Cross-Country Bike Ride to End in Toms River Brings Light to Brain Injury @NJShorePatch

Doug Markgraf’s cross country fundraising and awareness bike ride will end in Toms River August 21.

The finish line is in sight for Doug Markgraf, a traumatic brain injury (TBI) survivor who is due arrive in Toms River August 21 after cycling across the country alone to raise money and awareness for TBI. Markgraf chose the location to highlight the work of Health South Rehabilitation Hospital of Toms River.

“Ocean County is very lucky to have an acute rehabilitation hospital,” said Denice Gaffney, director of Marketing Operations at Health South. “Not everyone has that level of care available to them locally.”

“We’re hoping to connect Doug with our brain injury survivors and our therapy team,” she said.

Markgraf, of Philadelphia, has been meeting with TBI survivors throughout the trip and was five miles outside Smyrna, Ohio when Patch talked to him Thursday afternoon.

“It’s blown me away that people who need that extra boost are getting it by me riding and meeting them,” said Markgraf.

Read the whole inspirational story at Toms River Patch.

Only a Number Takes Top Prize at Jersey Shore Film Festival @NJ Shore Patch

Steven Besserman shares his ailing mother’s Holocaust memories in award winning documentary.

“A17855: This became my only identity. This was Auschwitz,” Aranka Besserman says in the film tribute to her memories Resa, Steve, & Eleanor Besserman at Only a Number Screening, Deal, NJof the Holocaust that her son Steven Besserman directed.

Only a Number premiered at the Garden State Film Festival in March and won the Best Feature Documentary prize in a field of about 100 documentaries at the Jersey Shore Film Festival last week.

“This is where my mother lost her mother. This is where she lost all human dignity. This is where she became only a number,” Steven says as he narrates her story from the fairytale-like places where it unfolded.

Hers is an unlikely story of finding lasting love amidst unspeakable evil. …

Read the whole thing at Manasquan Patch.

Faith at Work, Part 7: Putting It All Together @TheHighCalling

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Figuring out how to integrate our faith with our work is a primary interest for the High Calling community. In our series about the work of Laity Leadership Institute Senior Fellow David W. Miller, we learned about four ways people do this and about a Hebrew concept that Miller says undergirds the Faith at Work movement.

Investigating the Sunday/Monday Gap

In the first article, we learned that Miller was flourishing in his career as a senior executive and partner at a London bank, and felt called to that career. But he seldom, if ever, heard clergy talk about how to integrate faith and work, even as he intuitively viewed work as part of God’s created order. If work mattered to God, why weren’t clergy talking about it?

To his surprise, Miller gradually discerned a new calling to attend Princeton Theological Seminary, where he earned an MDiv. and then a PhD. in Social Ethics, focusing almost exclusively on the question of integrating faith and work. This question continues to be central to his teaching and research at Princeton University, and to his consulting work with CEOs and businesses.

“I suppose people are drawn to study things either because they’re really good at it or because they’re not really good at it. I was drawn to this subject of integrating faith and work because of my own professional experience of asking how to overcome the Sunday/Monday gap,” said Miller.

A Theological Foundation

In the second article, we learned that the Hebrew concept of avodah provides a theological foundation for Miller’s work. …

Read the whole rest 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

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.

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.

Faith at Work, Part 3: Uncompromising Ethics @TheHighCalling

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Jimmy Dunne is, by his own admission, a man who sees the world in black and white. In a time when shades of gray are increasingly admired, this is not always a popular perspective. But Dunne’s singular vision became a bright light for others to follow after his workplace was decimated by terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Dunne is Senior Managing Principal for Sandler O’Neill, an investment banking firm that  suffered the loss of one-third of its 171 member workforce on 9/11/01.

At a 2010 Princeton University event, “Faith & Work Ethics in the Executive Suite,” Dunne spoke at length with Laity Leadership Institute Senior Fellow David W. Miller about his decision making process in the first harrowing days after he learned that his partners, friends, and coworkers had been killed. Nine-and-a-half years after suffering those losses, Dunne was still emotional about them.

He had survived the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, but was on the golf course the morning of September 11, 2001, when he learned of the second attacks. Thinking about the needs of spouses and children left behind, he quickly decided that these grieving families would receive salaries, medical benefits, and bonuses owed to their missing loved ones. …

Read the rest of this inspiring story at The High Calling.

What I Wrote This Week @UrbanFaith: July 4-8

Hitchhiker, NYC

It was a short work week because of the Fourth of July holiday, so even though I wrote three posts for Urban Faith, only one was published this week, and perhaps that’s appropriate given that it’s a bit of an apologetic for my role as News & Religion editor at the site.

The post was inspired by an article about the relaunch of AOL Huffington Post’s Black Voices and included a quote from Ed Gilbreath explaining his vision for Urban Faith. Here are bits and piece of the post, but I encourage you to read the whole thing.

“During the early days of the AOL Huffington Post merger, we had a chuckle when Arianna Huffington was named editor-in-chief of an array of AOL blogs outside her area of expertise … perhaps most glaringly, Black Voices.” So began an article in The New York Observer about the site’s re-launch. …

As news and religion editor at Urban Faith, I’m keenly aware of my own limitations in communicating stories that reflect authentic African American experience and interest, which is why I’m enormously grateful for the black men and women who contribute the majority of UF’s content. …

Urban Faith, on the other hand, has a specific, yet broad vision. Here’s how it was described in a 2008 pre-launch email I received from editor Ed Gilbreath:

Urban Ministries, Inc. is an African American-owned company. Our core audience is black, and will naturally be rooted in that perspective. At the same time, recognizing the beauty of diversity in God’s kingdom, will strive to also be ethnically inclusive and multicultural in flavor.

Today, urban culture transcends racial boundaries and covers many different socio-economic backgrounds. What’s more, Christians who are engaged in the exciting call to urban ministry come from all races and walks of life. will be more about a way of looking at the world than where folks live or the color of their skin. It will be both for those who make their home in an urban setting and for those who care about the people, culture, and issues related to urban life.” …

Read the whole post here. And, look for those other two articles and more next week.

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. …

Worshiping in Silence at Barnegat Friends Meeting House @BarnegatPatch

Quaker congregation meets and explains its values.

Barnegat Friends Meeting House
“Let us hold President Obama and all those with the power of decision making in the Light.”

These were the only words spoken during the meeting of the Barnegat Friends, or Quakers, yesterday morning.

They were confidently enunciated by Carolyn Shafer. Shafer was raised as an American Baptist, and not unhappy with her church, but felt immediately connected when she visited a Quaker meeting in 1979.

The Barnegat Friends Meeting House is the oldest church in Barnegat and the third oldest in Ocean County. It was built in 1767. Land for the one-room building on East Bay Avenue south of Route 9 was deeded by two men, one whom was the son of William Cranmer, an early Barnegat settler. …

Read about the whole service and what these congregants believe at Barnegat Patch.

What Does It Mean to Walk Worthily? @TheHighCalling

The Church as Parable and Witness, part 3 in the Missional Series w/ Princeton Theological Seminary Professor Darrell Guder.

Fourteen years after World War II, Laity Leadership Institute Senior Fellow Darrell Guder began doctoral studies in Germany.

“My experience there was actually the experience of the trauma of the whole society realizing, after two horrible wars, that Germany was a country in which the traditions and structures of Christendom were disintegrating,” said Guder.

This revelation started the missiologist on a pathway that eventually led him to study how the church in the post-Christian west can regain its missionary footing. …

Read the whole thing here. It’s really good, IMHO.