Thursday, October 30, 2008

Calvin Year

Here in Presbyland, we are gearing up for the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin in 2009. Our Worship Comm has discussed several thing we might do to observe this liturgically. One idea was to take Calvin's emphasis on scripture and his perfered method of preaching "lectio continua" and attempt to preach through the bible during the course of the year.

One article I read on this notes that since Calvin preached daily and usually for an hour or more at a time, it was easier for him to make steady progress through books of scripture than it would be for us "twenty minutes once a week" contemporary preachers.

Have any of you done something like this? How did it work? How did your congregation respond? Would you recommend it?

Our other thought was a Calvin Lazer Tag Birthday Party.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Modest Proposal for STewardship Season

The most interesting bit of info I gleaned from the media coverage of the Sarah Palin clothing budget controversy was this: the average American household spends about $1900/year on apparel. So perhaps a "discernment" question we could pose to ourselves and members of our congregations during Stewardship season is this: Does our pledge to our faith community AT LEAST equal our annual clothing budget?

As a Thief in the Night

Our No on 8 sign was stolen from our front yard yesterday afternoon while no one was home. I ran into the Pastor from the United Methodist church last night and she said the same thing happened to her.

Stealing to protect "biblical morality"?


Update: Add to that extortion and blackmail

Friday, October 10, 2008

My son the mind-reader

Yesterday when I picked up my fifth grade son after soccer practice I greeted him with the words:

"Hey! There's my boy!"

"DON'T call me little boy!" he growled.

"I didn't say little!" I protested.

"But you were THINKING it." he said.

He's right. I was.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Anything to add?

So yesterday I asked one of the "elder statesmen" of our Presbytery if he had any wisdom on doing Stewardship Season while the economy is in total meltdown.

He just smiled and said, "The most important thing is not to lose your sense of humor."

I get that. But I'm still struggling with what to preach.

What are YOU doing?

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Bitchty Soccer Mom Moment

Standing in line for team pictures for daughter's soccer team.

Me: Oh look. The girls on the team in line ahead of us all have color-coordinated hair ribbons that match their uniforms.


Teammate's Mom: Hmmm. Somewhere, someone has WAY too much time on her hands.

Snarky giggle.


Thursday, October 02, 2008

Criminal Background Checks: Here's the thing

Does running criminal background checks on church volunteers who work with kids really make kids safer?

Here's the thing. Predators are slippery. Chances are, they will not call attention to themselves by doing something as obvious as volunteering to teach Sunday School or lead youth group.

Instead, they will befriend the families at the church. The will throw pool parties and barbecues at their house. They will join a small group along with their spouse. They'll join the buildings and grounds team and get a reputation as being able to fix anything. They'll help church members out when a lawn mower breaks or a dryer goes on the fritz or a sprinkler system implodes. The kids in the church will be used to seeing this person in and around their homes.

So when one of these predators overhears Mr. and Mrs. Smith fretting at small group about how are they going to get their kids to all their activities next week when Mr. Smith is out of town on business, he will readily offer to pick up 11-year-old Suzie Smith from band practice. After all, it's right on his way home from work, no trouble at all. And Mr. and Mrs. Smith will gratefully accept. And when he shows up at band practice half an hour early because, "he got the times mixed up" Suzie will leave with him anyway because how else is she going to get home? And when they get to her house and he suggests that he pop in for just a minute to check on that ceiling fan that her Dad says isn't working, well--it won't seem THAT odd that he come in when her parents aren't there because he has fixed stuff in her house before and the ceiling fan really isn't working. . . .

Where, in this chilling but too common scenario, does a criminal background check of volunteers help? In fact, it might hurt by lulling church families into thinking that all possible diligence is being exercised on their behalf and they can rest easy. The freak-out scary truth is that the biggest threat to kids is that predators will use the network of relationships they develop at church to facilitate access to kids at times and places where they are vulnerable--mostly NOT at church or during church sponsored events.

What might help would be empowering parents and kids to be aware,to recognize red flags, and trust their guts if they sense something "off". Then maybe Suzie might say, "Actually, I think it would be better if you check that fan when my parents are home."

Criminal Background Checks

Does your church do criminal background checks on all volunteers? All volunteers who might work with children or youth?

Several years before I arrived here, our C.E. Committee passed a policy requiring this. It did not happen. In fact, neither I nor my colleague were aware that there was a policy like this until someone who had been on the committee back in the day asked why we weren't doing it anymore. As far as we can tell, we never actually did this. It did not move from policy to implementation.

There has been a fair amount of turn-over in pastoral and lay staff in those years, so part of what happened was probably that the ball was dropped early on in terms of who was actually going to make the recommendations in the policy happen in real life. However, based on my experience with other churches, I'm betting some other things happened too.

1. The policy was passed without anyone doing the math on how much it would actually cost to run a $75 background check on several dozen volunteers each year. Once the realization dawned, implementation bogged down on the question of "who pays for this?"

2. The background check rule proved unsustainable in the midst of the chaos of congregational life. When it's one week before VBS and you are still scrambling to fill all the volunteer spots, the idea that you have to wait thirty days before that new volunteer's paperwork could possibly go through causes you to cut corners rather than cancel an event that has been publicized city-wide for a month.

I'm just not convinced that running background checks is the best way to make the church safer. The check we run on employees tells you only if a person has been convicted of a crime in this state. Okay. But what about other states? What about arrests that did not result in convictions? What about convictions that had nothing to do with child abuse? Is a thirty year old marijuana possession a deal-breaker? So far the only "conviction" that a background check has uncovered at a church I've served was for welfare fraud. The individual had, as a young single mom, failed to navigate the welfare bureacracy succesfully, filled out her paperwork improperly and for a few months received more benefits than she was entitled to. Do we cross her off our list of potential Sunday school teachers forever and ever?

I'm not suggesting that churches do nothing in this regard. But I wonder if implementing safe practices such as open doors, rooms and offices with windows, raising awareness among volunteers and parents and the kids themselves would do as much, if not more, than relying on expensive and potentially intrusive background checks.

What has been your experience with this?