What I Wrote This Week @UrbanFaith: September 19-23

Hitchhiker, NYC

9/11 Lessons in Civil Religion @NJShorePatch


Inter-faith messages remind Monmouth County residents who they are.

In Jean-Jacque Rousseau’s model of civil religion, the state is unified and strengthened by public displays of faith that refer to deity, point to the afterlife, draw attention to the reward of virtue and the punishment of vice, and that exclude religious intolerance. Two of the three memorial services I attended on 9/11/11 fulfilled Rouseau’s requirements. The opener fell short. …

To find out what he and others had to say, go to Manasquan Patch. To see photos from the day, go to my set on Flickr.

What I Wrote This Week @UrbanFaith: September 5-9

Hitchhiker, NYC

  • How Did 9/11 Change Urban Ministry? With the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in mind, Christian leaders Jeremy Del Rio, DeForest Soaries, and Shane Claiborne reflect on how 9/11 changed urban ministry in America.
  • Clergy Excluded from 9/11 Ceremonies: Clergy are being excluded from government sponsored 9/11 memorial events at Ground Zero and the National Cathedral and believers are protesting. Should they?
  • Shacking Up or Sacrament? More couples are living together without a marriage license. Is it time for churches to adjust or do cohabiting couples need to make their “marriages” legal?

Jersey Shore Faithful to Commemorate 9/11 Anniversary @NJShorePatch

Faith at Ground Zero

Sacred remembrances dominate the weekend calendar.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg may have excluded clergy from the 9/11 10th anniversary ceremony at the memorial site in New York City, but there are plenty of opportunities here at the Jersey Shore for sacred remembrances. Here are a few of them:

Saturday, September 10

At 8:00 pm, Father Alphonse Stephenson will conduct the Orchestra of St. Peters by the Sea in a “Salute to Civilization” at the Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove. …

For a list of Sunday’s events, go to Manasquan Patch.

Serving God in the Family “Business”: A Candid Interview with William Franklin Graham IV @TheHighCalling

At The High Calling, we don’t often address the unique vocational, relational, and spiritual challenges of working for a Christian non-profit organization. So we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to interview William Franklin Graham IV, the grandson of evangelist Billy Graham and the son of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) President and CEO Franklin Graham. Now an associate evangelist with BGEA and Assistant Director of the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, North Carolina, Will has a lifetime’s worth of exposure to these challenges. Here’s the first question:

The High Calling: People often idealize working for a Christian organization. Are we wrong to expect a Wll Graham at Ocean Grove Auditorium, May 2011Christian workplace to be different?

Will Graham: When we hire people, one of the things that we really try to listen for is if whether or not they feel called to ministry with our organization. We’ve gotten a lot of resumes from qualified people, but if they’re not called, ultimately, they’re not going to fit. They may be wonderful Christian people, but they’re not who we’re looking for.

BGEA has some of the best employees; we really do. But at the same time, we’re all human, and we all have bad days. When there is an issue, we’ll sit down and pray about it. Employees will get together and pray about it. Sometimes it still doesn’t work out. We may have to move people to a different department because their gifts aren’t being used – maybe we put them in a bad spot that doesn’t meet their strengths. On the other hand, we have some great administrators who have helped us in this area. My dad is a wonderful administrator. My granddaddy hired George Wilson, who really kind of shaped the Billy Graham organization administration-wise when it first was founded.

As a staff, every morning we start off in devotions, looking into God’s Word together, praying together for the needs of the ministry. We pray for one another. BGEA is a wonderful place to work, and I’m blessed to be a part of it. It’s tough working for family, but we do it because we love each other. …

Read the whole interview at The High Calling.

Who’s at Fault in the Debt Ceiling Debate @NJShorePatch

Former New Jersey Secretary of State DeForest Soaries says the vitriolic debate is a reflection of a new, negative era of Republican leadership.

“Compared to the Tea Party, Gov. Whitman was a Democrat,” said the Rev. Dr. DeForest Soaries Jr. when I interviewed him Monday about the federal budget debate for UrbanFaith.com.

Soaries was New Jersey Secretary of State under Christine Todd Whitman and a two-time political appointee of George W. Bush. He is pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, and said he weaves instruction on financial responsibility and economic opportunity into every sermon he preaches.

He is also author of dfree: Breaking Free from Financial Slavery. The book and First Baptist’s personal finance program were featured last fall in CNN’s Black in America “Almighty Debt” documentary.

“I had no philosophical or ideological conflict working with the Republicans in New Jersey because, prior to Chris Christie, the Republicans in New Jersey were very moderate. In fact, the Republicans in North Jersey were actually more progressive than the Democrats in South Jersey,” said Soaries.

He was reacting to a federal budget fight that brought the United States to the brink of defaulting on its loans for the first time in history. …

Read the rest at Manasquan Patch.

Hugs & Hospitality at Wright Memorial Church @BarnegatPatch

Congregation that meets in former opera house welcomes visitors with music and warmth.

“Life is desperate; we need all the hugs we can get,” said Rev. Bob Lewis after Sunday morning worship at Wright Memorial Presbyterian Church, Barnegat, NJWright Memorial Presbyterian Church.

He was standing at the foot of the church’s front steps greeting people after the service. There were hugs for the men and kisses on the cheek for the women. He inquired warmly about each person’s concerns and sent them on their way.

This kind of affection permeated the morning.

At 9 a.m., people gathered for coffee and conversation, Lewis said.

“Sometimes it’s religious. Sometimes it’s just funny and jokes,” he said.

At 10 a.m., Lewis began strumming his guitar and singing modern worship songs while congregants arrived and chatted. Music has always been important to the congregation, in keeping with its history as a former opera house that was foreclosed upon and purchased by the Presbytery of Monmouth in 1877, a church brochure said. …

Read the rest at Barnegat Patch.

Exuberant Hospitality at First Baptist Church @NJShorePatch

First Baptist Church of Manasquan, NJExuberant hospitality. That’s how I’d describe Sunday morning worship at First Baptist Church of Manasquan.

The worship band was playing before the service began July 17 and soon after I sat down Rev. Joseph Gratzel came over and gave me a tote bag that held a travel mug, a Bible, and information about the church.

“Have you been mugged?” he asked with a smile.

The service began seamlessly with modern worship and two “Pandamania” songs led by Vacation Bible School students. Associate Pastor Martha Bevacqua asked for prayer requests and the congregation called out a host of personal concerns before saying the Lord’s prayer together.

A sign language interpreter translated the service for hearing impaired worshipers and Senior Pastor Joseph Gratzel’s son Gavin called out questions from the back of the room until his dad gently instructed him to be quiet. …

Read the rest at Manasquan Patch.

What I Wrote This Week @UrbanFaith: July 11-15

Hitchhiker, NYC

  • Foreclosures Hit Churches Hard: A troubling increase in church foreclosures, especially among African American congregations, has us wondering whether too many churches have jeopardized their witness for the sake of an extravagant new building.
  • Was Slavery Better for Black Children?  After presidential candidate Michele Bachmann signed a traditional marriage pledge with potentially racist elements, the pundits piled on. But is their behavior any better than hers?
  • Death Row Inmates Want Pastoral Care: Where should justice and mercy meet when it comes to the lives of prisoners who are facing the death penalty?

I also began work on a story about a black led Tea Party group’s plan to protest the NAACP national convention. Look for it soon.

Celebrating the King James Bible @NJShorePatch

Museum of Biblical Art in New York hosts exhibit celebrating translation’s 400th anniversary.

1611 King James Bible at MOBIAWhile there are plenty of places to celebrate a special anniversary right here at the Jersey Shore, for one as monumental as the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, a trip into New York City to see On Eagles’ Wings at the Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA) is just the thing.

The exhibit features a number of historic manuscripts, including a 1611 first folio edition of the bible and a 1440 New Testament. It also includes a collection of breathtaking paintings (my photos don’t do them justice) that contemporary artist Makoto Fujimura created to illustrate a Crossway Books commemorative edition of The Four Holy Gospels.  …

For a full picture of this wonderful celebration, go to Manasquan Patch.

A Pilgrim Message for a Patriotic Weekend at First Presbyterian Church @ManasquanPatch

Rev. Steve Davis takes congregation on a journey from Abraham to America at July 3 worship service, and talks about The Samaritan Center afterward.

First Presbyterian Church of Manasquan“‘The thing that struck me when I first moved here is that there is a great sense of community,” said Davis. “We have people in our church who are the eighth generation.’

Volunteerism, camaraderie and inter-denominational cooperation are regional strengths, he said, and a series of local youth suicides have presented a unique ministerial challenge.

‘Responding to some of those needs through community support, through coordinating efforts between the churches, through working together with different agencies and helping professionals, it’s been gratifying to help pull those groups together and to respond in a united voice,’ said Davis.

One good that has emerged from the tragedies is the development of The Samaritan Center at the Jersey Shore, which is a counseling resource offering direct services to individua ls, but also a referral agency and educational tool for churches and families in the community, said Davis.

‘We have initiated that in the past year together with other churches in the community. We’re hoping that that is going to help contribute to better mental health in the broader community and a place where people can go in dealing with issues of either depression or suicide ideation or any number of other mental health issues,’ he said. …”

Read the whole article at Manasquan Patch.

What I Wrote This Week @UrbanFaith: 6/27-7/1

Hitchhiker, NYC

  • New Laws, Shifting Demographics: Whether the issue is gay marriage, the ‘war on drugs,’ African American marriage prospects, or the plight of undocumented immigrants, Americans are confronting the issues.
  • Michael Tait: ‘Living Integration’: The dc Talk veteran and current Newsboys singer on race, politics, and the beauty of diversity in Christianity, music — and food.

Michael Tait at Jersey Shore Will Graham Celebration May 22, 2011Michael Tait is lead singer of The Newsboys. He and the Grammy-nominated band performed an electric set at the Jersey Shore Will Graham Celebration in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, last month. Best known as a member of the pioneering Christian rock/rap group dc Talk, Tait’s career in the Christian music industry has been defined by stretching the boundaries of art, faith, and culture. Urban Faith News & Religion editor I caught up with Tait as he prepared to take the stage. …

  • Out in Greenwich Village: Should a church that helps people who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction be allowed to stay in one of the nation’s most gay-friendly neighborhoods?

The big news out of New York last weekend was the legalization of gay marriage, but The Village Church in Greenwich Village is under threat of eviction from the public school where it meets and a New York Times op-ed writer says it should be because its ministry to people struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction doesn’t represent the community. I spoke to the church’s senior pastor, Sam A. Andreades, about the church and it’s unique position as the only Exodus International affiliate church in New York City. …