20 minutes with David Eicher

When do churches need a new hymnal -- not just new volumes, but new selections? Who decides how many hymns to include, which ones are "in" and which ones are "out"? Leslie Scanlon, Outlook national reporter, recently talked with David Eicher, the new hymnal editor for the Presbyterian Publishing Corp. to get more information on the new Presbyterian Hymnal now in the planning stages.

L.S.: Let's start with your background. Why don't you introduce yourself to the church a little bit?

D.E.: I've been involved in music in the Presbyterian Church for almost 30 years. My background was not Presbyterian; I was raised the son of a Church of the Brethren and grew up in a real hymn-singing tradition. My parents both sang. And my sister and I, when we got old enough -- the great excitement was when finally my voice changed and I could sing tenor, and then we had a soprano, alto, tenor and bass. The whole family would sing. One of our games in the car when we were traveling was to see how many stanzas of hymns we could sing through, without any books.

Mission and money: Council facing decisions on raising, allocating funds

LOUISVILLE -- In just two short months, the General Assembly Council will be asked to vote upon a proposed budget for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for the next two years. And one difficult decision the council will have to make at its meeting April 23-25 is how much to spend on international missionaries.

The bottom line: because the denomination does not have enough money, the number of mission co-workers serving the denomination overseas is dropping at what's been described as a "precipitous pace."

VBS curricula review for 2008

2008 Vacation Bible School planning is underway. Publishers of VBS curricula give the following synopses of available material.


Concordia Publishing

Join our Friendship Trek, a hike through the Bible to meet Jesus, our Forever Friend.

Kids find faith, fun, and friends at Friendship Trek! Bullying, inclusion and social skills are hot issues for kids. Friendship Trek kids encounter the incredible love of Jesus, our Forever Friend, and practice friendship skills in a daily Good Friend Challenge.

Kids explore five friend-filled Bible stories about Jesus. They follow Jesus as He reaches out to a new friend named Matthew. They go along as a centurion's friends ask Jesus to heal the man's servant. They traipse to the temple as Jesus heals a blind friend, then go to Bethany to see Jesus raise his friend Lazarus from the dead. Finally, they huddle in a locked room on Easter night to witness the ultimate love Jesus showed by giving His life for His friends.

Jesus is the greatest friend of all!

Christmas and the wilderness banquet

One of the most densely packed New Testament texts is the feeding of the 5,000 that appears (Mk 6:34-46) just after the murder of John the Baptist. The larger setting of the story is clearly one of the "Markan sandwiches." The Twelve are sent out, John is murdered and suddenly the twelve return to Jesus. The mission is brought to an abrupt end as they return at once for consultation. The entire countryside is in an uproar with people "coming and going" (v. 31) from "all the towns" (v. 33) in the province. Only here in the entire New Testament do we read the phrase "coming and going." Everyone wants to know: What does Jesus have to say about the murder of his cousin and what is he planning to do about it? They are not even able to eat (v. 31). Making an astute decision, Jesus tells his disciples, Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while (v. 31). It is time to regroup and reflect on their next move.

Clergy retirement: Options and opportunities available

David McFarlane remembers the first Board of Pensions retirement seminar he attended. He was chairing the Committee on Ministry for Western New York Presbytery, and one of his responsibilities was to encourage pastors nearing retirement age to attend the seminars.

So it was suggested that he go himself -- the argument being something like, "You'll never convince anybody to go unless you go yourself."

McFarlane, then in his 40s, did go. He and his wife, Ann, walked into the room, sat down next to an older couple and struck up a conversation. The older man said he was intending to retire in about three weeks. He had not said a word to his session. The couple was living in a manse, owned no home and had no idea where they would live. They had made no plans.

"We were just stunned," McFarlane said. "My glory, three weeks away ... I said, 'No matter what else we do, we won't do that.' "

Now, after many years and after retiring themselves, the McFarlanes are among a number of "consultant couples" who speak at retirement seminars sponsored by the Board of Pensions. They don't offer advice; in other words, they don't tell people what to do. But they do walk people through questions they're likely to encounter as they consider retirement -- questions such as where to live and how to use their time when they step aside from the pulpit. They try to help them envision what, for them, retirement might be like. 

20 minutes with Tom Taylor

Tom Taylor, former pastor of Glenkirk Church in Glendora, Calif., now is the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s deputy executive director for mission. Here are excerpts from a conversation Taylor had with the Outlook's national reporter, Leslie Scanlon.


LS: Now that you've been in the job for a few months, what are some of your general thoughts on how it's going?

TT: One of the first impressions I had in the first month or two was that I was surprised, really surprised in some ways, at how many great things are going in the life of this General Assembly. ... One of the real challenges I've seen is our communications challenge, to make sure we tell those stories and get the word out.

Canons of convenience: Churches face choices for worship on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day


Last year, some megachurches got tongues flapping fast when they decided to cancel worship services on Christmas Day -- which happened to be Sunday morning.

This year, churches face another Christmas "what to do" decision, because Dec. 24 lands on a Sunday. So congregations big and small must decide whether to offer both Sunday morning worship and a full lineup of Christmas Eve services -- or whether that's just too much.

Some people want a traditional late-night Christmas Eve service, with a choir and communion and candlelight.

Former senators take on needs of hungry: Outlook Q & A with George McGovern

This Thanksgiving, as Americans sit to break bread and count their blessings, Bob Dole and George McGovern want them to think about the men, women and children all over the world who do not have enough to eat.

These men -- one a Republican, one a Democrat, both former U.S. Senators and presidential hopefuls -- have written a new book called "Ending Hunger Now."

Their basic argument is this: There is enough food being produced in the world. Millions do not need to go hungry, while others gather around tables piled with food, if governments and individuals have the political will to spend enough money to make it stop.

Dole was traveling out of the country and could not be reached for comment. But McGovern, now 83 and living in South Dakota, took time for an interview. "I'm trying to live to 100," he said. "There are so many things I still want to do."

Outlook national reporter Leslie Scanlon interviewed McGovern and Donald E. Messer, a professor of practical theology and president emeritus at The Iliff School of Theology in Denver, where he directs the Center for the Church and Global AIDS.

Here are excerpts from those conversations.

Pastors and the Sabbath: God set the example

Summer is supposed to be a time when time almost stops, with long slow days spent reading books and picking berries and fishing and hiking and drinking an icy something and yakking with the relatives. You're supposed to be able to eat dinner in your bathing suit or your pajamas if you wish.

Tell that to the ministers.

For ministers, summer is a time when there's still worship every Sunday and people still get sick and die and their marriages still hit the rocks (remember those cold beverages and all the yakking with the relatives?). For a solo pastor serving a small church, taking vacation can mean finding someone else to fill in. For ministers from bigger churches, it can mean shouldering more of the load, taking on more stress, so someone else can fit in a week or two away.

Within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and in other denominations, some are starting to pay attention to the realities of ministers' working lives -- to the sources both of joy and of stress. There has been a lot of conversation about what kinds of people are going into ministry and what happens to them when they do -- if they are well-enough prepared, if they are the right kinds of people for the congregations that need pastors, if they like the work and the pay well enough to stick around.