Friday, May 30, 2014

New game show comes to Charlotte, plays Cupid in the pews

We live in a time when religion intersects with politics, with media, with business ... and now with the Game Show Network.

It already brings us “Dog Eat Dog,” “Family Feud” and Jerry Springer’s “Baggage.”

Next Thursday night (June 5) at 9, it will launch “It Takes a Church.” And the first house of worship to get the spotlight: The Rock Worship Center in Charlotte.

The series lets Christian congregations around the country play matchmaker to one of its single members. People in the church nominate potential mates; the pastor offers wholesome relationship advice; and the finalists try to one-up each by, among other things, invoking the Lord.

After watching the debut, I’d say the makers of “It Takes a Church” follow this recipe: Mix “The Dating Game” with “Survivor.” Then sprinkle in some Bible verses. Stir.

Each week, host Natalie Grant, a Christian music singer, will show up in a different church and call on an unsuspecting single to exit the pews and join her up front.

On Thursday, the bachelorette is Angela Morgan, a 30-year-old engineer who attends The Rock Worship Center, a Pentecostal church at 1113 Fordham Road.

“Your church believes it can help you find true love,” Grant tells Morgan as the congregation roars its approval.

Next we meet the potential mates, as introduced and promoted by matchmakers in the congregation who, during the crisply edited hour, also suggest strategies on how to win over Morgan.

Among the suitors: “Dr. Bradford,” 32, a saxaphone-playing dentist who begins each workday leading a prayer in his office, and one guy whose matchmaking patron is his mother.

Then, as part of the whittling process, Pastor Frank Jacobs invents an exercise that challenges Morgan to trust and tests the mettle of the finalists.

There’s even a glimpse or two of Patrick Cannon – apparently he was still Charlotte’s mayor when the episode was shot.

I steer clear of spoilers, but I can tell you that Morgan is courted during a horse-and-buggy ride uptown, and that one of her dates blesses the food before their postgame dinner at Strike City bowling alley.

The show has some laughs, some tears and some good lines – including the teasers before cutting to commercials: “Will she listen to her church and open up her heart?”

On June 19, the show moves to Rock Hill’s The Well: Agape International Ministries, led by Pastor Maurice and Katie Revell. The bachelorette: Valerie Odom.

Click here for more info on the series -- and a preview video.

-- Tim Funk

Friday, May 23, 2014

Buechner fans and scholars to gather in Charlotte

In my years on the faith beat, I’ve covered a lot of sermons and speeches.

One in 1996, by Frederick Buechner (pronounced Beek-ner), has stayed with me.

An award-winning religious writer of novels, memoirs and essay collections, Buechner spoke at Davidson College Presbyterian Church about the quiet, even whispery side of Jesus' resurrection.

"The way the Gospel writers tell it, Jesus came back from the dead not in a blaze of glory," he preached to the packed house, "but more like a candle flame in the dark, flickering first in this place, then in that place, then in no place at all."

That’s closer to how people experience the risen Christ in their lives, added Buechner, who’s also an ordained Presbyterian minister.

I tell you all of this because, next week, Charlotte will play host to the third annual BuechnerFest.

Buechner, now 87, living in Vermont and still many ministers’ favorite writer, will not be attending. But for three days (Thursday, May 29; Friday, May 30; and next Saturday, May 31),
Buechner fans and scholars from here and across the country will gather to talk about his work. The sessions will be at Myers Park Baptist Church, with Queens University of Charlotte providing some of the housing.

Among the presenters: Poet Tony Abbott and novelist Doug Worgul, both of whom will speak about how Buechner has affected their thinking and writing.

Co-sponsoring the event are the Buechner Institute at King University, a Presbyterian school in Bristol, Tenn., and the Frederick Buechner Center in Cambridge, Mass. For registration info and details on the schedule, click here or call 423-652-4156. Cost for the three days: $50 for students; $75 for seniors; and $125 for everybody else. Those who want to attend just part of the fest can register on-site and pay a reduced price. Some events, including a Friday play and a Saturday concert, are free.

And consider this an invitation to check out Buechner's books, including his memoirs ("The Sacred Journey," "Now and Then," "Telling Secrets"), his novels ("Godric," "The Book of Bebb") and his meditations ("Listening to Your Life").

-- Tim Funk

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Washington's Catholic archdiocese 'takes to the heavens, with a drone'

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., has bought a drone.

You read that right: A drone.

According to a recent report in the Washington Post, the archdiocese paid less than $1,000 for the "hubcap-sized flying device." It was pressed into action on Mother's Day to videotape priests, Knights of Columbus and other Catholics marching in a procession to mark the canonization to sainthood of popes John the 23rd and John Paul II.

The video images from the drone-mounted camera were used by the archdiocese -- led by Cardinal Donald Wuerl -- for a YouTube production, the newspaper said.

The Observer asked David Hains, spokesman for Charlotte Bishop Peter Jugis, if the local Catholic diocese has a drone.

His answer, which may or may not have been serious: "We don't have a drone. But I have been dying to get one. Thanks for the good idea."

The Post said drones are becoming increasingly common for non-military use. Like for social media.

If any religious groups in Charlotte have a drone, the Observer would love to know. Call (704-358-5703) or email ( me. Or just drop me a letter from the sky, courtesy of your drone.

Great headline for the Post story, by the way: "Washington Archdiocese takes to the heavens, with a drone."

-- Tim Funk

Friday, May 16, 2014

Religious Left on the rise, thanks to North Carolina

You've heard of the Religious Right, that corps of mostly Christian activists who say the Bible compels them to seek bans on same-sex marriage and abortion.

But did you know there’s a Religious Left? And its profile is on the rise – thanks, in large part, to what’s happening in North Carolina.

The most obvious example is Moral Mondays, those interfaith protests in Raleigh. They’ve become a model for left-leaning clergy around the country who say the Bible compels them to oppose legislation that targets the poor, minorities and gays and lesbians.

Also getting national attention: A group of Charlotte-area religious leaders who recently helped launch the first faith-based court challenge to bans on same-sex marriage. Their lawsuit claimed those prohibitions keep them from practicing their religion by denying them the right to marry certain members of their flock – same-sex couples – in their churches and synagogues.

The Religious Right has always considered North Carolina fertile ground. And its leaders include Republican-friendly North Carolinians, most notably Franklin Graham.

Now the national Religious Left is looking to the state for leadership. At the head of that Democratic-friendly line is the Rev. William Barber, who leads the state NAACP and is chief architect of Moral Mondays.

But in Charlotte, three members of the clergy – all women – have also emerged as grassroots leaders of the Religious Left:

  • The Rev. Nancy Allison, pastor of Holy Covenant United Church of Christ, is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

  • The Rev. Robin Tanner, pastor of Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church, was among ministers willfully arrested during Moral Mondays.

  • And Rabbi Judy Schindler of Temple Beth El has spearheaded two trips to Washington, with Allison and Tanner, to marry gays and lesbian couples from Charlotte.

On May 3, they officiated at the weddings of six same-sex couples who’d been together for a combined total of 100 years.

All three clergywomen are members of denominations that have long taken the lead on progressive causes. The United Church of Christ, which is also a plaintiff in the same-sex lawsuit, ordained its first gay minister in 1972. The Reform movement in Judaism ordained the first American woman rabbi. And for more than a century, Unitarian Universalism has been a magnet for liberal activists, including two civil rights workers murdered by white supremacists in the 1960s.

“What you’re seeing now is the fruit of many years of labor,” Allison said.

Added Schindler: “I’m thankful our voices are being heard. We feel a call to share our passion for social justice and equality.”

PHOTO: (L to R) Allison, Tanner and Schindler

-- Tim Funk

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Franklin Graham's sister, Ruth, echoes his conservative views

Franklin Graham gets most of the headlines, but there's apparently another outspoken political conservative in his famous family.

And I'm not talking about his sister Anne Graham Lotz, the Raleigh-based evangelist who recently gave the keynote address at the National Day of Prayer Task Force event in Washington, D.C. (She was the honorary chair).

No, I mean Ruth Graham, the middle child of Billy and Ruth Graham and the founder of Ruth Graham Ministries.

Most of her books -- including "In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart" and "Fear Not Tomorrow: God is Already There" -- are personal and Bible-focused.

But in her blog, the Virginia-based Graham, a lively writer, has been more bold in expressing her conservative views about politics and the culture.

 In one, she wrote about her friendship with right-leaning pundit Glenn Beck (She invited him and his family to Billy Graham's 95th birthday party in Asheville last November).

 In another, she shared her low opinion of Hollywood and reported that she had walked out of "Noah" because she found the box office hit unbiblical. "The movie is horrible," she wrote.

And in her latest, posted Monday (May 12, 2014), she offers a litany of opinions on everything from government waste, including "entitlements," to the Democratic Party ("A major party boos God," she writes, referring to an incident at the 2012 DNC in Charlotte).

She quotes former Gov. Mike Huckabee, a past and maybe future GOP presidential candidate, and charges that Christians are attacked for their convictions. "Tolerance is permitted for everyone but Christians," she writes. "Mohammed is to be revered, but Jesus can be mocked. Does anyone else have a problem with this?"

-- Tim Funk