My goodness, a lot has happened since my last Bell article! Back then I said that during this Lenten season we would focus on stories from the wilderness. Little did I know we would be entering an uncharted wilderness of our own… It seems like the Coronavirus has changed almost everything about our daily patterns of living. In fact, I didn’t realize just how much of my time was spent out and about until we were ordered to stay home. In addition to these minor inconveniences, I know there are members of our community who have had to cancel or postpone major life events – e.g. weddings, graduations, even medical procedures - due to this crisis. Please know that my heart breaks for the pain these cancelations have inflicted on you.
My original plan for this article was to share some thoughts on our virtual worship services. Instead, I’d like to first address the ancient Biblical tradition of lament. I have noticed that when asked how you are doing, many folks in our congregation are hesitant to express their hurts or frustrations, especially when they think others may be suffering more acutely. To this I want to say that while it is always wise to keep our grievances in perspective, being honest about the vicissitudes of life is a both healthy and faithful practice. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, faith and lament have always existed side by side. Nearly half of all the psalms are expressions of lament, meaning they acknowledge (often in excruciating detail) themes of conflict, sorrow, sin, loneliness, betrayal and hopelessness.
A person who laments may sound like a “complainer,” but lament goes much deeper than a complaint. Lament involves the energy to search; it seeks to comprehend the heart of God, rather than simply react from previously reached conclusions. One of the most famous lament prayers is Psalm 22, which Jesus himself quotes in the Garden of Gethsemane: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? - Psalm 22:1
Like his ancestors before him, Jesus cries out in painful confusion to a God who promised him goodness and mercy. This snapshot from Jesus’ final days is often overlooked in our celebrations of Holy Week, but the authors of the Bible included it in their portraits of Jesus for a reason.
I’ll let you decide why…
As the fallout of this pandemic continues, I encourage you to bring your full selves – the good, bad, and ugly - before both God and neighbor. This kind of vulnerability takes practice, but it just so happens that right now many of us have extra time on our hands. Friends, I am convinced that whenever we go deeper with God - even if it is to protest, questions, or lament - our faith becomes stronger.
Thank you all for graciously supporting myself and the rest of the First Christian leadership during this unprecedented crisis. Our lay leaders have gone above and beyond in their care for the congregation. I could not have made it through the past few weeks without them! Please keep sharing our online services with anyone you think could use some encouragement.
And until next time, be safe First Christian Church!
Grace and Peace,
Interim Minister, FCC of Wilson
Grace and peace to you!
It is with much excitement that I step into the role of Interim Minister at First Christian Church! Already so many of you have gone out of your way to affirm and encourage me in this role. I am grateful for your trust and hope you will turn to me with any questions or concerns you might have over the next three months.
Thrilled as I am to begin this journey with you, I am equally thrilled for Rev. Walling as he embarks on a well-deserved sabbatical. The Lilly Endowment's Clergy Renewal Program awards sabbatical grants to congregations they feel will benefit from the experience on both ends. For Gary, this will be a critical time for renewal and reflection, a time to regain enthusiasm and creativity for ministry. On the other hand, it is an opportunity for us to take greater ownership of our faith and imagine new possibilities for growth. Confident of the Spirit’s guidance, we will continue to hold he and Linda in our prayers throughout this period of discovery.
It just so happens that our transition coincides with the beginning Lent. Lent is a season of forty days (not counting Sundays), which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends the day before Easter, known as Holy Saturday. The English word “Lent” comes from the Anglo–Saxon word lencten, meaning “lengthen,” a reference to the lengthening days of Spring. Historically, the season of Lent was a time for new converts to fast and pray before receiving the rite of baptism. Eventually, however, it became a time of repentance for all Christians.
In the Bible the number forty is used to signify a period of uncertainty and temptation. The Old Testament is replete with examples of this, most importantly the story of Exodus, when the Hebrew people wandered through the desert for forty years in search of a Promised Land. In the New Testament, we find Jesus fasting and praying for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness where he is tempted by the devil. The Lenten journey invites us to reflect on our own “wilderness” experiences, past or present, and testifies to the great cloud of witnesses who have braved this journey before us.
Over the next six Sundays we will explore these “stories from the wilderness,” each week focusing on a different character from scripture who found themselves in a place of fear, shame, uncertainty, or temptation. My hope is that these stories will offer us guidance and encouragement as we make our way to Holy Week.
Again, I look forward to discovering what we can create together over the next few months. My office hours will be Tuesday thru Thursday from 9am-3pm. It may be that my schedule at the hospital interrupts one or more of these days, but I will always be reachable so please give me a call or send me an email if you need to chat. I am a chaplain at heart and would love to know how I can support you and your family during my time here.
Yes, my sabbatical is about to begin. I am getting more and more questions by the day, so I thought this might be a time to say a little more about what is ahead for me and for all of you.
When I came to FCC eight years ago, our contract included a three-month sabbatical after seven years of service. Congregations and clergy have discovered the merits of including sabbatical time in their relationships as a way of revitalizing and energizing ministry. Obviously, I am a year late in taking this time – a result of pursuing a grant from the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program which I received. This program gives sabbatical grants to about 150 ministers each year from a number of different denominations. Each grant can be as much as $50,000 which can be used for the activities detailed in the grant application. The grant I have received is for $39,000. Of that, $24,000 is set aside for my sabbatical activities.
Now, what will I be doing with these monies? The broad direction of my sabbatical will be to look at the church in an increasingly secular world. The life and work of Paul – the apostle who carried the Gospel to the Gentile world – will be the framework for my study and reflections.
I will start by spending a week at the Disciples Divinity House at the University of Chicago Divinity School – to separate, to take a breath, and to begin. I have three other trips budgeted to visit ministers and congregations which are flourishing and experiencing renewal in settings like ours – towns that are not in high-growth areas. What is behind their successes?
I also will be spending a week taking a course on church consultation where I will be looking at some core elements of renewal. The big part of the sabbatical will be a three-week trip Linda and I will take to Rome, the Greek islands and Athens where I can track Paul’s footsteps. Finally, there will be some sessions with a health coach sprinkled in in hopes of helping me lock-in to a healthier and more balanced lifestyle.
Our mathematicians will be wanting to ask about the $15,000 which is not for me. This may be the most beautiful aspect of the grant – money has been awarded to the congregation to do two things.
First, there is money to cover some of the church’s needs in allowing me to be absent. There is money which will be used in calling Leigh Finnegan-Hosey to the interim position of Sabbatical Minister. Leigh will be working at the church about half-time during my absence. She will preach and work with Casey to plan worship, including during the Lenten/Easter season. In addition, she will cover most of our major pastoral needs during that time.
Finally, she will lend some expertise to our church programming and administration. She won’t be doing everything, but having Leigh should allow FCC’s ministry to proceed with few hiccups. We are most fortunate that she will be able to share her time and gifts with us. The other piece of the grant for the congregation will cover the expense of a consultation with some experts in congregational renewal. This will be a gift as we think about celebrating 150 years of ministry and consider what lies beyond.
Anyway, I hope this helps you get a feel for what lies ahead for all of us. Every day, I seem to be fielding more and more questions about when and where . . . a little anxiety about what is ahead, I think. I will not be gone for three months, though it is my intention to separate
. . . to separate because I must to do what I am being allowed to do, and to separate because Leigh and Kathy and Theresa and all the rest of our leadership cannot do what they need to do if I am hovering nearby.
So, I expect I will bump into you at Harris Teeter or Chili’s.
In fact, I look forward to it. I expect to have some stories to tell.
Blessings and Peace,
A few days ago, our Office Administrator, Kathy Hudson, asked if I had a few minutes to talk. That is never a good request . . . and it was not this time. Kathy was tendering her resignation as our Administrator/Secretary/Phone Voice/Backstop/Go To Person, effective December 5th. Casey is on record saying that Kathy’s presence is going to be irreplaceable – her warm voice is the first sound you hear when you call the office or walk through the door. I am on record saying, “#&*%$!” Which brings me to another point – I can’t say anything about Kathy because church secretaries can tell more stories about ministers than we can tell about them – they have seen and heard us at our worst. And besides, she has never yelled at me even one time because of missed deadlines or strange behavior.
First, let me say a word about what Kathy will be doing. She will be joining the family firm. Her husband Jody started his own house construction company several years ago and like most solo ventures, he has found himself gasping for air most days. He has won some awards for houses he has built in the Fuquay-Varina/Wake County area and needs more than a little help most days running the office, doing the books, running errands and marketing. So, he poached our office administrator. No, I did not provide a reference. Had he asked, I would have said, Yes, she does a remarkable amount of work considering how much she sleeps on the job. But Jody knows his wife and probably wouldn’t have paid attention to me anyway. Anyway, she is excited about this new challenge and what it will mean for her and her family.
And what about us? Well, we will get along without Kathy though at the moment, I do not know exactly how. But we will. I have talked to Pat Campbell about getting a search process under way, so we are beginning a process that will lead us to someone else. During the next few weeks, we will probably be able to use some temp help in the office. I know we are moving into the holidays, but if you have some hours to give, let me know. And maybe even more importantly, I ask you to think about any folks you know who might be interested in a job: 20 hours a week working for a great church and working along side a delightful musician, a charming bookkeeper and one other guy.
So, when you see or talk to Kathy in the next couple of weeks, let her know how much you have appreciated her kind spirit and her hard work over these past years. The best thing about all this, of course, is that she will still be around. We will see her regularly, I am sure. So, while we will miss her, this is something of a soft rather than a hard goodbye.
Blessings and Peace,
It is that time of year again. Commitment time. The Finance Committee met a night or two ago and the results are not complete for this year’s Season of Faith, but it appears that we had another good Season . . . and I am not just talking about the coloring all of us did. In my years here, this congregation has demonstrated time and time again a remarkable capacity for faithful generosity. Maybe that is the upside to having a congregation tilted toward the, shall we say “mature” end of the age spectrum. Perhaps we have a larger share of folks who have finished careers and accumulated the resources to make financial campaigns end well.
Of course, money is not the only test of our commitment that is taken at this time each year. Pat Campbell has been working to assemble a Nominating Committee. Now Pat is a consistently positive person, but she has admitted that she has found this to be challenging work. Quite a few “no’s,” she has said sheepishly. And if this year is to be like recent years, there will be even more folks politely declining when we get to the part where we are asking people to serve as Elders, Deacons, Deaconesses, Officers, Committee Heads and the like.
Now I am inclined to think that a little guilt goes a long way. And I am pretty sure that religion and church life has been over-fed at the trough of guilt. But I also suspect that when we are totally free of any sense of guilt, it is probably because we are not being truthful with ourselves rather than that we have behaved wonderfully. So, take my words here as defensively as you will. Still, I wonder if the number of “no’s” we take in this time of year is not a sign that not all is well with our spirits. Sure, life and culture and church have changed since the golden age of church life in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. I read an article just this week about how Millennials are different, but before that, they were writing about Gen X and before that, we were trying to understand the Baby Boomers. The way people relate to institutions, including the church, is not the way it used to be. It doesn’t mean any person is better or worse than anyone born before or after them, but it does mean that in a congregation like ours, it is challenging. Some folks have graduated or retired; others are just not as in to meetings.
Most of that, I can process. But I think we are still left to ask what the “no’s” say about our commitment . . . to the institution of church in some ways, but also to God . . . and maybe even to our own sense of what is important at the core of our lives.
What I mean to say that there may be some disconnect when I can talk about how we need to be doing more for our children and youth, but I say “no” to teaching, serving on the education committee or helping with Vacation Bible School. Does it really tell you nothing about my values when you have heard me say dozens of times that Communion is the heart of our worship, but I don’t want to accept a position that will obligate me to be present some Sundays to serve at the Table? I could go on, but I suspect you hear me. And besides, I have about had my fill of the guilt I am serving.
I wonder sometimes what the one who called fishermen to leave their nets would think about people who readily call him “Lord” but whose lives are too full to take on this duty or that. You recall that he once said that where our money is, there our hearts would be also. But ours is a culture where time can be valued even more than money.
Anyway, if Pat or someone from the Nominating Committee asks you to consider doing some job in 2020, give it some thought.
Blessings and Peace,
Marty Stebbins is going to Montana. She would seem to have the name for it – Marty. You could picture a person named Marty on horseback herding cattle and perhaps strumming a guitar.
Question 1: How many cows are there in Montana? The answer is two and one-half million. That means that if the animals were divvied up equally, every human being in the state could have more that two and one-half cows. (For comparison purposes, in our state, each person would only be entitled to about one-twelfth of a cow . . . roughly 125 pounds, assuming all NC cows are full-grown and depending on whether the cow exists for meat or dairy. Anyway, we could fit our share of our cows in our freezers. In Montana, they would have to have huge freezers.)
Anyway, Marty is going to Montana to be an Episcopalian bishop.
Question 2: Are we sure there are even any Episcopalians in Montana? The
Missoulian reports that there are 34 Episcopal congregations in the state which is not exactly an answer to my question. William Willimon once wrote an essay entitled, My Dog, the Methodist, which makes me think that with a 2½:1 bovine/human ratio, let’s make sure who we are counting.
Well, Marty assures me that there are Episcopalians in our forty-first state and they are alive and well, and she is excited to be going to care for each and every one of them, so enough of all this foolishness.
I guess I just want to say that I will miss her. I don’t want to get too maudlin here, but the truth is, being a minister is a different kind of calling. And while I have been blessed with remarkable and caring congregants in the churches I have served, it is hard to understand ministry unless you have preached a mile in someone’s pulpit. So, if we clergy are lucky, we will find a colleague or two along the way who can help lift the burden when church life gets hard . . . someone you can talk to who can lend a sympathetic ear when you need it and who can kick you in the shins when you need that. Marty was here when I arrived, and she has been a better friend than I could have asked for. We have sat across the table for more monthly Denny’s breakfasts than I can count, and we have talked trash over our annual summer food drives. We have shared in community Lenten services and collaborated on some responses to crises in the larger community.
Even more, I think the community will miss her. She has been both a forceful and compassionate voice among us for the need to minister to those who are homeless or hungry, who are disenfranchised or not welcomed. Marty ear for God’s justice and compassion has blessed the men, women and children of Wilson more than we can know.
So, God’s blessings as you leave us. They tell me there is a big sky where you are going which will probably give you a good look at the heavens above.
Enjoy the view, my friend.
Blessings and Peace,
I think the word has gotten out – my application for a sabbatical grant has been approved, so my study leave scheduled for next year will be funded. That said, I have had a number of questions tossed in my direction. A little bit of Whaaat? With some When?, Where?, and How does this affect the rest of us?
Let’s start with the sabbatical. Eight and one-half years ago when we entered into a relationship of pastor and congregation, a sabbatical clause was written into the contract. After seven years, I would be awarded three months of additional leave time. Such time is a regular part of the world of professors, and they have become much more common in the ministerial world. Studies show that sabbaticals tend to produce renewed energy and purpose in clergy and they tend to be good for congregations as well. Some family situations have caused me to put off my sabbatical as well as an opportunity to acquire some foundation funding to cover some of the possibilities. And as a matter of fact, the word came back to us a few weeks ago that our application was accepted and a sizable portion of money will be given to undergird the costs of the sabbatical. I say “our” application, because the request to the foundation technically was written on behalf of the church. More about that in a moment.
But let me share with you a little bit about my plans. My proposal was to spend some time looking at congregational transition. I went this direction, in part, because FCC will celebrate its 150th year of ministry in 2020, and we need to think about how the future might claim us in new and exciting ways. I will be visiting some congregations, similar to ours, that are navigating their own transitions in vibrant ways. I will complete a course in church consulting to pick up some insights. And a broad theme for my reading and study during this time will center on sharing the Gospel in a pagan world, especially with respect to St. Paul’s work. Linda and I are going to spend some time in Rome and Athens – Paul’s world. That is a taste of the “what.” As for the “when,” we will be in Europe after Easter next year, and while I am still looking at some timing issues, at this point, I am thinking that will mark the beginning of my sabbatical time.
Now, I mentioned that there are some pieces of the grant that are to benefit the church. That is, FCC will hopefully get more out of this than a minister who returns in a good mood. A significant piece of funding is being provided to the church for two purposes: (1) to help provide resources to hire a part-time interim minister who will do more than just cover the pulpit responsibilities, and (2) to provide money to bring a transitional consultant in to work with us as we contemplate our future. There are some remarkable resources available, but they are not cheap, and this grant will allow us to get some expert conversation as we pause to think about who we are and who we shall be.
Anyway, it is all still in the planning stages, but as we all know, it is easier to plan with resources than with none. I will keep you up on how all of this is coming together. I appreciate the affection in the questions about how you will ever get along without me, but we all know that you survived – flourished even – for 140 years without me. My guess is that the time for all of us will pass too quickly.
So, God’s blessings and peace.
The work has been somewhat under the radar – more under the radar, I am sure, than what Linda would have wanted. But she has been surrounded by a host of faithful and imaginative visionaries in our community who saw the need and gave birth to the dream which is about to become a reality before our very eyes.
The Hope Station Westview House! This shelter for families will open in early September and will house homeless families – that is, combinations of single parents and their children, husbands and wives and their children. It has been the missing resource in Wilson. Hope Station, of course, has a shelter for single men and there is a facility in town for men struggling with addictions. Wesley Shelter is a marvelous shelter for women and children, though its priority of serving victims of domestic violence sadly keeps it at capacity most of the time. There has not been a place in Wilson where families could stay together until now.
I will tell you the story of how Westview House has come into existence – as with most stories like this, it is a story about money. It began with a gift from Westview Christian Church. As the members moved through the steps of completing the visible ministry of our sister congregation, they were determined to ensure the legacy of Westview’s witness. They met with Hope Station leadership which resulted in a seed gift of $150,000. Under similar circumstances, Covenant Presbyterian Church added a legacy gift, and several corporate partners have stepped forward to contribute. The HS Board launched a $450,000 campaign to fund the rest, after making their own commitments.
And yes, it is a story about money, but it is even more a story about people which at its core is very much a story about “our” people. Carol and Don Steffa, Janet Robbins, Fran and Jim Roberson, Ida Altayar, Curtis and Sue Ray, and Billy Forbes are among the former Westview members who have become part of First Christian, and we worship with these wonderful folks every week. A. J. Walston, Myra Powell, and Kathy Daughety have been part of this vision through their service on the HS Board. Bob Kendall gave his creativity and gift of words to design the “Turn the Tap” public campaign. Our CWF, the Disciples Class, and individual church members have written checks to the fund.
And so, the building has been coming to life. You may well have driven past it during the construction phase – it is at 310 Tarboro St, just up the street from the church. The location was selected for reasons that would take too long to detail, but conveniently, it backs up to Hope Station. The building renovation is pretty well done, and now the finishing touches are being checked off: beds and furniture, stocking towels and linens, clocks, landscaping, and so forth.
You can get the story beyond these words by checking the Hope Station website or by striking up a conversation with any of the aforementioned people who have kept an inside look at the project. And no, it is not too late to be a part of this good work beyond applause. Something approaching $100,000 is still in the process of being raised – you can make a three-year commitment of support. And, of course, a gift of any kind will help get Westview House across the finish line. Let me know and I will make sure you get a commitment card.
But that applause I mentioned. Well that is important also, and we are being given an opportunity to put our hands together on Sunday, August 18th at 2pm when Westview House will be officially dedicated. I hope you will join me that afternoon for a little celebration. I will be looking for you.
Blessings and Peace,
#hopestation #familyshelter #westviewhouse #ccdoc #ncdisciples #fccwilsonnc #compassion
So, I put the idea out there: Suggestions for Summer Sermons. I am thinking, give the people what they want. For a few weeks this summer, I will preach on topics of your choosing. Anything you ever wanted to know about God, Jesus, church or faith, and I am going to show up for you.
I think I mentioned that I tried this one summer when we were in Macon, Georgia . . . crashed and burned. One fellow wanted to hear a Disciple minister preach about hell, and another guy requested a sermon about some obscure biblical character (like one verse in Hebrew scripture) whose name had been foisted on his father. So, it has taken me some three decades to work up the courage to try this again.
So, let’s see what we got this time around from the dozen or so folks who turned in a card.
Job was blameless, what about us? – you are not. Maybe this will be easier than I thought.
A couple of requests to preach on forgiveness – okay, I can see that.
Ezekiel 25:17 – what, I have to look up something? You people think I have every chapter and verse memorized?
I want to learn more about women in the Bible – knock it off, Linda.
Is there an afterlife? – any volunteers to find out and check back with us before the end of August?
Tell us about the theology in popular hymns – now this seems like it might have an ulterior motive, like a way to kill those new-fangled praise hymns. (I will assign Casey to preach this one.)
Similarly, someone wants to know why we do the things we do in worship – so do I.
The Trinity, what does it mean – this has to be one of the clergy in the congregation because no one has been asking about the Trinity since the Council of Nicea in the fourth century.
There was a smattering of other requests, but I think there is enough here to get us close to Labor Day.
So, I have come up with a plan. Well, not exactly a plan in the sense of something that has been well thought-out and carefully crafted, but I have come up with a plan in the sense that I am going to start on the second Sunday in July and keep going until I get distracted or the Elders intervene. I think we are going to start with that request to explore the theology of some of our popular hymns. I am getting Casey to help. We haven’t come up with an exact format, but I am thinking about having her play a verse of a hymn, popular or otherwise, and I will tell you how wrong she was to play it. Or some variation of that approach. As I said, we don’t have an exact strategy yet.
So, come on in and worship with me this summer and we will see what happens. I think we could have some fun and maybe even learn something. If not, well, you have only yourselves to blame.
Blessings and Peace
Think Globally..and act locally...
Think globally, and act locally.
To the best of my recollection, I first heard this phrase when I was in seminary. And again, to the best of my recollection, some important theologian said it the first time it was said, but now that I compare my memory with facts, I discover that no one knows who said it. Doesn’t matter – it was important to say and important still to hear.
At any rate, I thought about that sentence of advice as I was planning my summer. Each year, the pace changes for a few months which offers possibilities if one is looking. Around here, we tend to have fewer meetings and a chance to take some deep breaths as we look to launching our new program year in the fall. It is time to take some vacation days, and there may be a little leisure to catch up on some reading (I am compiling my list now which will include my yearly selection on baseball). The point is that summer allows for some projects, even around the church – a couple of those projects that I never have time to do during the rest of the year.
And I am thinking that one of those projects should be to think a little deeper about how we at First Christian Church could protect God’s creation a little more. I have been part of some conversations since I first arrived, but I was spurred a little last week by the news that there has been an effort to remove garbage from Mount Everest – something close to 45 tons of garbage has been removed during this climbing season though another 30 tons still remains on the trails up the peak. I can’t do anything about that I suppose, but maybe I could make a difference around here. There it is: Think globally, and act locally.
Around the church, we recycle, but are we doing it to the best of our abilities? When we have a church dinner, we find ourselves asking: china or paper, and if so, what kind of paper? And when we use plastic plates and cups, are we rinsing and recycling, or are we just tossing it all in the garbage? And have we thought about all of the other supplies we use? I bought some biodegradable garbage bags last week because I have been thinking about how we put compostable paper and food in plastic bags. The Disciples have a Green Chalice program that might guide us.
One side benefit might be that a summer filled with this kind of exploration might spur some of us to think about what we can do individually. My son has me coveting an electric car. This after preaching solar at me for three years. Doing some gardening isn’t just a chance to get that perfect home-grown tomato . . . it also offers possibilities to avoid preservatives and to keep from poisoning the soil. For sure, these call attention to national and international policies, but how can I pretend that I really care if I am not modeling sound practices in my own little world.
So, some texts and emails are going out between me and some like-minded spirits. I think we will be finding a time to sit-down and talk in the next week or two – to see, in the words of Kenny Rogers and the First Edition – what condition our condition is in. If you are interested, let me know and we will make sure you hear when we shall gather.
In the meantime, check in and I will let you know which baseball book I have selected. It is summer, and we have so much about which to sip and talk.
Blessings and Peace,
#fccwilsonnc #ncdisciples #greenchalice #ccdoc #thinkglobally #climatechange #makeadifference #thefutureisinourhands
These thoughts and reflections come from our Senior Minister, Minister of Music and Board Chair. We hope that they provide both challenge and inspiration for your spiritual life.