Part 1

Principal Cleared of Criminal Count over Meal Blessing

A judge today cleared the principal of Pace High School in Florida of a criminal contempt charge after the American Civil Liberties Union complained that Frank Lay and Athletic Director Robert Freeman violated a court order. Freeman also had faced the same criminal contempt charge, but also was cleared. Judge M. Case Rodgers decided that the meal blessing – requested by Lay and delivered by Freeman – was on church property and was spontaneous, therefore lacking an intent to violate the order. The situation began several years ago when two anonymous students sued with the help of the ACLU over long-standing practices at the school allowing prayer at some events. Rodgers issued a temporary injunction last January halting the practices. Lay was accused of asking Freeman to bless the food, which he did, at the off-campus event.

Liberty Counsel founder Mathew D. Staver expressed relief over that victory but frustration over the ACLU’s actions. “The wheels came off the ACLU’s steamroller. While we are pleased with the ruling, we are saddened that a wonderful woman had to spend a day in court, with the ACLU’s crosshairs aimed at her back. Prayer is neither contemptuous nor criminal. It is outrageous that the ACLU sought civil contempt charges against an outstanding woman whose husband prayed a beautiful prayer at a privately sponsored event held off campus. The ACLU needs to take a good dose of the First Amendment and call us in the morning,” he said. The case has also gained national attention. Earlier this week, Congressman Randy Forbes, the chair of the bi-partisan Congressional Prayer Caucus, co-chair Mike McIntyre and U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, whose district includes Santa Rosa County, along with more than 60 members of the caucus, issued a letter of support and talked about this case on the House floor. In his speech, Forbes warned that this case represents what might be coming as result of the ACLU’s agenda:

  • ACLU’s agenda, led and empowered by Satan, is to dismantle, discredit, and disable all things Christian.

National ‘Back to Church Sunday’ Spurs Massive Response

During the first-ever national “Back to Church Sunday” (BTCS), held by hundreds of congregations across the country on Sunday, Sept. 13, church members invited more than 700,000 of their friends and family and created worship services specifically geared toward visitors. Participating churches reported surges in attendance, confessions of faith, new members and baptisms. According to a survey conducted by Outreach Inc. after the event, many visitors were favorably impressed toward the church and the Gospel. Some participating churches reported attendance was up by as much as 25-30 percent. The campaign is ongoing, with some churches holding BTCS events on other days. It is aimed at reaching the “un-churched” and “de-churched” – people who once went to church, but don’t any more. LifeWay Research, an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, found that 82 percent of un-churched people surveyed said that they’d be open to visit a church, if a friend or family member invited them. BTCS is stirring congregations to do just that.

Biggest U.S. Churches ‘Contemporary, Evangelical’

Two new reports on the size and strength of American congregations present contrasting pictures of church life today. The October issue of Outreach magazine lists the 100 largest U.S. churches, based on attendance statistics gathered by LifeWay Research, Nashville. Leading the list, as in 2008, is Joel Osteen‘s Lakewood Church, Houston; 43,500 attend weekend worship. But the newest trend in church growth is exemplified by the No. 2 ranked church’s cross-country reach. Lifechurch.tv transmits pastor Craig Groeschel’s worship services from the church’s studio home in Edmond, Okla., to 13 locations, reaching 26,776 people in average weekend worship attendance. “Multiple sites are the new normal for fast-growing and large churches. Lakewood is the exception. The next 10 all have multiple sites,” says Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay. “They’re contemporary, aggressively evangelistic and evangelical and they’re moving beyond the ‘big box’ megachurch model. The best churches have very intentional systems to move people from sitting in rows to sitting in circles (in small groups) to going out and making a difference in the world.”

But the third edition of the Faith Communities Today Study of 2,527 U.S. congregations, released last week, finds overall the nation’s congregations — Catholic, Protestant and other world religions — are suffering. Only 19% say they are in excellent financial health, down from 31% in 2000.Less than half (48%) could report at least 2% growth in worship attendance, down from 58% in 2005. The study was conducted by a multi-faith coalition hosted by the Hartford Seminary’s Hartford Institute for Religion Research in Hartford, Conn. Institute Director David Roozen sees a “slow downward trickle” in measures of “spiritual vitality” such as participation in devotional practices, church attendance and satisfaction with the quality of worship. The congregations that do well, Roozen says, are participatory, involve lay leadership, and have a “strong, clear sense of their purpose.” And drums. Churches with contemporary worship music grew while those with traditional music stalled.

  • The key word is “participatory.” “Faith without works is dead,” says James, brother of Jesus.

Number of Female Senior Pastors Doubles

One in 10 U.S. churches employs a woman as senior pastor, double the percentage from a decade ago, according to a new survey by the Barna Group. Most of the women — 58% — work in mainline Protestant churches, such as the United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Episcopal Church; only 23% of male senior pastors are affiliated with mainline churches, the survey said. Barna’s survey found that female pastors tend to be more highly educated than their male counterparts, with 77% earning a seminary degree, compared to less than two-thirds of male pastors (63 percent) . But male pastors still rake in larger incomes. The average compensation package for female pastors in 2009 is $45,300, Barna says, while males earn $48,600. The compensation gap has closed in the last decade, though, with females earning 30% more than they did in 1999, according to the survey. But male pastors still rake in larger incomes. The average compensation package for female pastors in 2009 is $45,300, Barna says, while males earn $48,600. The compensation gap has closed in the last decade, though, with females earning 30% more than they did in 1999, according to the survey. The median age of female pastors rose from 50 to 55 in the last decade; male pastors’ median age rose from 48 to 52.

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