On January 14, 2008, I began my ministry at First Presbyterian Church. When I accepted the call to be your Associate Minister for Pastoral Care, I told the members of the APNC (Julie Caldwell, Bruce Grier, Jane Ives, Mike James, Mary Margaret Porter, Woods Potts and Hank Ralston) that I intended to be here for a long time. At the time, I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant and couldn’t have known what that would look like. But I knew that I was excited to be a part of what God was doing in this place.
This month, I celebrate ten years as one of your pastors.
These past ten years have been rich, both professionally and personally. Many things have changed, and in reflecting upon some of those things, I wanted to share a few of them with you.
In the time since my ministry here began,
Charlotte has had 7 mayors.
The Panthers have had 2 head coaches and 3 starting quarterbacks.
Wachovia became Wells Fargo.
The Bobcats became the Hornets (again).
The landscape of uptown has changed, with numerous new buildings, restaurants, and a professional baseball stadium
I have worked with 10 pastors (Bill Wood, Katie Crowe, Jim Miller, Wes Barry, Kirk Hall, Roland Perdue, Pen Peery, Chuck Williamson, Erika Funk and Katelyn Cooke).
Almost the entire staff has turned over, with the exception of William Andrews, Willie Atkins, Donna Dendy, and Milton Kidd, all of whom have served this church far longer than I have.
My title has changed. Twice.
I have participated in eight congregational retreats, ten PW retreats, one handbell tour (to Scotland), one mission trip (to Haiti) and one youth ski trip.
I have officiated 27 weddings, 71 baptisms, and 97 funerals, and preached 86 sermons.
Three of the most significant experiences of my life have happened—my marriage to Bill, the birth of our daughter, Caroline, and my mother’s illness and death.
What I have also realized in reflecting upon this time is that, while much has changed, much has also remained the same. This church is as committed to being for Christ in the heart of Charlotte as it was ten years ago. The care, compassion and commitment to the gospel that drew me to this place are as vital and central to your mission as they ever have been. This remains a community grounded in faith, full of love, and committed to service, and it remains my privilege to be in ministry with you all.
Over the course of ten years, I have gotten to know you as individuals, families and a community. I have shared in your joys, grieved your losses, and journeyed with you through ordinary time. I have seen you at your best, and at times I’ve seen you at your worst. And you’ve seen the same of me. I have made mistakes and I’ve learned many things about myself, about ministry, and about this extraordinary community. You have taught me more than I can ever express about love and faith, grief and loss, perseverance and forgiveness.
It is one of the richest gifts of my life to navigate the joys and challenges of these years with you all, and I can honestly say that I am stronger and better for the time I have shared with you. Through the highs and the lows of these past ten years, I have grown and developed a great deal as a person and as a pastor, and I have been challenged in ways I never could have imagined. Whether you’ve been here for all of it or some of it, you are a part of this community, a part of the history of this church, and a part of my life, and I am so grateful to be in this with you.
As someone who loves words, and for whom words are an integral part of my daily work, I struggle in this moment to find any words that feel adequate to express my gratitude to you for being the church you are in this place and at this time. Please know that I love you all and am deeply grateful for the countless ways you have modeled faith and servanthood to me. It is a joy to be on this journey with you, and I look forward to whatever is to come.
On Sunday evening, December 16th, the Wood Fellowship Hall was filled with energy and conversation. Approximately 250 people circled around tables to share a meal and think about our future as a congregation.
This was the first (but not the last) gathering of a group I dubbed “The College of Deacons and Elders.” The intent of the night was to connect leaders in the church – past and present – together in order that we might build consensus around where God is calling us as the body of Christ. There is a tremendous amount of wisdom in the experience of our past officers. Those whom God has called to serve as leaders in the church have something to offer even after their term on the session or diaconate has ended. Sunday night was a chance to harvest this collective wisdom.
After supper, I shared with the group some of my vision for our church – a vision that has been shaped as I have spent time these past few months listening to various members and groups within our congregation. Our conversation centered on four areas around which I solicited feedback from the “College.” Those areas were:
Priorities for Ministry
I suggested that our primary task as a church was to worship God. From that worship grow three “spheres” of ministry that are equally important and valued. I believe our focus (and our staffing) should be organized under these three spheres:
Mission – Defined by where we meet Christ in the world rather than where we take Christ to the world.
Community Life and Care – Focused on building networks of care and opportunities to grow in fellowship.
Christian Formation – Claiming the purpose of Christian Education, which is to shape members into disciples of Jesus Christ.
My observation is that we are generally a very healthy church in terms of stewardship. However, we need to pay attention to some new trends on the horizon. Notably, that more and more people give out of a sense of passion rather than a sense of duty. This has implications for the way the church communicates its mission to the congregation.
It is no secret that we are increasingly busy people. This is true within and outside of the church. Paying attention to this, I see great value in forging partnerships among the variety of ministries that take place under the banner of First Presbyterian Church. Doing ministry in partnership (instead of every group or committee carrying out their own program) will better use our time and resources, as well as create a larger impact and exposure for our programs.
Releasing Passion and Increasing Participation
As a large church filled with talented and faithful people, we need to find ways to connect more members with our mission and ministry. We also need to make sure that we retain our identity as a church and not “run off in a thousand different directions.”
To that end, I proposed that we spend the next year discerning and articulating five to six “distinctives” or “pillars” that will ground us in our identity as Christ’s body. What is our particular calling as an uptown church? Where does God need our witness? How can our gifts and history and abilities best connect with our city and world? These are the kind of questions that will drive us in discovering our “disctinctives.”
Once we are comfortable claiming who we are I believe we will be in a position to create “a culture of permission” – where someone who has an idea or a passion can pursue it without having to navigate a lot of “red tape” from the committee structures of the church.
It is my hope that the next time we gather the College of Deacons and Elders (in January of 2014) we will be in a position to share these five or six disctinctives and make sure that they reflect who we all understand God calling us to be.
This first experience of being with such a dynamic group of leaders was, for me, a confirmation of both my call to serve First Presbyterian Church and of our calling as a congregation to be bold in the ways we embrace Christ’s call for us in the future.