members; 1.77 percent were other denominational employees; 1.54 percent worked in evangelism; 1.89 percent were seminary students; 2.72 percent were involved in North American or international missions; and 17.73 percent listed “other.”

For 165 of the 846 messengers, the convention in Louisville was their first SBC annual meeting, or 19.50 percent of the total; 214 had attended an SBC meeting five times or less, or 25.30 percent; 166 had attended six to 10 times, 19.62 percent; and 301 had attended 11 or more times, 35.58 percent.

In traveling to Louisville, 82.39 percent of the 846 messengers came by car; 15.25 percent by plane. In terms of expenditures to attend the annual meeting, 51 of the 846 estimated they would be spending under $100, 6.03 percent; 78 estimated $100-299, 9.22 percent; 181 estimated $300-599, 21.39 percent; 189 estimated $600-999, or 22.34 percent; 204 estimated $1,000-1,499, or 24.11 percent; 118 estimated $1,500-1,999, 13.95 percent; and 25 estimated $2,000 or more, 2.96 percent.

Of the 846 messengers who provided the additional information at registration, 271 said no other family members were with them in Louisville, or 32.03 percent; 433 brought one family member, 51.18 percent; 119 brought two to four family members, 14.07 percent; and 23 brought five or more family members, 2.72 percent.

Last year’s SBC registration total for Indianapolis was 7,277.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Kelly is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.)

7/22/2009 3:19:00 AM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Death threats hinder India prosecutions

July 22 2009 by Vishal Arora, Compass Direct News

NEW DELHI (BP) — Nearly 11 months after an unprecedented wave of anti-Christian attacks shook the eastern-India state of Orissa, a reign of terror continues in the region, with former rioters issuing death threats to witnesses.

Of more than 750 cases filed in various police stations in Orissa’s Kandhamal and Gajapati districts, only one has resulted in a conviction. Some trials are underway amid reports of armed extremists threatening to kill witnesses.

Dibya Paricha, a clergyman in the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Catholic Archdiocese, said several witnesses are shrinking away to save their lives. On July 9, a witness in the village of Salapsahi refused to testify in a murder case.

“During the trial, the complainant, the younger brother of the victim, said he did not know anything about the case,” Paricha, coordinator of the Christian Legal Association’s (CLA) legal cell in Kandhamal, told Compass Direct News. “The previous day, he had said that he would tell the truth so that the culprits would be punished. ... From a reliable source, we came to know that he was threatened with death.”

On June 30, three men carrying pistols — Sanjeeb Pradhan, Bikram Pradhan and Pratap Pradhan — threatened witnesses in the Gondaguda area of Kandhamal, Paricha said.

The three men have been issuing death threats to witnesses through area villages, he said.

“I know them (the three gunmen) personally,” Paricha said. “They were living hand-to-mouth until recently, and now they are riding a motor vehicle and threatening the survivors.”

Information on the threats has been provided to the sub-collector (an administrative officer in charge of a sub-district), the sub-divisional police officer and the district collector (administrative head), Paricha said, and a First Information Report has been registered at the local police station.

Another witness and complainant in an Orissa riot-related case, 55-year-old Batia Digal, was threatened June 17, Paricha said. Gobida Chandra Pradhan from the village of Piserama and Shricharnan Mohan Pradhan from the village of Dodaingia tried to pressure Digal to withdraw the case, in which a local legislator from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Manoj Pradhan, is one of the accused.

The local police station is investigating the case.

On July 4, Christians saw a ray of hope when a fast-track court in Phulbani in the Kandhamal district convicted a tribal leader of arson — the first conviction in a 2008 violence case. The court sentenced 58-year-old Chakradhar Mallick to two years in prison and a fine of 1,000 rupees (US$20). Mallick had burned the house of a Christian, Loknath Digal, and threatened to kill him in August 2008.

But the granting of bail to one of the prime suspects in numerous anti-Christian riot cases — local BJP legislator Pradhan of the G. Udayagiri assembly constituency — on July 6 dampened the spirits of Christians. Bail was granted for 15 days so that Pradhan could take his oath as a member of the new assembly, the Indo-Asian News Service reported. Pradhan was arrested in October 2008 on various charges, including murder, rioting and arson.

More than 100 people were killed in the spate of violence that erupted in Orissa’s Kandhamal district in August-September 2008; 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions were incinerated. The violence began following the assassination of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, by a Maoist, or extreme Marxist, group. Hindu nationalist groups blamed Christians for the assassination.

Only 26 murder cases, however, have been registered under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. According to Christian Legal Association statistics, 13 cases were registered in the Raikia police station alone. Five complaints were filed in Tikabali, two each in G. Udayagiri, Sarangada and Balliguda and one each in Gocchapada and Phiringia.

At least nine cases were registered for attempted murder: four in Balliguda, two in G. Udayagiri and one each in Tumudibandha, Phulbani and Sarangada. Two rape cases were registered, one each in the Phulbani and Balliguda.

More than 550 cases have been filed for arson and looting: 323 in G. Udayagiri alone, 59 in Tikabali, 32 in Raikia, 31 in Gocchapada, 26 in Phulbani, 23 each in Phiringia and Balliguda, 18 in Daringbadi, 10 in Sarangada, four each in Tumudibandha and Kotagarh and three in Khajuripada.

Some 680 people were arrested in the numerous cases, but some have managed to get bail from courts, according to The Deccan Herald newspaper.

The Christian Legal Association and a nonprofit group, the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), are providing free legal services to the victims and their relatives in Kandhamal. In neighboring Gajapati district, which also faced numerous anti-Christian attacks in August-September 2008 as fallout from Saraswati’s murder, the All India Christian Council (AICC), in partnership with the HRLN, is providing free legal aid to victims of the violence.

“At least 337 families lost homes or businesses (in Gajapati district),” Sam Paul, AICC spokesman, told Compass. “(However,) most rehabilitation as well as public attention has focused on Kandhamal district.”

Commenting on the need for legal help in Gajapati, Paul added, “On one single day (in June), the lawyers counseled and drafted petitions for 30 persons.”

The AICC and HRLN also are helping the victims in Gajapati to receive compensation and recover lost identity cards and other documents.

Meanwhile, a judicial commission headed by Justice S.C. Mohapatra to probe the August-September 2008 violence submitted a 28-page interim report to Orissa’s state government on July 1 without blaming any group or organization for the violence.

“Sources of the violence were deeply rooted in land disputes, conversion and re-conversion and fake certificate issues.... Suspicion among the scheduled tribe and scheduled caste inhabitants of Kandhamal is the main cause of riots, with the tribals suspecting that Pana Dalits were capturing their land through fraudulent means,” Mohapatra wrote, according to The Hindu newspaper.

Those belonging to the Kui tribe in Kandhamal are mostly Hindu. Christians make up an estimated 16 percent of the 650,000 people in the district, with more than 60 percent of them belonging to the Pana community and classified as “Scheduled Castes,” better known as Dalits (formerly “untouchables”).

The Pana community has been demanding recognition as a tribal community, as Dalits lose their right to government’s affirmative action after they convert to Christianity. The Kui people, however, oppose the demand, as it would increase the number of candidates eligible for government-reserved jobs. Some of the Kui believe that Pana Dalits make fake certificates to get the land that can belong only to tribal people.

“I know it will take at least two years to complete inquiry, but the interim report will help the government to make immediate intervention,” Mohapatra added.

Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Catholic Archdiocese told private channel Zee News, “Justice Mohapatra had given remarks on other matters without touching the subject for which the commission was set up, to investigate culpability in the series of attacks on Christians.” Cheenath said conversion was “not at all” a factor behind the Kandhamal violence.

The National Commission for Minorities in October 2008 had accused the then-ruling state government, a coalition of a regional party, the Biju Janata Dal (NJD) and the BJP, of not controlling the violence. It said that despite knowing that public reaction to the murder of a prominent religious leader like Laxmanananda would be extreme, there was little evidence of action by political and administrative higher-ups in Bhubaneswar, The Indian Express daily reported in October 2008.

In March 2009, the BJD broke its 11-year-old alliance with the BJP, saying it did not want to partner with a “communal” party. The BJD fought and won the April-May state assembly election alone. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik held the BJP and groups linked with it, such as the Hindu extremist VHP and its youth wing Bajrang Dal, responsible for the violence, according to private news channel CNN-IBN.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Arora is a writer in New Delhi. Compass Direct News, based in Santa Ana, Calif., provides reports on Christians worldwide who are persecuted for their faith. Used by permission.)

7/22/2009 3:17:00 AM by Vishal Arora, Compass Direct News | with 0 comments

Retired Tenn. Exec Tom Madden dies

July 21 2009 by Lonnie Wilkey, Baptist Press

SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. — Tom Madden, 90, executive director/treasurer of the Tennessee Baptist Convention (TBC) from 1979-89, died July 19 in Shelbyville, Tenn.

A native of Enid, Okla., Madden came to Tennessee in 1951 to serve as pastor of First Baptist Church in Greenbrier after serving as a pastor in both his home state and in Texas. His ministry would continue in Tennessee for the remainder of his life. Even after his retirement as executive director, he remained active in serving various TBC institutions and churches.

Madden left Greenbrier in 1954 to accept the pastorate of First Baptist Church in Tullahoma, where he ministered until 1976 when he joined the staff of the convention as director of convention ministries, serving in that role until being selected as executive director (then executive secretary-treasurer) on Jan. 1, 1979.

As a Tennessee pastor, Madden was president of the state convention in 1969 and served on the state convention’s executive board from 1958-64 and 1970-76.

At the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) level, Madden served on the SBC Executive Committee from 1966-74 and was a director of the former SBC Education Commission. A strong supporter of Christian higher education, Madden had earned degrees from Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

Current TBC Executive Director James Porch followed Madden as pastor of First Baptist in Tullahoma and, later, to the state convention.

“For over 30 years, he allowed me to walk in his footsteps, but upon his insistence, never in his shadow,” Porch said. “His desire prevailed; I have been my own person throughout our friendship. We shared a connection — a reciprocal human effort to travel through an extended season, blending our ministries. We prayed together, laughed at each other, cried with each other, disagreed face to face and always moved on.”

Madden was preceded in death by his wife Edna Earle. He is survived by two children, Thomas J. Madden III of New Jersey and Jane Madden of Nashville, and two grandchildren.

The funeral will be at 1 p.m. Wednesday, July 22, at First Baptist Church in Tullahoma. The body will lie in state in the chapel of the Tennessee Baptist Convention in Brentwood Wednesday evening and the family will receive friends from 6-8 p.m. Burial will be July 23 at 1 p.m. at Hollywood Cemetery in Jackson, Tenn.

(EDITOR’S NOTE— Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.)

7/21/2009 10:52:00 AM by Lonnie Wilkey, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

For space churches, the rite stuff

July 21 2009 by Kay Campbell, Religion News Service

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Astronaut Buzz Aldrin was the first human to witness how liquid behaves in the weak gravitational field of the moon — but this was no science experiment.

This was a believer giving thanks to God for an extraordinary adventure.

Forty years ago, in the first moments of July 20, 1969, after Aldrin had piloted the Eagle lunar module into the dust of the moon with only seconds of fuel to spare, he asked NASA for a radio blackout. He suggested that people around the world take the opportunity to “contemplate for a moment the events of the last few hours, and to give thanks in his own individual way.”

Then, during the radio silence, Aldrin opened a packet of bread and a vial of wine that had been blessed a few weeks earlier at his home church near Houston, Webster Presbyterian. Aldrin unfolded a paper on which he’d copied Jesus’ words from John 15: “I am the vine, you are the branches ...”

“In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup,” Aldrin wrote in a story published in 1970 in Guideposts magazine. “I ate the tiny Host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility.”

Though he was in the cramped module with Neil Armstrong, who did not share his faith, resting in a fragile vehicle on the face of the moon’s “magnificent desolation,” as he would later describe it, Aldrin said he did not feel alone.

“I sensed especially strongly my unity with our church back home, and with the church everywhere,” Aldrin wrote.

That continued sense of Christian unity, and a spirit of thanksgiving and marvel for the wonders of the space program, will be celebrated again July 19 during services at Huntsville’s Monte Sano United Methodist Church.

RNS file photo by Glenn Baeske/The Huntsville Times

Former astronaut Jan Davis first experienced a “Lunar Communion” at Webster Presbyterian Church in Houston, and helped start a similar annual service at her church in Huntsville, Ala.

It’s the fourth year that the congregation, which includes astronaut Jan Davis and other space scientists, has celebrated “Lunar Communion” on the Sunday closest to the anniversary of the Apollo 11’s moon landing.

Church leaders say that as far as anyone knows, only Monte Sano, near NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, and Webster Presbyterian, near Houston’s Johnson Space Center, mark the historic moon landing with a Lunar Communion service.

The service was suggested by Davis, who first attended Webster’s Lunar Communion service while she was training for the first of her three space shuttle missions. Webster was also home to John Glenn while he was training for his 1998 return-to-space mission on the space shuttle Discovery.

Davis said she found her own faith augmented by the viewpoint of Earth from space.

“I really believe that when you look at the Earth, you just feel close to God because you realize the beautiful creation of the Earth — it’s just unbelievable,” Davis said.

“Going around the Earth once every hour and a half, you see it changing every time. It’s like when I’m out in nature, in the woods or at the lake. I feel closer to God there. It really does strengthen your faith.”

Bringing some of that universal insight to Earth is part of the reason for the service, said Dale Clem, pastor at Monte Sano.

“One of the things we talk about in the service is how God created us with a mind, with creativity, imagination and adventure,” Clem said.

“I think loving God with our whole mind has something to do with that. We’re affirming that.”

And Aldrin’s example of considering how to integrate his beliefs into his professional calling is another aspect to consider, Clem said.

“This was his quiet way of practicing his faith,” Clem said. “All of us have to quietly figure out how to live our faith.”

The Lord’s Prayer prays for God’s will to be done “on Earth as it is in Heaven,” Clem said. This service adds a new dimension.

“This was a new frontier,” Clem said. “This is a way to say that God is everywhere, in the universe as well as in Heaven. This is just a way to widen our world view.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Campbell writes for The Huntsville Times in Huntsville, Ala.)

7/21/2009 8:19:00 AM by Kay Campbell, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Youth minister hurt in bus wreck released

July 21 2009 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

SHREVEPORT, La. — A Baptist church’s youth minister is recovering at home from injuries he received July 12 when the bus carrying his youth group to a Georgia camp rolled over on a Mississippi interstate highway, injuring 23 passengers — one fatally.

Jason Matlack in his profile photo on Facebook.

Jason Matlack, minister of youth at First Baptist Church in Shreveport, La., was released July 18 from Rush Foundation Hospital in Meridian, Miss. He continues to recuperate at his home, where he and his wife, Sarah, are accepting visitors on a limited basis.

Matlack fractured his C7 vertebra and had artery injuries that caused serious loss of blood. His pastor, Greg Hunt, said it took doctors a while to figure out why he was losing so much blood and to get him stabilized.

One of the teenagers hurt in the accident, Sarah Smith, went home from the hospital July 15. In the wreck’s aftermath, she had been taken to University Medical Center in Jackson, Miss., with fractures in the neck and upper back.

Two victims were expecting to be transported to Shreveport for more treatment.

Kyle Kelley, an adult sponsor on the trip who works for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Louisiana, hoped to be moved July 20 to an intermediate-care facility. His injuries included broken bones.

Lauren Murchison was scheduled to be taken to a rehabilitation facility in Shreveport today (July 21). She had surgeries to repair fractures to areas including her femur, clavicle and face.

Maggie Lee Henson, daughter of a member of the church’s ministerial staff, remained in critical condition a week after the accident, suffering from severe head injuries. She has gained some stability, but as of July 20 doctors continued to be concerned about fluctuations in her intracranial pressure (ICP), a critical benchmark in treatment and recovery from brain injury.

“She continues to be in a very fragile state of health,” Hunt said. He said it is still “way too early” to be talking about long-term recovery. “Right now it’s a survival question,” he said.

One youth, Brandon Ugarte, 14, died on the way to the hospital after being ejected from the bus. The accident took place when the vehicle blew a tire and rolled three times in the eastbound lanes of Interstate 20/59 near the Alabama Welcome Center, on the Alabama/Mississippi state line.

Most of the 17 youth and six adults injured in the accident were treated and released the night of the wreck. They were headed toward a camp sponsored by Passport, a ministry partner of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, held on the campus of Mercer University in Macon, Ga.

First Baptist Church in Shreveport has established an accident-assistance fund to help with family expenses related to the accident.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)

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7/21/2009 1:44:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Appalachian Trail becomes spiritual journey

July 20 2009 by Adam Miller, Baptist Press

DAMASCUS, Va. — In about three months, several hundred hikers will summit a northern Maine mountain called Katahdin, a 5,000-foot-high peak just south of the border with Canada. Many of them will have completed an arduous 2,175-mile journey and fulfilled a dream.

Those who complete the millions of footsteps from Springer Mountain, Ga., to Mount Katahdin are forever changed with stories to tell well into retirement: encounters with bears, demanding 30-mile days, odd new acquaintances, lifelong friends.

And some might tell the story of First Baptist Church in Damascus, Va., where Southern Baptists washed their feet and provided hot showers, medical care, Internet access and a good conversation about God.

“It started as a hotdog cookout,” says pastor Wayne Guynn, who credits Linda and Jeff Austin with taking over the ministry and ramping it up.

BP photo by Adam Miller

Todd Blackman keeps in touch with his girlfriend at the Internet café at First Baptist Church Damascus, Va.

Now, Guynn says, they partner with churches in Alabama and Georgia and with the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia (SBCV) to simply make life more pleasant for hikers who come to the annual event known as Trail Days, which ran May 15-17 this year. In the process, they get to love hikers and tell them about Christ.

From 200 hotdogs served in 2001 to a three-day stream of hikers this year filtering through the church parking lot, the Trail Days outreach has touched hundreds of lives. Many hikers still keep in touch.

“All along the way up the trail, churches help us out,” says Cody Johnson, a thru-hiker from Wyoming “but we haven’t seen anything like this.”

Damascus is a town with two traffic lights and a population of a few thousand. When Trail Days is in full swing during the first days of May, the population jumps to 20,000, filling yards with tents and houses with hikers.

“When hikers have come this far up the trail, they’re sort of reaching the breaking point,” says Craig Miles, who with his wife, Suzy, serves as a North American Mission Board Mission Service Corps missionary and as head of the ministry, Appalachian Trail Servants. The Miles’ organization trains churches like FBC Damascus to minister to Appalachian Trail thru-hikers.

“When you reach the 500-mile point then you’re really hiking, then it becomes a job,” Miles says.

“Before that, especially in the first few days, hikers are heroes,” adds Suzy. “They talk about their feet filled with blisters and doing 30 miles a day. At this point talking about God is impossible.”

Adds Craig: “But once they hit the 500 mile mark, the trail breaks them. They either stop hiking or they work through it. This is when they start dealing with what’s going on inside them spiritually.”

More than 90 volunteers from nine churches in Alabama, Georgia and Virginia served hikers from 40 different states and 21 countries. In all, volunteers served 700 meals, 340 hikers received medical care, 500 took showers in the SBCV Disaster Relief shower unit and more than 500 Internet café time slots were filled.

Four hikers accepted Christ. Volunteers will follow up and stay in touch with dozens more along the rest of their hike and into the future.

“It seems to be the consensus that this was our best yet,” says Linda Austin. “We had very few problems besides setting the kitchen on fire a couple of times. Flexibility is the key to mental health, especially during Trail Days.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Miller is associate editor of On Mission magazine.)

7/20/2009 5:05:00 AM by Adam Miller, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Report: One-third of scientists believe in God

July 20 2009 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — Only a third of scientists say they believe in God, according to a new survey, and while 18 percent believe in a high power, four in 10 scientists believe in neither.

The report was released July 9 by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Scientists were evenly split — at 48 percent each — between those who claimed a religious affiliation and those who did not.

The new statistics vary sharply with findings for the general public: 83 percent of Americans say they believe in God and 82 percent said they are affiliated with a religious tradition.

The Pew report indicated sharp divergence between scientists and the general public on issues such as evolution and climate change. While 87 percent of scientists believe humans have evolved over time, just 32 percent of Americans in general hold that belief.

A similarly large percentage of scientists (84 percent) said the earth is warming because of human activity, while only 49 percent of the public agreed with that statement.

Also, while 93 percent of scientists favor federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, just 58 percent of the general public agreed with such research.

But despite differences between scientists and the general public, a majority of people acknowledge that science contributes to the well-being of society.

Two-thirds of people surveyed who said science conflicts with their religious beliefs nevertheless said scientists contribute “a lot” to society’s well-being. A slightly higher percentage (72 percent) of people who said there were not conflicts between their beliefs and science had similar praise for scientific contributions to society.

The report was based on a random sample of the scientific association’s 2,533 members, and a random survey of 2,001 U.S. adults. Each of those surveys had an overall margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

7/20/2009 5:03:00 AM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

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