The earth shudders and the ACC moves to Charlotte

Bill Pike Guest columnist Greensboro News and Record Sunday, September 25, 2022

I wonder whether the U.S. Geological Survey detected any shifting of tectonic plates under the soil of the Piedmont of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina when the Atlantic Coast Conference announced it was moving the league’s headquarters from Greensboro to Charlotte.

If any tremors were recorded, perhaps it was from the original founders of the ACC rolling in their graves.

Congratulations, Charlotte. You’re not Greensboro, but a million times better than Orlando.
To ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips, congratulations too. You did something no previous commissioner of the ACC has done — thrust a dagger into the heart of a city and community that has been loyal to the league since 1953.

Honestly, I don’t know why I’m taking this so hard. I’m not a graduate of an ACC school. And, I’m no longer a diehard fan who follows the league like Deputy Fife rabidly searching for Otis Campbell’s moonshine supplier.

However, I do have a heart — a heart full of memories. As a kid growing up in Burlington, I followed the ACC faithfully. Whether by radio or television, I spent many Saturday afternoons listening to and watching teams from the league compete in football and basketball. I remember the names of the players and coaches, and the voices of the announcers who called the games.

The league was compact then, eight teams. Primarily through men’s basketball, those teams built a foundation that would propel the ACC into the future and into the national spotlight. During those formative years, expansion was a speck on the horizon.

When the league initially expanded, the new members made sense geographically. Geography doesn’t matter anymore. It’s all about the pennies, lots and lots of pennies, and power.

Pennies from municipalities, legislatures, sport networks and alumni who in a blink can buyout the contract of a non-winning coach.

But, there are also power plays involved; particularly with sport networks that broadcast the games. Their lucrative contracts with athletic conferences for broadcast rights are too tempting to turn down.

I like the fact that Greensboro leaders put together a package of incentives that made the decision to leave difficult for Commissioner Phillips and his team. Said Mayor Nancy Vaughan: “I also feel like we put together an excellent package, which is one reason it took them 14 months to make a decision.”

Another whine from the league was Greensboro’s airport. Listen, the Piedmont Triad International Airport is well-maintained and properly run. Yes, it might take you longer to make a connection to get to Greensboro, but you can get there.

In truth, I’m disappointed in what appears to be an absence of support for Greensboro from the founding schools of the conference.

With historic Cameron Indoor Stadium on his campus, a person might think that Duke University President Vince Price, would advocate for Greensboro’s legacy of tradition, support and loyalty to the conference.

Not the case. Price’s comments centered on Charlotte as “a lively sports town” and the opportunity to bring “two incredible brands,” Charlotte and the ACC, together.

Boston, Atlanta and Miami are lively sports cities, but I don’t sense their ACC conference schools are significantly marketing the league’s brand. Greensboro did.

Yes, I’m disappointed, but not surprised.

This move to Charlotte is one more example of America valuing power and money more than the cherished legacy of loyalty and support that Greensboro has given to the ACC for 69 years.

Author’s note: This post is courtesy of the Greensboro News and Record. Here is a link to the piece in the paper:

Last dance with the beast from the hardware store

Let’s get the truth out in the yard, I enjoy doing yard work.

For some reason, I always have.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have my moments when I become unglued, and words spew out of me that could wither a flower. But overall, I enjoy yard work.

There is one exception. In the fall, leaves drive me nuts.

Growing up in North Carolina, as soon as I could safely operate a gasoline powered lawnmower, I was pushing one.

From early spring until late fall, I mowed our yard every week.

At one point, I mowed four yards in the neighborhood. No trimming, just mowing. The homeowners provided the mowers and the gas. I’m sure I wasted every penny I earned.

I do not ever remember my father buying grass seed or fertilizer for our yard. That yard was a combination of weeds, primarily wild Bermuda, also known as wire grass. My father despised that “durn wire grass,” especially when it encroached on his garden.
I could not tell you the moment when the pursuit of lawn perfection bit me. But, I succumbed.

In my memory, I can remember a couple of years when we contracted with a lawn service in Richmond to do aerating, seeding, and fertilizing. Then, I figured our the timing and the materials needed, and I started doing all that perfection work on my own.

Some springs and into early summer our yard looks like a well groomed fairway on a golf course. And naturally, there have been times when whatever magic preparation I tried didn’t work.

And before we go further, I must confess. When the summer becomes hot and dry, and rain is absent, I do not water our lawn. I water all of our shrubs and flowers. I figure when the rain does arrive, the grass will come back.

Labor Day weekend, I raked our back and front yards to remove thatch and other debris. Then I lowered the mowing height of the lawn mower, and cut the grass lower than I usually do.

Next, I went to Lowes. I carefully studied the labeling for the grass seed and starter fertilizer like I knew what I was doing.

Then I wrestled with getting two twenty pound bags of grass seed and a fifty pound bag of fertilizer. That fertilizer bag only reinforced that despite doing push ups and working with ten pound dumbbells, I have no upper body strength. I suspect I would lose an arm wrestling contest to any of our grandchildren.

Probably on the ride home from Lowes is when the irrational part of my brain took over—“You know William, it has been years since you rented an aerator. If you really want lawn perfection next spring, you need to rent an aerator this week.”

So on the afternoon of Tuesday, September 6, at 3:30, I was at our neighborhood hardware store. I committed to renting the beast for two hours. I also rented two ramps so that I could get the beast in and out of the borrowed pickup truck.

After giving me some pointers, two employees helped me load the monster into the back of the truck. They struggled.

So, I climbed into the bed of the truck to help pull the heavy machine up the last few inches. Then, I took some rope and tied down my new friend just to make sure that its restless hollow spikes didn’t start any problems on the ride home.

We arrived safely.

I let down the tailgate. I carefully positioned the ramps to line up with the wheels of the beast. I grabbed the handles bracing to be run over. The aerator ignored me. It raced down the ramp, and landed with a jarring thud.

Miraculously, the beast started on the first pull. With my gloved hands, I grasped the thin handle, and the beast took off dragging me behind it. I vaguely remembered one of the hardware store employees pointing out the throttle switch.

I let go of the handle, the beast stopped. I found the throttle switch and slowed down the engine. Even though the pace was better, no matter if I was in the backyard or front yard, the beast worked me over. I knew my old sack of bones would be hurting on Wednesday.

Before I knew it, I was approaching the two hour limit. I pushed the beast toward the back of the pickup truck. Next, I used a garden hose to wash soil and strands of grass off the underside and the spikes.

I repositioned the ramps, and somehow the Commander Supreme and I pushed and pulled the beast back into the truck bed. With the beast retied, I drove back to the hardware store.

When I arrived, two employees came out help get the beast down from the truck. I told them this was probably my last dance with an aerator. They laughed. I presume they have heard that declaration before.

Back at home, I pulled my broadcast spreader out of the tool shed. I adjusted the spreader’s rate of flow. I filled the spreader and started to work.

Sure enough on Wednesday, the beast was still with me.

My lower back was talking to me. My back must have been thinking, “ Don’t you ever, ever rent an aerator again. You think this pain is annoying, you don’t want to know how much pain you will be in if you rent a beast again.” By Friday, my back and I were on tenuous terms.

My dance with the beast made me think of Curley Fletcher.

A long, long time ago, Curley Fletcher was a cowboy out in northern California. Fletcher was also a cowboy poet and songwriter. “Strawberry Roan” is his most famous poem that has been set to music and recorded by a variety of musicians.

“Strawberry Roan” is a horse. A horse that no matter how skilled a cowboy claimed to be, no one could tame the cantankerous “Strawberry Roan.”

On Tuesday afternoon, I sort of felt like I was trying to tame a bronco—that aerator. In about ten days, I’ll learn if my work with the beast paid off. If grass seed start sprouting, then I might have kinder thoughts toward the beast.

My encounter with the beast made me think about life.

For some people, life is a tough ride everyday.

They are worn and battered by trying to live life.

The things that life tosses at me are nothing in comparison to their experiences.

Some are homeless.

Some fight addiction.

Some are unemployed.

Some have poor health.

Some are hungry.

Some are estranged from family.

Some have no faith, no hope.

And I’m whining about an aerator wearing me out.

What is wrong with my thinking?

The beast from the hardware store
Photo by Bill Pike

Buried In The Credits: Wolfgang, Matt, Mr. Casey, Jeffrey, John, and Emerson

About mid-morning on Tuesday, August 30, the invasion started. By late Wednesday afternoon, the occupation was complete.

Trinity Hall had been transformed into a dining room, complete with check-in stations, a row of make-up tables with mirrors and lights, and the stage held individual dressing rooms. Blue tents with rounded tops.

The parking lots had security guards, an air conditioned tent for overflow diners, food trucks, portable grills, tractor trailers, box trucks, port-a-johns, at least ten trailers used as offices and rehearsal rooms, trucks for fuel and maintenance, and vans for shuttling personnel.

The most impressive vehicle was the eighteen wheeler that held a noiseless generator. One of the technicians asked me if I could hear it running, and I didn’t hear a peep coming from this beast.

So, why this encampment?

Our church was one of the logistical sites hosting the second season of filming the AppleTV show—Swagger. This series is about Kevin Durant, a professional basketball player in the National Basketball Association(NBA).

For three days, August 31- September 2, our grounds and Trinity Hall would hold all this equipment and at assorted times lots of people. This would allow the production staff and the actresses and actors to complete night filming for a party scene at a house off Ridge Road a few blocks away from the church.

During my eleven years of working at the church, location scouts had come by to see our facilities, take photographs, and ask about available dates. But, with the Swagger production, this is the first time that we have actually been a part of a show.

This time it happened that our calendar and our facilities matched their needs.

My initial contact and work was with two young guys, Wolfgang, key assistant location manager, and Matt, location scout. They both coordinate getting everything in place. Their work is non-stop. Night filming made their work even more rigorous.
Matt told me he clocks in about ten miles of footwork everyday, with eighteen miles being his one day record.

They both will be with Swagger until the filming ends in late November. Then they will rest up, and use their industry contacts to secure a job with a new television or movie production company.

Late on Wednesday afternoon, I was walking the grounds checking noise levels. We had hand delivered a letter to the homeowners on Stuart Hall and Rock Creek roads letting them know what was taking place.

As I approached a security check point, I heard one of the security guards say out loud: “I see a familiar face, I know this guy.”

Turns out the security guard had been a parent at Lakeside Elementary School where I had served as principal. Mr. Casey quickly pulled me over, and he started to tell me about his boys who are now grown men. He shared some pictures, and I could not believe how old I suddenly felt.

During the three days, I kept my eyes open for the son of one of our college friends. Jeffrey has been in the production business a long time. He was worked on an assortment of television shows and movies in the mid-Atlantic as a grip. Jeffrey and the team he works with are responsible for all of the rigging and set up for the camera crew, and this includes working with the electrical department in coordinating the lighting of the set.

I knew it would be a long shot to see Jeffrey because his night filming did not match up with my church work hours. But on Saturday morning just before seven, as I was pulling into the parking lot, Jeffrey was exiting the parking lot.

Drained from three nights of filming, Jeffrey was heading to the hotel to sleep before driving back home near Frederick, Maryland to be with his wife and two young children. We chatted for a few minutes, and I commented to Jeffrey how I couldn’t believe all the trucks and equipment. His response to me—“this is a small production.”

After saying goodbye, I walked into Trinity Hall to assess the cleanup. I was amazed at how quickly Trinity Hall and our parking lots had been cleared of everything that had been here since Wednesday.
I wiped down the table tops to prep them for cart loading. One of the extras for the show, a young man named John was waiting for a ride to arrive. So, John pitched in to help with putting the folding chairs back on the carts.

We talked quite a bit. In a short period of time, I learned a lot about John. When he was growing up, his parents were both in the military. John spent quite a bit of his early life overseas. He is a young father with two children in elementary school, and another child on the way.

John is stringing together jobs related to two of his passions boxing and dancing. In talking with him, I learned the importance of footwork to boxing and dancing. John described how a foot injury—the dislocation of one of his big toes, taught him about balance. He has never forgotten how critical our toes are in providing us balance.

Once the chairs were finished, John used his travel bag as a pillow, and the next thing I knew he was asleep. Being an extra for three days will throw off your normal sleep routines. The instant sleep meant John was exhausted.

As promised, around ten the tent crew returned to take down the tent. That went well, but they were not the same vendor for the portable air conditioning unit. From Saturday morning until late Tuesday afternoon, a schedule was developed by the security company to post a security guard to watch the air conditioning unit. They guarded that portable unit like it was Fort Knox.

On Sunday morning, that’s when I met Emerson. He had been there all night watching over the air conditioning unit. We had a good talk, and Emerson shared with me that it had been a rough week for him and his car. He misjudged a turn and caused significant damage to his car. With this car bill looming over him, Emerson had asked for extra hours of work.

In 1977, singer/songwriter Jackson Browne released a live album, Running On Empty. The set of songs captures what life is like on the road for the musicians and everyone who supports them in the production of a concert.

During the three days that the extra actors and actresses and all of the production crew were at Trinity, we caught a glimpse of what it takes to make a successful television show or movie. There are lots of moving pieces in the background that we never see or think about as we watch the show or movie.

When my wife and I go to see a movie, I have a bad habit. I stay until the last credit for the film is cast on to the screen. To me, all those people who worked behind the scenes are just as important as the actors and actresses who are in the spotlight.

Wolfgang, Matt, Mr. Casey, Jeffrey, John, and Emerson might be buried in those scrolling credits, but here is what I can’t forget—these are real human beings, with real stories, and who are working to keep their balance in the ups and downs of life too.

Sometimes, in our daily walk through life we are also buried in the credits.

But, we never know in that scrolling of life when we might be called upon to help someone regain their footing and balance.

In those unexpected moments, I hope I will not remain buried in the credits.

I hope reluctance will not seize me.

I hope I will offer assistance. How about you?

Author’s note, all photos by Bill Pike

The Monday after vacation: Sell the church

On Monday, July 25, I returned to work at Trinity United Methodist Church. Our week at Topsail Island, North Carolina is now packed away.

The office staff told me the church was quiet while I was gone.

Apparently that was true except for the morning a HVAC motor in a closet overheated and smoked up the first floor of the children’s wing. Five fire trucks responded along with a few other official vehicles. So much for silence.

Monday marked the beginning of Kids Camp(vacation Bible school). I had a role as a presenter talking about how our church helps to support three local food pantries.

A week away means a pileup of computer emails and paper in my mailbox in the church office.

I made it through the morning, but early in the afternoon the building began to conspire to fully welcome me back.

A technician confirmed what I had expected—two controllers for our outdoor sprinkler system were dead. They had to be replaced.

The elevator for the Welcome Center and Eaton Hall was next. The door would open and close, but the elevator did not respond to the command to take the short ride down to Eaton Hall. Turns out a module had failed. A part would need to be ordered.

But the best challenge was last.

Working in the Preschool office, our fearless leaders Katie Swartz and Mary Jones could hear a trickle of water. When they opened the door for a small mechanical room, a stream of spraying water from a pipe greeted them.

At first glance, I mistakenly thought the leak was coming from our fire protection sprinkler system. But as I looked further at the configuration of piping, I could see that the steady stream of water was coming from a large HVAC condensation pipe.

Fortunately in the mechanical room there was a floor drain, so the spewing water wasn’t going to create another problem. But, the water was also dripping into equipment used to chemically treat the water in the HVAC system.

It was late in the afternoon when I put in the call to the company who services our HVAC systems. They dispatched a technician. When he arrived, he had to deal with water to get into our building as an intense afternoon thunderstorm was dumping gallons of water in the neighborhood surrounding our church.

Soaked, he made it into the building, and I walked him to the mechanical room.

Within a few seconds of assessing the leak, he groaned. Where the leaked had spouted would require the skills of a plumber to properly remove and replace the failed pipe.

He made a quick call to his company’s office to describe the challenges of the failed pipe. After the call, he returned to his truck. He was going to use a special tape to slow the spew of the leak.

I jokingly asked him if he thought I should line up members of the congregation to serve hourly shifts to plug the leak with their fingers. He laughed, and hoped that his tape wrapping would slow the the escaping water. Luckily, this bandaid repair worked, and the air conditioning system could still run until the real repair could be scheduled.

I can’t tell you how many days like this I’ve had over the last eleven years. I cherish this building with its Flemish bond brick pattern and aesthetically pleasing architecture. The building and its grounds as Gomer Pyle would say, “Is a sight to behold.” However, there is always something going on behind that pleasing appearance.

During the last year, my sister has kept me informed about Davis Street United Methodist Church in Burlington, North Carolina. We grew up in that church, and like Trinity I cherished the building and the people.

But, back in the spring, the congregation decided it was time to close the church doors. They followed all of the required protocols from that famous Methodist Book of Discipline and sold the building and grounds “as is” to a company who works with families who have autistic children.

The closing of the building followed what has become a predictable pattern for many churches. Membership down, attendance down, giving down, new programming marginally successful, building needs in terms of repairs and maintenance up significantly, and the funding to repair and maintain the building not always available.

Translation—building and congregation on life support, the end is near.

In truth, I love the response by the Davis Street congregation and their leadership. They figured out the future was bleak, so they sought a remedy.

Was everyone completely happy?


But their plan still has life for the building and the neighborhood. The work the new owners will do with children and their families in a unique way still correlates to one of the missions of the church—helping people.

Yes, there are days, like that Monday, when I say to the Trustees let’s sell this place.

They might chuckle for a second, and say Bill, “You’ve lost your mind.”

But, you can only chuckle for so long.

Because behind that Flemish bond facade some part of the building is conspiring.

When a building with age starts to conspire— congregation beware.

Leaking HVAC pipe Photo by Bill Pike

Goodbye beach

Life moves too fast.

How do I know?

Just ask the beach vacation.

We arrived on Saturday, July 16 on Topsail Island, North Carolina.

Seven days later, we are packed, and departing.

When he was younger, our son, Andrew, would always tear up on the departure day.

Maybe, his tears are silent now. At least I didn’t see any when his family and their packed car headed back to Richmond. I’ll have to ask his wife, Kathryn, if any tears formed once they were out of sight.

My church friend, Elaine Peele, talks about the beach being her happy place. I think the same holds true for my wife, our Commander Supreme, the beach is her happy place.

I sense the beach is a happy place for dermatologists too. Perhaps, these essential doctors feel like a kid on Christmas morning when they view a beach full of scantily clad sun worshippers.

Even though I have a deep appreciation for my dermatologist, I have vowed not to make additional financial contributions to his retirement, summer home, or fancy car.

At the beach, I wear a hat that covers my entire head. If needed, I keep a head gaiter in the pocket of the long sleeved shirt that I wear while on the sandy shore.

Any bare spot on my old body is covered in 50 weight sunscreen, and I spend a lot of time camped out in a chair with an awning under the shade from our wind blown shibumi. Yes, I could be the poster child for grumpy old geezers who avoid the sun.

Despite my overabundance of sun caution, I am drawn to the beach.

I love watching our grandchildren as they learn the beach’s lessons.

I laugh at the haul of required beach cargo brought down from the house each day.

My ears and eyes delight in the sight of a low flying military helicopter scurrying down the coast line.

I respect the pull of the undertow in the ceaseless choreography of the waves.

People watching makes me wonder what beachcombers think when they see me?

I wonder if replenished sand dunes and rows of freshly planted sea oats will still be in place next summer?

I find reassurance when the sun inches up out of the ocean breaching the horizon line and signaling the start of a new day.

I appreciate the aroma of the salt marsh at low tide as it blows over me from a warm summer breeze.

And when life is pushing down on my shoulders, I’ll recall the graceful glide of pelicans skirting in formation in the trough between two cresting waves.

Now, my daydreaming is over.

The beach house is empty.

We have followed the required protocols so that the cleaning crew can make the home ready for the next renters.

The car is packed. In theory, we should have less junk on the drive back, but I’m not sure this is true.

As we pull out of the driveway on to the main road, it is my hope, my prayer that we can come back again next summer.

Goodbye beach, be smart and safe.

Sun rising Topsail Island, North Carolina photo Bill Pike

Confront societal ills

Letters to the Editor for August 28, 2022

Confront societal ills

Editor, Times-Dispatch:

We live in an impatient world.

Our team isn’t winning — fire the coach. In the sermon on Sunday, the preacher plucked my political nerves — fire the preacher. Students in our school system continue to perform poorly on the state’s Standards of Learning tests — fire the superintendent.

Try as they might, it is impossible for coaches, preachers and superintendents to fully satisfy the people they serve.

I have not carefully followed the tenure of Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras. During my career in public education, I worked for six superintendents, and I know this — being a superintendent is tough work, no matter the community.

Unless a law has been broken, school boards should not consider firing a superintendent before the opening of a new school year.

Additionally, school boards should not extend a superintendent’s contract for multiple years. Teachers do not have multiyear contracts. Why should superintendents?

Depending on the terms of the contract, firing a superintendent can be expensive, and so can hiring a new superintendent. Despite these facts, if a school board is determined to fire a superintendent, it will.

Why can’t school board members put their energy and willpower into understanding how our failure to solve our ongoing challenges with families, poverty, mental health, housing, safety and equity impact the performance of the students they were elected to serve?

If we want to fix schools, then school boards must commit to confronting the malignancy of our societal ills. Firing a superintendent doesn’t solve those problems.

Bill Pike.

Author’s note: This letter to the editor appeared in the Sunday, August 28, 2022 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. I am always honored when a newspaper accepts a submission that I have written.

Life’s storms, why?

With ample hot summer sun, warm ocean and sound side water, and tropical like breezes, the coastal plain of North Carolina is a perfect place for meteorological collisions to develop. Those collisions can often produce quick hitting, powerful afternoon thunderstorms.

During our July visit to Topsail Island, we experienced a few of those storms.

We could see the storms coming. The sun disappeared. Dark clouds formed in layered hues of deep blue, gray, and irate inky black.

Winds kicked up, thunder rumbled, and heavy rain drops pounded and ricocheted off hard surfaces. For several intense minutes the fury of the tempest consumed us. Gradually, the storm would guide itself out over the ocean, and the sun would slowly reappear.

One storm raised our anxiety as a single blast of lightning or a misguided gust of wind knocked out the electricity for the house. Our fear was short lived. In less than an hour, the local power company had the neighborhood back on line.

Life, our daily living can present us storms too. Quite often, we are blindsided by these life storms. Unfortunately, these storms aren’t always quick hitters—they linger.

Sometimes, a person will encounter a series of storms.

Our family friend, Larry, in California has been walloped by life’s storms. He has endured losing two wives—one to suicide, one to cancer. A successful, determined business owner, his worn out heart almost took him away on two occasions. Now, he has another battle— cancer.

A cousin from my mother’s family has with her father watched the steady health decline of her mother. This once vibrant educator’s mind has been scrambled with dementia. Even with care, that irrational mind has contributed to two falls breaking the same hip twice.

At church, a wife, who has been battling cancer, was recently told by administrators at the facility where her husband had been residing the following: “He can’t come back here.”

Recently, one of my wife’s uncles and his wife had traveled to Texas to visit their daughter. On their first day, they met the daughter for dinner. During dinner, they reaffirmed their plans for the visit. The next morning their daughter failed to show up as scheduled. Sadly and unexpectedly, their daughter had died in her sleep.

My sister was very proud of a new car deal she had negotiated by using her well maintained, low mileage car as the pivot point. Last week, her husband was driving the car. While stopped in traffic, the car traveling behind him slammed into the rear of my sister’s car. Because of the damage, it is quite possible that my sister’s car will be totaled—new car deal over.

Try as we might to insulate ourselves, life’s storms are unavoidable. Those intrusions, disruptions are going to happen.

And because we are human, we are guaranteed to ask a one word question—why?

Why has been around a long, long, long time.

Sometimes, why can be answered and explained.

But quite often, why can’t be answered.

The day after my sister’s car was wrecked, I spent the morning with her. We had scheduled a visit with one of our mother’s nieces, Martha, and her husband, John. Now in her eighties, we had a bit of catching up to do with Martha.

On the ride to Martha and John’s home, my sister talked about the accident.

Luckily, neither her husband, Eric, nor the other driver had serious injuries. The driver at fault was driving an older model car. Damage from the wreck totaled her car. It was not drivable.

Lisa wondered how this person might be impacted by the loss of her car? Lisa and her husband had other vehicle options. Though inconvenienced from the accident, my sister was attempting to weigh the impact from a different lens. Thinking this out further, Lisa reasoned that the economic challenges for the other driver could be more difficult.

We enjoyed our visit with Martha and John. At 86, Martha’s mind is still sharp. Physically, she is cautiously nimble. But, we also witnessed the contrast in aging. Martha’s husband, John has some challenges with his physical mobility, and dementia has started its intrusion.

Another example of life’s storms—healthy wife, husband’s health deteriorating, and another why?

In Luke Chapter 8, Jesus is with his disciples in a boat crossing a lake. During this journey, Jesus falls asleep. As the trip progresses, the boat encounters a significant storm. The disciples are fearful that the boat can’t withstand the waves and wind.

In a panic, they wake up Jesus.

Quickly, Jesus rebukes the waves and wind. The storm dissipates on his command and calm returns. But he also directly questions his disciples by asking—“Where is your faith?”

Astounded by the resulting calm, the disciples have questions too. They want to know what kind of person is Jesus who can in an instant calm a storm.

And, that is the same question I have, and in truth you have it too. If Jesus can calm a storm on a lake why can’t he in an instant calm the storms in our lives?

This is made more difficult because I know that Larry, my church friend, my cousin and her father, my wife’s uncle, my sister and her husband, and Martha and John are people of faith. So, Jesus, where is the calm intervention in their lives?

Oh, how I wish I had an answer for you.

Just as it takes a series of atmospheric conditions to brew a summer afternoon thunderstorm, perhaps it takes the right human atmospheric interventions to help the people around us who are in the turmoil and turbulence of a life storm.

Unlike Jesus, we are not able to combat a life storm for a family member or friend with an instant command to cease. But, we can vow to be gentle warriors for those in a life storm.

My sister attempted to understand the impact of the accident from the other driver’s perspective. I admire her reasoning.

Maybe, Jesus needs me to try and see a life storm for a friend or relative from a different lens or angle.

Maybe, I’m no different than the disciples— maybe he is asking— “Bill, where is your faith?”

But, in all honesty, that is a tough ask. Especially with the knowledge of the calmed lake storm hovering in my mind.

And that leads me back to my friend— why?

Why will bother me until I die.

And yet I wonder can the why in life’s storms be countered, pushed back, or eased with prayer?

My Walter Williams High School classmate, Randy Wall, a Methodist minister, would tell me— yes.

If I intend to be a quiet warrior during a life storm for someone, then I must commit to being a gentle presence, and I must pray.

Maybe that will temporarily silence—why.

Summer thunderstorm, Topsail Island, North Carolina Photo Bill Pike

Sunday morning quarterbacking: “We haven’t been in years.”

Have you ever been in a situation where you are introduced to a person, and as your brain scans his face, your brain is thinking—“come on now, I know this person, where have I seen or met him before?”

After a few more awkward seconds, you blurt out the name of the church you attend, and the person immediately affirms that is the connection—church, but then the person confesses—“we haven’t been in years.”

The person’s response—“we haven’t been in years” triggers a wide range of questions in my mind. With curiosity and care, churches should be asking this person:

Why haven’t you attended?

Did you stop coming before COVID-19 hit, or did the ensuing pandemic pause your church attendance?

If it wasn’t the pandemic, what caused you to stop attending church?

Was it the preacher, the sermons, the congregation, the programming?

Or was it something else?

And in my mind, the most important question that needs to be asked of inactive church members—“Did the church reach out to you during your absence?”

Attempting to rise up out of the pandemic will require churches to think differently.

Additionally, churches should be pushing their staffs and their congregations to develop a basic, very simple means for reaching out to members who were inactive during the pandemic, and even to those who were inactive prior to the pandemic.

Pastors, their staffs, and congregational leaders must reach out and follow-up with inactive members. Failure to follow-up isn’t good thinking. Not following up suggests an unwillingness to learn and listen. A reluctance to learn and listen isn’t a wise choice for struggling churches.

Reaching out to the inactive is an opportunity for a church to learn. That learning can potentially lead to growth, and the good Lord knows, churches are struggling with growth.

Even if the feedback a church receives from an inactive member is harsh and highly critical that is ok. That honest venting can help frame productive changes for a church.

Southern Living Magazine is probably not the type of monthly periodical where a reader might unearth an interesting comment about church. But, I found one in the March 2022 edition.

In an article by Tracey Minkin titled “Best Places To Retire,” this comment from Curtis Williams caught my attention. Williams was talking about moving with his wife from Charlotte to be nearer to their daughter in the Asheville area of North Carolina.

Mr. Williams states their daughter helped them to find a church. Here is what he said about the church search: “We found a church that fit us so much better in terms of acceptance, community outreach, and support.”(Southern Living page 69)

That statement by Mr. Williams should be posted with duct tape throughout a church building. And when it is posted, the following words need to be highlighted or boldly printed: fit, acceptance, outreach, and support.”

I wonder how many inactive church members might reference those same words when contacted by their church?

Will they respond with—“we never felt like we fit in at church, gaining acceptance was tough, when we participated in community outreach, we never found our comfort zone, and support was questionable.”

Look, the church business is tough work. Churches must really dig deep and hard to figure out how to meet the needs of people.

Meeting those needs isn’t just a one time shot. A church must be able to consistently meet the needs of their congregation in everything the church offers.

Churches that can’t figure out how to stay in contact with their congregation and at the same time meet their needs will continue to hear this comment: “we haven’t been in years.”

This is really pretty simple math.

To survive churches need people.

But in that struggle to regain the inactive and sustain the active, churches must listen.

In that listening, churches will find opportunities to help people fit and gain acceptance. This also means comfortably involving them in community outreach, and maybe most important being available for support when needed.

Without being overbearing, churches who can improve fit, acceptance, make community outreach comfortable, and be available for support might be a half step away from helping an inactive member to return.

Church, this is important.

Don’t let another year pass.

Go find “we haven’t been in years.”


Photo by Bill Pike

The Old Ballgame

On Aug. 10, my wife and I took our two North Carolina grandchildren to the noon Greensboro Grasshoppers game at First National Bank Field.
Even though it was sweltering hot, and the Grasshoppers lost to Jersey Shore, we had an enjoyable visit.

That good experience started with the ticket seller. He knew the stadium and found us seats in the shade. Parking was easy, the $2 cost even better.

This was followed by three friendly employees — the security checker, the ticket scanner and the young lady overseeing the playground. These employees were personable and patient. The same could be said for the ice cream and popcorn concessionaires.

To top it off, a foul ball landed near us. Now our grandson has a baseball souvenir story for a lifetime.

Additionally, the stadium was clean and well-maintained, and it appears to be a perfect fit for the team and the community.

Thank you, Grasshoppers and Greensboro, for a quality visit.

Perhaps, this successful template can serve as a genuine reminder to the leaders of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Greensboro has the heart, the people and the hospitality to continue to be the home for the conference.

Bill Pike
Richmond, Va.

Author’s note: This letter to the editor appeared in the Tuesday, August 16, 2022 edition of the Greensboro News and Record.

The recovered foul ball Photo by Bill Pike

Snapped fishing line and the strain of life

A week before we departed for Topsail Island, North Carolina, I started prepping my fishing gear.

Last summer, the house where we stayed had access to the sound side of the island. It was a short walk down the side street.

On that walk, I admiringly gazed at other houses and loved a pretty stand of live oak trees. On an undeveloped point of land, I could easily cast into the early dawn stillness of the sound and watch the pastels of the sunrise forming in the eastern sky.

For this trip, I was hoping I would have a similar sound access. We were staying in a different house, and it was tough to determine from a Google map if the sound would be approachable.

I let my hopefulness to have sound access cloud my thinking. I organized three lightweight fishing rods, and my fly rod to take with me. I opted not to take a rod that was strong enough to handle the unpredictable whims of surf fishing in the ocean.

Not taking a surf rod with me turned out to be a mistake. The house where we stayed did not have access to the sound. This meant I would be relying on those lightweight fishing rods to cast into the Atlantic.

I picked up some shrimp bait at the IGA grocery store in Surf City. Two of the rods, I set up with lures for casting, and one I set up with a fish finder rig. The fish finder consists of a hook and a sinker slider that holds the weight.

On the days I fished in the ocean, there was a steady wind from the south. This wind churned up the surf. That chaotic surf would not be ideal for my lightweight rods.

A couple of times I was excited. I could feel the nibble of a fish. Once, there was a really strong tug on the line, but the tugger disappeared. And one day, a good sized crab hitched a ride up to the shore after devouring the shrimp bait.

But two times during the week, I snapped the fishing line. The light line couldn’t take the stress of the cast with the two ounce weight. Sadly, I tainted the surf with a lost hook, weight, and fishing line. I hoped that the roiling surf would bury the lost tackle so it wouldn’t hurt a swimmer or a sea creature.

In the late sixties, singer-songwriter, Jimmy Webb, had quite a run of luck with songs he wrote that were recorded by other artist.

One of my favorites, “Wichita Lineman,” was a hit for Glen Campbell.

As the title implies, the song is about a lineman who takes care of miles of telephone lines stretched from pole to pole in the flat plains of Kansas. Webb also weaves in the contemplative emotions of a relationship.

For some reason, this line from the song always catches my attention: “And if it snows that stretch down south won’t ever stand the strain.”

Growing up in the south, I’ve seen those lines snap under the strain of a heavy wet snow or from the weight of a coating of ice from an ice storm.

My fishing line couldn’t withstand the strain of my casting action and snapped.

And as sure as I am writing these words, somewhere today, someone in this world is going to snap from the strain of life.

Earlier this summer, I reached out to a painting contractor to take a look at an exterior project at the front entrance to the sanctuary of our church. I was tardy in meeting the appointment time, but the contractor was patient with me.

Once we had completed discussing the pending project, I walked him back to his car.

I had worked with this contractor on another church project, and I guess for whatever reason he felt comfortable in talking with me.

For the next several minutes, he unloaded his strain—health challenges.

A rare tick bite had totally disrupted his normal diet and digestive system. Last year, he underwent significant surgery related to his prostrate gland. And he shared that his wife had challenges with her thyroid gland.

Now, here is the challenge with the painting contractor’s unloading the strain of living—his outward appearance didn’t reveal these difficulties, and in truth neither did my snapped fishing line.

Everyday we encounter people who appear to be fine, normal, and yet, we don’t know the strain and stress that remains unseen or untold to us.

My two snapped fishing lines are nothing compared to what another person might be carrying.

I will never know why the painting contractor opened up to me.

And as I listened, I never thought about how to respond. I just listened.

Maybe that was all he needed—someone to listen.

His story has stayed with me.

I wonder if I have another encounter like this—how will I respond?

With lots of care and diligence, the Wichita lineman watched over the telephone lines.

To our left and right, in front of us, behind us, on a walk, at an intersection, in a meeting, in the aisle of a grocery store, and sitting in a church pew we have friends, neighbors, family, co-workers, and strangers who are strained, stressed, and weary.

Who is watching over them?

Could part of that answer be found in Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

A human fishing line is going to snap today.

Someone will need you, me, we, and us.

How will you, me, we, and us respond?

Can our hearts help that person find rest from the strain?

Rain storm over the ocean at low tide Topsail Island, North Carolina Photo by Bill Pike