Today is officially the beginning of autumn and to this I give thanks. Not only for God providing another day for me to exist in creation, but to do so with the promise of cooler weather (of all the things I love about the South, the heat is not one of them). At the seasonal turn, I am finding afamiliar stride in the final year of my divinity school experience and beginning to transition back fully into part-time minister status (is there such a thing?) at the church I serve in Statesville. Before time slips away into a never ceasing deadline of theological papers, I wanted to take a moment and offer some personal observations on the closure of my summer. My friend Austin, who wrote a wonderful piece earlier this month, spurred my own desire to reflect back on a series of weeks this past summer where I found myself behind the pulpit in several different faith communities.
June 17th 2018: First Baptist Church (Davie Ave) – Statesville.
I began the summer in my own church FBC – Statesville.
Summer official kicks off for student ministry when school ends. The students of FBC traditional go to camp within the first two weeks of being released and this summer was no exception. Because of personal scheduling issues, I would not leave for camp with them that Sunday. This provided me the opportunity to preach on Father’s Day, and of course, this was an emotional event for me as it was my first Father’s Day as a new parent. What I remember most about that morning, beside the pauses where I attempted and failed miserably from holding back tears, was looking out into the congregation and seeing my parents, particularly my father, and noticing my wife walking back in forth in the vestibule with Violet. The picture below was sent to me by a choir member, who unbeknownst to him, had managed to capture me, my father, and Lauren holding Violet all in the same frame. My sermon that morning was entitled “An Indescribable Love” and was inspired by Bishop Michael Curry royal wedding message.
June 24th, 2018: First Baptist Church (Garfield St) – Statesville.
The following Sunday I drove 6 minutes down the road and delivered a message to the other FBC in Statesville (most towns in the South have two in case you didn’t know).
My second Summer in Statesville, I came across FBC on Garfield St. because I took a wrong turn trying to find another church. That serendipitous, or providential, occurrence led me to begin a relationship with Rev. Brunson the pastor of what the people call “First Church.” After numerous lunches and conversations, brother Brunson invited me over on the fifth Sunday of the month to share a message to his congregation. I preached for the first time in an historic African-American church, and was overwhelmed with the love and support I received from those of First Church and the families who had come over from FBC Davie Ave to support me. One older First Church saint sitting in the front row kept urging me on during the sermon. When I hit a point that moved him, he’d holler out “Mighty, Mighty, Mighty!” The scripture that spurred the sermon was the “alternative ending” to the Gospel of Mark where believers are told to pick up poisonous serpents. While no actual snakes were lifted up, I challenged all there that we as a community need to embrace a faith that calls one to lay hands on poisonous injustices in our present society e.g. systemic racism. I’m hoping to return the favor and love brother Brunson showed me that day by having him over at FBC on Davie in the coming year.
August 12th, 2018: First Baptist Church – Traverse City, Michigan
After a less eventful July, I traveled the farthest I ever had to preach.
The summer of 2017, while visiting Lauren’s mother in Michigan, I awoke one Sunday morning and decided to visit the local Baptist church. I found FBC – Traverse City online and was intrigued by the idea of attending an American Baptist Church. That morning I met their pastor MaryBeth and through our conversation we discovered we knew a few of the same people such as Molly Marshall and Bill Leonard. We exchanged emails and I was pleasantly surprised when a few months later MaryBeth reached out to me to see if I’d be interested in preaching when Lauren and I visited again. This came to fruition in August as I preached to an intimate congregation which included a large portion of Lauren’s family. My sermon was on creation care and stewardship and I was glad to hear after the service that my mention of Wendell Berry had resonated with a few people. What I remember the most from my time there was the “prayers of the people.” This community’s liturgical practice and tradition allow space to share their thanks and lamentations with one another. This time in the service was authentic, raw, and certainly holy.
August 22nd, 2018: Taste the Spirit – Statesville, NC
The day before classes started back at Wake Forest I, and several other local pastors in Statesville, hosted an event we decided to call “Taste the Spirit.”
My pastoral peers, and good friends, Wes Pitts and Carrilea Hall meet every week to plan an ecumenical gathering called Water into Wine. It’s a bible study for people who don’t like bible studies. From this endeavor, we have helped bring together a group of people who are interested in engaging their faith as well as their community. Taste the Spirit came out of this group’s desire to do something different and yet preserve something old. With a slight nod to old school tent revivals, we threw up our own Holy Ghost tent, found some musicians to lead our hymns, grilled some food, provided a couple of kegs of NC beer, and broke bread in an act of communion. We did all of this on the lawn of First Presbyterian Church in the middle of downtown Statesville. Wes, Carrilea, Reggie Keitt from Mt. Pleasant AME Zion Church, and myself shared a collaborative message in how we approach and benefit from the Spirit of God using Romans chapter 12 as our basis. I spoke for several minutes about overcoming evil with good and, as you might imagined, shared a story or two about Will Campbell.
September 4th, 2018: First Baptist Church – Statesville, NC
Labor Day (affectionately referred to as National Associate Pastor Sunday).
My final sermon of the summer allowed me to make a full circle; both starting and finishing at FBC – Statesville. The state of NC was gaining national attention due to the incidents coming out of the college town of Chapel Hill. A confederate statue had been brought down by protestors and those holding opposing views had began clashing on UNC’s campus (as I type this, they still are). My inspiration for this message was done in response to the comments I read by people on social media news feeds. I posed the unpopular question, “what’s wrong with us?” Referencing the Old Testament prophets and citing the prophet Isaiah, I challenged those with ears to hear what making idols out of stone and wood can do to a people. In those moments, like the prophets, the people of God need to embody what author Kathleen Norris describes as a “necessary other.” It wasn’t the easiest message to give, but it was the one that needed to be given.
The winds of change are forever blowing. Here’s to that same spirit ushering in similar experiences in the Fall.
As you were,