Charlotte: Witnessing a City in Need Gnaws at Me

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