California pastor Ryan Bell tries atheism for a year: a publicity stunt?

This story has been floating around for awhile now: California pastor Ryan Bell has vowed to live 2014 as an atheist.

Ryan Bell

Ryan Bell

That means for the next 12 months, Bell, 42, plans to refrain from praying, reading the Bible and thinking about God at all. Seems like an odd choice for the ordained minister, former church pastor, teacher at two highly regarded Christian universities and church consultant.

Bell explained his choice by saying he wants to “do whatever I can to enter the world of atheism and live, for a year, as an atheist.”
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Omaha! Montana pastor calls audible; bolts Sunday service for NFL playoffs

If Rev. Tim Christensen wanted to create a viral sensation from the pulpit with his Sunday sermon, he succeeded.

Head pastor at Gold Hill Lutheran Church in Butte, Mont., Christensen is also a huge San Francisco 49ers fan. And the 49ers’ playoff game on Sunday directly conflicted with the normally scheduled church service.


Rev. Christensen did the only thing he could: delivered perhaps the shortest sermon in the history of Sunday sermons. Check out the video below. It’ll only take a minute to watch. Literally.

The transcript is even funnier, I think:

Pastor: “Would you all like to be forgiven for your sins?”

Congregation: “Yes.”

Pastor: “OK, that’s great. You are. Today’s message was supposed to be about wine, and servanthood, but you know all about that, right?”

Congregation: “Right.”

Pastor: “There’s bread and wine on the table, feel free to help yourself. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

By Monday, Christensen and his church were receiving plenty of attention. That’s when a secretary revealed that all was not as it seemed on the video.

“It was just a little bit of a joke,” she told Mashable. “… the entire congregation knows he’s a big 49ers fan, so they were in on it and he held a full service right after that.”

Presumably, Pastor Christensen was thrilled with the outcome of the game, as the Niners won handily and advanced to this weekend’s NFC Championship Game. A repeat of this scheduling quirk won’t be an issue as the Niners play in the evening.

Kudos to Rev. Christensen for having a bit of fun with the game.

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Catholic diocese buys $500,000 mansion for NJ bishop; bad move in Francis era?

When I read the news late last week that the Camden, N.J. Diocese is buying a $500,000 mansion for Bishop Dennis Sullivan, my first thought was ‘That’s not a wise move.’

With a few days to read more on the transaction, it doesn’t look any better. To be blunt, lavish purchases such as this are bound to attract the unwanted attention of Pope Francis.

This photo taken on May 1, 2006, shows the exterior to Rowan University President Donald Farish's house in Woodbury, N.J. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Camden has bought the mansion to use for the bishop's home and church functions. Diocese spokesman Peter Feuerherd said more space was needed for Bishop Dennis Sullivan to meet with donors, benefactors and use as workspace. The $500,000 sale closed on Dec. 23, 2013. The bishop currently lives in an apartment at the St. Pius X Retreat House in Blackwood, N.J. Photo: Al Schell, AP

This photo taken on May 1, 2006, shows the exterior to Rowan University President Donald Farish’s house in Woodbury, N.J. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Camden has bought the mansion to use for the bishop’s home and church functions. Diocese spokesman Peter Feuerherd said more space was needed for Bishop Dennis Sullivan to meet with donors, benefactors and use as workspace. The $500,000 sale closed on Dec. 23, 2013. The bishop currently lives in an apartment at the St. Pius X Retreat House in Blackwood, N.J. Photo: Al Schell, AP

To make a purchase like this on the heels of well-publicized escapades of German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, 53, defies sensible logic.

To recap the latter episode, Tebartz-van Elst reportedly let the cost of renovating his residence and other church buildings balloon to more than $41 million. German news media mocked luxuries like a $20,000 bathtub, a $1.1 million landscaped garden and plans for an 800-square-foot fitness room.

Francis was not amused and suspended Tebartz-van Elst in October. The pope’s popularity has soared amid reports of his rejection of comforts and concern for the less fortunate.

In short, now is not the time for Catholic leaders to be spending big. Bishop Sullivan seemingly didn’t get the memo.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, the historic mansion once served as the home of the president of Rowan University. The NCR also reported:

The New Jersey diocese purchased the 7,000 square foot home with eight bedrooms and six bathrooms for $500,000. The residence will provide Sullivan with more room for entertaining dignitaries, hosting donors and for work space, according to Peter Feuerherd, diocesan spokesman.

He said the bishop will live there “with at least two other priests, maybe more.”

The home, built in 1908, has been on the market for about two years. According to a report in the Camden Courier Post newspaper, the home was purchased in 2000 for Dr. Donald Farish, then president of Rowan University. Under the university’s ownership, the house underwent about $700,000 in renovations.

Some of the amenities include an in-ground pool, three fireplaces, a library and a five-car garage.

What do you think — did the diocese spend too much money for this home? Should/will Francis take action?

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Winterstown UMC to host ecumenical fundraiser to pay for Corey Haley headstone

It isn’t every day that Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans and other nondenominational Christians come together for Sunday fellowship.

christBut the Rev. Keith Coco felt it was time. The praise and worship pastor at Winterstown United Methodist Church in North Hopewell Township organized the event at 7 p.m. Sunday. Winterstown UMC is located at 12184 Winterstown Road.

“I believe that God does not want us to be separated because of street names or different view on how to worship him,” he said in an email. “Seeing all these churches coming together is an incredible thing to witness and to be part of.”

A former New York City police officer, Coco said he brought different denominations together for worship events prior to moving to York County. It is important for Christians to be united, he added.

“The way the world is today, as Christians we need to come together and show unity and show people the things that we are for instead of the things we against,” Coco said.

Participating churches include: St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Grace Church in New Freedom, Red Lion Zion UMC, Christ Lutheran Church of Spry, and the Agape Fellowship of Dallastown.

The eventing is expected to include plenty of praise music. In addition, the church will collect donations for a headstone for Cory Haley, a firefighter killed Christmas Eve when he was struck by a car while jogging.

Pastor Keith Schmuck said Haley was a member of the church, and that’s why the church community decided to collect donations for a headstone. The donations will go into a fund started by North Hopewell-Winterstown Fire Company, where Haley was a firefighter.

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Boy Scouts Christian alternative launches with 500 troops

My top ten faith stories of 2013 came out today and No. 6 concerns the Boy Scouts:

This photo shows a close up detail of a Boy Scout uniform worn by Brad Hankins, a campaign director for Scouts for Equality, as he responds questions during a news conference in front of the Boy Scouts of America headquarters in Irving, Texas.(Photo: Tony Gutierrez, AP)

This photo shows a close up detail of a Boy Scout uniform worn by Brad Hankins, a campaign director for Scouts for Equality, as he responds questions during a news conference in front of the Boy Scouts of America headquarters in Irving, Texas.(Photo: Tony Gutierrez, AP)

6. The Boy Scouts of America allows gay Scouts

In May, the Boy Scouts of America announced that the 1,400 voting members of its national council reached the decision to remove the restriction on gay Scouts after “the most comprehensive listening exercise” in the organization’s history.

That decision left many York County church leaders with decisions of their own to make. The Boy Scouts have long been affiliated with faith groups, with many churches, synagogues and other religious organizations sponsoring Scouts as part of their youth ministries.

The BSA policy change, which goes into effect Jan. 1, permits openly gay Scouts but retains a ban on gay adult Scout leaders.

Ronald M. Gardner Jr., Scout executive and CEO of the New Birth of Freedom Council, which serves more than 11,000 Scouts in York, Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin and Perry counties, said several churches in the six-county area discontinued scouting programs due to the change. He would not identify the churches.

Recapping this story reminded me to check on our local churches and Boy Scout troops to recap the situation here. Have any troops been dropped in York County? If so, what has happened the young Scouts?

Religious groups sponsor about 70 percent of the BSA’s 100,000 troops; after the policy change was announced, most of the major sponsors — Mormons, Catholics and United Methodists — agreed to remain with the BSA despite unease in some corners about lifting the gay ban.

Meanwhile, a new Christian organization kicked off this week. The new scouting group, Trail Life USA, was created by, which opposed the BSA’s policy change — effective on Jan. 1.

Mark Hancock, Trail Life USA’s chief operating officer, said close to 500 troops have signed up since early September, a handbook has been created and leadership guides have been published for three levels of boys in kindergarten through the 12th grade.

“We have a very excited group of churches and Christian organizations that are joining us,” Hancock told the Religion News Service. “They’re ready to go.”

He said the organization has “hundreds of volunteers all over the country” and will have a staff of six on Jan. 1 in virtual rather than brick-and-mortar offices. Hancock said many participants are evangelical Christian, but a number of Catholic troops are starting as well.

“Our focus is not really on numbers but it’s on providing a quality program for families to help the boys become men,” he said.

Those that have signed up — and paid $325 for the first year’s charter fee (it will subsequently be $185 annually) — include churches and other groups with a statement of Christian beliefs, such as a Christian home school organization or a Christian camp.

Trail Life USA’s values statement includes a section on purity that reads, in part: “We are to reserve sexual activity for the sanctity of marriage, a lifelong commitment before God between a man and a woman.”

Deron Smith, spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, said “it would be inappropriate for us to discuss other organizations,” but added “what we’re hearing from our councils is that only a handful of chartered organizations have decided not to renew their sponsorship of troops. We are thankful that the overwhelming majority of our units and members remain committed to the Scouting program.”

What do you think about the new organization? Is there enough demand for a Christian Scouting alternative to made it successful?

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Pew Research Center: Americans believe strongly in evolution

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that six-in-ten Americans believe humans evolved over time.

Meanwhile, a third (33%) reject the idea of evolution, saying that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.”

christThe share of the general public saying that humans have evolved over time is about the same as in 2009, when Pew Research last asked the question.

The survey provides an interesting peek into not only the faith views of Americans, but also political and science views as well.

Many respondents take a little from both the evolution and God camps to find a middle-of-the-road view on how we came to be.

About half of those who express a belief in human evolution take the view that evolution is “due to natural processes such as natural selection” (32% of the American public overall). But many Americans believe that God or a supreme being played a role in the process of evolution.

Indeed, roughly a quarter of adults (24%) say that “a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today.”

What are your thoughts on evolution?

Some other findings from the survey:

Beliefs about evolution differ strongly by religious group. White evangelical Protestants are particularly likely to believe that humans have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. Roughly two-thirds (64%) express this view, as do half of black Protestants (50%). By comparison, only 15% of white mainline Protestants share this opinion.

· There are sizable differences by party affiliation in beliefs about evolution, and the gap between Republicans and Democrats has grown. In 2009, 54% of Republicans and 64% of Democrats said humans have evolved over time, a difference of 10 percentage points. Today, 43% of Republicans and 67% of Democrats say humans have evolved, a 24-point gap.

· Beliefs about evolution tend to vary by gender, age and education. Men are somewhat more inclined than women to say that humans and other living things have evolved over time. Younger adults are more likely than older Americans to express a belief in evolution. And those with more years of formal schooling are more likely than those with less education to say that humans have evolved.

The nationwide Pew Research Center survey was conducted March 21-April 8, 2013, with a representative sample of 1,983 adults, ages 18 and older. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3.0 percentage points.

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Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays? We report; you decide

OK, let’s get into it.

A couple news items of note have crossed my laptop over the past 18 hours, both related to whether it should be “Merry Christmas!” or “Happy Holidays.”

Lou Girolami, manager of reFindings, York's architectural warehouse, places the final touches on his tree entry for the 2013 Festival of Trees in York last month. (Paul Kuehnel - Daily Record/Sunday News)

Lou Girolami, manager of reFindings, York’s architectural warehouse, places the final touches on his tree entry for the 2013 Festival of Trees in York last month. (Paul Kuehnel – Daily Record/Sunday News)

Which do you prefer?

Now to the news.

Item #1: An Arizona woman, who’s also a bell ringer for the Salvation Army, says she was assaulted for saying the generic “Happy Holidays.”
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More than 60 clergy weigh in on Washington Redskins name controversy

Here’s one I’ve been meaning to catch up on and it involved the clergy and the world of sports.

More than 60 clergy members have signed a letter to the NFL and Washington team owner Dan Snyder calling for D.C.’s football team to change its name.

washingtonredskins_logoThe letter, highlighted in the latest radio ad from the Change the Mascot campaign, asserts that the faith leaders have a moral obligation to take a stand against “the offensive and inappropriate name of Washington’s NFL team.”

I’ve followed this Redskins controversy for some time now, and was surprised to hear faith leaders chiming in.

D.C. Rev. Graylan Hagler circulated the letter and rallied support from clergy members representing a diverse range of communities through the D.C. metro area and beyond. The senior pastor at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ and a long-time critic of the name of Washington’s NFL team, Hagler will narrate the newest ad from Change the Mascot.

Of course, opponents of the name welcomed the support.

“Faith leaders and organizations from a variety of faith backgrounds are increasingly voicing their disapproval of the team’s name and making it clear that the time to change the name is now,” said Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter. “These clergy leaders have sent a powerful message to the NFL that no group deserves to be treated as the target of a hurtful racial slur, and that Native Americans should be treated as what we are: Americans.”

While the mixing of faith and sports might seem odd in what many Americans view as a political correctness issue, other denominations have weighed in on the Redskins name.

In recent weeks, two leading D.C.-area rabbis published a CNN op-ed taking a strong stand against the Washington team’s use of the R-word. The Council on American-Islamic Relations has also called for a name change from the team.

What do you think — should faith leaders be concerned with a sports’ team name? Will it have an impact? Or is it all just much ado about nothing?

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Christmas Eve services around York County

As I did last year, I plan to list Christmas Eve services in this space. Christmas is coming up fast and I know most churches in York County are having services that Tuesday night.

My plan is to list them all here. Then we will link to it from other places and publicize it through social media and the like.

For that, I need all the churches and pastors reading this to send me your info. Send your info to, or add it to the comments here.

Thanks in advance. Here is what we have so far:

Christmas Eve Services

Asbury United Methodist Church: 340 E. Market St., York, early service with Holy Communion at 3 p.m.; family service at 7 p.m.; Christmas concert at 10:30 p.m.; and service at 11 p.m.

Bethlehem United Methodist Church: 109 E. Main St., Dallastown, quiet Communion in the Church Prayer room at noon; Family service at 5 p.m.; Traditional Candlelight service at 10:30 p.m.

Calvary Bible Church: 603 Wilson Ave., Penn Township, Communion service at 5 p.m.

Carpenter’s Workshop Fellowship: 57 Church St., Seven Valleys, Candlelight service at 7 p.m.

Chapel Church: 3050 Cape Horn Road, York Township, kid-friendly service at 5:30 p.m.; Candlelight service at 7:30 p.m.

Christ Lutheran Church: 126 W. Main St., Dallastown, early family service at 5 p.m.; Candlelight Communion service at 7 and 10 p.m.

Christ United Methodist Church: 200 N. Main St., Jacobus, Candlelight service at 7 p.m. with music by the church orchestra preceding this at 6:30 p.m.

First Church of the Brethren: 2710 Kingston Road, Springettsbury Township, Traditional service at 7 p.m. in the Sanctuary; Special service at 11 p.m. in the Chapel.

Glory House Ministries: 40 Jefferson Ave., York, Service at 6:30 p.m. with Christmas music and singing, verse by verse reading of Christ’s Birth, explanation of and lighting of Advent Candles, and lighting of hand held candles during procession and singing of “Silent Night.”

Grace Baptist Church: 3920 East Prospect Road, Windsor Township, Candlelight/Communion service at 7 p.m.

Grace Fellowship: 1405 Seven Valleys Road, North Codorus Township, Candlelight Service at 6 p.m.

Heidelberg United Church of Christ: 47 W. Philadelphia St., York, Candlelight service at 9 p.m. Pre-service music begins at 8:45 p.m.

Lighthouse Baptist Church: 5005 Carlisle Road, Dover Township, service at 6 p.m. with Music of the Season preceding this at 5:30 p.m.

Locust Grove United Church of Christ: 1035 Locust Grove Road, Windsor Township, Candlelight service at 7 p.m. with Holy Communion.

Messiah United Methodist Church: 1300 N. Beaver St., North York, Candlelight services at 4, 7, and 11 p.m. Holy Communion is offered at the 11 p.m. service.

Monaghan Presbyterian Church: 1185 Gettysburg Pike, Carroll Township, services at 5:30, 7:30, and 9:30 p.m. The 5:30 p.m. service is for children and families, while the Traditional Candlelight services will be held at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.

Mount Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church: 2164 Mount Zion Road, Springettsbury Township, Candlelight service at 4 and 10:30 p.m.; Festival service at 7 p.m. Holy Communion will be offered at all three services.

New Creation Community Church: 3005 Emig Mill Road, Dover Township, Family Candlelight service at 7 p.m.; Candlelight service at 10 p.m. with Holy Communion.

Otterbein United Methodist Church: 3227 N. George St., Manchester Township, Candlelight service at 9 p.m.

Otterbein United Methodist Church of Spry: 50 School St., York Township, Family service at 7 p.m. with
Santa making a special appearance. The Traditional Candlelight service with Holy Communion will be held at 11 p.m. with special music by the church musicians preceding this at 10:30 p.m.

Prospect United Methodist Church: 8 Orchard Road, Fawn Township, Traditional Candlelight service art 7 p.m.
Shrewsbury Assembly of God: 234 N. Main St., Shrewsbury, Candlelight Community service at 7 p.m.

St. James Lutheran Church: 180 W. Market St., Hellam, service of Scripture and Carols with Candlelighting and Holy Communion at 9 p.m.

St. John (Sadler’s) Lutheran Church: 2916 Sadler’s Church Road, Hopewell Township, Candlelight service of Carols at 7 p.m. with Holy Communion.

St. John’s Blymire’s United Church of Christ: 1009 Blymire Road, York Township, Candlelight service at 11 p.m. with Holy Communion.

St. John Lutheran Church: 2580 Mount Rose Ave., Springettsbury Township, Children’s/Family service at 7 p.m.; Traditional Candlelight/Communion service at 10 p.m.

St. Mark Lutheran Church: 129 Charles St., Hanover, services at 4 and 7 p.m.

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church: 25 W. Springettsbury Ave., Spring Garden Township, The Holy Eucharist at 7 p.m.; Compline with Holy Communion at 10:30 p.m.

Saint Paul Lutheran Church, 250 Trinity Road, West Manchester, will have Christmas Eve services at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., both candlelight. Holy Communion at 10 p.m.

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Hametown, 4:30 and 7 p.m. Candlelight with Holy Communion; Christmas Day at 9 a.m. with Holy Communion

St. Stephen’s UCC, 1569 W. Market St., West York, hosts 7 p.m. Christmas Eve Candlelight Service of scriptures, choir music, carols, and Holy Communion led by the Rev. Dr. W. Arthur Grahe.

Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York: 925 S. George St., York, Vespers service, 4 p.m. – 5 p.m.; Family Service, 7 p.m. – 8 p.m.; Candlelight Service, 9 p.m. – 10 p.m.

Wrightsville Presbyterian Church: 205 N. Second St., Wrightsville, service for young kids at 5 p.m.; Cantata & Candlelighting service at 7 p.m.

Christmas day Services

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church: 25 W. Springettsbury Ave., Spring Garden Township, The Holy Eucharist at 10:30 a.m.

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Does Hobby Lobby have a point in its contraception showdown with Obama?

Last week, I caught up on the Hobby Lobby case, which is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

To recap, at issue is whether evangelical-owned Hobby Lobby has to pay for health insurance that includes coverage for contraception, as the president’s health care plan requires? The big issue here is whether the birth control mandate violates federal protections of religious freedom.

My Way is one form of contraception available to women. (The Associated Press)

My Way is one form of contraception available to women. (The Associated Press)

The Supreme Court agreed to take the case, and a similar suit brought by a Mennonite-owned cabinet maker.

The conflict arose over what is considered a “preventative benefit.” The Institute of Medicine recommended in July 2011 that contraceptives be included in a suite of preventive benefits for women, alongside coverage for breast feeding and cervical cancer screenings.
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