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July 24, 2020

Members of First Presbyterian Church:

At last month’s Session meeting, your Elders engaged a substantial conversation on how our church might respond faithfully and meaningfully to issues of racism that have been a perennial problem for our country, and a topic of national conversation over the past two months.  

The Session believes that responding to the presence of racism is the work of faith because we understand that the promise of the gospel is that in Jesus Christ the dividing wall and hostility between peoples has been broken down (Ephesians 2:14). As we are the body of Christ, we have a responsibility to continue the work that Jesus started.   

Believing that a faithful response is found in an outward affirmation and an inward commitment to examination and change, the Session took five actions that I would like to share with you:

  • We have put up a banner on the fence around the front lawn of the church that is a replica of the Black Lives Matter mural on Tryon Street, which has become a place of community gathering and conversation.* This action is meant to signal to our neighbors and community that our church recognizes the disproportionate loss of life in the African-American community and the need to say, unequivocally, that until Black lives matter to us as a society we cannot assert that all lives do. 
  • Believing that it is important to create a space for worship that welcomes all and does not send subtle messages that might be stumbling blocks to people of color, the Session voted to remove two plaques on our pews that honor Gov. Zebulon Vance and Mrs. Stonewall Jackson. These plaques will be re-located in the Historic Lobby with an explanation to acknowledge honestly our history and describe why we removed them.
  • We have instructed the committee planning next year’s Bicentennial celebration to render an honest account of our history—that is both faithful and flawed, as all histories are—through the history book that is being written on the occasion of our 200th year, and in programs and publications.
  • We are forming a Racial Justice Task Force to examine and audit our institutional life through an anti-racist lens: looking at our facility, our investments, and our Personnel policies. This group will make recommendations back to the Session in November of this year.
  • We are committing to continuing to provide anti-racist education and training for members and staff.

Additionally, the members of the Advocacy Committee are exploring ways that individual members of First Presbyterian can take action to respond as followers of Christ to the injustices of racism both to express our support for racial justice and to work for change. Soon, you will have an invitation to participate in a personal way.  

Christ has given each of us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). It is a holy, demanding, and transformative work.   

As a church that proclaims Christ in the center of our city, I am grateful for the ways that you and I can commit to heal, change, and mend the places where the legacy of racism has wounded our community.   

In faith, hope, and love –

Pen

July 13, 2020

One of the initiatives of the Advocacy Committee to help with the affordable housing crises is to find lawyers who are willing to consider volunteering to serve as counsel for tenants who are facing eviction. Member Tommy Holderness is leading an effort at Legal Aid of North Carolina to provide counsel to those facing eviction who cannot afford to hire counsel.

An important dimension of the affordable housing crises in Charlotte is the number of tenants who are unrepresented in eviction proceedings brought by landlords. In 2019, more than  32,000 evictions proceedings were brought against tenants. In only a fraction of these cases were the tenants represented, generally because they cannot afford counsel. As a result, most tenants do not have an opportunity to have counsel assess and assert potential defenses and claims they might have under North Carolina law that that would delay or prevent their eviction. This story in the Charlotte Observer describes what tenants face. This Charlotte Observer article describes what tenants face.

Tommy Holderness is a Legal Aid of North Carolina attorney who represents tenants and coordinates Legal Aid of North Carolina’s program to provide volunteer lawyers in the community to eligible tenants. Tommy would like to recruit lawyers willing to represent tenants facing eviction.

The eviction process is in flux now due to the pandemic. When the courts resume eviction hearings, there will likely be a large number of pending cases. The court is hoping to resolve many of these using a voluntary mediation procedure. Tommy expects that many hearings and mediations will be done remotely, but details have not been decided at this point.

Tommy is adamant that landlord-tenant law is not that complicated and that every lawyer would be a huge benefit to tenants facing eviction. Please consider volunteering to serve or at least to take time to learn more about the commitment required and the training offered. If nothing else, you will benefit from learning more about a significant process within our community.

Later in June, Tommy will host a Zoom call which will have two parts. In part 1, Tommy will give an overview of the program and what is expected of volunteer counsel. He will answer questions about the program and your participation should you agree to volunteer. In part 2, Tommy will provide training in the substantive law, the eviction court’s procedures and the processes of Legal Aid of North Carolina.

Please consider volunteering as a pro bono lawyer or at least join the call to see if this opportunity is right for you. To register for the Zoom meeting, email Hal Clarke.

Here are some questions and answers which may be helpful as you consider volunteering:

Q. What would be the time investment to be trained to serve as a volunteer lawyer?

A. The initial call plus any additional time that you would like to invest in learning. Tommy has written materials that he’d be happy to provide for additional study (though that is not necessary).  The vast majority of cases are straightforward non-payment cases.

Q. What is the time commitment that I should expect in representing an eviction client?

A. It depends on how the case is resolved. At a minimum, you should expect at least an hour to interview the client. If the case is resolved in mediation or small claims court, it may require no more than an additional hour or two. If the case is tried and then appealed to District Court, it could require ten hours or more. But your initial commitment would be no more than handling the matter through small claims court, so continuing the representation in District Court would be optional.

Q. Would I be working under the supervision of Legal Aid of North Carolina?

A. Yes, Tommy is contact person for all volunteer lawyers. He is willing to answer questions and provided suggestions and advice.

Q. Is malpractice coverage provided?

A. Yes, through Legal Aid.

Q. Are there a minimum number of cases that a volunteer should plan to handle?

No, volunteers typically handle only one case at a time.  Tommy hopes people would want to keep taking new cases as old cases finish, but there is no expectation or requirement that they will do so.

May 31, 2020

Dear Members and Friends of First Presbyterian Church,

I am resigning from my role as Director of Children’s Ministries as of June 30.  It has been a joy to serve in and among the members of the church and schools.

Thank you for your involvement in, leadership with, and support of Children’s Ministry programs.  My prayer is that you continue to share your gifts with the children of the church and community that they would be nurtured in this faith and flourish as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

Grace and Peace,

Tammy Winchip

Dear FPC Family,

We want to thank Tammy for her work as the Director of  Children’s Ministry. We appreciate how Tammy has shared her love of Jesus Christ with the children and all people of our church.  She has used her talents to help our children discover God in their lives  and how to live as beloved children of God. We are grateful for the impact she has made in Christian Formation, the FPC Schools, and the larger congregation.  We ask for prayers for Tammy and Joel as she begins this new stage.  Tammy will continue to serve in her role through June 30th. We hope to celebrate Tammy and thank her at the end of June as safety and COVID related guidelines allow, more details to follow.  If you have any questions about the transition please email me.

In Christ,

The Reverend Robert Galloway

Comments and prayer from the Reverend Pen Peery on Pentecost 2020

Before I call us to come before God in prayer, I would like to take a moment of pastoral privilege to address, directly, the moment we are in with our country roiling after the death of a another black person at the hands of law enforcement. What happened to George Floyd in Minnesota was tragic and wrong. Unfortunately, it was not new. George Floyd is a name we will add to a litany of names of black and brown people whose lives have been lost because of systematic racism. 

What we are seeing around the country is the cumulative impact of so many wrongful deaths. It’s not only about one black man. It needs to be addressed. It requires action. It is change that God desires and demands.

For the past 10 weeks I have treasured and been enriched through partnering with First United Presbyterian Church in worship.  To have our congregations – one proudly African-American, the other largely white, with our shared history – worshipping together in these times has been, I think, evidence of the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

But what I am very clear about – informed by my sisters and brothers of color – is that the work of being anti-racist (not simply “not-racist”) is work that white people must engage. So this morning I want to challenge the members of my congregation – First Presbyterian Church – to join me in getting serious about that work of being anti-racist. And I want to suggest two ways we can start – or continue – that work.

First, we need to educate ourselves about the impacts of racism and privilege. At noon today on our church’s webpage and social media pages we are publishing a curriculum of sorts for white people. I hope you will join Lindsey and me in reading, discussing, and learning from it. 

Second, we need to agree that we will confront racism in our own lives, circles, places of work…even families. Change starts small, but it starts with us. 

I believe this work of being anti-racist is a way we can respond to the good news of God’s claim on our lives and God’s hope for the world.

Now let us pray…

Most Holy and Gracious God –

On that day of Pentecost, when your presence was made manifest in the rush of mighty wind…

When you mixed up speech, in order that your name might be more widely shared…

When you agitated what seemed so decent and orderly, so that a small band of followers might become the body of Christ…

When you set your Spirit upon us, giving us both courage and boldness to face a broken world with resurrection hope and the conviction that what is broken will be redeemed…

On that day of Pentecost you reminded us that in these days, our young would see visions and our old would dream dreams.

And that in these days, our business would be about living into the promise of your kingdom, so that all who call upon your name would be saved.

And so, on this day of Pentecost, we pray that we might be so bold as to believe that there are still visions for us to see. And dreams for us to dream. That your Spirit still mixes us up, and agitates our order, and infuses us with courage, because we are still your people, anointed and charged with being your body in the world.

We pray for your world – that you call us to love.

And we ask, O Lord, that by your Spirit, you would dismantle systems and racism and free us from its stain and legacy. We pray for the family of George Floyd. We pray for communities who are sick and tired of being sick and tired. We pray for people of color who are too familiar with pain and fear. We pray for white people to wake up and get about the work. We pray for local and state officials who are charged with maintaining order and ask that they also practice patience. 

We pray for your church, that when people see us – be it in this room, or in our place of work, or in our neighborhoods – we pray that when people see your church, they would see love…love willing to sacrifice and stretch…willing to be odd for the sake of your promise and your vision.

And, finally, we pray for ourselves. A people who navigate many different worlds. A people who are capable of mischief and of mercy. A people who have all experienced joy and pain.

Bind us up where are a broken and weary.

Fill us up when our reservoirs are low.

Help us to shine as we reflect the light of your grace.

And keep us aware to the freshening wind of your Spirit.

We make this and all of our prayers in the strong name of Jesus.  AMEN

May 29, 2020

Dear Members and Friends of First Presbyterian Church,

I am resigning from my role as Director of Children’s Ministries as of June 30.  It has been a joy to serve in and among the members of the church and schools. 

Thank you for your involvement in, leadership with, and support of Children’s Ministry programs.  My prayer is that you continue to share your gifts with the children of the church and community that they would be nurtured in this faith and flourish as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

Grace and Peace,

Tammy Winchip

Dear FPC Family, 

We want to thank Tammy for her work as the Director of  Children’s Ministry. We appreciate how Tammy has shared her love of Jesus Christ with the children and all people of our church.  She has used her talents to help our children discover God in their lives  and how to live as beloved children of God. We are grateful for the impact she has made in Christian Formation, the FPC Schools, and the larger congregation.  We ask for prayers for Tammy and Joel as she begins this new stage.  Tammy will continue to serve in her role through June 30th. We hope to celebrate Tammy and thank her at the end of June as safety and COVID related guidelines allow, more details to follow.  If you have any questions about the transition please email me.

In Christ,

The Reverend Robert Galloway

May 5, 2020

With CMS closed for the year and Charlotte under stay-at-home orders, the members of Girl Scout Troop 15 are missing their end-of-year activities.  One much-anticipated event was a weekend trip in May to Jason’s Getaway in Nemo, NC, where the girls planned to hike to a waterfall, ride horses, and pet animals/have a hayride at a working farm.  We hope to reschedule the trip this fall.

By the way, the girls will be planning their next trip with the cookie money they raised, selling Girl Scout cookies here at First Presbyterian Church.  In total, they raised $580!!  We are so thankful to the members of FPC for making the girls’ first time selling cookies such a positive one!

Looking for a way to connect with the Scouts in today’s environment, troop leaders wondered if the girls could cook for their families using the skills they learned last December. At that time, they earned was the New Cuisines Cadet Badge when they met at FPC and prepared chicken enchiladas under the guidance of FPC member and personal chef, Melissa Toth.

Ruth Ellen Gill texted Scout parents to ask if this was a good idea.  “YES!” was the immediate response. So, groceries were purchased, recipes printed, and we were set to go Saturday, April 25.


Girl Scout volunteers Holly Ham and Kathryn Raby prepare to deliver ingredients to each Scout’s home for her to prepare enchiladas for her family’s dinner.  The Scouts learned to cook enchiladas with FPC member and personal chef Melissa Toth in December, and now they would make them for their families.

When Holly Ham dropped off the supplies to one Girl Scout, Amari, she looked confident and ready to start cooking!
Some Scouts cooked that very night and shared photos of their enchiladas, saying they were “delicious”!

Along with the food package, we included a badge they could work on at home – the Comic Artist Badge – as well as paper and colored pencils, to tell their own story by making a comic strip.

With the success of this experiment, troop leaders are now considering a second meal kit for the families. New Orleans gumbo was the runner-up choice when the girls decided to cook enchiladas in December, so that is a possibility.  If you have a family favorite –and simple!—recipe for gumbo, please send it to Barb Neidinger.

Thank you, FPC, for all the ways you support Girl Scout Troop 15!

April 22, 2020

In the middle of a very empty, very quiet uptown scene, our church parking lot was a beehive of well-choreographed motion this past Wednesday afternoon.

Diane Carey, our Loaves and Fishes Ministry Team Leader; FPC volunteers Fran Landess, Alison Ridenhour and son Michael, Beth Guinan and daughter Erin; and delivery team regular Bill Neal carried large boxes packed with a seven-day supply of groceries from the Loaves and Fishes warehouse truck to the long line of cars snaking around the Poplar Street lot. In less than 90 minutes, Diane reported that 245 family members received the food.

“If you were tired at the end of the hour and a half,” Diane said in thanking the volunteers, “you know why! Everyone seems to have been pleased with how this system worked, and it was very efficient. Please know that these boxes of food that you helped to load made a tremendous impact on those families needing this support.”

Ross and Sue Loeser were able to photograph the operation from their apartment window across the street from the church. Sue said, “It looks like more than a normal shift of people are coming through. Good work!”

With our brick-and-mortar pantry closed, First Presbyterian Church was asked to be a host site for the Loaves and Fishes Mobile Pantry. Executive Director Tina Postel wrote, “Our agency partners are working tirelessly to make sure everyone is fed. The long hours are worth it, though, when you get to see the relief and gratitude on people’s faces as we load their vehicles up with much needed groceries!”

This same sentiment was echoed by FPC volunteer Fran in her email afterwards. “It was fun and we felt very useful—fed about 250 people!”

By all accounts, the first FPC Mobile Pantry was a success. Consequently, the Mobile Pantry truck will be parked in our church lot every Wednesday going forward for the remainder of the stay at home order. Although the volunteers’ smiles were hidden behind masks and their words of encouragement were muffled, the actions of their hard-working limbs spoke volumes about our commitment to care for and love our neighbors in the heart of Charlotte.

~ Flo Bryan, Ministry Team Coordinator

April 13, 2020

We remain committed to the Capital Campaign. However, out of sensitivity to our members in these uncertain economic times, the Session has decided to pause our active fundraising efforts. 

Originally, we planned to build fundraising momentum toward a commitment Sunday on May 17. Those plans are delayed until we have a better sense of the economic landscape, perhaps until this fall.  

We also need to be good stewards of the church’s resources and are delaying the start of construction, to align with our adjusted fundraising calendar. Before the COVID disruption, we were scheduled to start construction on September 1, 2020. Now, if the way be clear, we anticipate starting construction in late May, 2021.  

None of us wanted or could have anticipated the challenges we face, but there has never been a more important moment for us to be the church. In these next weeks (or months) our focus as a church will be on caring for our members and our neighbors, and offering opportunities for prayer and worship.  

Because we have already received some payments from those who have pledged to the campaign, we can continue with the construction planning and work with the organ builder on a revised timeline. We also continue to plan for our two large missional outreach projects—expanding the Child Development Center with an endowment for tuition scholarships, and establishing a sliding-scale mental health practice in the heart of Charlotte.  

First Presbyterian Church has maintained its witness to Christ in the heart of Charlotte for 199 years because of God’s faithfulness and that of our members. That faithfulness will sustain us and provide for us in this season.

~The Reverend Pen Peery

March 4, 2020

Friends in Faith at First Presbyterian –   Your church staff has been thinking and praying about how the spread of the COVID-19 virus (coronavirus) might affect our church family and our operation as a church campus. These are the steps that we are taking to be safe and prepared:  

  1. We will follow all directions from the Division of Public Health and Human Services and from Mecklenburg County Public Health officials. While unlikely, if they should ask churches to abstain from public worship, we will be prepared to broadcast and stream our worship services. The recommendations of public health officials may also impact things beyond worship, such as mission trips or fellowship events.
  2. Our schools—the Child Development Center and the Weekday School—will follow and/or mirror the directives of the Division of Child Development, Department of Health and Human Resources. The schools will also take into consideration the directives of Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.
  3. Our facilities staff will continue its commitment to having the church campus be a clean and hygienic environment. They will also ensure that we have extra quantities of hand sanitizer in public places that are heavily trafficked.
  4. We are preparing, if necessary, to make adjustments to our worship liturgy to reflect suggestions by local health professionals and organizations such as Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. An example of this might include how we serve the Lord’s Supper and the ways we greet each other.
  5. We will remain committed to providing pastoral care in the midst of any escalating situation.

There is a fine line between being prepared and being alarmist. We are prepared. I also would like to ask that you:

  1. Pray. Pray for patients, doctors, nurses, researchers, and public health officials. Prayer settles the heart and creates empathy. It also reminds us that God is in control.
  2. Breathe. The threat of COVID-19 is real, but it is also low. Fear can turn an attitude of caution into one of panic. What we need is caution.
  3. Practice neighborliness. Wash your hands. Stay home if you are sick. If you know people who are isolated or alone or quarantined, reach out to them by phone or email and let them know they are loved.

  May God bless those who are affected and afraid, and may we embody the love and grace of Christ in these times.  

The Reverend Pen Peery