Derby Day Address

Ben (r) processing with classmates & faculty

Ben (right) processing with classmates & faculty

I had a blast giving the commencement address yesterday as Ben graduated from Derby Academy in Hingham. It really was very special to be asked to do this with a son in the graduating class and I was very grateful for the opportunity. Of course I didn’t say what I really wanted to communicate to the students upon finishing 8th grade: “Congrats! Now move out of the house and get a job!”

As you’d imagine with the oldest co-educational school in the nation, there are many commencement day traditions. Each year on Derby Day the entire school processes down Fearing Road to the New North Church for the graduation ceremony. It happened to be raining but that didn’t stop Head of School Andrea Archer from saying “busses be damned!” (or something to that effect). And we all marched jubilantly down to the church umbrellas in hand.


Bringing up the rear with the Head of School

The commencement address is referred to as the Derby Day Lecture — in fact I gave the 222nd one in the school’s history. To me the difference between an “address” and a “lecture” is about 40 minutes but fortunately for everyone involved I didn’t go with my gut. In my experience, as with sermons, no one has ever complained about a commencement address being too short.

I don’t think I’ll be replacing Oprah on the short list for Stanford or Yale next year but my mid-May calendar is pretty wide open at this point. I’m just disappointed I was awarded an honorary 8th grade degree.

 222nd Derby Day Lecture
June 7, 2013
New North Church
Hingham, Massachusetts
The Rev. Tim Schenck

A few weeks ago I spent some time with the 8th graders and had the opportunity to sit in on a number of their senior speeches. They touched on a variety of topics but I was so impressed not only with their public speaking ability but with the content. This is a group of young men and women who are passionate, articulate, profound, thoughtful, and witty. And, frankly, I’m a bit nervous having to speak in front of all of these wonderful public speakers.

As happens when learning the basics of oratory, they were encouraged to begin each speech with a formal introduction. Which went like this: “Honored faculty, fellow students,” and then since I was there they were required to add “distinguished guest.” Now I admit it was pretty good for my ego to hear that phrase over and over again. For some reason my family refuses to refer to me as “distinguished” when we’re sitting around the dinner table and I hardly ever get called “distinguished guest” when I show up at The Snug.

But this morning, I think we need to turn this around a bit to recognize that this is a special day in the lives of our graduates as we gather to celebrate the Derby Class of 2013. So here goes:

Mrs. Archer, esteemed trustees, honored faculty, family members, friends, and distinguished guests.

Today each one of you is a “distinguished guest” as we mark this milestone. You have worked hard to get to this moment and I encourage you to revel in it and savor it and enjoy it. Just don’t expect to be called “distinguished” for the rest of the summer. It’s not happening.

When Mrs. Archer first called on behalf of the Board of Trustees to invite me to offer the 222nd Derby Day Lecture, I had two initial thoughts. First, I have to admit I thought there’d be horses involved. And big hats and mint juleps. And that I’d be at Churchill Downs in Kentucky. I was all set to handicap the big race; the Kentucky Derby, the crown jewel of racing’s Triple Crown.

And then I realized she was talking about a different Derby Day. But a Derby Day no less grand in its pageantry and tradition and importance. And if you think about it, there are some parallels between the pageantry of a Triple Crown race and a DerbyAcademy graduation. Instead of the jockeys being all decked out in colorful racing silks, we have the faculty all decked out in colorful academic garb. Instead of the horses processing up to the starting gate, we have the graduates processing into NewNorthChurch. In both instances there’s a tangible sense of excitement and anticipation in the air; a spirit that not even a little bit of rain can dampen. There’s only one problem with this analogy: your lives are not a horse race. It’s not a sprint to the finish with blinders on. You’re here to enjoy each moment, to soak it all in, and to revel in the relationships you make along the way.

As many of you know, as a commencement speaker I’m not a completely objective observer — I’m also the father of one of our graduates. And so my second thought after being asked to speak today was what a wonderful, unique, diabolical opportunity to publicly humiliate Ben. I recognized a chance to get him back for all the nagging about homework and all the chauffeuring around town and all the times I asked about how his day went only to be given the one word response: “fine.” For parents of middle schoolers much of life is lived on a “need to know” basis and there is evidently precious little that falls into that category.

Okay, I promised I wouldn’t do or say anything too embarrassing — I mean besides my mere presence. But as many of you know, Ben has a certain pet he likes to talk about. A lot. Mimi the ferret. In fact, I understand that Ben’s known to his classmates as the Ferret King. I am so proud of him for this that it literally makes me want to weep. But I did promise Ben and some of his friends that I would somehow work ferrets into today’s address.

So here goes — four pieces of advice based on why you should not act like a ferret. First, ferrets are sneaky. They like to abscond with things like keys and mittens and important papers like homework. So my first piece of advice to you is don’t steal things.

This is related to number two. Ferrets live in cages. If you steal things you too might end up living in a cage. Don’t go to jail.

If not bathed occasionally ferrets begin to smell. Trust me, you haven’t really lived until you’ve bathed a ferret in the kitchen sink while your wife takes a photo of you and immediately posts it to Facebook. So the third piece of advice is, bathe occasionally.

Finally, ferrets sleep for 22 hours a day. Don’t sleep for 22 hours a day. You’ll miss school, you won’t be able to hold down a job, and you may well wind up living in a cage.

Okay, graduates, that was your brief ferret shout-out — I hope you enjoyed it.

Now when you’re dressed like this you have to at least mention Scripture. And there was a particular passage that kept popping into my head as I thought about this day. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus talks about those who hear his words and act on them as being like a wise man that built his house on rock. “The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.” But those who hear his words and fail to act on them are like a foolish man who built his house on sand. “The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell.”

What this speaks to in this context is the importance of a strong foundation.Through your parents and your teachers and your classmates and your entire Derby experience, you have a solid foundation for the rest of your lives; a foundation built on rock. No one can take that away. And as the storms of life swirl — and they will — you can always trust in this foundation. This foundation that has been built by loving parents, gifted teachers, dedicated friends, and by your own hard work. This foundation isn’t complete of course — it will be added to and fortified over the years. But much of this foundation is formed from the culture of support and honesty and creativity and love and care at DerbyAcademy. And it is a solid foundation upon which to build the rest of your lives.

And, yes, you have a lot more life in front of you. You’re facing four years of high school. And then four years of college. And then, for some of you, another two or three years or five years of graduate school. In other words, you have about another decade of school ahead of you. Your future holds tens of thousands of pages you haven’t read; hours and hours of homework you haven’t done; hundreds of essays you haven’t written; myriad math problems you haven’t solved, and tons of tests to study for.

Now, I’m not trying to depress you on this celebratory day; quite the contrary. Because your future is a great gift. And along with all that future hard work comes opportunity. You have the opportunity to make a difference in the world. You have the opportunity to be a force for good. You have the opportunity to impact lives. You have the opportunity to share your creativity and giftedness with others. And I know you will.

But if there’s only one thing you remember about this day, I’d like you to remember this — it’s something that’s important as you enter high school and it’s something you need to live a full, fruitful, healthy, and successful life: find your passion. It doesn’t matter what it is — playing the oboe or writing poetry or rugby or rock climbing or chess or chemistry. Experiment, try new things, challenge yourself, fail at some things and realize it’s all part of the learning process.

Your calling over the next few years is to find your passion, to seek out what brings you joy, to discover what makes your soul sing. Your passion is something as unique to you as your DNA. Only you can discover it and nurture it and allow it grow into maturity.

And as you step out of the familiar and friendly confines of DerbyAcademy into the new, exciting, yet unfamiliar place of what is to come, never forget the solid foundation upon which you stand. It will serve you well as you discover that each moment of your life is dripping with possibility and teeming with energy and passion. Go out and find yours.

Thank you and God bless you all in the years ahead.

Boston Strong?

BostonStrongRibbonI was down in Copley Square last week for the first time since the marathon bombings. The place was still crawling with news trucks and reporters and police on a beautiful Tuesday morning. I saw the impromptu memorials made up of running shoes and t-shirts and flowers and teddy bears and hand-made signs.

There was a hushed tone quality in the memorial area even as the bustle of downtown Boston swirled all around it. People were writing notes of prayer and support and simply milling around trying to take in the whole scene. Some looked stunned, some resigned, some were quietly wiping away tears; there were gawkers, of course, angling to get in the background of one of CNN’s live shots, but I think everyone was in some way seeking to come to grips with what happened on marathon Monday.

After I said a few quiet prayers, I started thinking about the Boston Strong slogan that’s been on t-shirts and stickers and hats and, more importantly, in the hearts of so many in this area. I agree with the sentiment that in times of trial and distress, it’s important for a community to band together and seek strength in its own unity. Those of us who live in the Boston area take pride in this community and our ties to it and there is great strength of spirit and character here. Anyone who witnessed or participated in the singing of the National Anthem at the Garden before the Bruins played in the first public event after the bombing couldn’t help but get chills.

IMG_1621But I think focusing exclusively on the image of strength has potential pitfalls. When we wrap ourselves in the mantra of Boston Strong, we face the possibility of denying our vulnerability both as individuals and as a community. Clinging to the notion of strength in the midst of uncertainty and fear, does make us feel better and safer in the short-term. But it also has a shadow side of desperation — if we only say we’re strong over and over again, it will magically become true.

Now I realize no one would buy a hat that said “Boston Vulnerable.” That’s not a slogan anyone would rally around or start chanting at a Red Sox game. But from a faith perspective we’re challenged to think beyond popular slogans to get to the heart of things. People being blown up in a public place on a sacred day at an iconic event makes us feel anything but strong. If we’re honest with ourselves, it taps into our deepest anxieties and fears; and feelings of vulnerability and helplessness can’t help but be stirred up.

In his First Letter to the Corinthians, we hear Jesus tell St. Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” In other words strength and vulnerability are not mutually exclusive. It is because of our vulnerability as human beings that we’re able to trust in the strength of God. It’s not our own strength that will see us through — no matter how many t-shirts get sold. It is the strength of God alone that allows us to endure and persevere in the midst of profound tragedy and grief and to find comfort and strength and solace in the context of community.

0502_boston-strongIn light of this Paul goes on to say, “Whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” Not because God will fix it and make it all better like a mother who kisses a skinned knee. But because through Jesus we know that God is present even in our darkest hours, even in those moments we feel most vulnerable or alone of forsaken.

When I was a priest in New York, a parishioner asked me if I’d go say last rites for his grandmother — the woman who had raised him. The catch was I had to go to some huge hospital in the middle of the Bronx, which I was happy to do even if it meant getting lost a few times on the way. It turned out her roommate had just died and one of the hospital chaplains was with the family as I arrived. He kept saying over and over again, “Be strong. You gotta be strong.” And I wanted to scream, “No! That’s not what they need right now!” This is precisely the time they need to cast their burdens upon the Lord. They don’t have to be strong, just faithful. And if they can’t do that right now they can just be, and let God hold them in the palm of his hand.

There’s a time to be strong but there’s also a time to admit our weakness, to admit our powerlessness in a situation and let God take the lead. And in that we find true strength.

Strange Bedfellows

Some phone calls are unexpected. Some are out of the blue. And some you’d have to figure an icy cold front just whipped through Hades.

I had such a phone call on Monday. A man called my cell phone while I was sipping a nice Guatemalan coffee at Redeye Roasters. His first line was “Here’s a call you weren’t expecting – it’s the infamous Hingham hunter.” And, no, for those of you who fondly recall the 2010 Goosegate controversy I was not expecting a call from David Schutz.

Dave wanted to talk to me about a well-publicized recent incident where a hunter in Norton mistakenly shot a woman out walking her two dogs. He thought she was a deer. Now, I’m no hunter but I’m pretty sure I’d be able to distinguish between Bambi and a 66-year-old woman walking a couple of dogs.

The woman, Cheryl Blair, has undergone a whopping seven surgeries since the New Year’s Eve shooting. You can read about her current condition here.

So why did Dave want to talk to me? Besides praying for Mrs Blair — which I have been doing — I couldn’t imagine much more I could do. Some clergy have been known to offer a Blessing of the Hunt at the start of hunting season but that hardly seemed appropriate in this case.

It turns out that since our well-documented, AP wire encounter, Dave created an organization called The Sportsmen’s Alliance (yes, TSA). The purpose of the group is to educate the public about hunting laws in general and advocate for ethical hunting practices amid hunters themselves.

According to Dave, the hunter in Norton saw a deer earlier in the day and assumed the movement he later observed was the deer’s tail. Two problems here: when hunting you must be 100% sure of the target — there’s no “I think” when it comes to the discharge of a potentially deadly weapon — and you never shoot a deer in the tail which will injure but not kill the animal. Needless to say, Dave was outraged at what he considers the unethical and immoral actions of the hunter involved. You can read some of his comments on the issue here.

One other wrinkle to this case: the hunter is a Massachusetts State Trooper. The state has not filed criminal charges nor have they taken away his hunting license. Dave’s group is not calling for the hunter to be jailed but is adamant that his license to hunt be taken away. As he put it to a group of fellow hunters regarding law enforcement, “If they won’t step up to stop a bad hunter, how can we depend on them to protect good, responsible and lawful ones?”

It is on this issue where Dave sought out common ground with a known opponent of hunting. Of course, as I said from the very beginning of Goosegate, I am not opposed to hunting but I am opposed to hunting at the Hingham Bathing Beach. In fact, a couple of months ago a hunter in the parish brought me some of his famous pheasant stew after a trip to Vermont, which was decidedly savory.

Nonetheless, I do agree with Dave that at a minimum the hunting license should be revoked and I’d be willing to sign his petition to make this happen. It reads as follows:

We the undersigned, support the efforts of The Sportsmen’s Alliance  to promote public safety and the laws relating to hunting in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for the benefit of the public and responsible hunters. Towards this objective and consistent with Mass. General Law Ch. 131 sec. 60 – Negligent or careless use of a  weapon, causing injury or death, we demand that the hunting license of Mr. John Bergeron be revoked for what we believe to be careless and negligent use of a hunting rifle that seriously and permanently injured Mrs. Cheryl Blair.

If you live in Hingham, you’ll likely see this petition at some point and I wouldn’t be surprised if an online version makes the rounds as well. As I told Dave, I won’t be circulating this at church (for obvious reasons) but I’m happy to write about it here.

Following our phone call, we agreed to chat in my office the next day. We had a wide-ranging conversation on a number of topics, including hunting. While you’ll never catch me out stalking antelope and while I’ll never support hunting along Hingham Harbor, this is yet another reminder that nothing beats face-to-face conversation. I actually liked the guy. A lot. And as he was leaving he even joked about me not having horns after all.

Media wars and the vilification that comes from dehumanizing online anonymous comments only widen the gaps between people of differing views. Actually speaking to someone remains the best way to break down barriers between people.

I thank Dave for reminding me of this. Plus he said he’d bring me a goose one of these days (hopefully already plucked).

Coffee Salvation

Father Tim Schenck looks on as Redeye Roasters owner Bob Weeks roasts a batch of Brazilian coffee.

To celebrate the opening of Redeye Roasters, I couldn’t help myself from writing an article that appears in the current edition of the Hingham Journal. Naturally, I wrote it while sipping coffee in the new shop.

Coffee Salvation

By the Rev. Tim Schenck

Mecca has arrived in Hingham – at least for coffee aficionados. With the opening of Redeye Roasters Coffee & Espresso Lounge, coffee drinkers throughout the South Shore finally have a destination artisanal coffee shop to call their own.

Ever since moving to Hingham 2½ years ago, one of my great frustrations has been the lack of a decent coffee shop in these parts. Believe me, I’ve looked everywhere and sipped a lot of coffee. When your sermon-writing ritual depends on sitting in a coffee shop with a laptop, not being able to get a superior cup of java takes on cosmic proportions. Well, perhaps not cosmic, but I certainly wouldn’t want to subject my parishioners to un-caffeinated preaching preparation.

While America, and much of Massachusetts, might “run on Dunkin,” those of us who are self-pronounced “coffee snobs” do not. Two words come to mind when easing into the drive-through at Dunkin’ Donuts: brown water. Nor does Starbucks hold a candle to any independent coffee roaster. Their burned dark roasts kill off the nuanced flavor of coffee while their corporate atmosphere kills off any ambiance.

Yes, I recognize that I’ve likely offended a lot of people with that last paragraph. But once you make the switch to specialty coffee, you just can’t go back. I was “converted” at a wonderful coffee shop in Tarrytown, New York, that roasted all of their beans on-site. Coffee Labs Roasters remains one of my favorite places in the world and I drank enough coffee while on sabbatical in 2008 to finish writing a book there.

I also love Bob’s story. After being laid off as the art director at a Boston marketing firm in 2006, he started roasting coffee out of his home. He has been a fixture at the Hingham Farmers Market selling pour-over coffee, espresso, cappuccino, and lattes out of his custom-designed coffee truck and his blends have been available by the pound at gourmet grocery stores like the Fruit Center and Whole Foods.

Along with a growing number of people, I’ve been nagging Bob to open a coffee shop since I moved to Hingham and started stalking him. He’s been graciously donating freshly roasted beans to St. John’s for the past two years in support of my strong belief that churches need not be havens for bad coffee in Styrofoam cups. As I like to say, the church is God’s House not Maxwell’s House. Sure, we had to invest in an industrial-sized grinder but nothing beats walking into church on a Sunday morning to the aroma of freshly ground coffee.

Bob is still roasting coffee but the roaster has moved to the new shop where customers can observe the process and ask questions. Located off of 3A across from Stars on Hingham Harbor in the Bare Cove Marina building, the café offers panoramic water views. Between the view, the smell of freshly roasted coffee, and the delicious, hand-crafted drinks, Redeye Roasters is a sensory experience in every way.

At its best, a coffee shop builds community. People gather to chat and plan and sip their favorite beverage and disagree and support one another and meet new people. Something magical happens that transcends our connections through social media and e-mail and texting. There’s just something about coffee that brings people together.

I hope you’ll stop by and support Bob in this endeavor. The coffee is superb, the staff is friendly and knowledgeable, and Redeye Roasters is yet another reason to love Hingham.

The Rev. Tim Schenck, Rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, writes the monthly “In Good Faith” column for the Hingham Journal.

Advent Blend

In the waning days before the South Shore’s first decent coffee shop opens, I’ve been slumming it at Starbucks. This makes me cringe — both the coffee (they burn it!) and supporting the big box store of java. Fortunately the Redeye Roasters Cafe & Espresso Lounge will be opening this Saturday in walking distance from the church. We’ll finally have an independent coffee shop that both roasts on site and offers a panoramic view of Hingham Harbor. An early Christmas gift!

A few days ago I walked into the local Starbucks and the corporate mandated holiday transformation had just taken place: Christmas music was playing, gifts packs of coffee and holiday-themed mugs were on display, Gingerbread Lattes and Peppermint Mochas were flowing; and their Christmas Blend was brewing.

While listening to a jazzed up version of Jingle Bells I approached the counter and asked for a cup of the “Advent Blend.” Maybe it helped that I was wearing a collar but to his credit the barista didn’t bat an eye and handed over the coffee. I’m happy to order the Christmas Blend during the twelve days of Christmas – which start on Christmas Day — and I’m under no illusion that my small act of civil disobedience matters much. But as Christians, being faithful to the seasons of the Church Year is a spiritual act.

During Advent we can wait; we must wait. Despite the Christmas-Industrial Complex that swirls around us, we’re invited into a period of holy waiting and anticipation. Let the walls of your church this season become a refuge from the madness that surrounds us; a sanctuary from the shopping frenzy and the expectations of others and the guilt and the to-do list driven preparations. As the lights on the Advent wreath build over the next four weeks so does our impending joy. This is a time not of instant gratification but one of sacred loitering, pregnant with possibility and hope.

Yes, we know what the immediate future holds – we’ll soon celebrate the birth of our Savior. But thanks be to God for this counter-cultural gift of waiting and anticipation. Advent blessings to you all.



“Goose Gate” — One Year Later

While last weekend may have marked a certain 10-year anniversary, this coming Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of  another momentous occasion. On September 18th, 2010, “Goose Gate” took place at the Hingham Bathing Beach.

You may recall the media frenzy that descended upon Hingham, Massachusetts, when hunters killed a goose just after I led a “Preach at the Beach” family service. It started off with a front page story above the fold in the Patriot Ledger. Then all the local Boston TV affiliates did pieces on it. Finally it hit the AP wire and circled the globe. It was often cited in the “Weird News” sections of online newspapers which means that, to this day, if you Google “weird” and “Episcopal Church” yours truly shows up.

A lot has been planned to mark the anniversary. Churches throughout the land will be ringing bells at precisely 5:27 pm to remember the goose that laid down his life for no apparent reason. Children in pre-schools from Hingham to San Diego will be playing Duck, Duck, Goose in solidarity with the traumatized kids who attended the service. Goose hunters will blow their goose calls behind their respective blinds to offer a raspberry to one of their comrades who clearly needs target practice. CNN will air a retrospective titled “America Remembers: Goose Gate 2010” and Fox News is profiling me in a story they’re calling “The Goose Hugging Liberal: One Year Later.” (Yes, I was actually called that on talk radio).

My takeaway from the whole affair was that online anonymous comments do nothing to raise the public debate on any issue. And grammar is a lost art. Perhaps along with Field & Stream, “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves” should be required reading of anyone seeking a hunting license. If you need a refresher you can read a sampling of these comments here and here (warning: they’re not for the faint of heart). My favorite was being likened to David Koresh.

As I always maintained, my beef wasn’t against hunters or even hunting itself. It was with hunting at the Hingham Bathing Beach. Kids, kayakers, cars, sun bathers, and boaters don’t mix with fire arms. Period. It’s not about “back door gun control,” as someone accused me of championing, but common sense.

Here’s to a media-free September around these parts!

Little (League) Pet Peeves

Many of you know that I spend a lot of my free time coaching little league baseball. The Rev. Tom Mulvey and I coached our boys’ ten-year-old teams in the Hingham Little League this spring and then, in a Beatles-like reunion tour, agreed to coach one of the summer travel league teams.

I won’t share our teams’ joint won-loss record for fear of self-incrimination. And I have Tom’s legal degree to back me up here. But we’re winding up the regular season tonight in the beachside Shangri-La of Hull before starting the playoffs on Wednesday night. Now before you start popping the champagne and offering us kudos for our sensational coaching acumen, you should know that every team makes the playoffs. Even a certain 3-9 team that will go unnamed.

I’m not here to wax nostalgic since we’re still in the hunt. But as much as I love nearly everything about little league baseball (I still consider my time as a shortstop in Baltimore’s Roland Park Little League to be my athletic “glory days”), I will admit that certain things drive me nuts. Here are a few in no particular order:

1. Parents who think their precious darlings are much better than they really are. The level of delusion can be astounding. I love it when parents are supportive and encouraging with their kids — raising self-confident children is a critical piece of parenting. But when they can’t reach the plate from the mound, they shouldn’t be pitching. It’s not good for their self-esteem (regardless of dad’s hopes and dreams) to get into a game and walk eight straight batters. And if the only thing your son can hit is his little sister, I’m not batting him cleanup.

2. Walks. Golf has famously been referred to as “a good walk spoiled.” Multiple bases on balls could be called “a pleasant evening ripped away in a long, slow, painful death.” They have been the scourge of little league for generations — they make coaches pull their hair out, teammates fall asleep in the field, and parents wish they’d signed the kid up for an hour-long pottery class instead. In those innings where walk piles upon walk I’m reminded of the line spoken by Clint Eastwood as Gunnery Sergeant Tom Highway in Heartbreak Ridge: “You can rob me. You can starve me and you can beat me and you can kill me. Just don’t bore me!”

Two PKs (Thomas and Zack) along with a teammate

4. Opposing coaches who believe they are the modern-day Miller Huggins. The rules are very clear — you can ask for clarification from an umpire but you cannot argue calls. I’ve seen coaches bully the umps (who are often teenagers) throughout the game so that when, and if, the game comes down to one critical call at the end they’ll be more than likely to go the route of conflict avoidance and make the call in favor of the loudmouth coach’s team. This might not be a bad strategy if there was a lot on the line — like professional pride, a world championship, a job next season — but this is a league full of ten-year-old kids. They might get disappointed about a tough loss but within minutes they’re back running around and laughing with their buddies. If your happiness and self-worth rides on the crest of how your team is playing, the issues are likely deeper than one could imagine. (Oh, and if you didn’t know, the hot-tempered Miller Huggins managed the team many consider the greatest ever, the 1927 New York Yankees, to a World Championship).

5. Players who lose track of the batting order. When I was a kid (which is, of course, how things should be today), I had my helmet on three batters before I was due up. Everyone was anxious to hit and you knew that if you weren’t ready to go, the coach would skip your turn and bench you. Despite posting the lineup in the dugout and calling out the names of who’s coming up, sometimes kids are caught without a helmet, a bat, and a clue when it’s their turn to bat. This makes me crazy whether it’s our team or the other team. It’s like the guy sitting in his Prius at the red light who’s too busy texting to notice that it turned green 15 seconds ago. Honk!

The team conferring (about God knows what) at 2nd base

6. Parents who believe their children are entitled to make the All Star team. It takes more than mere athletic ability to be named one of our team’s two All Stars. It takes actually showing up to games and practices. The ability to play the game at a moderately high level is a plus. Just because your child was an All Star on his lacrosse team doesn’t mean that he’s an All Star in baseball. Similarly, just because he’s good at the piano doesn’t automatically make him a whiz on the trombone.

7. Umpires with inconsistent or absurdly large strike zones. I realize this is an issue at every level of the game and, as I noted earlier, many of our umps are teenagers. However, in no league at any time in the history of baseball has the strike zone ever been from the top of the helmet to the soles of the shoes. We had this issue in Braintree a few weeks ago with an ump who was clearly no spring chicken — the gray hair would indicate that he was decidedly not a teenager. I’m not sure if, like your typical teen, he had a hot date that night but the strike zone was larger than Big Papi. Game after game we preach to the kids (and I mean that literally given our vocations) not to chase the high stuff — nothing good ever comes from it. But that night anything that didn’t sail over the backstop was called a strike. That’s not helpful for any kid trying to learn the nuances of the game. Although, I have to admit, it was the quickest game of the year.

That’s all for now — I have a lineup card to fill out!

In the Market

Know anybody with Youth Ministry experience who might want to serve at St. John’s in Hingham? I’m in the market for someone who is awesome. Okay, this might be a bit too general — see below for the position description. And please keep it a secret that they’d be working for me — it might dissuade qualified applicants.

The Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist
Hingham, Massachusetts
Job Description for Part-Time Youth Minister

The Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist inHingham,Massachusetts, is seeking a part-time Youth Minister.St. John’sis a vibrant, growing parish on the South Shore of Boston with an average Sunday attendance of 220.

We seek a passionate, energetic, creative individual with a heart for teenagers to join our ministry team. The successful candidate should have: a strong faith in God, as revealed in Jesus Christ; high levels of comfort with questions, doubts, and differences regarding matters of faith; the ability to be in authority while sharing responsibility with other stakeholders (clergy, parents, youth, lay youth volunteers); knowledge of the Anglican tradition and the Episcopal Church; experience working with small groups of young people and developing age-appropriate programming; the ability to share his/her own perspectives and experiences while maintaining and communicating a deep respect for those of others; patience, flexibility, and a sense of humor.

Responsibilities for the Youth Minister will include continuing to develop, build, and administer youth ministry at St. John’s; leadership of the Junior and Senior Youth Groups; helping to recruit and mentor lay leaders; serving as staff liaison to the youth program; planning and participating in at least one annual off-site retreat and/or mission trip; and communicating with parents about events.

We currently have two youth groups – a Junior Youth Group (7th and 8th grade) and a Senior Youth Group (9th and 10th grade). After a period of latency we added the older group last year (2010-11) which was spear-headed by our newly-hired assistant priest. Both groups have 12-15 kids with especially strong lay leadership in the Junior Youth Group. At this point our youth groups meet on alternating Sunday evenings from 5 to 6:30 pm with dinner.

We are planning to launch a Saturday night 5:00 pm service in the fall which may well appeal to teens (later hour, more contemporary, etc) and there would be opportunities for them to serve in a variety of liturgical and musical roles.

With the right person – someone who views ministry with teenagers as its own mission field – the potential to grow this program and have a deep impact upon the kids and the community is great.

Hours and Compensation
The position is for 10 to 20 hours per week. Salary is $12-15 per hour commensurate with experience. Hours include Sunday evening youth events, Saturday evening service, one Sunday morning every four to six weeks, and office time as needed. Agreed upon hours per week are subject to revision as needed and will likely be reduced in the summer months. Completion of Safe Church training through the Diocese of Massachusetts and a background check is required. Preference will be given to a candidate willing to make a longer-term commitment. The start date will be either late August or early September 2011.

To apply for this position, send resume and cover letter to the Rev. Tim Schenck at

The Old Ball Game

In my latest “In Good Faith” column for the Hingham Journal I reminisce about the good old days of little league baseball. The days before pitch counts and teams being sponsored by nail salons. A time when only football helmets had masks and chin straps and the on-deck circle wasn’t taboo. See, I can be a cranky old man with the best of them.

The Old Ball Game

One of the best things about coaching little league baseball is that it gets me out of the office and into the fresh air. Of course around here “spring” baseball consists of standing on a cold, windy field in a light rain wearing mittens. Coaching directives include such pearls as “If you guys get too cold, do some jumping jacks in the dugout” and “Stop walking so many batters! It’s freezing and I want to get home in time to watch Modern Family.”

While the game basically looks the same as it did when I was a kid, there are a few notable differences. These differences might seem minor but they say a lot about how society has changed over the years. Yes, many of the changes revolve around safety and fairness – not bad things to be sure – but at least some of the fun has been sucked out of the experience in the process. So if you’ll excuse me I’ll go into my cranky old man mode and wax nostalgic about the way things used to be. Fortunately this attitude never appears in churches.

First of all, we used to have on-deck circles. This was the designated area where the next batter in the lineup would swing a few bats to get loose or maybe put on a donut. When kids today think of donuts they can only imagine the word Dunkin’ before it. They have no idea that in baseball a donut is a circular metal weight, generally covered in rubber that is slipped over the handle of a bat to make it heavier in the on-deck circle. The idea is that if you take a few swings with a heavier bat, by the time you take it off and get up to the plate your bat will feel much lighter. Hitting is about bat speed and this is both a physical and psychological tool that today’s little leaguers will never experience.

Why no on-deck circle? Why, safety of course. In fact, if the umpire catches anyone besides the batter with a bat in hand it is an automatic out. Which means coaches spend much of their time telling kids to “Step away from the bat.” Elementary-school aged boys seem especially drawn to potential implements of destruction.

The other major shift is the emphasis on pitch counts. Now in fairness this transcends little league as even professional managers and pitching coaches now obsess over the number of pitches thrown by each pitcher. Back when we were kids you pitched until a) your arm fell off or b) you starting walking a lot of hitters. Much of the limited strategy employed by little league coaches surrounds monitoring the pitch counts. For each age there are rules governing the maximum number of pitches allowed.

To further complicate things guidelines are in place that translate pitch counts into subsequent days off until that player is allowed to pitch again. For instance a ten-year-old is allowed to throw up to 75 pitches in a game. However if said pitcher throws over 66 pitches he or she cannot pitch for four calendar days; 51-65 pitches translates to three days rest; and it goes down from there. Got it? I suggest that each team be issued an MIT-trained pitch count analyst at the start of the season.

Players also now rotate positions at the same rate that you’d trade partners at a hoedown. Everyone is given a chance to play every position. In my day, if you couldn’t catch the ball they sent you out to pick daisies in right field. Today if you can’t catch they’ll make you the first baseman for a few innings. Perhaps this is why the games seem to take longer. When I was a kid I was a shortstop – that was my position and that’s what I played every inning of every game. I didn’t pitch, I didn’t catch, I didn’t play the outfield. Now, if asked “What position do you play?” kids can’t answer. They can only tell you what position they like best.

Some things haven’t changed, though my perspective has. When I was a kid the blessed ice cream truck would always show up right after the last out was made! Today, that blasted ice cream truck always shows up right after the last out is made.

But even with all the changes, nothing beats an early evening out on the ball field. I’m coaching with another Episcopal priest who lives in Hingham – the Rev. Tom Mulvey. While our club is mired in the middle of the standings, we do lead the league in one thing: Episcopalians.

Throwin’ Strikes

Zack Bringing the Heat

In between the time I realized that a career in professional baseball was not an option and before that whole call thing kicked in, I thought about becoming a baseball writer. What could be better than being paid to watch baseball games and then comment on them? At least that was my thinking at some point during high school. I read a lot of Red Smith back then in the midst of my daily diet of box scores and attaching tin foil to the antenna of my radio so that I could catch snippets of Orioles games being broadcast on WBAL from my bedroom in Queens, New York. Oh, to have grown up in the age of internet radio.

I hadn’t thought much about this until I had to write a brief summary following a recent game for the Hingham Little League website. The winning coach is tasked with writing about the game and, as an assistant coach, this never fell to me. Until last week when the head coach couldn’t make the game (his son’s trumpet concert took priority). For the record, the Bodyscapes Fitness club is coached by two Episcopal priests — the Rev. Tom Mulvey, Hingham resident and priest-in-charge at Emmanuel, Braintree, and yours truly. This hasn’t helped our record, mind you, but we do lead the league in Episcopalians.

So here’s my game review. It’s not exactly ESPN-worthy but it was a lot of fun to write. Plus Zack had a great game on the mound.

Pitching Dominant as Bodyscapes Edges Fruit Center 4-3
Backed by superlative pitching on both sides, Bodyscapes Fitness rallied to defeat Fruit Center 4-3 in a quick game that may have set a minor league land speed record of just one hour and 20 minutes. The four pitchers (Will Sutton and Zack Schenck for Bodyscapes and the Fruit Center “Joes” – Sylvester and Bandera) combined for 22 strikeouts and a mere 7 walks.
Aiden Torres powered the offense for Bodyscapes with two triples and two RBI. Jared Testa scored two runs and Chace Congdon drove in Torres for the winning run in the bottom of the fifth to complete the rally.
In a back and forth game, Fruit Center jumped out to an early lead with back to back to back hits in the first inning by Joe Sylvester, Colin Gannon, and Joe Bandera. They added a third run in the third inning as Bandera drove in his second run of the game.
In what would ultimately prove to be the game-saving play, Bodyscapes recorded a rare 7-5-2 putout at the plate with Jonathan Fasoli applying the tag to foil a third inning Fruit Center rally.
Zack Schenck pitched a perfect three innings in relief, striking out 7 of the 9 batters he faced to close out the victory. The game ended, as it began, with a strikeout.