Month: September 2017

September 29, 2017

Are you ready to do the serious work of addressing the issues that keep many of our city’s people in poverty?

If so, here are some suggestions for combatting racism in response to the September 20 Opportunity Forum, as well as suggestions for leveraging social capital  and boosting childhood literacy.



When the Lord your God has brought you into the land that he swore to your ancestors…and you drink from wells you did not dig…take care that you do not forget the Lord… (Deuteronomy 6:10-12)


Frank was a farmer.

Cotton was his crop. In the fall he would always tell me to pray for no rain. Rain and cotton don’t make for a good harvest. Some years Frank had success, other years he had to stretch to make things work.  The farm had been in his family for three generations. In spite of the advice he’d heard to get out of the business, farming cotton was what Frank did. So he kept at it.

Frank was generous with the church. He was one of the first people to get his pledge in during stewardship season. The amount of his pledge ebbed and flowed—which is what a tithe does when it is tied to the fluctuating annual income of a cotton farmer.

And then one year, they found natural gas under Frank’s farm. There’s more money in gas than there is in cotton. The gas company asked for permission to drill a gas well on Frank’s land. They paid him handsomely for the right to do, and promised more money for the gas that would come out of the ground.

All of a sudden Frank didn’t have to stretch to make ends meet anymore. When the lawyers and the accountants had squared away all the details, Frank was in my office with a check for his pledge and for a gift to the building campaign.

Frank knew that it wasn’t his well.

He had a lifetime of spiritual discipline around how to approach the gifts that God put in his hands that sprung from the ground.

October 8 is Commitment Sunday at First Presbyterian. Within our congregation, some have developed the spiritual practice that I saw evidenced in Frank. Others are just starting on the road. I hope you will participate—whatever your stage in the journey—by making your financial commitment to the church and its mission your first priority.

– The Reverend Pen Peery


September 26, 2017

What better time and place for spiritual renewal than in the middle of the day in the middle of the week in the middle of Center City Charlotte?

This 30-minutes service of quiet reflection, music and message is offered at noon on Wednesdays, September through May.

Following the Wednesday service, all are invited to a community lunch in Wood Fellowship Hall. $8 cash or check. Menus are typically posted each Monday.

Find Joy in the Ordinary: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Believers is the subject for an eight-week sermon series that concludes on October 25. In this series, we look at how our spiritual lives can be strengthened by viewing our daily undertakings in a new light. How can breathing aid prayer? Can eating be a tool for bible study? Can losing our car keys bring us closer to God?

Charlotte’s Economic Opportunity Task Force report, released earlier this year, challenges us, as a congregation that works for Christ in the heart of Charlotte, to be part of the work to alleviate poverty and increase upward mobility in our community.

One step in our response is the Opportunity Forum series of speakers and discussions taking place through the end of October. Please read the report and watch for more ways you can be involved.

September 22, 2017

Faith Foundations, a new class, welcomes those who are new to the church, new to the faith or simply want a refresher on the Bible, Presbyterianism, ministries of the church and ways to practice the faith. Sundays at 10 a.m. in Cornerstone Class (P206).

“The biggest threat facing men in our country isn’t smoking or obesity, it’s loneliness.”  So says Boston Globe columnist Billy Baker in an article Pen referenced in a sermon this summer. That threat is physical, as well as spiritual.

On the fourth Tuesday of the month, 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m., Pen will lead a men’s Bible study on an upcoming sermon series. All are welcome—and no pre-knowledge of the Bible is required! The group will meet in Frances Browne Dining Room (P212).

Following the Bible study, those who want to continue in table fellowship over lunch can walk across the street to connect (or re-connect) with men who are part of our church community. Email Brent Torstrick ( to RSVP for lunch and he will organize us in groups of four to share a meal.

September 15, 2017

In the past 15 years I’ve visited hundreds of people in the hospital.

Even though it happened nine years ago, I remember my visit with Ruth vividly.

Ruth had been a school teacher and she lived on her pension and Social Security. She was a long-time member of my former congregation.  My church was predominately white. Ruth had been a member of a predominately African-American congregation that had closed, and she joined the church because she enjoyed our style of worship.

When I entered her room, and before I had the chance to ask her how she was recovering from her surgery, Ruth reached in the pocketbook she had been clutching in her hospital bed and pulled out two crisp checks, each in the amount of $121.50.  “I missed two Sundays, Pen, and I just hate not being able to put my tithe in the offering plate.”

I scanned Ruth’s face for the look of obligation, but all I saw was joy.

Tithing was a spiritual practice – a spiritual discipline – and it was an important way that Ruth participated in the ministry and the community of the church.

Sometimes the preacher gives a sermon, and other times the preacher receives one.  Ruth preached to me that afternoon.

And when it comes time for Lindsey and me to make our decision about what to give to the church, I always picture Ruth sitting up in that hospital bed and remember the feeling of tucking those two checks carefully in my pocket so that I could put them in the offering plate.

Our theme for this year’s stewardship campaign is “First.”

I hope you can experience what Ruth taught me – that when we make giving to the church our first priority, it doesn’t just brighten up the world, it brightens up our lives.

– The Reverend Pen Peery

September 8, 2017

Around the corner from our house, along my typical route in to work, there’s a church with a marquee out front. You know the type—they are ubiquitous in the south. They hold removable letters and have space for announcements, preachers’ names, sermon titles, and most commonly, pithy sayings about God, faith, and church.

Whenever I drive by a church with a marquee, I have to check out what it says. I must admit, it’s not always because I’m curious who the preacher is or what she will be preaching on that Sunday. More often than not, I check out those signs to get a chuckle at the puns and turns of phrase that are commonly posted there. And I’ve seen some funny ones. One of my favorites is this:

If you love Jesus, tithe. Anybody can honk.

I usually find the signs amusing, and sometimes they cause me to think a bit, but mostly I have a little laugh and keep driving.

Recently, however, this church near our home has had the following on its marquee:

Church is a gift from God. Assembly required.

Clever, right? And oh, so true. Reading these words each morning as I drive in to my job at this church has inspired and challenged me. Church is a gift from God, ushered in through Jesus’ ministry (Matthew 16:18) and nurtured at the outset by women and men who lived in community as Christ’s followers. Critical to the success of the early church was that communal living—the “assembly” referenced in the church sign.

Too often, people believe that faith is a dyadic relationship, just “me and God” against the world. This belief assumes that God’s primary concern is with the status of their personal faith, and that prayer and scripture reading are sufficient to ensure a robust life of faith. There is absolutely nothing wrong with nurturing personal faith; in fact, it is crucial for all Christians to do so. But if this is where an individual’s faith journey begins and ends, something is missing.

Throughout scripture, we are shown and reminded that life and faith are not individual endeavors. God created us from relationship and for relationship.

“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity… For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore.” (Psalm 133:1, 3).

“For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” (Romans 12:4-5)

Church is a gift. Assembly is required. And that is not always easy. There are lots of other things that crave our attention and attendance on Sunday mornings. There are always chores to be done, papers to be read, coffee to be drunk and snooze buttons to hit. And when we do make it to church, there’s always the chance that something won’t go our way—someone might snub us or the coffee might not meet our standards, we might not like what we hear from the pulpit or feel like our contributions are valued.

Many years ago, my dad and I were talking about some conflict that his church was facing and he was sharing with me the challenge of watching fellow church members act rudely and dismissively to someone for whom he cares deeply. He was trying to wrap his mind around how this could happen at church of all places. I said to him, “Church would be a perfect place, if it weren’t for the people.”

It is no accident that the only perfect human being called us to follow him by surrounding ourselves with other imperfect human beings. We are all in this together, and the only way we can worship, serve, experience and follow God is by acknowledging that truth and getting together anyway.

We’re not called to be perfect, we’re called to be together. We will stumble and fall more times that anyone will care to count, but along the way, some miraculous things will happen.

People will be fed and comforted, challenged and changed. God’s word will be spread and God’s will done—around us, within us, through us and even in spite of us.

It will be amazing to witness. Hope to see you in church.

You may run into a man named Marion Ellis around. Marion is an author and former journalist who is beginning his work on a history of First Presbyterian Church in preparation for the year of our Bicentennial, which we plan to launch in September, 2020.
Marion is a Durham-based writer who was a member of The Charlotte Observer team which won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. He has authored or co-authored a number of books, including a 50-year history of the American College of Trial Lawyers, a history of NationsBank (now Bank of America) and biographies of former NC Governor Terry Sanford, the late Federal Judge James McMillan (one of our former elders) and others. A graduate of the University of Missouri Journalism School, he also attended UNC-Chapel Hill on a Ford Foundation fellowship.
September 5, 2017

This year we are helping Westerly Hills teachers with supplies that they use most often. Stop by the Historical Lobby on Sunday morning to pick an apple from our Back-to-School Apple Tree. Please select an apple, which lists supplies needed, and return the item to the collection box in the hall behind the Sanctuary by September 24.  There will be a collection box in the hall behind the sanctuary.  You also may purchase a gift card to Target or Walmart and let us do the shopping for you! Questions?  Please contact Page Hull.

Check out more ways to help Westerly Hills.