Month: January 2020

January 27, 2020

My heart sank on December 29, while celebrating the holidays with family, when I received an email from the principal of Westerly Hills Academy with the subject line “one of our own.”

She was referring to a student who had been killed in a hit and run accident.

I had seen the story on the news a couple of nights before. I searched for the accident online. It wasn’t hard to find the details. Amari, 11 years old, was riding his bike at 5:40 p.m., when he was struck by a vehicle. The car didn’t even slow down at first, then took off, leaving the child on the street. As the driver fled the scene, Amari’s bicycle was dragged under the car onto Interstate 85.  The details left me horrified.

I didn’t know Amari. He wasn’t a scholar in our BellXcel summer program. He wasn’t one of the students we tutored or sent to camp. But I did recognize him. His face was one I had seen over and over again at Westerly Hills. I have learned more about Amari since he was killed.

I learned he lived in a hotel with his mother and younger sister, who has special needs. I learned his nickname was Tank and he loved video games and was very protective of his sister. I learned that he helped her get ready for school each morning.

Amari wasn’t just a “juvenile killed in a hit-and-run accident” as the news stated. Amari was a fun-loving, protective, caring child of God.

I have thought a lot about Amari’s mom and sister since the accident. With the day-to-day challenges they face, how do they begin to deal with this tragedy? Father Gregory Boyle, who will be with us on March 15 as our 2020 Willard Lecturer, says we are to seek compassion that “can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry.” I wonder if I would have the strength to endure that many hard things. I know I couldn’t do it alone.

As we learned in the documentary Resilience this fall, the harmful effects of trauma can be offset by community and support. Westerly Hills Academy has surrounded mom and sister with a great deal of support, including connecting them with housing and counseling resources. We have supported the family with food and clothing, and we are collecting donations to provide bus passes for Amari’s family to go to counseling regularly, as they do not have transportation. (To contribute, send a check to the church with “bus passes” in the memo line or donate online in the Tickets & Signups section of the Now@First page on the church website. Look for Bus Passes for Amari’s Family.

As a church, we are called to share love, light and hope to the world. As Christians, we are asked to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). My hope is that Amari’s family is able to feel our love and our prayers, and that we can shine a little light into this dark time for them.

– Heather Herring, Child & Family Partnership Coordinator


January 22, 2020

Want to learn more about using Realm Connect, or get connected if you haven’t already? Mark your calendar for Sunday, March 29, in the Welcome Center, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Realm allows you to manage your personal information and who is allowed to see it, control your giving, and keep in touch with the church groups that matter to you.

Want to learn more about using Realm Connect, or get connected if you haven’t already? Mark your calendar for Sunday, March 29, in the Welcome Center, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Realm allows you to manage your personal information and who is allowed to see it, control your giving, and keep in touch with the church groups that matter to you.

Registration is now open for Montreat Worship and Music conference week 1, June 21-26. The conference is open to current 3rd-12th grade students and will cost no more than $375. Final cost will depend on the number of children and youth who attend. Financial assistance is available (contact Will Young).

Children and youth participate in choir, Bible Study, Fun and Games, small groups and other electives (for middle school and high school) such as handbells, drama, instrumental ensembles, a social justice seminar, and photography. Evening activities include the YMCA climbing tower (weather permitting), pizza at My Father’s Pizza, a talent show and the closing music program Friday evening.

Breakfasts are at the individual houses, lunch is a picnic by Anderson Auditorium (weather permitting) and dinner is together in one of our two houses. We will depart after worship on June 21 via the church bus with a stop for lunch along the way. Contact  Caryn Overbey  with questions.  To register your child or youth, send a check for $75 made out to First Presbyterian Church (with Montreat W&M in the memo field) to Caryn Overbey’s attention.

The weeks before Lent give us space to explore the basics of our faith during worship. Here are the topics we’ll explore through February 16.

  • February 9 – Reach Out for What? Sermon text: Luke 5:17-36; first reading: Mark 12:28-34. The Reverend Pen Peery preaching.
  • February 16 – Why be Presbyterian? The Reverend Robert Galloway preaching.

Construction at Sharon Towers will mean there is no space for the annual cookie party hosted by PW (Presbyterian Women). But construction won’t keep us from making sure our friends at Sharon Towers will have a sweet treat for Valentine’s Day.

PW is requesting four dozen cookies from each Circle so a gift bag can be made for the residents at Sharon Towers. Cookies can be dropped off at the church by 1 p.m. on Monday, February 10, or at the home of Page Rogers (please use the covered side patio) by 5 p.m. on the same day. Gift bags will be assembled and delivered to Sharon Towers.

Do you know an agency or organization that could use some financial assistance? PW (Presbyterian Women) is accepting applications for grants from its Benevolence Fund through March 20. Preference is given to agencies working to break the cycles of poverty, illiteracy, violence and crime, particularly as these issues impact women and children.

The Benevolence Review Committee participates with agencies and organizations providing hope, help, and dignity for those in need with a focus on serving Christ in the heart of Charlotte.

If you want to recommend an agency or organization, please send the name and contact information to Jane Gustafson (, 112 Hillside Avenue, Charlotte, NC 28209. Call Jane (704-839-1222) with questions. You can also access an application form here or on the Now@First page on the church website, under Tickets and Signups.


January 14, 2020

Registered dietitian and nutritionist Jacy Schaffer will be on hand Tuesday, January 28, at 6:30 p.m. to discuss nutrition and healthy lifestyles during this  First Fellowship event. She will be joined by Dr. Anne Barnard, who can also answer questions related to women’s health.

Jacy has a passion for wellness and prevention. She previously worked as a clinical registered dietitian, providing medical nutrition therapy to heart and vascular patients. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition with a concentration in Dietetics from Appalachian State University. She completed an ACEND-accredited internship at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Come enjoy fellowship as we learn how to better care for the gift of God that is our bodies. This event will be at home of Carmalita Monroe, 2341 Richardson Drive. Register here.

January 8, 2020

As we approach Global Mission Sunday on January 12, this week’s blog takes a look back at the 2016 mission trip to visit our partners at Hope Baptist Church in Ryazan. Below are excerpts take from blog posts written during and after that trip, as well as links to their full blog posts if you want to read more.

You can also enjoy a photo from 2016 when construction on their building was just beginning and compare it to a current photo—the progress has been remarkable! Seeing all that they’ve accomplished may inspire you to contact Mary Elizabeth Coley about joining the group going to Russia this summer.


The foundation of Hope Baptist, from 2016

Katelyn Gordon: Our intrepid group . . . arrived safely to Moscow on Saturday afternoon and discovered that our bags hadn’t made the trip quite as smoothly as we did.

After meeting up with Ellen Smith, our PC(USA) missionary partner, at the airport, we took a train from Moscow to Ryazan and got our first glimpses of the Russian countryside. It was beautiful, and seeing Pavel and Olga waiting for us on the train platform in Ryazan was the best welcome!

. . . After we checked into the hotel, Pavel and Olga drove us to Hope Baptist for dinner. When I walked in the dining room of the church and saw the table set for us with dishes of pasta, chicken, rice, fresh vegetables, and bread, I couldn’t help but cry . . . it was humbling, grace-filled, and delicious.

The hospitality of our Russian sisters and brothers has been incredible. They’ve welcomed us in their worship, fed us homemade meals, prayed for us, and literally give us their clothes to wear while we are waiting (hoping! praying!) to hear something about our luggage . . .  God’s steadfast care comes to us in all kinds of forms—a late-night dinner with new friends . . . a bag of clean clothes offered from those same new friends, a patient teacher helping us learn to sing “Happy Birthday in Russian so we could celebrate our dinner hostess, and the embodied reminder that we are all one in Christ. Slava Bogu! Praise God!

Read Katelyn’s full blog post and view more photos from the 2016 trip.

Rich Neidinger: We have been traveling around the state seeing town churches that cooperate together with Hope Baptist. So far, we have visited 4, all with different interesting and moving stories. We also saw a newly purchased camp and retreat site on beautiful land with a pond, wildflowers and a forest edge . . . The churches do struggle with discrimination, so that they need their own land and building to do much ministry.  One home church, dating from the days of true persecution, just constructed a good-size two-story building from ground to roof all done by Christian brothers from around the state in one season!

Hope Baptist today

. . . One older woman sums up the attitudes, saying, “We trust the Lord; in the face of evil, we respond with good.”

Read Rich’s full blog post and view more photos from the 2016 trip.

Mary Elizabeth Coley: Since our partnership with Hope Baptist began in 2003, we have seen improvements and additions to the worship space. The kitchen and office have been in multiple locations in the building, each one better than the last, and the sanctuary has been expanded. With the support of First Presbyterian, Hope Baptist purchased their worship space and gained greater stability.

. . . Baptists are viewed as a dangerous cult in Russia, and having a space that looks like a church lends the congregation greater legitimacy and the ability to design their space to accommodate their growing programs. They have also struggled with current neighbors who are suspicious and harass the congregation.

We have been privileged to witness the next exciting stage of their church life. Hope Baptist had purchased land and drawn up plans for a three-story building. The basement will house the kitchen and a fellowship space for conferences, wedding receptions, and other celebrations. The ground floor is reserved for the sanctuary, and the Sunday school spaces and offices will be on the second floor.

First Presbyterian has supported this project financially and will continue to send funds through the Global Mission committee… This morning, we got to tour the foundation. It is so easy to look at the foundation and imagine the completed building, full of life and joy and grace. There are 160 members and children. It is undoubtedly a group that will fill the sanctuary with singing, prayer, and community.

Our trip to Russia has been filled with many, many blessings, but seeing the future home of Hope Baptist is one of the highlights. Scripture tells us that space to worship God and celebrate baptisms, marriages, and deaths is important. It is a joy to be part of Hope Baptist’s journey to build their new home.

Read Mary Elizabeth’s full blog post and view more photos from 2016.

Barb Neidinger: Our last two days have been full and our hosts extremely gracious. On Wednesday, they showed us a bit of the Ryazan area, with a tour of a 19th century poet’s village and a picnic on the bluffs of the Oka River. Later, Tamara, one of the leaders in the church, invited us to dine in her garden, under the cherry trees. Two meals outside in idyllic settings!

On Thursday, we traveled to Ryaszhk to visit our fifth small rural Baptist church. The missionary, Sasha, with his wife and four children greeted us and we all shared our motivations and goals in mission. We drank Russian tea and ate sweets (a common practice each day, whether standalone or after dinner). Tonight we participated in the women’s fellowship at Hope Baptist, hearing a message about how parents and grandparents can teach their children about God and Jesus. The Russian Christians we have met have been so welcoming to us, but we can see that they lead difficult lives. Neighbors avoid them (Sasha said none of his neighbors spoke to him for three years, until one of them finally did); they are viewed with suspicion; and in some towns the authorities can put obstacles in their way, or shut down their plans. We must pray for them, as they do for us.

Read Barb’s full blog post and view more photos from 2016.

Final reflections from Katelyn: . . . For me, the trip to Russia was a practice of not being in control. Complications and hiccups in our travel became the norm: Our luggage was lost, the daily schedules and meals were set and made by other people, and the Russian-English language barrier required a translator for most conversations. (The entirety of my Russian vocabulary now includes ten words, one of which is the very helpful and useful Russian word for “napkin.”)

As foreign as all of that felt, it reminded me that I’m not meant to be in control. God is the Creator, and I’m the creature; Jesus is the teacher, and I’m the disciple; the Spirit moves as she will, and I am to pay attention.

Our Russian sisters and brothers at Hope Baptist understand this ordering of the world differently—maybe even better—than we do. They live in a community that doesn’t welcome or understand them and doesn’t really want to either . . . They share stories of their lives—stories of sick children and uncertain finances, stories of alcoholic relatives and lost jobs, stories of new homes and new church members . . . What our Russian friends seem to trust more readily than I often do is the truth that life is uncertain but God is not.

We spent the last few days of our time in Russia in Moscow and St. Petersburg . . . It was eye-opening (and frustrating) to see the incredible wealth of palaces where the royals had lived, knowing how poor the majority of the country had been. It was the giant gold crucifix in the cathedral at the Hermitage that really got me. That crucifix seemed to be such an obvious indicator that Russian royalty, while calling themselves Christian and even attending worship services, didn’t get the heart of the Gospel, which is so much about the poor and the oppressed.

I think Jesus would’ve been disappointed by that gold crucifix, knowing that there were and are people who go hungry every day in that country.

Life in Russia is complex. Faith in Russia is complex. The same is true in the United States where it’s very easy to call yourself a Christian. What a gift it is, then, that we’ve been called into this relationship with Russian sisters and brothers in Christ who challenge and encourage us as people who call Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Read Katelyn’s full blog post and view more photos from 2016.

See you at Global Mission Sunday. And don’t forget to talk with Mary Elizabeth, Rich or Barb about the trip to Russia later in 2020.

January 6, 2020
Photo by Ross Loeser

Winter storms can happen any time over the next few months. You can check the status of FPC closings due to inclement weather in various places on

social media, on several television stations, and on our website.

  • On our website: When a decision is made, a red bar with the opening/closing/worship service status will be at the top of the website.
  • On television: Visit Spectrum News, WBTV-Channel 3, WCNC- Channel 36, or WSOC-Channel 9.
  • Social media: We will post updates at our accounts on Instagram (firstprescharlotte), on Facebook (First Presbyterian Church of Charlotte), and in First Connect.