Safe sex or no sex?

Friday, April 15, 2010

Safe sex or no sex?

They’re planning a big party next week at Raleigh’s Upper Room Church of God in Christ. “Last year we had over 200 girls to come from all over,” says Evangelist Tameka Douglas. “This year we’re hoping for an increase.”

What’s the party all about? Abstinence.

“Ultimately we want to empower young ladies to celebrate their abstinence and their purity, and just being the virtuous women that they are,” she says. The church’s Abstinence Crusade Celebration will take place next Friday (April 23rd) at 7 p.m. The free event, now in its sixth year, is open to the public.

Douglas says teen girls need to hear more than just the “safe sex” message. “The only means of safe sex is abstinence. Sometimes young ladies in the church and out of the church have chosen to abstain from sex but it’s kinda frowned upon. Even amongst their peers, they’re sometimes ashamed to say they’ve elected not to have sex and they’ve chosen to abstain. So we thought it best to do something that would give them an opportunity to fellowship with other young ladies that are abstaining and some that may choose to abstain eventually.”

She credits Upper Room Pastor Patrick Wooden for encouraging the special outreach. There will be a worship service, music, praise dancing, and food. Although Upper Room has a mostly African-American congregation, Douglas stresses that the event is open to all.

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Happy birthday to Duke Chapel! A celebration to mark the 75th anniversary of the historic edifice will take place tomorrow from 3 to 5 p.m. It’ll feature a short film about the life and history of the Chapel, musical performances, and more. Then Sunday afternoon at 4:00, the Duke Chapel Choir will perform an anniversary concert, the first half of which will feature anthems from throughout the Chapel’s 75 years. There’s a charge for admission.

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Wake Forest residents shouldn’t be surprised to see bunches of red balloons floating overhead tomorrow afternoon. Lifestyle Ministries is planning a balloon release at Joyner Park at 2:00 p.m. Each person who attends will get a red balloon and a small piece of paper. Participants will be asked to write on the paper any hurts, disappointments and troubles they’d like to “release to God.” The red balloons -- representing the blood of Christ -- will then be released into the air as part of this unique ceremony of healing.

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Goodbye Sacred Heart? As Eyewitness News reported this week, the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh is studying the idea of building a new Cathedral.

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The Sandra Bullock film The Blind Side has been particularly popular with Christian audiences, who’ve been moved by the real-life story of a wealthy white family that adopts a homeless black teenager. Now the real-life adoptive father will bring his story to North Carolina. Sean Tuohy (played by Tim McGraw in the movie) will speak next month at the annual fundraising luncheon for the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina. It’ll take place May 20th in Greensboro. You can find out more information about it at this link.

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Critics deride her as a “prosperity preacher.” But legions of fans, particularly women, swear by the teaching ministry of Joyce Meyer. Meyer brings her conferences to North Carolina regularly and they’re always well attended. ABC’s Nightline profiled her this week.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A '400-year-old book,' Coach K's faith, and more

It’s a book that’s been in the making more than 400 years. And in a sense, is still being written. Down Home: Jewish Life in North Carolina (UNC Press, 2010) chronicles the Jewish experience in our state dating back to before we were a state.

“It was interesting doing Down Home,” author Leonard Rogoff told me, “because in contrast to our neighboring states, North Carolina was not thought to have a Jewish history. And the book documents and tells a narrative that begins in 1585 and continues to this very present day. So they’ve been part and parcel of this state’s history from the very beginning.”

The book officially goes on sale April 15th, although some outlets have already made it available. It’s part of a multi-media project developed in association with the Jewish Heritage Foundation of North Carolina. The Down Home project also includes a traveling museum exhibit, a documentary film and DVD, and a public school curriculum. Each piece stands independently, although dealing with the same subject.

Dr. Rogoff’s 400 page book is a sweeping chronicle of Jewish life in the Tar Heel state, filled with historical documents, vintage photos, and personal stories. The result is both factual and intimate. “Some of my favorite pictures just came from asking people what they had in the way of family photos,” he says. “I wrote a chronological narrative history of the Jews of North Carolina from 1585 to 2009,” he says, “but there are also a lot of sidebars in there which contain first person narratives that we pulled out of the oral histories, from memoirs, stories which in many ways convey a sense of the experience itself of what it felt like living as a Jew in North Carolina, in first person voices.”

Rogoff is a Chapel Hill native who serves as president of the Southern Jewish Historical Society. He says in contrast with some other parts of the South, Jews have found The Old North State to be extremely welcoming. “Whenever I do oral histories invariably people tell me they’ve never experienced prejudice here, especially in the small towns. Although they usually qualify that with a thought, and will talk about some childhood taunting or being excluded from a college fraternity or sorority or being denied admission to a country club. But generally they fared quite well here and speak very warmly of their hometowns.”

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A big celebration is planned this weekend at Durham’s Antioch Baptist Church (1415 Holloway Street). The church will celebrate its annual Community Day on Sunday, recognizing local officials and law enforcement, and with Duke Chapel Dean Sam Wells as the guest speaker. But it’s what happens afterwards that’s sparking a lot of excitement. That’s when a dedication ceremony will take place for a newly refurbished house at 204 Hyde Park Avenue, which will serve as transitional housing for ex-offenders. The house was purchased and renovated by Antioch Builds Community, a non-profit offshoot of the church in conjunction with Emmaus Way and Chapel Hill Bible Church. Antioch’s pastor is the Rev. Michael Page, who is also chairs of the Durham County Board of Commissioners. Antioch’s Community day worship starts at 10:00 a.m. Sunday, with the home dedication at noon.

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With Duke winning the NCAA Championship this week, I thought it’d be a good time to revisit Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s discourse on faith, family and teamwork, recorded by Duke Divinity School’s Faith & Leadership Project last year. Here’s the YouTube clip.

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And how’s this for longevity: a Sampson County woman has been playing the organ at her church for 63 years – with no signs of letting up. The Sampson Independent has Lellon McLemore’s story.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Egg hunts, Easter plays, and the face of Jesus?

North Carolina Central University Chancellor Charlie Nelms turns preacher today. Nelms will deliver the Good Friday Sermon at noon at Duke Chapel. The worship service will actually begin a half hour earlier than that on the Chapel’s steps, with a Stations of the Cross procession. The procession will continue until noon when the indoor service gets underway.

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Just in time for Easter, the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh is lifting the liturgical precautions put in place in September out of concerns about the H1N1 Swine Flu. Parishes are now requested to re-institute Holy Communion from the Cup and the Sign of Peace (the traditional handshake between strangers). The Diocese says the change is due to current information on H1N1 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Local churches will be bursting at the seams this Easter weekend, with many adding extra services to accommodate the expected crowds. For example, Raleigh mega-church Hope Community Church is offering five weekend services instead of the usual four. To try to keep things manageable, Hope began giving out free admittance tickets for its Easter services several weeks ago. Some of those services are now ‘sold out,’ so to speak.

Other churches are adding spectacular theater productions to their Easter celebrations. Christ Cathedral in Fayetteville is putting on its big Easter production His Passion Saturday night at 6:00. The event is free.

Raleigh’s Elevation Baptist Church has once again rented out Meymandi Hall at the Progress Energy Center for its Easter program. It’s titled Via Dolorosa: The Way of Sorrows. You can see a preview here.

And there will be performances tonight and tomorrow night of The Cross and the Crown at Whitley Church in Johnston County. The 250 volunteers who are putting on this musical drama went all out, as you can see in this YouTube clip.

For the kiddies, what’s been called the Triangle’s “biggest and best” Easter egg hunt will take place tomorrow in downtown Raleigh’s Moore Square. The folks at Vintage21 Church promise 10,000 eggs hidden throughout the park, along with live music, balloons, and inflatables. There’s no charge, and the egg hunt sessions will be divided up according to age. More details here.

A lot of buzz this week about the “face of Jesus” revealed by a team of computer artists who used the Shroud of Turin and some artistic license as the basis for their work. Not everyone is convinced, of course. Here’s the story from ABC News.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The burial cloth of Jesus?

Is it a sacred relic or a clever fake? The debate that's raged for generations over the Shroud of Turin is likely to flare up again when the reputed burial cloth of Jesus Christ goes on rare public display next month in Turin, Italy.

You can see what the controversy is all about on Good Friday, April 2nd, at Crossroads Fellowship in Raleigh. The church will host a free seminar on the shroud from 6 to 7 p.m. The linen cloth itself won't be there, of course, but there will be photographs and displays along with expertise provided by some key shroud researchers who live right here in the Triangle.

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That seminar is one of many activities going on locally this time of year as Christians reflect on the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. At Raleigh's Cardinal Gibbons High School, Bishop Michael Burbidge will lead the traditional Way of the Cross outdoor candlelight procession at 7 p.m. on Good Friday. It'll take place rain or shine, with candles provided by The Catholic Diocese of Raleigh.

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In Chapel Hill, Binkley Memorial Baptist Church is joining together with nine other congregations to sponsor an ecumenical Holy Week labyrinth. "Walking the Labyrinth" is a centuries old custom meant to enhance prayer and meditation as the worshipper follows an elaborately designed path on a sanctuary floor. Binkley's labyrinth will be on display Sunday, March 28th through Friday, April 2nd.

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A communion service -- featuring rock music? Yes, if that communion service is a “U2charist,” featuring songs from the rock band U2 instead of hymns. Raleigh's Edenton Street United Methodist Church will hold a U2charist this Saturday night at 7:00. Don't expect Bono or The Edge to be present, but the North Carolina band U2FX will be on hand to recreate the group's spiritually-influenced music. The first “U2charist” is said to have taken place at an Episcopal church in Baltimore six years ago. Similar services have since taken place around the world.

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If you've ever struggled to memorize a Bible verse or passage, consider the task actor Brad Sherrill was facing: memorize all 20,000 words of the Gospel of John. It took him five months to do it – and he has since performed the fourth gospel more than 500 times at churches and venues around the world. Now you can see Sherrill’s performance of the Gospel of John in person at University United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill on Friday, April 2nd. Here's a preview clip I found on YouTube.

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Monday night marks the start of Passover, the Jewish holiday that recalls the miraculous exodus of the ancient Israelites from Egypt. Chabad of UNC and Duke University will host a Community Seder, or ritual feast, at the Franklin Hotel in Chapel Hill on Monday and Tuesday night. It’s free for students, but registration is required.

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The Summit Church already averages close to 4,000 worshippers each weekend at its three Durham locations. Now the fast-growing church is looking to expand into Raleigh. “We never want to presume upon the Lord,” Summit Pastor J. D. Greear told me, “but we have about 300 members who are driving from Raleigh and have also expressed a real interest in helping launch this campus.”

One of Summit’s locations is already close to Raleigh – on Presidential Drive in the Brier Creek Area. Now Summit is considering a start-up actually in the Capital City at a still-to-be-determined site in North Raleigh. Says Greear: “We became a multi-site church in 2007. We are one church meeting in several locations. We believe that the church functions best when it is local, where it can have a positive impact in its community. We already have a large number of people attending the Summit from Raleigh. By launching a campus closer to where they live, we believe we'll just be able to be a more effective church.”

Friday, March 12, 2010

A God Moment?

The Rev. Dr. Staccato Powell calls it “a God moment -- a unique time in history that can only come about with divine intervention.”

The Raleigh pastor is referring to last week’s national conference of three major African-American church denominations, and the fruit that conference produced. “It’s a once in a lifetime event,” he told me.

Powell, pastor of Grace AME Zion Church in Raleigh, chaired the “Great Gathering,” which took place in Columbia, South Carolina. (You can hear some of his remarks from the opening news conference at this link). Up to ten thousand delegates from the African Methodist Episcopal, AME Zion and Christian Methodist Episcopal denominations gathered for the event -- the first time the three Methodist bodies have convened together in 45 years.

Back then, the main issue on the table was civil rights. This time: the plight of the African-American male, one out of every nine of whom, Powell says, will spend at least a year in prison. “(Conference delegates) went in all along with the idea of coming out with something that would establish a concrete course of action that would be impactful and transformative,” he says.

The result is the Male Investment Plan, a 28-page document with specific strategies aimed at helping black males 5 to 25 years old to succeed. The cornerstone of the plan is the Saturday Academy, a series of workshops at participating churches where young males will receive mentoring and training in life skills, study habits, career awareness, college prep, financial literacy, and health issues. The stated goal: “To dramatically change the lives of our participants by exposing them to the awesome gifts given them by God.”

Dr. Powell told me he expects the first such academies to begin here in the Triangle this May. He’s optimistic this church-based action plan will work. “You’re talking about three denominations that have collectively a combined history of 550 years,” he says. “We have a track record of impacting lives in our community. We have the membership -- over 5 million members collectively. Now what we’re saying is, this is the seminal moment for us and what we will do in order to stem the tide of African-American males going on a track from the cradle to the prison.”

I’ll let you know if I get any updates.

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If you live in the Fayetteville area and someone does something nice for you – then hands you a card – it’s a good bet that person is from Manna Church. The church is in the middle of a sermon series called “In the Name of Love.” As part of the series congregants are invited to do good deeds, then hand those on the receiving end a card that says: “Someone showed you the love of God – no strings attached. Jesus Christ was the greatest example of this that ever lived. He died on the cross to pay for sins that were not His own – they were yours. The person who gave you this card has experienced that revolutionary love and is passing it on to you.”

Chris Fletcher is Manna’s First Impressions Pastor. He says Christians are good at speaking the gospel message, but “we don’t do a great job of actually walking it out with our actions and loving people.” So the church leaders got the cards printed up and urged the members to put them to good use.

“We ordered 10,000 cards and gave out all 10,000 the first weekend,” he says. “Now we’re on our second batch of 10,000, so the church members have jumped on it.” The card also invites the person receiving the good deed to go online and relate their experience. Manna tracks the responses on its Facebook page, and some of the stories are fascinating. The church will continue the project for a year.

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Thousands are expected to descend on the State Fairgrounds this weekend for the 8th annual Ignited by Truth Catholic conference. It’s the largest conference in the Diocese of Raleigh. The two-day event gets underway at the Jim Graham Building at 7:00 tonight with a free session entitled Discover the Catholic Church. Also scheduled to speak at the conference: the co-owner of the Chicago Bears, Pat McCaskey, who’ll talk on the topic Faith and Sports.

Friday, March 5, 2010

When Daddy's in jail

“Do you realize no one talks about inmates’ children? They’re the most at-risk children in the world!”

So says Scottie Barnes of Taylorsville, who has made inmates’ children her life’s mission. And she should know: she’s the child of an inmate. “My daddy went to jail when I was four,” she says, “and he died in prison when I was 42.”

Barnes knows the emptiness of that experience. So she’s bringing her concern for inmates’ kids -- and their imprisoned fathers -- to Raleigh this weekend in the form of a “One Day with God” camp. Twenty-five Wake Correctional Center inmates and their children will participate, under the guidance of the organization Barnes founded: Forgiven Ministry, Inc. Healing and reconciliation are the goals.

“82 percent of inmates’ children are going to prison,” she told me in a telephone interview from her Taylorsville office. “A lot of that is from the anger that is so within them that they just want to fill that emptiness. And they’ll do it through gangs, drugs, pornography, whatever it takes.”

Now active in nine states, Forgiven Ministry sponsors workshops and camps that teach inmate dads how to be better fathers and how to bond with their children. At the camps, the dads do crafts with their kids, worship, and spend quiet time with them. Perhaps the most emotional moment, Barnes says, is the balloon release at the end of the camp.

“And these are the two things I say to them: ‘Boys and girls, if you know Daddy loves you and is proud of you, let your balloon go. And daddies, today if you love your children the way God created daddies to love them, let your balloon go.’”

Angela Smith, Assistant Superintendent for Programs at Wake Correctional, heard about Forgiven Ministry at a conference and suggested to her supervisor that they invite the program here. This weekend’s “One Day with God” Camp will be the second one held for Wake inmates. Smith says there was a noticeable change among those who participated last time.

“The phone calls increase, the letter writing campaign increases. Their attitude changes. They become better inmates, more involved. They’re going to get out of prison some day and they’re going to be your neighbors, my neighbors. We want to make them to be as productive as they can.”

The Raleigh camp will take place at First Assembly of God and will be staffed by more than 100 volunteers from the church. Church-state issues? “The inmates know upfront that it’s a Christian-based program,” Smith told me, “but we do have inmates from all religious affiliations. We do not discriminate based on religion as to who can participate. “

Scottie Barnes eventually reconciled with her father shortly before he died. She also saw him come to faith. Now she gets the satisfaction of seeing other lives changed.

“We’re seeing daddies back in school. We’re seeing daddies begin religious worship, put their values in a different place. We begin to see communication between the dad and the child. It’s awesome.”

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A new poll finds two-thirds of North Carolinians believe that religion is losing influence on American life. That’s compared with about 24 percent who believe religion is gaining influence. The survey was conducted last month by Elon University. You can find more details about the poll here.

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I mentioned a few weeks ago in the space about Silver Ring Thing, a high-energy teen abstinence live event coming to Raleigh on Wednesday (March 10th). That’s still on, but I’ve learned the travelling program will also stop first at C3 Church in Clayton Sunday night before coming to Raleigh.

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Members of Durham’s Judea Reform Congregation will hit the ground running on Sunday for the synagogue’s annual Mitzvah Day. Judea Reform volunteers will be at several locations around Durham and Chapel Hill to do their mitzvahs, or charitable acts, such as helping out with chores at the Ronald McDonald House.

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I’ve blogged about these two unusual churches before. Now check out the story I did on them this week on Eyewitness News.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A church in a bar, Super Bowl services, and more

“This AIN’T your grandmother’s church!” So reads the website of one of Raleigh’s newest churches, Another Level. And that statement may be an understatement. Don’t expect stained glass and hymnals there. Instead, you may see shot glasses and a live DJ.

No, they don’t actually serve up booze at Another Level -- but the church service does take place in a bar: Oliver Twist on Creedmoor Road. “In terms of the bar, the setting at Oliver Twist was fantastic,” says Pastor Ed Priestaf. “It would’ve cost us half a million dollars to renovate any place to an environment like they already have.”

An off-shoot of Benson Memorial United Methodist Church, Another Level began holding its services last September in the rented space on Sunday nights at 6:30. Priestaf tells me the target audience is young people who may not feel comfortable in a traditional church setting.

“We did a strategic planning study a couple of years ago and determined that there’s a certain demographic that’s not showing up in church, and when they did show up they wouldn’t stay. Young professional, post-college, 19 to 30 years old, mostly single, mostly without kids. There are a lot of those folks in our surrounding zip codes, but very few of them were coming and staying in church.”

Pastor Priestaf says he’s done traditional preaching before, but what he’s doing now is particularly challenging. “It’s very interactive. As opposed to a traditional sermon, there’s sort of some thought-provoking ideas. Oliver Twist is set up in such a way that there are clusters of seating, and folks will talk amongst themselves about the idea that’s been presented, either through a video or through a little snippet that I might talk about for a little while. And while that’s going on, there’s DJ music playing in the background. The music is theme-based.”

They have guest live bands that play there as well.

“You’d be hard-pressed to call this a worship service, really,” Priestaf says. “And at the end of the day, if you’re a serious Christian already that really needs to get fed with praise and worship and that type of thing, our philosophy and our mantra is there are 400 churches in Raleigh where you can go do that. This is more outreach.”

Another Level currently holds services twice a month. Plans are for it to go weekly by mid-year.

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A number of area churches are planning events in relation to Sunday’s Super Bowl. At Cary Church of God, they’re going to do it up really big with live music and fellowship -- not to mention showing the game in HD on four 20-foot screens. Those who come are asked to bring their own food and drinks -- and to wear their team colors!

Meantime, New Beginnings Community Church in Wilson is inviting worshipers to wear their team’s jersey to the 10 a.m. service on Super Sunday.

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Durham’s Immaculata School will close out its celebration of Catholic Schools Week with a special visitor. Bishop Michael Burbidge, who leads the Raleigh Catholic Diocese, will celebrate Mass with Immaculata’s students and staff this morning.

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Gaylon Moss doesn’t want the public to lose interest in earthquake-ravaged Haiti. Moss, who lives in Raleigh, coordinates disaster relief for North Carolina Baptist Men. The mission-oriented group has built a solid reputation through the years for putting people on the ground quickly to help with disaster relief, repair, and construction. But the chaotic situation in Haiti has slowed their efforts. Moss recorded this YouTube message, advising potential volunteers to be patient.

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North Carolina’s Billy Graham tops a list of the most influential living preachers-- according to other preachers. That’s the result of a new survey by conducted by LifeWay Research. Go to this link to see who else made the top ten list.

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The Rev. Gardner C. Taylor didn’t make that list, but many African-American preachers might argue that point. Called the “Dean of Black Preachers,” Taylor served as senior pastor at Concord Baptist Church of Christ in Brooklyn, N.Y., for 42 years and is now retired and living in Raleigh. He’s also a former president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention. Friends and admirers of Dr. Taylor will honor him at Duke Divinity School, February 15th at 2 p.m.

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