November 2010

Moore finds healing in ministry, on stage

November 30 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

David Moore has been a fixture at the Baptist State Convention in one capacity or another for most of 36 years.

And in his current assignment as consultant in pastoral ministries he may be happier, more fulfilled and more effective than ever.

Moore, 63, started at the Convention in 1974 in youth and campus ministries. Baptist Student work was his “deep first love” he said because BSU “had been a real influencer in my faith development.”

Approaching age 40 in 1987 and dealing with the death of his sister in a car wreck and wondering “what else” is out there, he left the Convention to become human resources director for an electrical contractor in Raleigh.

While he called that an “extraordinarily educating” experience, he eventually found it “not the place where the full range of who I am could be utilized.”

He appreciated becoming the de facto company chaplain, and was enriched by engaging people outside “the comfortable family of faith.”

But in 1991 he returned to the Convention in the office of Christian Life and Public Affairs, which at the time had several professionals and support staff who helped North Carolina Baptists “express their faith in the warp and woof of life.”

He later “hunkered down” in senior adult work where he found “great joy” and “learned how to grow old,” in the midst of those who were doing it well.

When the Convention was developing leadership coaching, Moore was fully engaged, training coaches at Hollifield Leadership Training Center.

That emphasis was scaled back by a changing administration and when Wayne Oakes retired from the pastoral ministries, Moore was tapped to nurture pastors through difficult times of transition from forced separations.  

Listening post
His office “is a listening post,” with an ear to churches having conflicts, or looking for a new pastor, or which call and say, “Our pastor is up to something we don’t like; can you come and fix it?”

Moore gets involved in church conflict only by invitation and only if both pastor and congregation agree. But if the hammer falls and a pastor is forced to leave, Moore has a tool bag of helps: emergency financial assistance, a health retreat, a personal ministry evaluation, and a job share system.

He said falling attendance, income deficits and generational gaps are making churches “anxious and afraid.”

Photo courtesy of ‘A Christmas Carol’

David Moore not only works at the Baptist State Convention but has spent the last 13 years as Bob Cratchit in a Raleigh production of “A Christmas Carol.”

“Fear drives a lot of things that people do,” Moore said.

Churches look for someone to blame for their problems and the pastor becomes “the obvious and convenient target.”

Ironically, he said, often if growth follows a new pastor, the church discovers “they really didn’t want to grow because of the change growth brings.”

Moore learns of six to eight pastors a month who have been fired from their churches, and says “there are probably more we don’t know about.”  

Dealing with health
Using a medical analogy, Moore says ultimately he wants to help healthy pastors and churches stay healthy, rather than expending most of his energy in the emergency room. But if someone is bleeding, the first task is to staunch the blood flow.

“Our deep desire is a more aggressive, preventative movement toward health,” he said. “Not that we will stop assisting people when they are wounded, but the greater movement for the kingdom of God comes from a position of health.”

Moore would like pastors in healthy situations to do some of the ministry evaluations and personal assessments that he guides men through who have been terminated.

In termination situations, these assessments are not done to assign fault, but to help the pastor and family get a handle on where he is and where he needs to go in the future, to “check the wind of God in your life and see how that’s blowing.”

“I wish we had the resources so that every pastor – not as he’s getting fired – but 2-3-4 times in his career would avail himself of this and assess leadership skills, gaps and his personal life.” “This is something I have tons of energy about,” Moore said.

“This is not ‘take two of these at bedtime and you’ll get better.’ This is intentionality.”  

Other services
Moore’s office also helps churches in the interim and offers a “sharing service” online that helps to match potential pastors with churches looking for a pastor. He said half of the churches using the service are from outside North Carolina.

Utilizing consultants, Moore also offers conflict resolution services. Too often by the time a church or pastor asks for help, the situation is beyond rescue. But when a church is willing to try, Moore carefully matches it with a seasoned consultant. “It’s a deeply congregational process,” he said.

“For churches that take the risk of asking for assistance I take great hope in the fact they’re willing to face into the reality in their church,” Moore said.

Too many though think it “unchristian to say we have conflict” so they neglect healthy choices.

Moore freely admits the Baptist State Convention is “not the answer giver.” Instead, his office is a “connector of resources” and “a place that invites people into discussion and dialog, prayer and a place of deep discernment to discover ‘What do we need? How do we get there?’”  

‘A Christmas Carol’
One of the constant joys in Moore’s life is his 13-year run as Bob Cratchit in the enormously popular production of “A Christmas Carol” in Raleigh. With rehearsals and nine sold out shows in Raleigh’s — and this year in Durham’s — premier venues, the show occupies most nights for 10 weeks each year.

Moore’s character is Tiny Tim’s father, the abused bookkeeper for Scrooge himself. Moore finds in the story great gospel themes of redemption, changed lives and second chances.

And it is all very personal to him.

He joined the cast five years before he started playing Bob Cratchit as he was going through the pain of a divorce.

“There is so much in the show that is healing,” he said.

“For me it is a story within a story. Scrooge got a second chance. There was redemption, a look at the past, present and future. It’s a story about transformation.” In the first years of his being in the show he met a cast member named Carol, to whom he has now been married for 12 years.

He continues to be involved in the production because “I live in the memory of what happened to me,” he said.

“It’s a ritual…in the context of the One who gave us that redemption.”

As a minister he has done both weddings and funerals for members of his stage family.

He carries all of who he is into whatever situation he finds himself.

Being a magnetic gospel person, others are drawn to him for conversations about faith, about the meaning of life and about their own wounds and hopes.

“It’s a great place to live out your faith and to bear witness,” he said.  

Related story
Services help Weber reaffirm ministry calling
11/30/2010 4:00:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 1 comments

Services help Weber reaffirm ministry calling

November 30 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

When cataclysmic developments forced Antioch Baptist Church to give Fred Weber 30 days notice to clear the parsonage, he had nowhere to go.

Weber, minister of music at the church for three years, “went into full prayer mode,” he said, asking God, “What do you have for me now?”

Wisely, he contacted his network of friends and colleagues but he also availed himself of the services of the church health team at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

Weber is more connected than most, being an active participant and leader in State Convention activities for people in his field. He is chairman of the instrumental team for North Carolina Baptist musicians and has participated in Baptist Singers since 1998. He found serious help in the services offered through the Convention.

“They were a real godsend to me, and not just financially,” Weber said. Besides emergency assistance, the Convention lined Weber up to participate in a healing conference and a personal ministry consultation, which reaffirmed his giftedness and calling.

“It verified everything God has placed me into the ministry for,” said Weber, who early in life had “never dreamed” of being in ministry, but was called into it almost like the rush of a mighty wind while he was in the Army in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“God hit me with a lightening bolt, and I suddenly had a burning desire to do it,” he said.

Weber is currently minister of music at Unity Baptist Church in Gastonia where he started fulltime Aug. 22.

The intensive self-evaluation that was a part of the Convention’s services “absolutely no doubt confirmed what God has made me to be,” Weber said. “It reminded me of that and helped me to see my situation in light of what other people are going through.”

“I am grateful that the Convention has that without doubt,” he said. “It is an asset to anyone who is in that situation and there are a lot of ministers in that situation right now.”

Weber is a native of Enid, Okla. He and Denise have been married 29 years and have three adult children, including a daughter who was married the day before Weber’s church informed him they were letting him go.

He sensed something dramatic and negative was likely to happen because he could see the signs. But he hoped the church would let him stay in the parsonage while he looked for new work.

Fortunately a church member who had a rental house just become vacant told Weber he could stay there, and pay him rent when he could afford it.

The house was in Lincolnton, close to Gastonia, which is another reason Weber feels called to Unity because “everything fell into place for that to happen.”

Things happened fairly fast for Weber after his ministry at Antioch ended. Still, the sudden impact of losing your place of service and ministry hit him hard as it does anyone.

The Baptist State Convention church health team is set up to broker services and undergird ministers in that situation, keeping their heads above water so they can see God’s hand at work in the toughest of circumstances.

Now instead of looking back with lament, Weber is busier than ever working and ministering in Gastonia, and already planning a special event for instrumentalists at Tri-Cities Baptist Church in April. 

Related story
Moore finds healing in ministry, on stage
11/30/2010 3:57:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Wingate to offer nursing, expand pharmacy

November 30 2010 by Wingate University

WINGATE — Wingate University is taking steps to expand its pharmacy program and bring back a nursing degree.

Wingate is responding to the growing demand for nursing professionals by taking steps to reinstate a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree by 2012. The new BSN program is pending approval by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the North Carolina Board of Nursing. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services projects nursing shortages in 44 states, including North Carolina, by 2020.

The shortage is partly due to the declining number of nursing school graduates and the aging of the RN workforce. The agency also indicates an increasing share of nursing graduates with bachelor’s degrees.

In North Carolina alone, a nursing shortage is expected to reach nearly 20,000 by 2015 and 32,000 by 2020, according to the North Carolina Center for Nursing. Once approved, the BSN program at Wingate University will be offered on the main campus in Wingate.

The BSN program would initially enroll 20 students per class and would be geared toward high school students who desire a four-year degree.

“We feel a nursing program will serve our area well, based on the number of inquiries we receive from prospective students,” said Wingate University President Jerry E. McGee. 

“This program is in keeping with our mission to provide students with a complete educational experience that will lead them to an extraordinary career and life.”

In expanding its pharmacy program, Wingate will initially offer the doctor of pharmacy program to start in fall 2011 in Hendersonville, pending accreditation approval. The program will be housed in an 11,000 square-foot facility in the heart of downtown Hendersonville.

Plans are moving forward to serve the Western North Carolina area with a master of business administration and a master of physician assistant studies, pending approvals by their respective accrediting agencies. These programs will be housed in the Hendersonville facility.

The expansion of its pharmacy program next year underscores the university’s commitment to pharmacy education in North Carolina to meet the increasing need for future pharmacists. “Since the other two pharmacy schools in North Carolina are located in the eastern part of the state, Wingate University has always viewed the Western and Piedmont regions as our service area,” McGee said.

Some of its fourth-year pharmacy students are already being trained in clinical sites in the area.

The new program would partner with Park Ridge Hospital in Fletcher, Pardee Hospital in Hendersonville, Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Asheville for clinical sites, as well as several community pharmacies.  
11/30/2010 3:55:00 AM by Wingate University | with 1 comments

N.C. family sacrifices for God’s call

November 29 2010 by Don Graham, Baptist Press

Her words hit Seth Whitman* like a hammer.

The 37-year-old civil engineer was riveted by the stories he was hearing from a missionary who’d come to speak at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem.

The more she shared about the amazing ways God was working in North Africa and the Middle East, the tighter God squeezed Seth’s heart. “I just started to feel very convicted that … it was somewhere else He wanted us to plant our lives,” Seth said. What he didn’t know was that God was gripping the heart of his wife, Amy,* too.

For the first time, Amy heard stories about God appearing to Muslims in dreams and visions. And the more the missionary shared, the more Amy wanted to go.

“I was very jealous that people were seeing God move in miraculous ways, and I was like, ‘Lord, I want to see that.’ ... And I just told Him right then, ‘Lord, if you’ll call Seth, I’ll go.’”

The rest of the church service was a blur for Seth as he grappled with this seemingly out-of-nowhere impulse to be a missionary. But when the altar call was given, inviting people who felt God may be calling them to missions to come down front, Seth did.

It was a moment Amy had spent the past 14 years praying for.

“I had been praying for Seth to be called to something our whole marriage. … Not necessarily to missions or to preach — I just prayed that God would call him to follow Him and that we would have a ministry together as a family,” Amy said.

While Seth was at the altar, Amy quietly sat in a pew, asking God if He was calling them overseas.

“When (Seth) finally came back to the pew, I could tell that he was overwhelmed with emotion, and I didn’t dare speak to him because I knew he was just about to lose it. … That day was the beginning of a new Seth. He was broken and God began to change him.”

Running away
But with that brokenness came a lot of pain, and the next few days were rocky for Seth. When he told his dad he thought God was calling him to ministry in the Middle East, his dad was less than excited.

BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle

Al Gilbert, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, greets visitors to the International Mission Board commissioning service Nov. 10. Some 57 missionaries were commissioned at the service. See photo gallery and related story.

Seth had spent the past 16 years working for his father, helping run a manufacturing company. Now nearing retirement, Seth’s father was ready to hand the company over to his son.

But if Seth answered God’s call to the mission field, that would be impossible. When Seth refused to drop the idea of going overseas, his father at one point became so upset he fired Seth — only to ask him back the following week.

“I think my dad feels like I’m throwing my career away,” Seth said. “It’s hard. And it still is … (but) this is what God has asked me and I’m going to be obedient to that. God just made it where I could take my refuge in Him.”

Seth had his own internal struggles as he came to grips with what God was asking.

He didn’t want to talk about what was happening in his life. He wanted to run from it; to argue it away.

“I told God I am in a wonderful position here — I love my job. … We have a great church, our family is planted here, we have friends, I do stuff with the Little League, we have a great house — we have everything.”

“We both were calm,” Amy said. “We didn’t get excited, and we didn’t run out and do anything crazy, we just got up every morning early and read our Bibles and we prayed.”

By January 2009 — eight months after the Whitmans first heard God’s call — they knew without doubt that God wanted them overseas.

“I can’t really tell you (how it happened),” Seth said.

“All I can really say is that the joy and contentment I had for where our life was — it just faded. … It was like God scraped the desires that I had out of my heart and He put this in.”

Sprinting headlong
The Whitmans were “sprinting headlong” into the missionary application process with the International Mission Board (IMB) when they hit a snag — selling their house.

Nobody was buying, and it had to be sold before they could go. After missing an opportunity to be appointed in September 2010, leadership at Calvary Baptist offered to manage the sale of the Whitmans’ home so they wouldn’t be delayed any longer.

“Calvary stepped in and said, ‘If this is what you’re feeling led to do … then we’re willing to hold the rope for you and help you get there,’” Seth said. “To experience that type of commitment from leadership in your local body — there just really aren’t any words for that.”

IMB trustees officially approved the Whitmans as Southern Baptist missionaries Nov. 10 together with 55 other candidates, who were recognized at an appointment service at Calvary Baptist.

The Whitmans will leave for North Africa and the Middle East in spring 2011. They’ll work as church planters, sharing the gospel among a people with very few believers.

“We’ve heard about God doing amazing things in other parts of the world, and I just can’t believe He’s going to let us have a front-row seat to that,” Seth said. “I just don’t understand how I could deserve that.”

*Names changed

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Graham is a writer for the International Mission Board. Another story about the commissioning service ran in the Nov. 20 issue of the Biblical Recorder. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goal is $175 million.)
11/29/2010 7:17:00 AM by Don Graham, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Lakewood hosts bustling international churches

November 29 2010 by Rick Houston, Special to the Recorder

Regardless of what the future might hold for Lakewood Baptist in Durham, its impact on the community will be felt for years to come.

Rather than resign itself to quietly fading away, Lakewood has thrown open its doors to not only one but two other congregations that bring the facility alive with activity several days a week.

What’s more, the new groups are decidedly international. Grace Mission Community Church is comprised of not only first- and second-generation Koreans, but also has attendees from Singapore, China and Australia. And its interim pastor, Biju Chacko, is from India.

Members of Gospel Baptist, the third group that meets at Lakewood, come from Burma.

Three different congregations, who meet in the same building in Durham, came together to host Vacation Bible School. While the congregations do meet separately they plan on joining together for holiday events and continue to work together in the future.

“It’s just a wonderful situation,” says Ralph Harrell, the 81-year-old interim pastor of Lakewood. “It’s kinda like what I think heaven’s going to be, all of us mixed together … Any time during the week, you come around here, and it’s a bustling place.”

While the logistics of moving congregations in and out on a regular basis can get hectic, the groups also work and worship together. They plan to celebrate together at Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, and they’ve also had joint choirs.

The very best example of the congregations working together, however, was this year’s Vacation Bible School. Lakewood is an old congregation of perhaps two dozen, while Grace is made up mostly of undergraduates studying at Duke, Carolina, N.C. State and Meredith. Neither group has many children, but that didn’t stop them from reaching out to the community’s youngsters.

About three weeks out, 30 volunteers hit the streets to talk with local families, pre-register children and pass out door hangers. When VBS commenced 107 children attended in addition to 40 staff members. Each child received a book bag filled with school supplies and a Bible.

While Grace took the lead in the program for the most part, 100 percent of Lakewood’s members helped by marking Bibles with the plan of salvation, baking cookies and cup cakes, making donations or helping with school supplies. After the end of VBS, follow-ups were made and the church now has about 30 children attending Sunday School each week.

Three people have joined Lakewood since VBS, including two by profession of faith. There’s also a food pantry where those in the community can receive help every Sunday. When the church meets to eat, they invite others in as well.

“The congregation is very aware of the locale that they’re placed in,” says Chacko, Grace’s interim pastor who is also on the pastoral services staff at Duke University. “These are university students pursuing higher education, but there’s such a desire to look around the community and see where people are and what their needs are.

“(Those in the community) are constantly drawn towards us. The leadership and the congregants are very aware as they drive in, as they walk around, there’s this need around the church. They’re saying, ‘We cannot ignore this. We have to respond and be the salt and light that Christ has called us to be in the community.’”

So well have the relationships worked, plans are under way for Lakewood to deed its property to Grace Mission Community Church at some point. There’s no rush on either side, as both are in a state of transition. Harrell plans to retire and the very real possibility is that rather than two or three different congregations, Lakewood and Grace could become one unit, comprised of young, old and in between.

“I have felt at the end of the year, we will probably need to make some change,” Harrell admits.

“But some of the members that we have going now say they want to continue to work with these different groups. We wish it could become one church, and it might be. If the Lord leads in that direction, I hope that they will follow.”

For Chacko and the Grace membership, the relationship with Lakewood has provided it with something very close to a perfect working relationship.

“Grace Church is very, very grateful to Lakewood for letting us use the facility,” he said.

“The conversation is very much on the table, and we have asked for some more time to respond. We don’t feel that we are under any pressure to give them a response. They’ve been very understanding of the situation Grace Church is going through right now. So, right now, no decision has been made.”
11/29/2010 7:13:00 AM by Rick Houston, Special to the Recorder | with 2 comments

Tornado fails to stop Claremont church

November 29 2010 by wire reports

When an F-2 tornado tore through Claremont in October, First Baptist Church took a hit.

The tornado, which came through Oct. 26 around 7:30 p.m. with winds up to 110 miles per hour, blew away the church’s steeple, tore off part of the roof and damaged every Sunday School classroom.

Part of the roof ripped off the top of First Baptist Church in Claremont formed a cross with its trusses. Members expressed thanks for God’s miracle in not hurting anyone during the storm that came through the area Oct. 26.

“First Baptist Church of Claremont is on the way to recovery,” said Dennis J. Richards Sr., pastor, in a letter. “It may take us as long as six weeks but we have a place to worship in our fellowship hall. We have a closer knit fellowship because of the storm.”

Volunteers from North Carolina Baptist Men responded by cleaning up debris and putting a temporary tarp on the roof. Baptist Men helped others in the community as well.

Winds jerked locked doors of the church open exposing the sanctuary to the storm. But there were only a few loose pews, some carpet damage, broken inside doors, and broken foyer tiles. Dehumidifiers were brought in to dry out the water-damaged carpet and other items. There was much damage left on the grounds and on a walkway connected to the church. 

On the walkway was left a perfect cross formed out of the wooden beams which were ripped off the roof. Members were back in church the following Sunday, meeting in the basement.

A local television station reported the steeple was split into at least three pieces; one piece is still missing.

“It’s absolutely amazing. It just makes my heart break because of the love we have at this church and the outpouring of fellowship that we have, and the praise that we have,” said Richards to a local television station.

The church’s Oct. 28 Facebook status highlights some of the damage: “Thanks be to God that no one was hurt or killed in the Claremont tornado! Our church building did sustain damage though. We lost our steeple and part of our roof, but God gave us a new cross! Part of the roof trusses that blew out made a perfect cross that God hung over our railing, reminding us that he is still in control!”
11/29/2010 7:10:00 AM by wire reports | with 0 comments

Recorder, other documents going digital at WFU

November 29 2010 by wire report

In ongoing cooperation with the Biblical Recorder and other religious organizations, the North Carolina religious archives are being completely digitized at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem.

With the help of a $75,000 grant, religious scholars and historians will soon gain easier access to the complete archives of the Biblical Recorder, which is the most requested item in the university’s Reynolds Library archives. 

The newspaper has been published continuously since 1833, and Wake Forest has the most extensive collection of the publication outside of the Recorder offices.

“It’s an important research tool not only for documentation of North Carolina Baptist history but North Carolina cultural history,” said Megan Mulder, special collections librarian. “It’s very valuable to church historians, genealogists and anyone interested in the history of North Carolina.” 

The digitization project is being funded by the North Carolina Exploring Cultural Heritage Online’s (NC Echo) Digitization Program.

Other significant historical records will also be digitized in the near future. Wake Forest also received a second NC Echo grant for planning associated with the digitization of other collections of North Carolina religious material. Partners in the project include Duke University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. 

“This grant will allow us to determine the priorities for digitization. There’s a lot of material out there, and we want to assess which ones are most important for researchers,” Mulder said.

Candidates for digitization include monographs, association minutes and church records.  “Our North Carolina Baptist collection is very extensive,” she said. 
11/29/2010 6:56:00 AM by wire report | with 0 comments

Cholera in Haiti becomes focus of relief work

November 24 2010 by Barbara Denman, Baptist Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE — In the wake of massive rainfall and extensive flooding caused by Hurricane Tomas as it skirted western Haiti, disaster-weary Haitians are now coping with an increased spread of cholera worsened by bacteria-filled standing water.

The heightened cholera outbreak has led Florida Baptist officials to focus on the potential epidemic, said Dennis Wilbanks of the state convention’s partnership missions department, who traveled to the country Nov. 10-17, just days after Tomas’ onslaught.

“It is a potential catastrophic event worthy of keeping an eye on,” Wilbanks said, even as the government and NGOs efforts in water, health and sanitation have slowed the outbreak.

Haiti’s Ministry of Health (MSPP) reports 1,186 deaths and 19,646 cases as of Nov. 16, the last day that analyzed figures are available. Overall, the MSPP reports that 49,418 people have sought medical attention since the epidemic was declared.

Included in the cholera deaths are two pastors of the Confraternite Missionaire Baptiste d’Haiti (CMBH), Florida Baptists’ partner convention in Haiti: Marc Edrouard Theodore of Eglise Baptiste Par la Foi K-Soleil in Gonaives, located in the Artibonite Association; and Alphonse Joseph of Eglise Baptiste Coupe-a-David in the North Association.

“It seems that the cholera actually started in the Artibonite Valley where the water flow decreases and becomes stagnant in the rice fields,” Wilbanks said.

The Florida convention is working in partnership with CMBH churches to help prevent and curb the spread of the disease in the churches and their communities.

The convention has allocated $30,000 to purchase water, water purification tablets and IV bags for churches in five CMBH associations, with the largest funding given to the Artibonite Association.

Additionally volunteers at the convention-owned mission house in Port-au-Prince will begin assembling bags with sugar, salt and water purification tablets to distribute through the churches to needy families.

The convention staff has printed 50,000 brochures in both French Creole and English on prevention and treatment of the disease which will be distributed through the churches, drawing on resources prepared by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

“Education is a key ingredient in the prevention and treatment of cholera,” Wilbanks said. “Prevention is most critical.”

Additionally, Wilbanks said hydration is necessary to help those who have the disease to overcome it. With bags of water supplies, church members with cholera can be treated by remaining hydrated to lessen the need or treatment at overcrowded hospitals.

While in Haiti, Wilbanks heard reports and assessed damage from Hurricane Tomas. While there were “limited deaths due to the flooding, every association experienced some devastation mostly from flooding and rushing water,” he said. Many new churches lost their tarp roofs.

The convention has been caring for the hunger needs in the hardest hit areas, Wilbanks reported. Rice that was previously purchased and stored in each association was released and distributed by churches to people in heavily damaged regions.

Freight containers of Buckets of Hope have been moved into the areas and currently are being distributed to families. The buckets, filled with a week’s supply of food aid, were prepared by Southern Baptists in response to the Jan. 12 earthquake. Many of the containers shipped from the U.S. were held up by Haiti customs officials who were overwhelmed by the volume of humanitarian shipments after the quake.

“Our response to meet the needs of the Haitian people has been proactive,” Wilbanks said.

“Our food distribution is at least a week ahead of where we would have been because we had rice located throughout the country and Buckets of Hope scheduled for distribution,” he added.

Working with the area director of missions in Haiti, the Florida convention, with a continued presence of volunteers and staff in the country, will continue to keep a watchful eye on the situation, Wilbanks said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Denman is the Florida Baptist Convention’s director of communications.)
11/24/2010 4:24:00 AM by Barbara Denman, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

How, or if, you give thanks speaks volumes

November 24 2010 by Daniel Burke, Religion News Service

Whether it’s a mere “Rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub,” or a more solemn supplication, millions of Americans will bow their heads this Thursday in gratitude for the bounty of food before them.

Even a murmured “Thanks be to God,” before carving the Thanksgiving turkey speaks volumes about the person praying, especially if it’s a daily habit, according to scholars.

In fact, not only is saying grace one of the best indicators of how religious a person is, but it also has strong connections to partisan politics, according to scholars Robert Putnam and David Campbell.

Grace, of course, is the prayer said before meals, either in thanks to a deity who generously provides the food, to the workers who prepared it, or even to the animals about to be gobbled up.

Like many other rituals, Christians probably picked up saying grace from Judaism, according to scholars; nearly every culture has some form of pre-meal prayer.

These days, 44 percent of Americans report saying grace or a similar blessing almost every day before eating; 46 percent almost never say it, leaving just a statistical sliver in between, Putnam and Campbell report in their recently published book, American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides Us.

A portion of “Saying Grace” (1970) by Norman Rockwell. Sociologists say whether Americans say grace on a regular basis before a meal tells volumes about their political preferences.

“We are hard-pressed to think of many other behaviors that are so common among one half the population and rare among the other half — maybe carrying a purse,” Putnam and Campbell write.

Yet unlike wearing a purse, grace is often a private act of quiet prayer around a kitchen table, a quick thanks in a crowded restaurant, or a bowed head before a bowl of soup.

“Saying grace is a very personalized form of religious expression,” Campbell said in an interview. “It’s something you do in your home, with your family.”

The privacy of saying grace — it’s not often shouted from rooftops — makes it a better measure of religious commitment than asking people if they go to church, Campbell said.

Giving thanks for food isn’t generally said or done to impress the neighbors.

But the private prayer has strong connections to public positions, especially political ones, according to Putnam and Campbell. “Indeed, few things about a person correspond as tightly to partisanship as grace saying,” the scholars write in American Grace.

The more often you say grace, the more likely you are to identify with the Republican Party, Putnam and Campbell report. By turns, of course, the less you say grace, the more likely you are to identify with Democrats, the scholars said.

But there is one big exception to the prayer-politics connection. Eighty-five percent of African Americans report saying grace daily, a far higher rate than even Mormons, evangelicals, and mainline Protestants, the runners-up in grace-saying. The rate for evangelicals, for instance, is 58 percent. Yet, blacks remain stalwarts in the Democratic Party.

Lawrence A. Mamiya, a professor of religion and Africana studies at Vassar College and co-author of The Black Church in African American Experience, said offering thanks before meals is consistent with a community bound by a history of faith and hope.

“The whole point is to acknowledge something greater than themselves,” Mamiya said. “Even during slavery it was the belief in God that saved blacks from being utterly dehumanized.”

And if Sunday services remain the beating heart of the black church, the plentiful meals afterwards are its lifeblood. But before the meal, of course, comes prayer, said Mamiya, a tribute to the amazing grace that leads to home.
11/24/2010 4:20:00 AM by Daniel Burke, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Thanksgiving’s a holiday atheists can believe in

November 24 2010 by Kristen Moulton, Salt Lake Tribune

SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) — Ken Guthrie and his partner will be at his aunt’s house for Thanksgiving, sharing a table with his grandmother, siblings and cousins — a veritable holiday crowd.

But when it comes time to express thanks, Guthrie, a board member of Salt Lake City Pagan Pride, will not be speaking to the Christian God his relatives might address.

“I’m thanking, first, the universe for allowing me to be alive. I’m thanking my family for being with me, and I give thanks to the turkey that gave its life, the plants on our table, to the Earth itself for being abundant.”

As Thomas Goldsmith, pastor of this city’s First Unitarian Church, put it: Thanksgiving is one holiday on which everyone — pagans and theists, atheists and agnostics — can gather around the theme of gratitude.

“There doesn’t need to be a theistic object of one’s prayer,” Goldsmith said. “We can be profoundly grateful without packaging it and sending a message to God.”

Harvest festivals have been part of human cultures for ages, but Thanksgiving’s roots date to the 1621 feast shared by the Pilgrims — religious separatists from England — and Wampanoag Indians at Plymouth Colony in modern-day Massachusetts.

More than 200 years later, President Abraham Lincoln issued the proclamation that set the precedent for America’s Thanksgiving Day. Acting partly on a decades-long campaign by prominent magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale, Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation was explicitly religious.

It refers to the “watchful providence of Almighty God” and “gracious gifts of the Most High God.”

Lincoln designated the last Thursday in November as a day of thanksgiving, but it wasn’t declared an official national holiday until Congress acted in 1941. 

RNS photo courtesy Library of Congress

Pilgrims share the first Thanksgiving with native Indians in Plymouth Colony in 1621.

Although the Mayflower Pilgrims had the Almighty in mind when they gathered for that first Thanksgiving, for some Americans, the holiday is now more about family, feasting and gratitude.

That may explain why it’s a favorite holiday for many who don’t believe in God or traditional mainstream religions’ notions of deity. Florien Wineriter, a retired Salt Lake City radio broadcaster and an agnostic, considers Thanksgiving a “great holiday.” “It brings family and friends together,” says Wineriter, 85. “It’s a secular holiday for thankfulness of the opportunity of living in this great country and the people who have made it possible for the past 200 years.”

A widower, he will be at his daughter’s on Thanksgiving, enjoying turkey, the trimmings and “even a few libations.”

Grant Larimer, a member of Atheists of Utah, likes that Thanksgiving is more relaxed, with less religion than Christmas.

“Any contention you have on Thanksgiving,” he says, “has nothing to do with religion.” Larimer will join an old high-school buddy at the friend’s mother’s home for dinner, and he will bow his head if the group prays.

“I don’t fall into that angry atheist crowd,” he says. “I’m going to respect other people’s beliefs ... and would hope others would respect my right to believe in what I believe in.”

Elaine Ball, a co-founder of the group Secular Humanism, Inquiry and Freethought at the University of Utah, says Thanksgiving is “more of a time for family than gratitude toward a god.”

This year, she and several friends will pitch in to buy a free-range turkey, because ethically raised animals and plants, she said, replenish the Earth, and gratitude to an abundant Earth leads her toward greater charity.

“Having so much food, and so much good food, makes me think of those people who don’t,” she said.

Goldsmith, at First Unitarian, says that charitable impulse is one reason the holiday is his favorite.

“Thanksgiving is not just a one-way street, but a responsibility to take gratitude to the next level, which is generosity.”

Patrick Orlob, founder of the social-networking group Salt City Skeptics, said that although Thanksgiving may have religious roots, it’s an adaptable holiday.

“It’s more about what you put into it,” he says. “It’s about being with the people you care about.”

It’s good to consider the abundance in one’s life, he added, especially compared with many others in the world.

“I don’t think you necessarily have to be thankful to something like a god,” says Orlob, who will share a small Thanksgiving meal with riends.

Guthrie says Thanksgiving is one of his favorite holidays, partly because it’s a fusion of Christianity and Native American traditions, infused with echoes of pagan harvest feasts in Europe.

“I see it as a festival that a lot of people can get behind,” Guthrie says. “It’s a piece of Americana. It’s one day to celebrate hard work.”
11/24/2010 4:15:00 AM by Kristen Moulton, Salt Lake Tribune | with 1 comments

Displaying results 1-10 (of 52)
 |<  < 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6  >  >|