From concern to action in a few short months

rooftop3A grow­ing list of sto­ries is sug­gest­ing that black church­es in the South are being tar­get­ed for arson once again (although one of the more pub­li­cized cas­es seems to be lightning-related). This was a big con­cern in the mid-1990s, a time when a Quak­er pro­gram stepped up to give Friends the chance to trav­el to the South to help rebuild. From a 1996 Friends Jour­nal edi­to­r­i­al:

Some­times a news arti­cle touch­es the heart and moves peo­ple to reach out to one anoth­er in unex­pect­ed ways. So it was this win­ter when the Wash­ing­ton Post pub­lished a piece on the rash of fires that have destroyed black church­es in the South in recent months… When Friend Harold B. Con­fer, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Wash­ing­ton Quak­er Work­camps, saw the arti­cle, he decid­ed to do some­thing about it. After a series of phone calls, he and two col­leagues accept­ed an invi­ta­tion to trav­el to west­ern Alaba­ma and see the fire dam­age for them­selves. They were warm­ly received by the pas­tors and con­gre­ga­tions of the three Greene Coun­ty church­es. Upon their return, they set to work on a plan.

I’m not sure whether Confer’s plan is the right tem­plate to fol­low this time, but it’s a great sto­ry because it shows the impor­tance of hav­ing a strong grass­roots Quak­er ecosys­tem. I don’t believe the Wash­ing­ton Quak­er Work­camps were ever a par­tic­u­lar­ly well-funded project. But by 1996 they had been run­ning for ten years and had built up cred­i­bil­i­ty, a fol­low­ing, and the abil­i­ty to cross cul­tur­al lines in the name of ser­vice. The small­er orga­ni­za­tion­al size meant that a news­pa­per arti­cle could prompt a flur­ry of phone calls and vis­its and a fully-realized pro­gram oppor­tu­ni­ty in a remark­ably short amount of time.

A first-hand account of the work­camps by Kim Roberts was pub­lished lat­er than year, Rebuild­ing Church­es in Rur­al Alaba­ma: One Volunteer’s Expe­ri­ence. The D.C.-based work­camp pro­gram con­tin­ues in mod­i­fied form to this day as the William Penn Quak­er Work­camps.

Update: anoth­er pic­ture from 1996 Alaba­ma, this time from one of my wife Julie’s old pho­to books. She’s sec­ond from the left at the bot­tom, part of the longer-stay con­tin­gent that Roberts mentions.

WQW

Introducing Gregory Kelley Heiland

Bothering babies to make them make cute faces is fun!

On Tues­day, Dec 28 my love­ly wife Julie gave birth to our third son. After some dither­ing back and forth (we’re method­i­cal about baby names) we picked Gre­go­ry. Every­one is hap­py and healthy. Vital stats: 20 inch­es, 7 pounds 9 oz. The broth­ers are adjust­ing well, though Theo’s first response to my phone call telling him it was a boy was “oh no, anoth­er one of those.”

Francis is now also a big brother! Proud brother

That’s 5yo Fran­cis (aka “lit­tle big broth­er”) and 7yo Theo (“big big broth­er”) meet­ing their new sib­ling at the hos­pi­tal. More pics in the Gre­go­ry! and Gre­go­ry in the Hos­pi­tal sets on Flickr.

As you can see, we’ve basi­cal­ly bred triplets spaced over three years apart. As fur­ther evi­dence, here’s Theo and Fran­cis in their first pics (links to their announce­ment posts):
Brotherly love

As I men­tioned, we’re method­i­cal about names. When we were faced with Baby #2 I put togeth­er the “Fall­en Baby Names Chart” – clas­sic names that had fall­en out of trendy use. It’s based on the cur­rent rank­ing of the top names of 1900. “Gre­go­ry” doesn’t appear on our chart because it was almost unused until a sud­den appear­ance in the mid-1940s (see chart, right). Yes, that would be the time when a hand­some young actor named Gre­go­ry Peck became famous. It peaked in 1962, the year of Peck’s Acad­e­my Award for To Kill a Mock­ing­bird and has been drop­ping rapid­ly ever since. Last year less than one in a thou­sand new­born boys were Gregory’s. While we rec­og­nize Peck’s influ­ence in the name’s Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry pop­u­lar­i­ty, Julie is think­ing more of Gre­go­ry of Nys­sa [edit­ed, I orig­i­nal­ly linked to anoth­er ear­ly Gre­go­ry]. Peck’s par­ents were Catholic (pater­nal rel­a­tives helped lead the Irish East­er Ris­ing) and were pre­sum­ably think­ing of the Catholic saint when they gave him Gre­go­ry for a mid­dle name (he dropped his first name Eldred for the movies).

Spiritual self-understanding as pretext to organizational renewal

Brent Bill is con­tin­u­ing his “Mod­est Pro­pos­al” series on Quak­er “revi­tal­iza­tion” on his blog Holy Ordi­nary. Today’s install­ment (part sev­en) is great but I’m not sure where it leaves us. He starts by talk­ing about how some Quak­er body’s books of dis­ci­plines (“Faith and Prac­tice”) are becom­ing more legal­is­tic as they pick up ideas from oth­er reli­gious bod­ies. He then chal­lenges year­ly meet­ings and oth­er Friends bod­ies to a “seri­ous exam­i­na­tion of their pur­pose and pro­grams” in which they ask a series of ques­tions about their purpose.

I agree with a lot of his obser­va­tion. But at the same time I’m not sure what a seri­ous exam­i­na­tion would look like or would pro­duce. In recent years my own year­ly meet­ing has devel­oped a kind of cir­ca­di­an rhythm of con­stant reor­ga­ni­za­tion, tin­ker­ing with orga­ni­za­tion­al charts, leg­isla­tive process­es design to speed up deci­sions, and chang­ing times and fre­quen­cies of events hop­ing to attract new peo­ple. And yet, as I wrote a few weeks ago, when I went to sit in on a meet­ing of the gov­ern­ing body, I was the third or fourth youngest per­son in a room of about 75 Friends. It was pret­ty much the same group of peo­ple who were doing it ten years and mul­ti­ple reforms ago, only now they are ten years old­er. We actu­al­ly ripped through busi­ness so we can spend an hour naval-gazing about the pur­pose of this par­tic­u­lar gov­ern­ing body and I can report it wasn’t the breath of fresh air that we might have hoped for.

A big part of the prob­lem is we’ve for­got­ten why we’re doing all this. We’ve split the faith from the prac­tice – and I don’t mean Chris­t­ian vs non-Christian, but the whole kit-and-kaboodle that is the Quak­er under­stand­ing of gospel order, a world view that is dis­tinct from that of oth­er Chris­t­ian denom­i­na­tions. Lloyd Lee Wil­son calls it the “Quak­er gestalt” in Essays on the Quak­er Vision of Gospel Order. When a spir­i­tu­al tra­di­tion has an inter­nal con­sis­ten­cy, and the process and the­ol­o­gy rein­force each oth­er. Archi­tec­ture and demeanor, cul­tur­al and busi­ness val­ues fit togeth­er. It’s nev­er per­fect, of course, and main­tain­ing the con­sis­ten­cy against new influ­ences and chang­ing cir­cum­stances is often the source of unnec­es­sary pet­ty squab­bling. But even some­thing as innocu­ous as a meetinghouse’s bench arrange­ments can tell you a lot about a group’s the­ol­o­gy and its bal­ance towards author­i­ty and individualism.

It’s our under­stand­ing of our faith and our con­cept of body-of-Christ com­mu­ni­ty which under­girds our insti­tu­tion­al struc­tures. When we don’t have a good grasp of it, we do things mere­ly because “we’re sup­posed to” and the process feels dry and spirit-less. We defend par­tic­u­lar insti­tu­tions as nec­es­sary because they’re cod­i­fied in our books of doc­trine and lose our abil­i­ty to pos­i­tive­ly explain their exis­tence, at which point frus­trat­ed mem­bers will call for their aban­don­ment as unnec­es­sary bag­gage from a bygone age.

As an exam­ple, about sev­en years ago my quar­ter­ly meet­ing went through a naval-gazing process. I tried to be involved, as did my then-Quaker wife Julie. We asked a lot of big ques­tions but oth­ers on the vision­ing com­mit­tee just want­ed to ask small ques­tions. When Julie and I asked about divine guid­ance at ses­sions, for exam­ple, one fel­low con­de­scend­ing­ly explained that if we spent all our time ask­ing what God want­ed we’d nev­er get any­thing done. We real­ly didn’t know what to say to that, espe­cial­ly as it seemed the con­sen­sus of oth­ers in the group. One thing they were com­plain­ing about was that it was always the same few peo­ple doing any­thing but after a few rounds of those meet­ings, we ran scream­ing away (my wife right out of the RSoF altogether).

Re-visioning isn’t just decon­struct­ing insti­tu­tions we don’t under­stand or tin­ker­ing with some new process to fix the old process that doesn’t work. If you’ve got a group of peo­ple active­ly lis­ten­ing to the guid­ance of the Inward Christ then any process or struc­ture prob­a­bly can be made to work (though some will facil­i­tate dis­cern­ment bet­ter). Our books of “Faith and Prac­tice” were nev­er meant to be inerrant Bibles. At their core, they’re our “wiki” of best prac­tices for Quak­er com­mu­ni­ty dis­cern­ment – tips earned through the suc­cess­es and fail­ures of pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions. I think if we under­stand our spir­i­tu­al roots bet­ter we’ll find our musty old Quak­er insti­tu­tions actu­al­ly still have impor­tant roles to play. But how do we get there? I like Brent’s ques­tions but I’m not sure you can just start with them. Any­one want to share sto­ries of spir­i­tu­al deep­en­ing in their meet­ings or faith com­mu­ni­ties and how that fed into a renewed appre­ci­a­tion of Quak­er bod­ies and process?

The bishop gets THAT LOOK

I’ve been busy with work late­ly and much of my free time has been spent help­ing Julie and the Savest​marys​.net coali­tion. St. Mary’s is one of about six­ty South Jer­sey Catholic church­es the bish­op is try­ing to close down and replace with smi­ly hap­py Megachurch­es. I’m still not going Catholic on you all, I just don’t like short-sighted reli­gious bureau­crats with secret agen­das, and I like places and peo­ple and church­es with roots and history.

On Tues­day night Bish­op Galante and his posse came to vis­it St Mary’s and were greet­ed by an over­flow crowd. He came with charts and a game show host of a priest for MC who tried to start the meet­ing with a pasted-on smile and crowd-control speak­ing rules. The St Mary’s parish­ioners were hav­ing none of it. There were over five hun­dred peo­ple in the pews ask­ing why the Bish­op want­ed to shut down a church with sound finances, an impas­sioned priest, an involved laity and the where­with­al to con­tin­ue anoth­er hun­dreds years.

“Vibrant” has become the Bishop’s stock answer, his new favorite code word. Like a Pres­i­dent backpedal­ing on the ratio­nales of an unpop­u­lar war, his spokes­peo­ple have admit­ted under pres­sure of evi­dence and easy solu­tions that the clo­sures aren’t due to a priest short­age,  finan­cial prob­lems at the tar­get­ed church­es, or the lack of lay par­tic­i­pa­tion and involve­ment. The only expla­na­tion the bish­op can offer for clo­sure is “vibran­cy.” But every time he tries to define “vibrant” he ends up describ­ing St. Mary’s and dozens of oth­er local church­es he wants to close.

There’s obvi­ous­ly more to the def­i­n­i­tion than he’d like to share. One parish­ioner asked whether he thought a small church was even capa­ble of dis­play­ing the “vibran­cy” he demands. He refused to answer, which sug­gests we’ve final­ly dug down to a real answer. His fix for South Jer­sey is Megachurch­es that cop strate­gies from the Evan­gel­i­cal move­ment and con­sol­i­date pow­er more close­ly in the dioce­san offices. 

The bish­op gave the church-saving move­ment its best metaphor when he dis­par­aged the lit­tle church­es he wants to shut­ter as “Wawa church­es.” Read­ers from out­side the Mid-Atlantic region might know that Wawa is a local con­ve­nience store chain but that’s like say­ing water is a com­mon chem­i­cal com­pound. You can’t dri­ve more than twen­ty min­utes with­out pass­ing three Wawas. South Jer­sians prac­ti­cal­ly live there. The bish­op might was well con­demn moth­er­hood, base­ball and apple pie if he’s going to take on South Jersey’s Wawa.

One dis­grun­tled “Catholic in name only” cam­paign sup­port­er rose to reclaim the Wawa label, say­ing that all these lit­tle church­es were indeed like Wawa: ubiq­ui­tous, open at all hours, with good food that brought peo­ple in. The bish­op obvi­ous­ly prefers the Wal­mart mod­el: big box, big park­ing lot, hid­den Eucharists, gameshow-host priests and clowns for music direc­tors (seri­ous­ly: check out this post of Julie’s and scroll down to the Great­est Amer­i­can Hero dude). I’m not sure why some­one who dis­likes Catholic cul­ture so much would want to become a priest and I’m real­ly not sure why some­one who dis­likes South Jer­sey cul­ture so much would agree to be its bish­op. One blog­ger recent­ly wrote “I have gone through enough merg­ers and con­sol­i­da­tions to know one thing
is true: reduc­tions in man­pow­er and assets are made for tighter
con­trol” which sounds like as good an expla­na­tion as any oth­er I’ve heard. Pow­er and mon­ey: same as it ever was. 

I was fol­low­ing the kids around out­side for much of what turned into a speak-out ses­sion but I got to see twen­ty sec­onds of my wife Julie’s tes­ti­mo­ny on the Fox affiliate’s 10 o’clock news. Julie had THAT LOOK when address­ing the bish­op. It’s a look I know too well, it’s a look that means “I’m right, I know it, and I’m not back­ing down.” If I’ve learned any­thing over the course of the last sev­en years of mar­riage it’s that I don’t stand a chance when Julie gives me THAT LOOK: it’s time to con­cede that yes she is right, because any oth­er option will just pro­long the pain and delay the inevitable. I saw hun­dreds of peo­ple giv­ing the bish­op that same look last night.

It’s nice to see South Jer­sey stand­ing up to an out­sider who hates its cul­ture and wants to force change for the sake of his own pow­er and prof­it. We get a lot of it down here. The pow­er guys usu­al­ly end up win­ning: the woods get chain­sawed and the farm­lands buried under vast expans­es of gener­ic box stores and cookie-cutter McMan­sions financed by Philly mon­ey and greased by the pro-development laws of North Jer­sey politi­cians. I could be wrong, but after this week I don’t think the bish­op stands a chance. The ques­tion now is how long he’s going to pro­long his . And how many church­es will he suc­ceed in tak­ing down in the name of “vibrance?”

Abandoned school?

We sus­pect this might have been the one room school­house where Julie’s mater­nal grand­moth­er taught.

Railroad & farm weekend in Lancaster

Our only full-group shot, outside Strasburg RR
This week­end we took off for a fam­i­ly trip to Lan­cast­er Coun­ty, Penn­syl­va­nia – Julie and me, the kids and my moth­er Liz. I won’t have time to do a long blog post, but high­lights were the Ver­dant View farm B&B (link) where we stayed; the Stras­burg Rail­road (link) whose line runs through the farm’s back­yard, the Choo Barn mod­el rail­way (link); and the amaz­ing Cher­ry Crest Farm (link) with its corn maze and its sim­ple games for kids of all ages (who knew you could have so much fun with a hill and a piece of burlap?!).

See the See the pho­to set on Flickr for more pic­tures and sto­ries. Every shot is mapped, with links.

Large pho­to: Fam­i­ly at Stras­burg RR: Mar­tin, Liz, Theo, Julie, Fran­cis. Below: Julie and the kids walk­ing through fields at farm, Fran­cis play­ing kung-fu with the farm dog, Theo run­ning in ter­ror from said dog, Engine 90 ready to pull out.
Verdant View's verdant views
Verdant View Farm dogs
Verdant View Farm dogs
Locomotion