Friends, meet our new Associate Pastor for Christian Formation and Young Adults, the Reverend Robert Lord Galloway.
You can read more about Robert, including his background, his Statement of Faith and what members of the Associate Pastor Nominating Committee say about him.
Many of you will remember Robert from some years ago, when he was with us as a young adult member. Others will have the pleasure of getting to know him as he comes the newest member of the clergy here at First Presbyterian. Robert’s ministry experience at White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh makes him a wonderful fit for our congregation.
Robert arrived on August 5, which marks an exciting time in our ministry here in the heart of Charlotte. He joins our new Director of Outreach and Mission, Shantiqua Neely, who has been with us since early July, and Sherry Olson, our new Parish Nurse. I hope you’ll meet, welcome and get to know them all soon. It is also the end of our time with the Reverend Rebecca Davis, a part-time, interim Parish Associate who assisted with Worship and Formation during the past year. The Reverend Mary Margaret Porter, who joined us about the same time Rebecca came on board, will continue in her role as Parish Associate for Fellowship.
We look forward to the new program year that begins on Sunday, September 8.
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.
On Sunday, November 13, First United Presbyterian Church–our sister church in Center City–celebrated its 150th Anniversary with an uplifting service that remembered, rejoiced and rededicated. FUPC traces its roots to the black parishioners who left our church in 1866, after the Civil War.
Below is a letter written by our Session and read by the Reverend Erika Funk during the service. After you’ve read the letter, you may want to visit our Facebook page and browse through the photo album from the day. Even if you aren’t a member of Facebook, you should be able to follow the link and view the photos.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The pastors, officers and members of First Presbyterian Church Charlotte rejoice with the pastors, officers and members of First United Presbyterian Church on the occasion of your 150th anniversary. We recognize the significance of this milestone, and thank God for sustaining you as a congregation. You serve as a shining example of servant leaders in Christ—a beacon of grace, perseverance and warm welcome to those who pass through your doors and enter into worship with you. Despite the many challenges you and your forebears have faced over the past 150 years, you have stood strong in the Lord and in God’s mighty power. You have forged ahead in the face of uncertainty and difficulty. Thank you for being a witness to and for the love, the power and the faithfulness of God. God has been faithful—and so have you.
We are grateful for the growing bonds of friendship and the deepening relationships that are forming between our churches, especially in the past six or seven years. We are hopeful that we can foster deeper connections and strengthen the ties that connect our congregations to each other.
Even as we celebrate the faith, dedication and love that have sustained First United Presbyterian Church for 150 years, we acknowledge that there have been acts of racism, prejudice, indignity and indifference perpetrated by members of our congregation, acts that contributed to the separation of our two congregations. We recognize that the separation still exists in the present day. We apologize for all that we have done, and all that we have not done, that has given rise to and perpetuated division between our two communities of faith. We humbly pray that the Holy Spirit will lead us to true and complete reconciliation.
As you look toward the future God has for you in building God’s kingdom here in Charlotte, we commit ourselves to pray for you and we hope there will be many opportunities for us to work alongside you in your ministry, here in the city and beyond.
May God continue to richly bless and prosper your ministry and your entire congregation, and may you have many more years of worship, growth and service—all for the glory of God and the furtherance of the work of God in the world.
Grace and peace to you all.
– Brent A. Torstrick, Clerk of Session, First Presbyterian Church, Charlotte
The FUPC/FPC Partnership Ministry Team, a group of 16 people from both churches working toward reconciliation between our churches, wishes to thank everyone who participated in this historic event.
Last Sunday Dr. Rodney Sadler made me squirm. I don’t like being made to squirm or feel uncomfortable, but that’s exactly what he did.
Speaking to a group of members from First Presbyterian and First United Presbyterian churches, Dr. Rodney Sadler described how the church has actually contributed to the perpetuation of racism.
This is the seventh year that Christian brothers and sisters from our two churches have engaged in joint conversations. Over the years we’ve discussed Bible passages, social issues, and a variety of subjects. But it has taken us seven years to name the elephant in the room: racism. This year’s theme, United by Faith, Divided by Race, faces it head on. While we share a common belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior, we have allowed racial differences to create and maintain divisions among us.
Dr. Sadler began by looking at various Bible passages that have been used in times past—even by prominent theologians and seminary presidents and Presbyterian pastors—to justify racial division. That’s when I started squirming, not because I think he’s wrong, but because I know he’s right.
There was more squirming to come. Next Dr. Sadler went to one of my core beliefs: salvation by grace. He said that this cornerstone doctrine of our Presbyterian tradition has often given people—especially people in positions of privilege and power—permission to protect the status quo and do nothing. Dr. Sadler asked us to listen to the words of Jesus. Jesus told the rich young ruler “sell all you have and give to the poor” (Luke 18:22). In Matthew 25, after telling his followers to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, care for the sick, visit those in prison, Jesus says, “Whenever you have done it for the least of these, you have done it for me.” Jesus pushes his followers to let their faith be not only than words, but also actions.
Rev. Tony Campolo has formed an organization called “Red Letter Christians.” Perhaps the Bible you have on your nightstand has the words of Jesus written in red letters. Tony Campolo calls us to focus especially on those red-letter words of Christ. And when we do that, we hear Jesus calling us to action—to care for the poor, to reach out to those who are not like us, to move outside our comfort zones. Yes, to squirm.
Maybe squirming a little bit is what it’s going to take for us to start tearing down the walls of division that separate us and build a community that is truly united in faith.
– Chuck Williamson
(The final session of United by Faith, Divided by Race, will be on Sunday, June at 12:15 p.m. at First United Presbyterian Church, 201 E. Seventh Street, when Dr. Sadler speaks on Dream the Impossible Dream. Details here.)
In May, I attended the first two sessions in a learning series, “United by Faith, Divided by Race,” hosted by First Presbyterian Church and one of our neighbor churches, First United Presbyterian Church, a historically African-American congregation.
I’ve been the pastor of First Presbyterian for about four years and knew my congregation has shared history with First United Presbyterian. The predecessor congregation to First United dates back to 1866 – a date that is not lost on someone who was born in the South and has relatives who served in the Confederate Army.
In May, however, I was confronted by the details that I had previously not known of the relationship between First Presbyterian and First United Presbyterian.
For years, leading up to 1866, African-Americans worshipped at First Presbyterian. Many of those African-Americans were slaves; some were free. They were baptized at our baptismal font. They attended Sunday school classes – which was against the mandate of the Presbyterian Church at the time, because those classes about the Bible also served to teach literacy to African-American children who had little other access to education. But they were always “they.” African-Americans were not allowed to sit in the main floor of the sanctuary. They were not allowed to be officers of the church.
Eventually, the African-American group within First Presbyterian’s congregation developed a worshipping community who were told they could meet – not on Sunday – but on Monday. And they could meet not in the sanctuary, but in the basement.
Sometime during the Civil War, the Session of First Presbyterian Church voted to expel this worshipping community from the premises. After this vote, a few leaders in the African-American community met with the pastor of First Presbyterian to help them charter three new congregations: the Colored Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn Presbyterian Church, and Seventh Street Presbyterian Church. In the middle of the last century, this constellation of churches became First United Presbyterian Church.
History is a funny thing. It’s rich. It’s complicated. It’s messy. And sometimes there are parts of it that we wish we could forget. When I heard about this part of my church’s history it made me queasy. I wish that the Session of First Presbyterian Church hadn’t taken that vote, a vote that clearly violates the commandment Jesus gave us: “to love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself.” But I also know that that Session was a product of its time. In the mid-1800s a number of both Elders and Ministers at First Presbyterian Church owned slaves.
As a person with Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in my family tree, I wonder how I would have voted if I were around that table at the Session meeting?
Being confronted by a history in which you did not participate doesn’t change the fact that history shapes the reality of the world in which you do participate. That’s the place where I so often get stuck. So in our class, it was helpful when our teacher, Dr. Julia Robinson – a history professor at UNCC and an ordained minister – encouraged us with these words: “when you know this kind of history, it is easy to allow yourself to get swallowed up in either guilt (if you are white) or anger (if you are black). Instead, as people of faith, these are the moments when we need to turn to Jesus.”
I want Jesus to walk with me…with us, actually…as First Presbyterian and First United Presbyterian continue to grapple with what our shared history means for our shared future.
– Pen Peery
(The final two sessions of “United by Faith, Divided by Race,” will be on Sundays, June 5 and 12, at 12:15 p.m. Details here.)
Any mother-daughter or mother-son relationship can be complicated, said Dr. Julia Robinson, opening speaker for the United by Faith, Divided by Race discussion series between members at First Presbyterian Church and First United Presbyterian Church.
“And the Mother Church of the black protestant church is the white church,” she said to the 70-plus members of both congregations who gathered for the first session. “Some people like to say it’s the sister church but, no, First Presbyterian is the white mother church.”
Dr. Robinson, a teaching elder of the Charlotte Presbytery and an associate professor of African American Religions and Religious Diaspora at UNCC, pointed out the theological contradictions that allowed founders and early leaders of FPC to own slaves at the same time they taught those slaves about Christianity. Although they understood the fundamental principle found in Galatians 3:28 (“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”), they also believed there was strong Biblical justification for slavery in Leviticus 24:44-46, 1 Timothy 6:1-2, Ephesians 6:5-8, Colossians 4:1 and 1 Peter 2:18-21.
Most notably, Genesis 9:25 (“he said, ‘Cursed be Canaan; a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers.”), known as the “curse of Ham,” was used to justify the belief that descendants of Ham—including all Africans—had been consigned to perpetual slavery.
“Africans were believed to be ‘called’ to slavery,” Dr. Robinson said.
Dr. Robinson outlined her research into the early years of FPC and its contradictory treatment of the black people in its midst. Although it was against the law to teach slaves to read, FPC taught the ABCs along with Bible study, typically offered on Mondays. While many in those days considered Africans to be less than human, slaves and their children were nevertheless baptized, indicating a belief that they also possessed an immortal soul.
After slaves were freed, those who had been affiliated with FPC wanted to remain Presbyterian because of polity and structure. They also wanted the freedom to worship on Sunday, leading to the founding 150 years ago of what became, through a series of name changes and a merger with Brooklyn Presbyterian Church (founded in 1911), what we now know as First United Presbyterian Church.
“Racism has operated as a smoke screen to take the focus off Jesus,” Dr. Robinson said. “If we are to heal the rifts of the past we cannot do it with made-up minds or with programs like this. We have to do it with the focus on Jesus Christ to knit us back together.”
Being knit back together, she said, does not mean we must all be part of the same church. But we must recognize how our history has divided the body of Christ and have the intentional discussions that will allow Jesus to overcome our past and heal the disease of conscious and unconscious racism from our respective congregations.
“There will always be a remnant that wants the status quo,” Dr. Robinson concluded. “There will always be pockets of racism that both churches will still operate in. But there’s a remnant that wants to heal. And God loves working with remnants.”
Next Week: Reaching Across the Table
On Sunday, May 22, all are invited to join in a conversation at First United Presbyterian Church, 201 E 7th Street, from 12:15-1:30 p.m. Lunch is available for $5.00. Dr. Julia Robinson will conclude with a brief history of what happened to and between our two churches in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
To prepare for the conversation that will follow her talk, Dr. Robinson suggests reading 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, Luke 12:12, Philippians 2:13 and 2 Corinthians 13:9. She also suggests reflecting on how the following words from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. apply to our churches today: “The first way that the church can repent, the first way that it can move out into the arena of social reform is to remove the yoke of segregation from its own body.”