Thursday, July 29, 2010
Saturday, July 24, 2010
By Tom Breen, AP
RALEIGH, N.C. – About halfway through Sunday service at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, as worshipers passed around the collection plate, a chorus of screams pierced the air.
Chunks of the ceiling in the 52-year-old church near Hickory came crashing down on the crowd of 200 or so, striking about 14, who were later treated and released from nearby hospitals. A jagged piece of the ceiling, roughly 10 feet by 10 feet, dangled from exposed wires over the back pews as deacons struggled to guide panicking worshipers from the building.
"My jaw just dropped," the Rev. Antonio Logan said. "I thought, 'This can't be real.'"
Caring for old church facilities is an increasingly acute problem, particularly for mainline Protestant denominations. As membership declines and budgets shrink, the beautiful edifices of American Christianity can feel like weights dragging down churches that are forced to spend money on maintenance and repairs instead of ministry, charity and other Gospel-derived imperatives.
"It's hard times in paradise," said the Rev. William Quick, pastor emeritus at Metropolitan United Methodist Church in Detroit.
Metropolitan's Gothic church was completed in 1926 at a cost of $1.6 million, at the time the most expensive Methodist house of worship ever built. By 1949, it had 10,300 members, more than any Methodist congregation in the world.
Today, membership is at 375, in a city where Methodist churches have fallen from 77 to 16. Its decline in fortune is mirrored among Protestant denominations like the Lutherans, Presbyterians and Episcopalians, which have seen membership drop in recent decades while the average age of remaining worshippers gets older.
A church can be an anchor for a whole neighborhood, and its loss can hurt beyond the borders of a single congregation, as a coalition of residents and preservationists in Charlotte discovered when they tried to save the old Garr Memorial Church from the wrecking ball.
The building had stood for nearly 70 years, with its iconic rooftop "Jesus Saves" sign a beacon that locals used as a landmark when giving directions.
On a Wednesday in July, the old building came down after its new owners, the New Bethel Church of God in Christ, couldn't justify refurbishing the building.
"It's regretful, but the economics, just the roof repair cost was just excessive," said Bobby Drakeford, a real estate developer and consultant for New Bethel.
New Bethel plans to develop the property, but for churches that try to stay in their old buildings, even necessary upkeep can become a burden.
The Rev. Phyllis Norman is the pastor of Prospect Congregational Church in Prospect, Conn., which is planning to add an elevator to its 59-year-old building. Churches are exempt from federal regulations requiring buildings to be accessible to people with disabilities, but many congregations with aging members are installing wheelchair ramps, elevators and other features.
Before that effort had really taken off, though, the Connecticut church's decades-old septic system failed, dumping a $30,000 repair bill in the congregation's lap.
"The timing was just pathetic," she said.
Making things harder is that many pastors are loathe to set aside money for maintenance that could be used on missionary work or charitable services like soup kitchens, said the Rev. Ken Carder, a retired Methodist bishop and professor at the Duke Divinity School.
"I was the same way about endowments when I started out. You know, 'Lay not up for yourselves treasure upon the earth, where moth and rust corrupt,'" he said, quoting the Gospel of Matthew.
But setting aside money for maintenance costs will enable future generations to pursue those ministries by freeing them from the burden of emergency repairs, Carder said.
A reluctance to spend money on upkeep has caught the attention of churches' insurers, who are making more maintenance recommendations since the start of the Great Recession, according to Rick Schaber, risk control manager for Church Mutual Insurance, a Wisconsin-based company that insures more than 100,000 religious institutions in the U.S.
"We're finding some things are starting to get a little bit worse," he said. "If our customers are forced to make cuts, we're finding that maintenance budgets are commonly the first place they look."
Norman's congregation, like many, does not want to reduce its commitment to efforts like the local food pantry and soup kitchen, it's getting creative: The church is seeking a tax status that would let them apply for grants to fund the elevator and is considering a loan from a United Church of Christ fund specifically designed for building needs.
The UCC's Cornerstone Fund typically has 200 or so low-interest loans outstanding at any given time, ranging anywhere from $15,000 to $3 million, according to Mary Seymour, vice president of the fund. Seymour has seen the number of loans rise as churches fund more emergency repairs.
"Many of our churches are 150 years old or older, and many others were built in the 1950s, when no one gave a thought to handicap accessibility," she said.
Most mainline denominations have similar funds, partly because local congregations can't pay for work they might have been able to afford in the past.
"A lot of these churches have shrunk from 500 members to 100 members, or from 800 members to 200 members," said Robert Jaeger, executive director of the Partnership for Sacred Places. "They look at the trend lines and they see the decline in membership and wonder, 'Gosh, in 10 or 15 years are we going to be gone?'"
Jaeger's group strives to prevent that, primarily through an intensive, yearlong training with smaller churches designed to show them how they can find new ways to pay for repairs and maintenance.
The partnership's main theme comes from research it conducted showing that roughly 80 percent of the people who use church facilities for things like after-school programs or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are not members of the individual congregations.
"Our larger task is really to convince America's leaders that these sacred places are public assets, not just Presbyterian places of worship, or Methodist, or Jewish, or Catholic, but something for the entire community," he said.
The partnership has trained about 600 congregations, and does about eight or 10 training sessions a year, Jaeger said, working with several congregations at a time.
Larry Latter, 67, lived across the street from Garr Memorial for 17 years and did some remodeling work inside. As he watched the building pulled down recently, his reflections highlighted something Jaeger says churches need to remember: Vitality comes not from bricks and mortar, but from what happens inside.
"When I moved in, it was reassuring that Jesus is always with us, when I'd look out every morning and see the sign," Latter said. "But Jesus doesn't save through the building, he saves through our lives."
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
The usual apostolic prophetic mumbo jumbo accentuates this correspondence, "historic shift", "a changing wineskin", etc. Folks, I will continue to say this movement is in big time error. It is an idolatrous movement, filled with erroneous revelations nabbing loot here and there, and people glorifying themselves to the max! If anyone has followed this blog at length, knows by now I am a believer in miracles, tongues, divine healing, spiritual gifts and callings---by a Sovereign God who does not crank out by seed money or require help from self-ordained prophets and apostles. Extra-biblical revelations straight from the depths of Hell too often characterize the partakers of this movement. Beware!
An excerpt from the letter directly below:
"A CHANGING WINESKIN!"
"Celebrate with us. This week I have been working in Colorado Springs with Peter and Doris Wagner. We are fully making our transition from Global Harvest Ministries, ending this wineskin that has served the Body faithfully over the past 20 years, and shifting into Global Spheres for the future harvest of the earth. Please pray with us as we make this shift.
"This is a historical shift . . . few ministries make this transition. This will be a great testimony for the future as the mantle is passed and Peter and Doris begin their "Fourth Career" in a new wineskin based out of Denton. They will remain in their home in Colorado, but will work from this office at this time as they develop new networks, travel to nations, and communicate daily. I just bought a new computer so we can do teleconferencing weekly. Ruth Irons, their daughter who lives with them and assists them in their home, will serve us as our technical liaison."
One of our burning desires is to finish well. Statistics show that only 25% of Christian leaders have finished well, but we want to be in that number. When I say "finishing," I am not meaning that Doris and I are about to retire. Instead of retiring, we intend to reload! What we are finishing, however, is our Third Career and we are ready to launch energetically into our new and exciting Fourth Career. In fact, I have just written a short booklet entitled "The Fourth Career," which is going to be released soon. If you would like me to send you a copy, just drop me an email with a mailing address and I will send it to you at no charge.
Now here is the substance of my "urgent appeal," as I phrased it in the title of this communication. If you have followed this aspect of our ministry, you will know that Global Harvest has maintained an impeccable financial record. We have maintained open books and we have always done whatever has been necessary to pay our bills and to adjust our budget accordingly. Your prayers and faithful giving through the years have kept us moving and we thank you profusely.
However, as this transition to GSI approaches in just a few weeks, we have some obligations that might have been met over the long haul, but that are now pinching us severely due to time. We want to have our books cleared and in the black before we turn things over on August 31. To be specific, we need around $200,000 over and above normal income to make this happen, and we need you to help. It has been said that no one wants to give to help pay debts, and I agree that this is generally true. But really I believe that we are now looking at a special case. If you have been walking with us through the prayer movement and through the apostolic movement, if you have been with us and GHM for any part of the last 20 years, and if you believe we should have a clear springboard for our Fourth Career, please step up to the plate now and assist us by sowing the most generous amount possible into the abundant fruit that will be produced for years to come.
If you do this, we will be deeply grateful, and we will remember you for helping us to finish our Third Career well!
We love you,
Peter (and Doris) Wagner
Friday, July 16, 2010
ANADARKO, Okla. – Authorities have demolished the Oklahoma church where a pastor was killed last August, and they plan to build a memorial at the site.
The body of 61-year-old Carol Daniels of Oklahoma City was found Aug. 23 inside Christ Holy Sanctified Church in Anadarko. Her neck and throat had been slashed and she had been stabbed in the chest, back, stomach and hands.
No one has been arrested in her death.
The church has been closed since Daniels' killing.
The building's overseer, Ezra Randle, says investigators have turned it back over to church leaders, who decided to have it demolished so that a memorial to Daniels could be built in its place.
Randle says they are accepting donations to help pay for the memorial.
See previous article here.
Monday, July 12, 2010
We have been taught no gospel at all. Those of us who sit in the pews of our comfortable churches and live a life full of the fruits of self-indulgence and selfish goals and dreams. Those of us who name the Name of Christ as if we are His people, yet who bear none of the fruit of His Spirit, show none of His power, exhibit little of His love and holiness. We proclaim Christ and yet don't live Christ. We seek for Him and yet don't find Him. He is a foreigner to us, and a great mystery that we worship from afar, because we have been taught and followed no gospel at all.
This gospel that is no gospel requires nothing. It is an easy gospel, full of the desire for a good life, full of desire for happiness and security, and prosperity. It is a gospel that says we are fine. That gives us license to enjoy our affluence...
This gospel that is no gospel has led us down the wide way that leads to destruction. The vast crowd moves smoothly down the easy, wide boulevard, lined with trees, bright with sun, bands playing, kids holding balloons, clowns cavorting, drummers drumming and baton twirlers performing. This giant parade is self-propelled, well-orchestrated, and led by a charming group of men and women decked out in the finest uniforms.
Behind the scenes there are skilled technicians, making sure every good view reaches the cameras, and every performer in this spectacular event is doing his job, so that the onlookers at home and in person can be entertained. There are security forces in plain-clothes, ready to quietly deal with any strange behavior or
disruption, for the parade must go on, and uninterrupted by anything out of place or unseemly.
This gospel that is no gospel is a spectator sport. It is a parade that is carefully prepared each week, by the best paid minds in the churches. Those with the talent to put it all together, and create the best show possible. They were hired by the attendees, the crowds, to please them and to earn their salaries by making
sure that nothing goes wrong or is out of place. To create flow, and crowd dynamics, and to build everything around a theme that makes a great point. To achieve a synergy with music and word that works up to a climax that will bring the audience to its feet with new vitality and encouragement for the week ahead, so they can hold onto their gospel until the next parade.
There are smaller parades on television so that the faithful can get their needed vitality and strength to go on even during the week. These shows are designed to fill in the gaps between the parade dates in their own hometowns. They are brightly lit sets with smiling people, and scripts that are full of this gospel that is no gospel. The viewers can watch people worshiping, and hear the parade music, performed by some of the very people who sing and dance in the real parades. Once in a while somebody tries to air a show that has another gospel, with some ugly and distasteful things in it, and preaches a lesser faith without as much positive in it, but these shows are quickly extinguished because they don't attract the viewers like the others. The ratings take care of that problem for the producers.
Unfortunately, to their great future embarrassment, Jesus Christ, Lord of His Church, doesn't have time for parades. He also doesn't watch television. He's too busy for that.
For Jesus is on Narrow Road, not Broadway. He is out along the minor highways and small streets, busy healing the brokenhearted, the sick, the blind and the lame. He is busy taking care of the lonely and the afflicted. He is busy spending time with His small groups of disciples, who are in genuine need of Him. He is with those who suffer, and are in prison, and are in pain, and on their knees in their anguish and need for Him. He is with those who follow Him every moment, and rely on His love and strength and the power of His Spirit to get them through the day. He is close to those crushed in spirit, and who have no showmanship or loveliness of their own to parade around.
Christ is with those who need Him, not those who don't.
For the faithful are mostly poor, and insignificant in the eyes of the world. The parade goes by many blocks away in their cities. They can hear the distant drums, and once in a while one of them ventures toward the parade, but security blocks them before they can ever get a glimpse, because they are not dressed right, and are obviously not part of the target market. They might turn on the television, and see one of the smaller parade shows, but it only makes them feel worse, as they aren't participating in that wonderful life, so they turn it off.
The poor in spirit have only Jesus to be with them in this age of the parade. They hunger and thirst after righteousness, not after entertainment. They long for Christ, and to know the fellowship of His suffering, so they can know the joy and power of His resurrection in their lives. They carry a cross daily, which is the
sign of Jesus' life in them, but which makes them quite unacceptable and unattractive to the parade participants and crowds watching. That's why crosses were banned long ago from parades, though they are allowed as discreet display on buildings along the way.
Jesus talks to many who are in the crowd, and some of the performers in the parade, but it is so hard for them to hear above the din of the bands and the constant entertainment. Distractions keep them occupied, and they go back to their easy, comforting verses and their easy, comfortable gospel that is no gospel. Jesus gives up and goes back to His lowly people on Narrow Road.
The parade continues. Perhaps only when poverty, or sickness, or the terrors of war, or the tragedies of life strike, will the parade pause; and perhaps, if enough of these things occupy the crowds and the performers and the leaders of this parade, they will be spending too much time on their knees and crying out to God to
have the parade one week. And then, perhaps they will not have it the next week. And then, Jesus may come by again, and draw near to them in their affliction and loneliness, and they will listen, and hear His voice of love and mercy and He will take them out to Narrow Road to join with others who are on the Way of Love. And they will be joyful in tribulation, and find power to live through suffering. And they will experience the Resurrection Power in their own lives, together with the faithful, and give up their parade life.
Perhaps it is a choice to leave the parade, and to go it with Jesus. Few will find it, He said. Will you?
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Monday, July 5, 2010
By NINIEK KARMINI (AP
BEKASI, Indonesia — Days after rumors spread across this industrial city that Christians were conducting a mass baptism, hard-line Islamic leaders called for local mosques to create a youth guard to act as moral police and put a quick stop to forced conversions.
They started training early Saturday morning, around 100 young men turning out in a field in Bekasi wearing martial arts uniforms. Leaders stressed that there was no plan to arm them, but they do not shy away from saying they'll act essentially as thugs.
"We're doing this because we want to strike fear in the hearts of Christians who behave in such a way," said Murhali Barda, who heads the local chapter of the Islamic Defenders Front, which pushes for the implementation of Islamic-based laws in Bekasi and other parts of the archipelagic nation. "If they refuse to stop what they're doing, we're ready to fight."
Although this secular country, with more Muslims than any other in the world, has a long history of religious tolerance, a small extremist fringe — of which the front is the vanguard — has become more vocal in recent years as it tries to root out everything it considers blasphemous.
Though big, vice-filled cities, like Jakarta, traditionally have been easy targets, changing demographics have put areas like Bekasi, on the outskirts of the capital, in the hard-liners' cross hairs. The shift reflects a greater problem in Indonesia, which is struggling to stamp out extremist movements without losing the support of moderates, who condemn violence but are sensitive to perceptions that the government is subservient to the West.
Outsiders have steadily poured into the Jakarta suburb in search of work, bringing with them their own religions, traditions and values. That has made conservative Islamic clerics nervous. Some have used sermons to warn their flock to be on the lookout for signs of proselytization.
The front, known for smashing bars, attacking transvestites and going after minority sects with bamboo clubs and stones, is now leading a charge against Christians in the area.
A spate of attacks has rocked Bekasi: Mobs have forced shut two churches this year. Last month, a statue of three women was torn down by authorities after hundreds of hard-liners wearing skull caps and white robes took to the streets, claiming the monument symbolized the Holy Trinity.
Weeks earlier, black-clad youths attacked a Catholic-run school over an anonymous blogger's "blasphemous" website.
In this context, it wasn't surprising that when 14 busloads of villagers arrived last week at the Bekasi home of Henry Sutanto, who heads the Christian-run Mahanaim Foundation, rumors quickly spread that he and one of his colleagues, Andreas Sanau, were planning a mass baptism.
A spokeswoman for the group, Marya Irawan, insisted the crowds were invited as part of efforts to reach out to the poor.
But the front was not convinced. Video footage provided by the group shows hundreds of people getting off buses and entering the residential complex, many of them women in headscarves holding babies in slings, and milling about the pool. When a questioner thrust the camera in their faces, demanding to know why they came, most just looked bewildered.
"Someone asked if I wanted to come," one woman said with a shrug. Others accepted a ride into the city because they were bored, and thought they would at least get a free lunch out of it.
When the questioner found Sanau, who had one ear to a phone, he asked if baptisms would be taking place. The 29-year-old Christian's brow furrowed. He shook his head, "No, no." Asked if he had an ID card, Sanau flashed it at the interviewer, who zoomed in on his home address. The house has since been abandoned. His bespectacled face now appears on a banner — draped in front of a mosque — with a fiery noose around his neck and the words, "This man deserves the death penalty!"
"He should be executed!" said Barda, the local front leader. "He tried to carry out mass baptisms!"
It was just days later that Barda's group joined nine others in taking the rare step of recommending at a local congress that Bekasi mosques help set up bands of youths to act as moral police and to intimidate Christians who are trying to convert Muslims.
A regional leader of the Indonesian Muslim Forum, Bernard Abdul Jabbar, said the young men were given physical training and taught about Islam. "They will guard the Islamic faith and preach the right path to the people," he said.
But if Christians don't want to listen, Barda warned, "we are ready to fight."
Christian groups said the youths will only create fear, nervousness and unrest in the nation.
"The government must protect all citizens from anarchist action as mandated by the constitution," said Priest Andreas Yewangoe, a chairman of the Communion of Indonesian Churches.
But the government so far is keeping mum. Though all these events occurred less than nine miles (15 kilometers) from Indonesia's bustling capital, making headlines in local papers and dominating chats on social networking sites such as Facebook, they've sparked little public debate in the halls of power....
Continue to read more here.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
By James Vicini
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A university can legally deny recognition to a Christian student group that bars gays and nonbelievers, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday in a case that pitted anti-discrimination principles against religious freedom.
Such official recognition qualifies campus groups for funding and other benefits.
By a 5-4 vote, the justices upheld a U.S. appeals court ruling in favor of the University of California 's Hastings College of the Law . It denied recognition to the group because of a school policy that membership should be open to all.
The high court's ruling was a defeat for the Christian Legal Society . It argued the U.S. Constitution does not allow a school to deny recognition to a religious student group which insists its members agree with its core views.
The group requires members to sign a statement of faith that vows devotion to Jesus Christ . It bars those with what it defines as a "sexually immoral lifestyle," including gays and lesbians.
Founded in 1961, the Christian Legal Society has law student chapters across the country. Its members hold Bible study meetings and discuss ways to apply their religious faith to the practice of law .
The Hastings College of the Law chapter initially was open to all students, but in 2004 began requiring members to endorse a statement of faith and barred anyone who engaged in "unrepentant sexual conduct."
The state-run law school in San Francisco cited its anti-discrimination policy and withdrew official recognition, though it allowed the group to continue to meet on campus.
The school said official campus groups may not exclude people because of religious belief , sexual orientation or other reasons.
A federal judge and then a U.S. appeals court ruled for the law school, holding that its policy was reasonable and that it did not violate the rights of the Christian group.
The Supreme Court, in a majority opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg , agreed.
Summarizing the ruling from the bench on the last day of the court's term, Ginsburg upheld the university' open-access policy and said other law schools have similar policies.
She said the university need not provide a religious-based exception to its policy that groups must open membership to all students who want to join.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia , Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.
The Supreme Court case is Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, 08-1371.