September 29, 2016
Last week, in the wake of the protests in uptown Charlotte, I’ve never been so clear that our church’s geography plays a big part in our mission. God planted us here in the center of town 195 years ago for a reason.
God needs First Presbyterian Church to be a place of healing and reconciliation. We must be a place where there is honest speech about brokenness and pain. We are called to demonstrate what the good news of the gospel looks like by the ways that we worship with, serve, learn from and provide welcome to all of those who are seeking to connect to God in Jesus Christ.
Many times last week I was uncomfortable. I attended gatherings with other clergy and was uncomfortable with some of the anger I heard and experienced. I met a group of clergy uptown Thursday night to pray at the site where Justin Carr was shot the previous night. The protests were peaceful, but I felt unsettled as I walked the streets that are usually filled with cars and commerce. I was asked by community organizers to open our church up for a city-wide prayer vigil, as well as to provide access to our campus overnight for protestors to rest and re-group. This was a request I declined – it made me uncomfortable to do so, but not as uncomfortable as leaving our church home vulnerable.
Since last week I have both asked and been asked the question “what can we do?” A lot of my discomfort this past week has been not knowing exactly how to answer that question. I am built to try to find quick solutions. Yet the pain we saw on display in our streets last week is not a result of a one-time incident with a police officer and an African American man, nor is it solvable by a few concrete action steps.
Perhaps what we can “do” for the moment is feel uncomfortable. Maybe our discomfort is the soil from which transformation can grow.
One of the reasons I am confident God is at work among us – providing for us, loving us, challenging us – is because a host of events and experiences had already been planned before last week happened. These events will engage us in conversation about race, or difference. They are experiences that connect us with our neighborhood and our community. You can read more about these opportunities online and in this week’s eFirstNEWS.
My invitation to you is to show up at two or three of these events and see how they affect the discomfort you may be feeling at the moment. I suspect that God will use these next few weeks to transform all of our hearts – hopefully to the point that we will be ready to hear where God calls us to go next.
– Pen Peery
September 23, 2016
As a church family whose home is in the heart of Charlotte, this has been a heartbreaking week. All of us have hurt and wept and prayed while seeking to understand how God would have us stand for Christ while violence disrupts the streets of our neighborhood.
So many things are unclear, and may continue to be for some time to come. But this much is clear: The events of the week serve as evidence that there is much for us to do as a church in the center of our city.
Your clergy and staff want you to know that all is well here at the corner of Trade and Church streets. We want you to know that we are eager to gather as a family on Sunday morning, to take comfort in music, to find hope in the liturgy, and to glimpse healing in the warm welcome we always experience from one another.
After our services at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m., we will take time in the chapel for prayer for our city and for our neighbors as we all seek wisdom in answering God’s call to reconcile.
We hope to see you in worship on Sunday.
– Pen Peery, Katherine Kerr, Erika Funk, Katelyn Gordon, Chuck Williamson
September 2, 2016
Ocean waves are intimidating. Growing up close enough to the Pacific to hear the waves crashing at night, I find the beach is a safe and familiar place. I also developed a healthy fear of the ocean. Tsunamis, tidal waves, storms at sea filled my nightmares as a child. I will not see movies like The Perfect Storm or Titanic. Sorry, George and Leo, your beauty is not enough to overcome my fears of giant waves and sinking ships.
But fears are worth confronting. And the sea has long been a symbol in the Judeo Christian faith for God’s mighty hand guiding a chaotic world. So a few years ago I had the word “aWake” tattooed on my wrist as a reminder of this. A “wake” is the joyous bump that comes after a wave. Picture swimming in the ocean or a lake and the lovely little lift you get when a boat passes nearby. That is a “wake,” but you have to get in the water to enjoy it; in fact you have to get close enough to the larger waves to even feel that lift.
The psalmist sings of this wake in Psalm 57:
“Awake, my soul! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn. I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is as high as the heavens; your faithfulness extends to the clouds. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Let your glory be over all the earth.”
When we draw ourselves near to God’s presence, even when it seems frightening or risky, we ride that wake. We receive a lift to our souls. To be awake as a Christian is to stay aware of the risks and dangers of the world but not be intimidated by them. Every week we are called into community worship carrying the burdens of the week and the hopefulness of our faith with us. I have heard people say that often times an hour on Sunday is not enough to sustain us and so FPC offers a second time of worship, every Wednesday at noon. It serves as another “bump”, another opportunity to lift our souls to God and be lifted up in spirit. We read scripture together, we sing songs and we pray for one another and the world.
Wednesday Worship kicks off September 7 and the new series is called Awake my soul. For seven weeks we’ll use a combination of scripture and top 40 songs to lift our spirits and open ourselves to God’s voice. Check out the playlist for the series, Awake my soul, on Spotify. And join us at noon on Wednesday to find out what we might learn from Leonard Cohen’s song Hallelujah.
– Erika Funk