Friday, July 31, 2009

Mission Photos

All Souls church, a former Walgreens, in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans.

Some of our youth in the French Quarter

You find these marks on houses in the flooded areas. This one has two marks because the teams had to come back to it. They are "X"s. The info on the left designates what search group checked the house, at the top is the date of the search, on the right is information about what they found and at the bottom is the number of dead bodies they found inside.

So the red one of the right says that such and such a group on Sept 16 couldn't get in the building (NE= No Entry). The white one says the next day 9/17 another group did gain entry and found no bodies. You see these on many, many houses still to this day.

One of several houses we worked on. It is nothing but bare wood and stud walls inside. This house is less than two blocks from the church and had water up over the eaves during the flood. Waters in this neighborhood were "only" 15-20 feet deep. A half mile down the road they were 20-25 feet deep.

Ever wonder what a "levee" looks like? The barge that flooded the Lower 9th hit this levee not far from where this picture shows. These are massive concrete walls that were simply not designed as promised (in many places) and failed or were broken.

One of the other leaders and I met this fellow as we were running around taking pictures. He's an elder at a small evangelistic church next door (Philippi Evangelistic no less!). This is his house which he's still trying to fix back up. The water was past the eaves and his 36 year old daughter died in that house. He keeps this sign posted hoping that New Orleans won't be forgotten.

I know I won't because I can't

New Orleans Mission Trip

Wow, what an amazing trip! Pictured above is most of the group following Sunday service at All Souls church in the Lower 9th Ward with thier vicar Linnell Wright. A small group was at St. Mark's, Harvey who opened their parish hall and kitchen to us for dinners.

25 young people and 14 adults went to New Orleans to help re-build after Hurricane Katrina. It's been almost four years now but huge sections of this city are still devastated and un-repaired. There are lots of reasons for it - bureaucracy, incompetence, confusion being only a few of the major causes. All Souls is a church plant by the Diocese of Louisiana that is fired up to be a center for calm, direction and rebuilding in this former blue collar working neighborhood. The church is being established in an old Walgreen's store and was consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury during a visit. The challenges facing them are enormous. It was great that we could help in some small ways painting a room in one house, doing lots of drywalling, helping to organize the church itself and get some technology issues resolved (yes, that's what I did!).

We also got the chance to do a little tourist stuff. A trip to the French Quarter including a visit to Cafe du Monde for beignets. Beignets are the ultimate form of fried dough absolutely buried in powdered sugar. They were wonderful! Took a long stroll down Bourbon Street and thought how wonderful it would be for me and my lady wife to spend some time there. Maybe someday.

Some photos coming soon! And some more thoughts about the trip as I process them.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Resource Review - Group


OVERALL - Another great source for all kinds of materials with a proven track record. Not just youth ministry resources also Children's Ministry, Women's Ministry, Small Group, Pastor and Church Leadership. One of the most respected names in the industry.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? I'll try and hit several of the top resource locations in these reviews. Like most folks in Youth Ministry I first came across Group through their magazine. It's still one of the best out there. Now Group offers a much wider scope of materials. Add in things like Group Work Camps which can be a great resource for churches looking to do some mission work. I'm amazed at the massive amount of resources you'll find here. They also offer a national youth ministry event called the "Simply Youth Ministry Conference" that they do in partnership with Doug Fields. If you're looking for more choices and ideas Group will keep you busy for some time to come.

RESERVATIONS Same as YS, their mindset really comes from a non-liturgical, contemporary music kind of background and for me as an Episcopal youth minister I sometimes feel a vacuum for things aimed at my particular worship style. Fortunately there are other resources (that I've reviewed recently) that amply fill those holes. Occasionally I come across a resource whose theology just doesn't match mine but that's hardly surprising.

RECOMMENDATION It never hurts to have more than one source for your resources. Group should definitely be on your list when you start searching.

Monday, July 20, 2009

On canceling events

For the third time in my time as youth missioner I've had to make the call to cancel a camp program. Of all the things I've had to do in this position this is far and away my least favorite.

I'd rather do budget proposals. And that's saying a lot.

All of this has thrown a huge monkey wrench in my day. In fact it's been a growing cloud over me for the last several days. By Friday last we still only had 5 applications and we needed 20. A miracle was possible but grew less likely each day. Saturday's mail - 0. Today's mail - 0. So I made the call. Now I have 5 follow up letters to write, some check requests for reimbursements to fill out and months of asking the same question over and over.

"So what happened?"

The honest answer is I don't know. Likely suspects include:

The Economy - Our camp programs aren't terribly expensive. A week at Junior High would set a family back $395 per child plus canteen money (about $10). But this economy stinks and western New York is not a economic powerhouse in the best of times. At least not recently. We have a scholarship fund and it was tapped very heavily for Senior High. Maybe families just decided not to send their middle school aged kids to camp.

Limited Demographic - We do seem to be in a bit of trough right now for this age group but I find it hard to believe that there aren't at least 20 kids of this age with some interest in a camp program. We've had plenty of kids come up through our Sleep Away program. Where do they go?

Communication Failure - Is it possible? We have a web page, e-mail newsletters, a Facebook presence, a text message service. We do a huge pre-camp mailing using all the names from previous years campers plus mailings to the congregations. I'm trying to get out and do more face to face communication too. From my own background I know that there's a difference between volume of communication and effective communication. If you're effective the volume doesn't have to be high. If you're not effective then you have to bombard your target audience. I don't know where I am at the moment.

Other - Competing events? Lack of relevance? Unspoken animosity/dissent? Personality issues? Nobody cares any more? I don't know.

When I'm rational on the subject, which I'm trying to be right now, my thought is that it must be a combination of the above. Maybe it's something of which I'm not aware. If so someone needs to tell me.

Over the years I've had several conversations with folks I respect about whether a youth event should EVER be canceled. They see the cancellation as just doing too much damage to the overall program. While agree that canceling takes years to repair I don't know how we face our financial supporters that we spent the kind of money we do for an event that serves such a very small population. We need to model responsible use of our gifts and resources for the whole church including our young people.

As I'm finishing this post I just exchanged texts with our camp director. I apologized for closing camp. His response? "We'll be back, stronger than ever."

That's the goal and a good reminder.

Time to start keeping my eye on the prize for next summer.


Resource Review - Youth Specialties

Youth Specialities

OVERALL - A great youth ministry resource site for program materials, conversation, support, training, ideas, inspiration, job listings and more. One of the premier youth ministry resource companies in the world.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? I know I sound like I'm on their payroll. I swear to you I don't make a dime out of YS and they make a fair bit of money out of my pockets most years. I'll be reviewing several other websites and companies but I'm leading off with my personal favorite. Not that they're necessarily better than any other just that they match my particular mind set. Co-founded out of the back of a car's trunk by youth ministry icon (legend, hero? He'd reject all of those descriptions) Mike Yaconelli YS continues to offer high quality resources with a relaxed off beat style. Their approach is simple - they love youth ministers and want to do what they can to make our lives easier, better, more fulfilling. How can you NOT love an approach like that? From one day training events to multi day extravaganzas to online forums where you can ask questions or just vent to other folks struggling with the same questions you have YS offers a support community for youth ministry. I went to a National Youth Workers Convention put on in Pittsburgh by YS 4 years ago. On my way down to the event my phone rang to tell me my mom had had a stroke. I bounced back and forth between the hospital and the convention. A YS staff person talked with me, heard my story and made it her job to check in with me when she could (she WAS working at the time). I appreciated that personal concern amidst the hundreds of other folks all there at the same time. So YS has a special place in my heart. The quality of their materials doesn't hurt either.

RESERVATIONS Hmmmm, their mindset really comes from a non-liturgical, contemporary music kind of background and for me as an Episcopal youth minister I sometimes feel a vacuum for things aimed at my particular worship style. Fortunately there are other resources (that I've reviewed recently) that amply fill those holes. Occasionally I come across a resource whose theology just doesn't match mine but that's hardly surprising.

RECOMMENDATION If you don't realize that I recommend YS by now you've really not been paying attention. This stuff tends to be solid, proven materials that are easily adaptable to differing needs (I don't believe in "magic box" programs. Nothing is one size fits all, unless you mean "fits badly".) Take some time and tour through what's available.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Something of a drought

I realized that I haven't posted a great deal recently other than routine things - resource reviews make up the majority of my posts over the last couple months. Take of the CREDO related ones and there's not much there. If you're still checking this blog you have my heart felt thanks.

So what's up? Not my mood at the moment. I'm feeling dis-spirited at the moment. It's mostly a convergence of little things. Post camp let down after Senior High. Always get that. The sadness that comes with the growing certainty that I'm going to cancel a camp this year. Junior High just has a handful of applications at the moment. We continue to struggle with the "why" question. Lower demographic numbers, bad economy, poor "marketing", combination of all of the above? Don't know. Add in having to do the financial report for senior high camp. Looks like we're close but OK there but it makes me crazy every year. I hate having to scrape and stint to make the budget work. I want to focus on the program and doing it right. SIGH. We're still hassling with a small problem with the mortgage on the house where I live (I don't hold the mortgage but I'm the executor to the estate that does). I wish I were getting clearer simpler answers than I am. And I wish this problem would go the hell away. I'm assured that the house will not be foreclosed upon (which is good since I'm living in it) but it wears on me.

Adding in is something that should be elevating my mood, our upcoming mission trip to New Orleans. I've never done a mission trip, ever. I'm always nervous before the first time I do something so that doesn't help. As a strong Myers-Briggs introvert these "everybody-all-together" events just wear on me. Add in the high heat and humidity down in NOLA this time of year and I have the potential for being miserable. I know, way to keep a good thought in my head, right? :)

In other news my bicycling is going well. A 20+ mile ride on Tuesday in less than 90 minutes was very encouraging. I rode into work without any trouble. Then I did another hour long ride of almost 13 miles two days later. One hill defeated me but otherwise it went well too. Between the weather and the mission trip I'm going to lose two weeks of cycling however.

My weight remains good. Steady at 175, then down to 173 this week with the riding. I'm hoping the work on the mission trip will make up for the lack of workouts. The next doctor's appointment is in 6 weeks. That's nagging at the back of my brain too.

I'm doing a little more creative stuff. Actually practicing my guitar every day for a least a little while. Need to do more of that stuff to balance the financial stuff.

The kid is doing her last weekend at her second summer job. It's a restaurant that is run strangely. They never seem to get around to posting a schedule for kitchen and wait staff (at another restaurant owned and operated by the same folks the staff simply started doing their own schedule and posting it. Management/ownership doesn't seem to care.) Plus strange attitudes on how things get done, decor, food etc. The whole situation was just making her crazy so she decided on her own to drop it. Tonight and tomorrow and she's free. And will be much happier.

I have lots of things to get done. At the moment I can't seem to put my hands on things however. I know I got an e-mail about something left at camp. I have the item, can't find the e-mail. Weird but typical for what's going on.

So hopefully I'll find the on switch again and get moving a little faster. I AM getting things done but slower than usual. I'm thinking about some things to write here but I'm not sure about them. I'll probably post about that process soon.

Pray for the youth of the diocese and the future of their programs.

Pray for me.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Resource Reviews - My Faith, My Life and EMX

Well somehow I've managed to end up behind on these! So to catch up I'll be doing two this week.
A great book that I can't believe I haven't reviewed for you already and a great website that I can't believe I haven't reviewed for you already as well! Both are Episco-centric but that's OK.

My Faith My Life - A Teen's Guide to the Episcopal Church By: Jenifer Gamber 194 pages $14.00 Published by Morehouse Publishing

OVERALL - A book written for teens that answers the questions they have and provides them with the background they need as they grow up in and into the Episcopal Church.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? I've reviewed several books recently on being Episcopalian and said very good things about them. I suddenly realized that I had overlooked what I believe is simply the BEST book on the subject for youth ministry. Jenifer (yes I spelled it right) Gamber is among other things the confirmation leader at the Cathedral Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem PA. She's taken her experience and created a fabulous resource. The book walks you through the process of giving your youth a solid background in what it means to be an Episcopalian. Baptism and Confirmation, The bible, Knowing Our History, What Do We Believe, Worship, the Sacraments, Spirituality, Navigating the Church and What is God Calling You to Do? It provides the necessary information in straight forward easy to read style but also offers activities to help imprint the information more deeply. It's everything I'd hope for in a book like this.

RESERVATIONS Um, give me a few more months and maybe I can think of one but I doubt it.

RECOMMENDATION Yes this book is in my "Must Have" library for youth ministries in the Episcopal Church. It's a solid basic foundation element that will help us walk with our youth deeper into their faith. I'm convinced that most Episcopalians DON'T know a lot of this stuff, youth and adult. This book can be the turning point in our life together. Jenifer has also created a great web site resource as an adjunct to the book here


Episcopal Mission Exchange
OVERALL - EMX is an Episcopal program designed to match parishes and dioceses with trusted mission opportunities and provide groups with tools to organize a trip and prepare a team. A simple plan to help anyone put together an amazing mission trip. Even if no one in your group has ever done one before!

WHAT'S IT ABOUT?Always wanted to do a mission trip? Intimidated by the details and planning? Here is the help you need. This is a partnership between the Episcopal church and a company called Passport, Inc. Passport is a Christian group that does mission trips and camp programs. They've created a mission program with a Episcopal flavor that has been an amazing addition. When you start the process with EMX you'll discover that all their years of expertise are yours, for FREE! All groups who participate in EMX are required to read the workbook, complete the training sessions, attend a pre-project visit, covenant together as a team, and complete a post-trip evaluation. These requirements assure our mission partners that we will be sending groups who are prepared in all ways possible. For your group, it means that your participants will engage more deeply in the experience, and get more out of it. We also hope the training before and after the exchange will contribute to your group’s sense of community. You still have to cover the usual expenses but they even provide a time line to help you plan out your fundraising process based on their past experience.

Sure you could do it all by yourself but why when you can have the support of a great group of people to help you anticipate and avoid the bumps? They offer experiences that are Easy, Medium and X(tra) Challenging based on your level of experience at locations all over the United States plus a couple outside the country.

RESERVATIONS Again I just can't come up with any. You'll still face the challenges of fundraising for the trip but you start off way ahead by choosing the option of partnering with a great organization with lots of memorable opportunities.

RECOMMENDATION This is such a great way to get started with mission work. This kind of hands on expression of faith has an impressive effect on our young people (and the adults too). We need to show our youth that faith has real effects on the world as well.

Friday, July 10, 2009

So How did you do it?

Thoughts on Losing Weight

The most common comments made to me these days are linked. It goes something like this:

"You look great/ You've lost weight! How did you do it?"

First, to everyone who has noticed, thank you. I've lost 40 pounds in 15 months. I'm trying to whittle away 10 more. I feel great and yes, I appreciate all the compliments.

As to the second part I thought maybe I should offer my simple thoughts on how I got to where I am since I know so many other people are struggling with weight issues. For me it came down to three simple concepts:

Eat Less - The first thing you need to accept is that you eat too much. You probably don't think you do but if you're the average American you're eating way more than you need. I always maintained that my food consumption was OK, it was always something else. I was wrong and it's extremely likely you're wrong too. Don't believe me? Do a food journal for a week. If you bite it, write it. Two M&Ms? Write it down and figure the calories. There are great websites to help you do this. Be prepared to be appalled at how much you eat. The average restaurant meal is at least twice as large as you need. Just ask for the to go box as soon as the meal arrives and put half of your meal in it. It really is that simple.

Eat Smart - Now you need to pay attention to what goes in your mouth. A lot of what we eat falls into these categories - simple carbohydrates, sugar, salt and saturated fats. Basically none of these are very good for us. You need some of them but not much. Move to complex carbs, reduce sugar, use unsaturated/mono saturated fats. Eat veggies instead of sugar, eat lean meats instead of fatty ones. It sounded complicated and boring to me when I started. In fact the shift can be done quickly and easily. I'm not a big fan of "diets". A diet is just what you eat. You need to re-learn how to eat and you never need to go on another "diet". I did find some very useful help in re-learning how to eat from the South Beach Diet, which was recommended to me by my doctor. Ignore diets that eliminate some category of food or over-emphasize a category. You want a balanced diet of good foods.

Exercise - I HATE to exercise. Always have. I'll admit that I now enjoy the RESULTS of exercise enough to get me into a gym on a regular basis. The thing about exercise is that you have to be willing to push yourself past the comfort zone. That's past the point that says "I'm tired, this is no fun, I'm starting to hurt". Don't go overboard right at the start and hurt yourself but you must, must, MUST commit to pushing yourself. Hot, sweaty, boring exercise. As soon as it starts to get easier (which happens with startlingly quickly) you have to push yourself back into a hot, sweaty hard zone again. And again. And again. Until you reach your goal you can't get comfortable with your exercise level. But the rewards! To suddenly drop clothing sizes, to start getting the compliments, to take a look at yourself in the mirror(have you stopped doing that? I did because I didn't want to acknowledge what it showed me.) and say "Wow. When did that happen?" You'll feel good, and beautiful and sexy. And that's really wonderful.

I've dropped just about two sizes in shirts and pants. Someone mistook me for a teenager walking across a parking lot recently. Folks I've known for years don't recognize me at first. I haven't done anything extreme or strange. I've followed the three steps above.

And I accepted that it was going to take time to do it. Programs, diets, pills, whatever that promises you that you can lose weight "fast" are lying to you. Yes, you may lose weight quickly but because you haven't re-learned how to eat you're going to gain it all back. The quick weight loss idea is a mirage, a lie. Be prepared for this to take months at the very least. I could have, maybe even should have lost this weight faster than I did. But it took me a while to figure out the "Eat Smart" piece completely. Turns out there was a lot of extra sugar sneaking into my diet that I didn't notice. There were a few other problems too.

But you know what? I've kept this weight off. It's fluctuated a little but never more than 4 pounds over 18 months. It works if you're ready to make the change.

Trust me, it's worth it.


Thursday, July 02, 2009

Word from camp

In case you've ever wondered what camp looks like and what we do we thought we'd share a little. We've created a EYouthWNY blog and we're updating them as quickly as we can. This year we have one or two people assigned each day to journal our day's activities. We then publish their reports on the blog. In the next hour or so we'll get up to date with reports from Tues and Weds but the Sunday and Monday reports are already on line.

Below are just a few photos from Monday to give you a taste of our conference. More photos once we can update the other blog.