Category

Mission

June 29, 2018

 

Recently, our high school youth were in Guatemala, helping out in schools, bringing musical instruments to students and more. Here are a few photos from their week away.

“The Guatemala mission trip was such an eye opening experience for us as youth, showing that happiness does not come from substance. We saw people living in a beautiful country surrounded by features that aren’t commonly seen in the US (i.e. volcanoes), and children growing up with things that we would consider worn down or cheap. It was amazing to see how we learned that we could benefit the lives of the people by our presence and assistance instead of our money.” – Riley Williamson

 

“My experience in Guatemala was life changing. I loved traveling throughout the beautiful mountain ranges, meeting the amazing Spanish and Mayan speaking natives.” – Charlie Riddick

You can view all the photos from the trip here.

February 5, 2018

First Presbyterian Church will take a team to Villa Infantil Maya (VIM), a residence that enables Mayan students to attend middle and high school away from home in a spirit-filled, caring environment.

During the mission trip, First Presbyterian team members will stay in the dorm, interact with the VIM students and perform some construction work to improve the facility. Past groups have painted, sanded and installed concrete. A variety of tasks suit all ages and abilities.

If you are interested in being a part of this exciting and long-running mission, contact Martha Eubank for more details.

The approximate cost for the trip will be $1300-$1400, with scholarship help available.

Here is the anticipated itinerary:

  • Monday: Leave around 9:30 a.m.  Arrive in Cancun in time to shop for supplies for the week.
  • Tuesday-Friday: Work at VIM, meet the students and visit the schools VIM students attend.
  • Friday afternoon: Travel to the quaint colonial town of Valladolid for an afternoon/evening of R&R.
  • Saturday: Return to Charlotte

Watch this video to learn more about the work of Accion Ministries, our mission partners in the Yucatan.

August 30, 2017

Make a difference in the life of a child this school year by helping out at Westerly Hills Academy.

Heart Math Tutoring: Heart volunteers provide one-on-one tutoring for 30 minutes or an hour each week from late September to early May. Sign up for slots Tuesdays through Fridays, 8:30-9:30 a.m. or 9:30-10:30 a.m. at  www.hearttutoring.org.

Augustine Project Literacy Tutoring: Tutor a struggling reader and become one of more than 130 Augustine tutors in our community who are changing students’ lives, one lesson at a time. Augustine Literacy Project provides free, one-on-one instruction in reading, writing and spelling to struggling low-income students. Training is offered this fall and winter. Sign up online for training.

Success Coaching: Communities In Schools (CIS) volunteers help Westerly Hills Academy students develop skills in goal setting and navigate making decisions. CIS Success Coaches meet with a student weekly (minimum of twice a month) at an established time during the school day. Interested?  Sign up for training online.

Work with one teacher all year: Spend one hour a week getting to know a Westerly Hills teacher and assisting specific students in his or her classroom. You can select the time and day that fits with your schedule.

If you can’t get to Westerly Hills during the school day, there are plenty of other ways to get involved.

Project Backpack: FPC believes no child should worry about where their next meal is coming from over the weekend. Provide a weekly food bag (individually or with a group) for a child at Westerly Hills Academy each week from October May. Four-five bags should be brought at the first of the month and placed in the grocery cart in the hallway behind the sanctuary. Sign up online.

Support a Teacher through the Apple Tree: Contribute to a classroom by purchasing items selected from the PW (Presbyterian Women) apple tree located in the historic lobby. Items are due by September 24.

Community Cleanup Day: Work with staff and parents to make Westerly Hills beautiful from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturday, October 7. The to-do list includes painting, gardening and a staff lounge makeover. If you can’t make the cleanup day, you can contribute garden soil, Keurig coffee makers (used is okay), K-cups (tea & coffee), curtains, rugs, chairs and paint for bathrooms (bright colors are great and used paint is fine). Items may be dropped off behind the sanctuary through Thursday, October 5. Sign up online.

Serve on a Ministry Team: If you have a passion for our programs but can’t get to Westerly Hills or church during the day, you can contribute by participating on a ministry team! Teams help organize and plan ministries like BELL summer camp, Camp Grier, holiday outreach and Project Backpack.  Contact Heather Herring for additional information.

Contact Heather Herring if you want to know more about any of these ways to support Westerly Hills Academy.

August 7, 2017

Sixty precious scholars left our church campus a few weeks ago, and we are missing them! They brought such joy, energy and light into our church this summer.

I have volunteered with BELL in the past with my children. I thought I had a pretty good understanding of the program and how it benefits the families with whom we partner at Westerly Hills. I know now that I didn’t have a clue. What I learned this summer blew my mind and made me so very proud to be a part of this program and our church.

First Presbyterian Church began hosting BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life) six years ago. BELL is a national program, headquartered in Boston and started in 1992 by students at Harvard Law School. The program seeks to serve children in under-resourced communities by providing summer instruction and enrichment.

Each class of 20 scholars (rising K-3rd, so 60 total) begins the day with a hot breakfast, then participates in community time, where they learn about the BELL core values (learning, collaboration, respect and excellence.) Each class receives literacy and math instruction from certified teachers for the first half of the day, reinforced by First Presbyterian member tutors and speech therapists from Charlotte Speech and Hearing. After lunch and playground time, the scholars participate in enrichment activities, such as dance, Legos and science, coding, yola (language-based yoga practice), Reading with Rover, music, cooking, recreation, character education, art and swim lessons. Every Friday is reserved for education-based field trips. This year the scholars went to Dan Nicholas park, Carolinas Aviation Museum, the Charlotte Raptor Center, the play James and the Giant Peach, the Nature Museum and a performance by a magician.

Distracted by all the fun, the children seem to forget they are attending a little bit of school when they are at BELL.

Parent involvement in BELL is also a huge part of the program. Attendance is critical for success, so each family pays a $20 goodwill deposit that is refunded if the scholar misses no more than 3 days. Parents are also responsible for attending an open house and participating in a scholar showcase, where they visit the classrooms, attend an active reading workshop and eat lunch with their scholar. This year 37 families attended the scholar showcase. The scholars were SO excited to read with their parents, and the parents were hilarious pretending to be kids during the active reading workshop. We all know how important parent involvement and commitment are for a child’s success at school, and programs such as BELL help build that vital commitment.

Did you know the lack of learning during the summer causes up to 2/3 of the achievement gap between low-income students and their higher-income peers? According to statistics published by Read Charlotte (learn more at www.readcharlotte.org) 96% of third graders reading at grade level go on to graduate high school on time; third graders reading below grade level are four times more likely to drop out of school. At the end of 2016, 72.5% of Westerly Hills’s third graders were reading below grade level, the worst reading scores in all of CMS. 

Last year, our BELL scholars gained reading proficiency rather than backsliding during the summer. This year, our scholars gained again. Clearly, literacy is critical to the success of our city’s children, and this program is a way our church is having a direct, positive impact on the children of Westerly Hills.

Periodically, our BELL program receives a visit from the national Quality Assurance team to be observed and evaluated. Our program remains one of the best in the country, if not the best.  The QA team raved about the standards we set for our program and the amazing enrichment and field trips we offer. The wonderful BELL staff sets the same expectations for the scholars, and they rise to the occasion again and again.

This program requires significant time, money and commitment from our church, but it is so absolutely worth it.  If you have contributed to this amazing program, thank you! I hope you know how valuable that contribution is.  If you haven’t yet contributed, please consider doing so. It costs $1,500 per child to run this program, and we still need to raise money to cover the cost for this summer’s program. Any and every contribution helps to change the life of a child.

I saw just how much every little contribution matters this summer.

– Heather Herring, Child & Family Partnership Coordinator

July 28, 2017

Day 1

Today was our first full day in Baltimore and we started our day with worship at Faith Presbyterian Church. Experiencing a different type of service showed us that people live in different environments then we do. After the service we went on a justice tour of Baltimore. This tour showed us the various sides of Baltimore and how drastic they can change from block to block. We also saw glimpses of Baltimore that are not always shown on the news.

We still have a full week ahead of us and much more to look forward too. We are extremely excited for this upcoming week of VBS.

-Reid Bond and Brad Hull

 

Day 2

Today the group worked at the camp for the first time. We played with kids in the park from the neighborhood and started to form relationships along the way. Everywhere you looked you could see Charlotte boys giving piggyback rides to children and girls holding kids in their laps.

The love that we saw in the neighborhood inspired energy in us that helped get us through a long, hot day. Grateful for the love and hospitality this neighborhood is sharing with us.

-Ansley Nurkin and Kimberly Morgan

 

Day 3

As the week progresses, our days are going by faster and we are getting to the know the kids better and better. Our relationships with them are strengthening but our bodies are definitely worn out by the many piggy back rides and pushing kids on swings.

Our theme this week has been crossing boundaries and making ourselves aware of the boundaries in both Baltimore and in our hometown. We have not only crossed physical boundaries this week but also boundaries of fear and acceptance. It has been a growing week for all of us and look forward to seeing where God is at work.

-Will Hull and Cam Peterson

Day 4

We have seen God in the children of the community and the many people that are helping them.

God is at work through a lady named Phyllis who is the ambassador of the neighborhood. Her love and care for the McCabe-Woodbourne community is astounding. There is too much to say about her in this post but let’s just say every neighborhood needs a Phyllis.

God is also at work in the methadone clinic that provides services to the neighbors and other homeless addicts in need. As they heal, they nurture the neighborhood garden with one another.

Lastly, no doubt that God is smiling as he observes strangers becoming friends, hearts softening and boundaries dissolving.

-Twyshanti Elmore, Natalie Raygor and Mary Scott Peterson

Day 5

As we reflect on this past week, each of us have been transformed by the children and adults of the McCabe-Woodbourne neighborhood. Each of us left a piece of our heart in the neighborhood where boundaries were crossed, memories were made to never be forgotten and the love of Christ was shared by all.

We truly lived our church’s motto in this city: For Christ in the heart of…Baltimore.

– Natalie Raygor and Mary Scott Peterson

March 24, 2017

For many months now, our Balcony Group has listened for the Holy Spirit in developing a strategic plan for the next three to five years. This group has listened through conversations with our officers; for the wisdom of our past efforts in strategic and long-range planning; during visits to other vital, center-city churches around the country; and during lots and lots of meetings.

The strategic plan they are drafting will be built on our existing shared vision—taking what we do well and enhancing/expanding it so that it moves us into the future.

The draft the Balcony Group is working on now will recommend specific, aspirational, yet attainable initiatives that flow from four objectives, or planks: Welcome, Serving our City, Life Together and Stewardship. As they aim for finishing that draft in April, here’s how the Balcony Group is defining those planks.

Welcome: In a time when there is a trend for people to choose spirituality over religion, our efforts in Christian hospitality matter more than ever. That welcome extends from our worship, to our physical campus, to our use of media and tools for communication.

Serving our City: We will always continue to reach beyond Charlotte—with mission to the world and cities other than our own. But now seems to be a time to pay special attention to being agents of transformation in the center of the city where we were established as a church for this community. To be effective agents of God’s transformation, we have to grapple with and seek to understand what Charlotte’s issues are. One providential piece of timing is that the Economic Opportunity Task Force is set to release its report, which will highlight particular areas of focus in our city that are in need of transformation. We imagine some of our initiatives under this objective will align with part of what the Task Force recommends.

Life Together: Deitrich Bonhoeffer wrote a book called Life Together, which describes what the family of faith looks like when we recognize the gift of Christian community. It is a stark difference from the frenetic, polarized, shallow existence that so often exists without the grounding of Christ’s presence. Initiatives under this objective will help encourage and affirm our life together as a community of every age and stage.

Stewardship: Stewardship is a spiritual practice that must be taught and valued. It does not happen by accident. Stewardship asks us to invest in a future that we do not get to see.  Initiatives in this area will develop strategies to deepen our commitments and diversify our approach.

This plan and this impact begin soon—this year. And our implementation of this plan will set a trajectory that will lead us into our third century of ministry, which begins in 2021. The Balcony Group’s work on the strategic plan will certainly be what the congregation and our neighborhood feel first.  It will energize, focus, and deepen our mission to be for Christ in the Heart of Charlotte.

Watch for a recap of my comments about God’s call to us from the March 12 Town Hall in the April issue of FirstNEWS, which will be available beginning March 26 in the historic lobby and on the website beginning Monday, March 27.

– Pen Peery

January 25, 2017

What happens when you live in a manhole in a city where winter nights can reach 25 degrees below zero?

As bad as that is, how much worse might it be if you are also sick and old?

. . . Read More

October 18, 2016

What does it mean to give more to mission in 2017? Check out this 2-minute video about this year’s Stewardship Campaign.

https://youtu.be/FyNo_XTwEjk&rel=0

Commitment Sunday is October 30. Join us as we commit ourselves to doing more for our neighbors around the corner and around the world in 2017.

August 16, 2016

Pen mug 7-16Most afternoons, on my drive home from church, I witness a scene that has been gnawing at me since I arrived at First Presbyterian four years ago. It’s a bus stop where some of the people whom I have met over the past few years are settling down to sleep for the night, their belongings stuffed into bags that they hold close.  Other people at that bus stop aren’t there to sleep, but they look tired. I can see the stress of being overworked in their eyes and in their posture. They are on their way home after a long day and, even though they have spent their day surrounded by people, I see loneliness in their faces.

Seeing these people, day after day, suggests to me that there is more work God calls the church to do.

These two groups of people need different things. Some need food, access to healthcare, and a place to lay their head. Others need community, an opportunity to interact in ways that go beyond a transaction, and a place where they can have the space to explore the things that really matter.

Charlotte has a lot going for it, but we are still a city in need. We need more affordable housing. We need better economic mobility and access to opportunity. We need more early childhood education. We also need deeper faith, and places to be vulnerable, and an increased awareness of the holy.

In the heart of all this is our church home, with its mission to witness to the good news of Jesus Christ.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote to God’s people who found themselves in an urban environment, surrounded by need.  “Seek the welfare of the city,” Jeremiah wrote, “for in its welfare you will find your own…” (Jeremiah 29:7).

Over the past six to nine months I have been spending time with some leaders in our church thinking about the ways we might let Jeremiah’s words inform our actions. In the near-term we are considering God’s call for us in 2017, as we prepare for stewardship season this fall. In the mid-term, a committee called the Balcony Group is working to develop a strategic plan to guide the Session and the church for the next 3-5 years. In the long-term, members of the West Campus Visioning Committee are continuing their work to discern God’s call for the incredible asset that is our parking lot, a vision we expect to impact this church and how it serves the needs of our city well into our third century here in the center city.

I believe God’s purpose for us as a church is bound up in our willingness to seek the welfare of our city. That’s why we were founded almost 200 years ago, and it needs to be why we exist 100 years from now.

There is great work being done to embrace this particular calling for our church. In the coming months, you will be invited to contribute your voice to this planning effort—through surveys, focus groups, and neighborhood gatherings.

This is an exciting time to be a part of First Presbyterian Church. The need for our witness and ministry has never been more urgent. And as we look into the future, God’s providence and promise to be with us in our life together has never been more sure.

What if the people I pass each afternoon at that bus stop experienced First Presbyterian Church as a place of welcome, a source of strength and a community where they could deepen their faith?  If they knew us that way, I think we would be fulfilling our vision as the body of Christ that God sent into the world to save.

– Pen Peery

July 22, 2016
group at Catherine Palace
Our group at Catherine Palace

The Russia mission group has been back in Charlotte for almost two weeks, and I’ve been grateful for all of the people who’ve stopped me and asked, “How was Russia?”

It’s a straightforward question, but I find myself having difficulty knowing how to answer. To say that the trip was good is true, but it’s also not an adequate description nor is it entirely accurate. Our time in Russia was good, and it was also challenging, hard, and inspiring.

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. The Russian government threatens to restrict how and where they worship, and if they want to have their own church building, the members are the ones who have to build it. 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. Their stories are punctuated by the refrain of “Slava Bogu” – “Praise God!”

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, which have a very different feel to them than the cities, towns, and villages we visited in Ryazan. 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.

~ Katelyn Gordon