Saturday, October 18, 2014

Anonymous donor honors Pope Francis with Habitat house in Huntersville


Today (Oct. 18) at 10:30 a.m., Our Towns Habitat for Humanity will raise the walls on The Pope Francis House at 11908 Titan Ave. in Huntersville.

An anonymous donor wanted to honor the pope with a house built for a family in need.

Volunteer and additional monetary support is being provided by two Catholic parishes – St. Therese in Mooresville and St. Mark in Huntersville – as well as the Davidson College Habitat chapter and Catholic Campus Ministries.

The donor, according to Habitat for Humanity, wanted to salute the pope for his commitment to social justice, support Habitat and provide a “celebratory opportunity” for Catholic and non-Catholic volunteers.


You can volunteer here.

-- Tim Funk 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Muslim and Jewish women to gather to share stories and traditions


Need a break from all the dispiriting headlines about Ebola, ISIS and nasty election-year TV ads?

Check out this news item: Muslim Women of the Carolinas is inviting local Jewish and Muslim women to gather later this month for “Tea for Two.”

“There’s not very many opportunities for Muslims and Jews to meet,” said Rose Hamid, president of the Muslim Women’s group. “I wanted to create some space to just build connections, ask questions of each other and ease fears.”


The plan is for the women to share stories and traditions about their separate religious holidays – this month, the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur and the Muslim holiday of Eid Al Adha fell on the same day.

There will be desserts and, as the event's name promises, tea --several types of tea, in fact. “Because Muslims come from all over the world, teas are a big part of their cultures,” Hamid said.

The event is 3-5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26, at the Islamic Community of Bosniaks (they’re from Bosnia), 6200 Wilora Lake Road in east Charlotte.

Space is limited and organizers want a good mix. So, if you’re a Jewish or Muslim woman and want to go, RSVP here

-- Tim Funk

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Pope Francis sends greetings to Charlotte

Every week, it seems, another group holds its national convention in Charlotte.

But how many of them get a video greeting from Pope Francis?



Just one that we know of: This month’s meeting of Catholic Charities USA – professionals and volunteers from dioceses around the country who work to reduce poverty.

“My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,” the pope, speaking in Spanish, began his video message. “I send you my warmest greetings of peace and abundant joy as you gather together in Charlotte, North Carolina.”


Or “Carolina del Norte” – North Carolina in Spanish.

The pope spoke for more than 12 minutes and stressed, as he has repeatedly in his papacy, the need to care for the poor.

“They will precede us into the Kingdom of Heaven, they will open the gates for us,” he said. “We are called to be a church, a people of and for the poor.”

He signed off with a blessing and this humble plea: “I also ask you to pray for me because I need it.”


Catholic Charities USA met in Charlotte Oct. 4-7.

(Video courtesy of Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte.)

-- Tim Funk

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Q&A: Theologian coming to Charlotte to talk about treasures of darkness


Barbara Brown Taylor -- theologian, Episcopal priest, college professor -- lives on a organic vegetable farm in the Georgia foothills of the Appalachians.

It’s a perfect place to experience the natural seesaw between the light and the dark– and to ponder the metaphorical and theological aspects of both. Taylor, 63, writes about these things in her latest book, “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” which was the subject of a Time magazine cover story this year.




Taylor, named one of the 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world by Baylor University, will speak this weekend at Charlotte’s Myers Park Baptist Church. The Observer talked with her Tuesday. Here’s the full transcript.


Q. In your writings, you have pointed out that the word “darkness” has become shorthand for every bad thing out there. But you also point out that many of the most important stories in the Bible occurred in the dark. Give me one or two. And what does that say about God’s supposed preference for the light?

A. The one I’m working on right this minute is Jacob wrestling an angel by the River Jabbok.  Not in the middle of the night, but all night long. And it changes his life. God gives him a wound and a blessing and a new name.

I don’t know anything about God’s preference . . .

Q. I'm referring to God saying in Genesis, “Let there be light.” And Christians like to talk about Jesus as the Light.

A. Yeah, that’s cause we like light. We want God to be the way we like. But Exodus 19 has God saying to Moses, “I will come to you in a dark cloud.” So God doesn’t seem beholden to our fondness for light. I think anyone who professes faith in one God professes faith in a God of the dark and the light, of the night and the day, who put the sun and the moon in the sky. So a lot of what I’m up to in my writing and in my talks in Charlotte this weekend is doing my best to retrieve the wholeness of the vision of God and how God works.

Q. Clearly, many churches and religious books today are selling certainty and a sunny spirituality. But there is this rich contemplative tradition in Christianity that says the darkness is where the soul will find God. Is that how you see darkness as well?

A. Yes, but let’s keep both in there. Because what I find is that (because) I travel with a book called “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” people think I’m setting up a new opposition. I’m keeping the same old battle between dark and light; I’m just switching sides. And I don’t want to be in a battle at all. I want to talk about the cloud of unknowing and the drive to know God. I want to talk about the dark night of the soul. And I want to talk about the bright light in the morning and embrace all of those as parts of our whole life. I’ll talk about learning to walk in the dark as learning to walk the way of unknowing, a sacred way of unknowing, but there’s a sacred way of knowing as well. I’m trying hard not to play into a new opposition, but to do my best to hang on to the full package.

Q. How does living on a farm shape your spirituality and your befriending of the darkness?

A. I think there’s a lot less protection here from the elements. From darkness. From hawks that swoop down out of the sky and take your favorite chicken. And a horse that falls in a hole and breaks its leg. It’s not more exposing than living in a battlefield or a refugee camp, but there are certainly ways that living on a farm leaves me open to a lot more grief and joy than living a more protected city life.

Q. We live in polarized times where everybody wants to cloak their side in the light and cast those on the other side as purveyors of darkness. Is this the way to truth or just to more rancor?

A. We all like to be right, don’t we? If we want to be right, we’ll go to the biggest symbols and totems for rightness we can find – light and sun and God and nation. It’s real hard to be a human being who wants to be right without all those things. So, sure, I think we recruit them for our side and then, if anything, what we’re living through now is the consequences of that. We’re mired in opposition.

Q. You live on a farm and teach at small Piedmont College. Yet this year Time magazine turned its national spotlight on you and your work. Does that feel like being bathed in the light or blinded by the light?


A. Yeah, blinded by the light is a good metaphor. I live here on purpose, I teach at Piedmont on purpose. And as grateful as I am for Time’s (exposure), I like living a human-size life. So I’m happy for the attention and really happy that people have a short attention span.

Want to go?

Barbara Brown Taylor will speak this weekend (Oct. 17-19) at Myers Park Baptist Church, 1900 Queens Road. There's limited space for her $60 Saturday (Oct. 18) workshop on “Lunar Spirituality” (call church phone number below). She’ll also be speaking:

-- Friday (Oct. 17) at 7 p.m. in the sanctuary. Topic: “The Wedding of Heaven and Earth.” Will include a Q&A. Free.

-- Sunday (Oct. 19) at 9:30 a.m. (free) in Heaton Hall and at the 11 a.m. service in the sanctuary. Sermon topic: “The Treasures of Darkness.”


Details: mpbconline.org; 704-334-7232, ext. 15.

-- Tim Funk

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Park's Bishop Alexander to preach from third campus


Starting Sunday (Oct. 5),  The Park Church will move its Sunday morning worship headquarters to what used to be the Charlotte Merchandise Mart off Independence Boulevard.

The megachurch pastored by Bishop Claude Alexander bought the 23-acre site in 2006 for $11 million.

Up to now, Alexander has done his Sunday morning preaching in The Park’s church on Beatties Ford Road or at its satellite campus in Pineville. For 10 years -- August 2004 to August 2014 -- he’s even appeared live at both, being driven back and forth to the two locations.

But from now on, the bishop will be presiding during the 8:45 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. services at the Independence campus. Both will be simulcast to the other two sites.

Got that?

So, to see Bishop Alexander preaching live (and he’s one of the best in the pulpit), show up at The Park Expo and Convention Center (the former Merchandise Mart) at 800 Briar Creek Road (its official address).

But you can also catch him on screen during the same times (8:45 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. Sundays) at 6029 Beatties Ford Road in northwest Charlotte and 13733 Lancaster Highway in Pineville.


Multisite simulcasting has become routine for many megachurches, including Elevation, Forest Hill and Mecklenburg Community churches in the Charlotte area.

-- Tim Funk

Friday, October 3, 2014

Local Race for Cure sponsor apologizes to Charlotte's Jewish community


Don’t look for a big Jewish turnout at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure on Saturday (Oct. 4).

The reason: The annual race to raise funds for breast cancer research is being held this year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and one of the most sacred days on the Jewish calendar.

That’s upset some, who have pointed out that the race’s namesake, Susan G. Komen, was herself Jewish.

Komen Charlotte has reached out to the city’s Jewish temples with an apology, saying the conflict was unintentional.

“We have an annual tradition of having the (race) on the first Saturday in October,” reads its message, which appeared this week in the Temple Beth El bulletin. “By the time we realized that due to the changing nature of the Jewish calendar, both Yom Kippur and our race fell on the same day, it was too late to attempt to move the race. We are incredibly sorry that so many of our friends and supporters could not be with us.”

One Charlottean who will miss the race: Moira Quinn, a breast cancer survivor who’s past president of Temple Beth El and a member of the Komen Charlotte Survivor Outreach Committee.

“It was too late to change (the race) without incurring expenses that I personally, as a Jewish survivor, found to be unacceptable,” she said. “I want every penny to be spent on research and survivor support, not costs to move a race.”

-- Tim Funk

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Rev. Steve Eason: Time to leave, teach other clergy what he's learned in Charlotte


Scandal. Burnout. Illness. Division.

Those are the reasons you hear most these days when a senior pastor exits a big church before reaching retirement age.

But the Rev. Steve Eason says his decision to leave Myers Park Presbyterian Church next April is a “good news story.”




“No hidden agenda,” Eason, 60, told me after emailing his decision to the church’s 4,700 members this week. “Nothing is wrong here at the church. It’s not a story of burnout. This change is coming out of a position of strength and gratitude.”

After 12 years of leading one of Charlotte’s most prominent – and most generous – churches, Eason said he’s being called to take what he’s learned and share it with other clergy.

As director of consulting services with Atlanta-based Macedonian Ministries, he’ll teach, coach and organize workshops for ministers of various denominations.

It’s a group that desperately needs more support in an age when men and women of the cloth are called on to be there 24/7 for others.

“We’re in a situation where clergy are dropping out of this profession at an alarming rate,” Eason said. “Or not going into it at all.”

So Eason will try to pass along to his next flock – a group ranging from Catholic priests to Pentecostal preachers – what he’s learned about preaching, empowering lay people and more.

He’ll take his leave from a Charlotte house of worship that’s now the biggest Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) church in North Carolina and the fourth largest in the country. 

It’s one that’s blessed with enviable demographics: The largest age group at Myers Park Presbyterian, Eason said, is those between 30 and 40. That means young families with kids – a good predictor of growth into the future.

And it has deep pockets: members include developer Johnny Harris, former Bank of America CFO (and now top Carlyle Group executive) Jim Hance, and the Belks, the department store family.

But it’s also a church that gives in a big way: Under Eason’s leadership, it completed a $30 million capital campaign, then spent $11 million on everything from affordable housing in Grier Heights, a low-income neighborhood in Charlotte, to clean water projects in Malawi and the Congo.

“It’s a great witness for a church to make in this culture,” Eason said. “We didn’t raise that to spend it all on ourselves. I’m proud how mission-minded this church is.”

Eason also likes how Myers Park Presbyterian has weathered the intra-denominational battle over ordaining gays and lesbians – a change that prompted some big conservative churches to leave the PC (USA).

“We have conservatives, moderates and liberals, and they all end up together at the Communion table,” he said of his Charlotte church. “We disagree on things, but we don’t fragment and fight. … My job has been to not polarize the congregation.”

Eason will be around for seven more months, long enough, he said, to pastor his Charlotte flock through one more Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter.

But the grieving has begun. Eason said he’s already gotten “a flood of affirming emails.”

The good feelings are mutual. “You have taught me so much,” Eason told members, “that I now can share with others.”

I’ll leave the last words to evangelist-author Leighton Ford, who’s been attending Myers Park Presbyterian with his wife, Jean (Billy Graham’s sister) for 20-plus years.

“He’s going to be terribly missed,” Ford said. “He’s loved. And the gift he’s given us – the clear, compelling preaching of Christ – has drawn in so many people.”

-- Tim Funk