Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Revival in the streets

I love hearing these words on my voice mail: "We had a drug dealer accept Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior and we're going to get him in a church on Sunday."

Evangelist Melvin Slack called to update me on the "Get Out of Here Satan" revival he's holding at the corner of Booker T. Washington Avenue and Kelsey Street in the MLK neighborhood. His theme almost says it all. He wanted to bring the Good News to that neighborhood, which is too often full of bad news. So he has set up his tent on the street corner and has held services the last couple of nights. It sounds like he's making some progress.

It started Sunday, and he said neighbors were a little hesitant at first. But Monday he "had a whole tent full." He had one man stop by, who heard the service from several blocks away. Attendance is probably helped by the fact that they are feeding people each night.

Services will continue at 6 p.m. today and Wednesday. Today Chaplain Robert Whitaker will preach with choirs from Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church and Jewel Street Missionary Baptist Church. Tomorrow, Slack will preach and Paradise Baptist Church will join the other choirs.

Slack plans to continue the street revivals, with his next one planned for Nov. 11 to 16 at the corner of Fredrick and Alabama in Queensborough.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Hoping to visit Billy

I'm not slacking this time. I'll be off for the next few days visiting my soon-to-be in-laws in North Carolina. While we're there, I'm hoping to drag my fiance into the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte. If so, I'll have a full report.

Have a great weekend. Plenty of local churches are having their Fall Festivals this weekend (see Friday's Times for details), so there's lots to do!

Anonymous ministry

A woman carrying three giant bags of stuffed animals came into Schumpert yesterday looking for Sr. Sharon Rambin.

Sr. Sharon works with Sutton Children's Hospital and the woman wanted to make sure the toys got to the children. She's a retired schoolteacher who lives on Toledo Bend and takes it upon herself to bring some light to the children at the hospital.

I didn't ask permission to write about her, so I don't want to use her name, but I was touched by her dedication and enthusiasm. She and Sister laughed a the goofy Halloween toys particularly - Mickey Mouse and Garfield dressed as Dracula. Then the lady left. She felt no need to make a big production out of it. She just did what she could do to help.

I know all kinds of these people exist - please share them in the comments or e-mail me (dhaag@gannett.com).

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Healing light

Even after their deaths, Drs. Alice and Joe Holoubek will continue offering comfort to the patients at Christus Schumpert Health Center.

Two stained glass windows that were part of their personal chapel were dedicated at the St. Mary Place hospital this morning. Family, friends and hospital employees gathered for prayer and remembrance in the admitting area where the windows now have a permanent home.

Although it was cloudy outside, the beauty of the windows in the admitting room shone. Bronze tinted background glass adds warmth to the space, where so many people wait for sad news. Each one features four panels with symbols of faith, marriage and medicine.

"These were the guiding principles of my parents' life," said Martha Fitzgerald, daughter of the well-known physicians.

The Holoubeks served the Shreveport community for years as doctors and ministers in their own right. They were devout Catholics, who attended Mass daily and gave presentations about the physiological aspects of the crucifixion. Particularly later in life, Fitzgerald said their home chapel was a place of peace and refuge for them.

Dr. Joe worked with his daughter-in-law Stephanie Coffman Holoubek to design the windows, and she made them. She was amazed to see them in the hospital, where they could catch even more sun.

"They have found their true home," she said.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Extra from the General Superintendent

An Assemblies of God church is usually a good bet for some good preaching, and the General Superintendent of the denomination did not disappoint Sunday when he visited Central Assembly of God in Haughton. The Rev. George Wood is also a lawyer, so his preaching style was fairly measured with a good bit of scholarly exposition. But being a Pentecostal, he knows how emotions play into developing faith, so he told several moving stories of conversion and redemption.

After the service Wood was kind enough to answer a few questions about his goals for the denomination, since he was just installed as its leader two weeks ago. Here's a few responses that I couldn't fit in the paper:

"One of my goals is investing in the next generation. Of the 2.8 million members, 1.1 million are under the age of 25. This whole matter of transmission of faith is important. We have 60,000 high school seniors - how can we retain them while reaching others?"

And he challenged churches to break outside of their walls to serve the community. He spent three hours on Saturday with a boxcutter working for a local mission project in Missouri.

"The church must get in the street and show the love of Christ. The non-Christian world gets tired of Christians telling them how to behave. We need to use words, but we earn that by our deeds."

Baptisms in the denomination are down slightly from 10 years ago, although attendance and membership is up about 2 percent -- a fact Wood put as "nothing to brag about."

"That's one reason I want to plant new churches. It's the most effective way to grow."

The 66-year-old pastor also mentioned a few of his firsts. He is the first son of missionaries, the first lawyer to be elected general superintendent.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A week of observations

Sorry I've been absent for the last week. It hasn't been lack of topics, just lack of time. Election season always keeps us hopping, whether we normally cover politics or not. So here are a few thoughts I meant to get to and didn't...

* The Louisiana Prison Chapel Foundation has released a CD of gospel songs recorded by inmates at Angola. Unfortunately, the sampler they sent me was corrupted but I trust it's some pretty good stuff, and the money all goes to build chapels at prisons throughout the State. Visit www.chapels.org to purchase one or learn more about it.

* Starbucks pastors - this is my new category of preachers. It's made up of those folks with brand new churches, or churches without traditional buildings who have no office to call their own. So we've had our interviews at Starbucks. More than that though - they see Starbucks as a model for how to spread the message of Jesus - interesting stuff.

* Night to Honor Israel - last week's Christian/Jewish event was pretty impressive. Shreveport Community Church was nearly full and the music and preaching was inspiring. Not everyone buys the message though. I heard from a Rabbi who is very skeptical of the movement. Rabbi Samuel Stahl of a reform congregation in San Antonio said the efforts can often be bigotted about Muslims and he can't shake the fact the many of these Evangelicals expect him to convert at the Second Coming of Christ. Local folks all seemed on board, but it's something to think about.

I'll be working much of the weekend with the election and the visit from the president of the Assemblies of God - I should have stuff from him to post Sunday or Monday. And then I'll try to be better about my routine.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Great ghosts!

You haven't disappointed me so far. A few of you have been brave enough to send in your own stories of strange supernatural occurances, and they've been great. I've got strange smells, opening and closing doors and sounds -- all unexplainable. And no, I don't think you're crazy.

Also interesting is everyone that has told me their stories says they are Christians, and they're trying to make sense of their experience and what they've been taught about death.

I could still use a few more to flesh out the story. Please send me your tales of mystery and I'll put them together for a piece in a couple of weeks. My e-mail is dhaag@gannett.com.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Honoring Israel

Christians will sing Hebrew melodies. Jews will pray in a church while charismatic Christians raise their arms in worship. A representative of the Israeli consulate and an internationally known Evangelical pastor will speak.

Tonight's A Night to Honor Israel event promises to be a fascinating blend of cultures as Evangelical Christians and Jews come together to pray for the preservation of the state of Israel. The movement started with the Rev. John Hagee, pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio and the keynote speaker for today's event. He takes the idea to show support for Israel from several Scripture verses, particularly Genesis 12:3: "And I will bless them that bless thee and curse him that curseth thee; and in thee shall all nations of the earth be blessed." The "thee" refers to Abraham and his descendants (which I might mention also includes Muslims).

Last years event was fascinating on a cultural level and was a pretty exciting worship service. If you're interested in attending, here are the details:

A Night to Honor Israel
7 p.m. Oct. 9
Shreveport Community Church, 5720 Buncombe Road, Shreveport

I'll have a full report in tomorrow's paper Times and probably some more details here on the blog.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Prayers for the four-legged ones

Times photographer Val Horvath got some great shots of the annual Blessing of the Animals at Church of the Holy Cross, Episcopal, this weekend. It is done at churches around the country in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast day is Oct. 4. I've never been to a blessing (my cat needs something more along the lines of an exorcism to be normal), but it always brings out the animal lovers looking for an extra dose of protection for their four-legged friends.

St. Francis is one of Catholicism's most popular saints, often pictured surrounded by animals. And there are some great stories of him communicating with animals, even one where he stopped a wolf from attacking people in a village. Because of those associations (whether true or legendary), he became the patron saint of animals.

I find interesting that he's one of the few inter-denominational saints. His humility and his calling to "Build up my house" has also been taken as a model by Protestant churches. I received an e-mail last week about a new book, "Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim's Tale," by the Rev. Ian Morgan Cron, founder of non-denominational Trinity Church in Greenwich, Conn. And I've heard plenty of people refer to his famous quote: "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words." Sounds like a model for anyone's spirituality.

Photo: Lucy, my cat in need of many prayers. Do you think St. Francis could have stopped her from destroying my furniture?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Supernatural encounters? Please share!

Call them ghosts, spirits, angels or demons, it seems like everyone has a story of some sort of encounter with the supernatural.

At the weekend's conference, author Christine Wicker told a story about her father. As a child, one of his neighborhood children died mysteriously and was buried on a hill near his home. One day while playing outside, he saw some figures wearing what he thought were choir robes around the grave. When he asked his mother about them, she said no one was there.

On a spookier level, we also heard from Guillermo Fuentes of San Antonio Paranormal Investigations. He had all kinds of stories about lights turning on and off, mysterious balls of light and objects moving for no apparent reason.

So that got me thinking - what are your supernatural experiences? Please e-mail me at dhaag@gannett.com with your story and your name (I promise you aren't the only one) and I'll work them into a story for later in the month.

Megachurch vocabulary

Megachurches make up only one half of 1 percent of all churches, but they have a huge influence on the culture and ministerial approach of modern churches. So I was intrigued by some new vocabulary I heard over the weekend in a panel about megachurches. We heard from a minister at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio (where prominent author Max Lucado is pastor) and Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas. And here are some of their words:

Inspotainment - inspirational entertainment. Friendship West is building a huge complex where they can host movies, theater and activities for family.

Communicator - formerly known as a preacher.

Pastor of Assimilation - that staff member in charge of making sure new members find a place in the church beyond their favorite pew.

By the way, the commonly accepted definition of a megachurch is a Protestant church that attracts more than 2,000 people to Sunday services. There's more to it than that, but that's a pretty good start.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Kind of funny, but really sad

What would you do in Roy Peter Clark's case?

From a writing standpoint, this is a really wonderful little essay. I just hate what it says about the state of the church or many other institutions, for that matter.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Bishop watch from a very good source

One of the highlights of the RNA conference was a panel featuring Rocco Palmo, author of the Whispers in the Loggia blog. I've referred to him before, but Palmo is a 20-something from Philadelphia who has somehow managed to befriend of all kinds of higher ups in the Roman Catholic hierarchy. They tell him all sorts of news and he tells the rest of us.

Professional religion journalists approached him with a little awe and fascination and a slight undertone of jealousy. As Michael Paulson, Pulitzer-prize winning reporter from the Boston Globe, put it: "Rocco, who are you?" After the panel, I introduced myself, especially since I talked to Palmo around the time Shreveport Bishop William Friend retired. Palmo was a very gracious young man, who does love his church.

I also had a few seconds to pick his brain about recent bishop appointments. The good news is he said the time between retirements and appointments is getting shorter. As well, Palmo said the Papal Nuncio, Pietro Sambi (who is sort of the gatekeeper in the process - he sends the nominations to Rome so the Pope can pick a new bishop) is adamant about getting bishops who are pastors as well as administrators. In other words, he doesn't want guys who spent six months in a church and the rest of their careers locked up in the diocesan offices.

The bad news is we probably still have to wait for an appointment in Little Rock before Shreveport becomes a priority.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Back and refreshed

I admit I was feeling pretty burnt out before I left for San Antonio last week. But I'm back! I had a chance to reconnect with colleagues, take stock of our industry, and remind myself why I do what I do. And I've got several good story ideas, which y'all will see trickling out over the next few months. My blogs for this week will also probably reflect what I heard...

The weekend reminded me of the importance of retreats whether for your spiritual, personal or professional life. Modern society moves so fast and we're under constant pressure to move forward. Too often, we forget to step off the path and remind ourselves where we're going.

How do you handle burnt out?