July 2020

Dear Friends,

 

Thank you for your expressions of concern after my recent bout with health problems. I believe I’m on the mend and headed in a better direction for health and well-being.

I’d like to highlight wonderful news all around the church. I am not trying to dodge the severity of the pandemic, the struggle for racial justice and peace, or the crises infecting so many facets of life. Rather, I am hoping to provide some rays of light in which you can bask. (Also, given the rate at which the news cycle changes, please know that this is being written on June 17.)

First, we were able to worship together on June 14 on the Soccer Field at RMA, and it was a wonderful and joyous time. We enjoyed the Lord’s Supper, laughed, shed a tear or two, and enjoyed a picturesque morning outside. Around 90 of us were able to gather, and it felt so wonderful to be together.

Second, we are looking at when and how we can worship in the sanctuary. Members of the Session are of very similar mind, and we are calling upon leaders in medical fields to help us develop plans, policies, and procedures for a modified return to communal worship. Please hold tight as we work to reenter in a proactive way.

Third, music is one of the most difficult elements of pandemic precautions. However, Jim, Jennie, and I are working together on Christmas plans, continuing musical offerings, and perhaps a special treat to be announced this autumn. We are studying and applying new ways to make sure that the power of music will not be lost during this season.

Fourth, the church is open for meetings both physical and virtual. If you want to get a group of people together for masked, socially distanced gatherings – please reach out to reserve a space and time at the church. We need one another, and your church is trying mightily to make connections a reality.

Fifth, (and most excitingly in my opinion) we will have another outdoor worship opportunity on July 12th.  We plan to gather on the front church lawn and side parking lot at 10:00 a.m., and the Session has called a congregational meeting during this service to introduce the new Community Pastor for FPC Rocky Mount. We will learn a bit about this amazing candidate and vote on terms of call.

Again, there is a lot of hurt and pain all around us.  If you need a bright spot in your walk of faith, I hope that these rays of light brighten your life.

 

With Love and Gratitude,

Matt

June 2020

Dear Friends,

 

Your elected Session met on Tuesday, May 19th to discuss the past, present, and future of church plans related to the pandemic. We’ve come a long way in a few months in our recorded worship and creative connections. We still have a long way to go before we can safely resume regular Sunday worship in the sanctuary. Here is where church leadership currently stands.

 

First, we are reopening the church office for limited hours and with several restrictions. You should have received correspondence about this last week. The staff have been working diligently during this time, and I’m grateful for their help in taking a step toward normalcy.

Second, we are planning an outdoor worship service at Rocky Mount Academy ball field for June 14th at 10:00 am. We are hopeful that this casual service can have prayer, modified communion, and fellowship with 6 feet of distance between family groups. Look for more nformation as we get closer to June 14th.

Third, we are continuing Zoom gatherings. We’ve ceased those that had no participation, and we are adding new options soon.

Fourth, we are looking into options for limited groups of people to gather for prayer in or around the sanctuary. There are a lot of wonderful ideas, and there are significant concerns about safety for all of our members and visitors.

Fifth, we are in continuing conversation about when we can return to communal worship in the sanctuary. While there are thoughts and opinions across the spectrum about what would allow us to safely return, the Session was unanimous that we cannot at this time determine a schedule for resuming congregational worship to the sanctuary.

 

I would like to highlight three areas of significant consideration.

 

One, singing is proven to transmit the virus more than other actions associated with worship. The professional associations related to the performance of music have requested that churches refrain from singing for the foreseeable future. Your music staff and I are spending time researching and learning about what this means and how we can adapt.

Two, staff and Session are both looking at every part of worship and how it would need to be adapted for people to gather

together. We are listening to peers in other churches locally and around the United States. There are lingering issues to resolve for the safety of all.

Three, our recorded worship has reached across the globe, across denominational lines, and into the homes of those unable to join if we were meeting in person. We have learned much about recorded worship; we have much still to learn. We are seeing great results of this ministry, and we hope to continue it going forward.

 

You are the church at work in the world. You are the body of Christ serving in ways both large and small. You are bearers of the image of God and the ones to whom the image of God is revealed in others. Until we meet again on a ball field, grocery store aisle, or in our sanctuary, know that your life and work is in our prayers!

 

With Love and Gratitude,

Matt

 

May 2020

Friends,

 

     You have been more than gracious as we all struggle through a season without a discernable end point. Thank you for your kind words about the staff’s dedication. Thank you for your thoughtful emails and texts about the worship service. Thank you for choosing hope as your attitude regarding church this year.

 

     I know that we have members who have lost loved ones, jobs, time, and resources to this pandemic. We have members in the medical and first responder fields who put the needs of the community above their own. We have families abiding by the recommendations of the CDC and living with social-distance induced anxiety and depression for the sake of communal health. As a church, we must all pray for one another and the battles before each and every one of us.

 

     Your church leadership will continue to produce worship services for home participation. We are investing time and resources to increase the quality, so that your home worship time can be as meaningful as possible. Again, thank you for your grace as we’ve moved from a Sunday devotional on week 1 to hymns with lyrics and other participatory elements in our more recent services.

 

    In very exciting news, the APNC is moving forward with hope as they interview candidates and prepare for on-site visits as soon as possible. I’m thrilled with their commitment to the process and their thoughtful conversations on behalf of the church. It is possible that we could have someone in place before the autumn.

 

     Together, we will continue to work, experiment, learn, and grow in order to love God and neighbor. God bless each of you!

 

     With love and gratitude,

     Matt

 

April 2020

Dear Friends,

 

Thank you to everyone who helped make Easter so special this year. I thank Jim, Jennie, and the choral scholars for the music; Partha for the Easter flower arrangement; all who helped procure and deliver lilies to people; and the many people who watched the service and sent kind notes to us. I know we all want to gather together and share hugs,  stories, and laughter again; thank you for the ways that you are respecting the need for social distancing during this time.

Things around the church are far too quiet. We miss the energy and noise from “Kiddos in the Kirk” and the fellowship of Brown Bag, Wednesday Nights, and unexpected drop-ins. Mostly, we miss you. You are the church! I hope that you are finding ways to be the church in action during our time apart from one another. I pray that there are meaningful moments for you to encounter God and God’s work among us.

You are all in my prayers during this season of rest and unrest, and as always- please reach out if I can be of support to you or your family.

 

With Love and thanks,

Matt

 

March 2020

Dear Friends,

We have entered the season of Lent. The music shifts to contemplation and longing. The scriptures challenge our understanding identity and our perpetual need for grace. The messages and prayers of confession step on toes and unnerve the soul. Worship continues to touch the spirit, but the impending shadow of the cross weighs heavily on the horizon.

While worship leads us up the mountain to the cross, the sun is reemerging from the winter haze, and dormant plants are springing forth with new life. Church is buzzing with ministries of immense beauty and hope. Families are planning their upcoming vacations, and the excitement of summer is beginning to peak around the corner.

I invite you to live in the mystery between the markers of the seasons and the markers of Lenten worship. Look for the places where sin, evil, and death seem prevalent. Discover the places where grace is springing forth. Let the longing for redemption and the joy of resurrection’s promise sit in tension with one another.

If I can be of any help to you in this highly spiritual season of reflection- please do not hesitate to reach out or come by to sit and chat.

Grace and Peace,
Matt

February 2020

Dear Friends,

Every pastor throughout history has lied to him or herself concerning the “Myth of January.” We think that the busyness of the Christmas season will ebb into a winter lull of rest, reading, and planning in January. One would think that we might have learned that this myth has no basis in reality, but we persist in believing it none-the-less.

It has been a remarkably productive January around our church. There is fresh exterior paint and sealant around the exterior of the building and multiple adjusted doors and items around the offices. We’ve upgraded a computer, laid carpet, renovated a bathroom, and installed more drinking water.

We’ve held events for the youth and children as well as the annual ski trip. We are planning for Lenten and Holy Week services. We trained officers for ordination and installation on February 2nd. The APNC is reviewing possible candidates for the Community Pastor. All of this and more helps us fulfill our mission in God’s kingdom.

I celebrate the wonderful work that we have been a part of during this past month, and I’m glad that this season has been full of energy and activity. I’m also hoping that this year will be the year when the “Myth of February” finally brings rest, reading, and planning. We’ll see!

As we look forward, I am eager to see us band together more and more to help our church proclaim the Gospel of Jesus. There are several places around our church that need your participation. We always have an open choir seat, quilt to sew, or committee to join. Thank you all for how you love and support our church and know that you are in my prayers.

 

Grace and Peace,

Matt

 

January 2020

For lo, the days are hastening on, By prophet bards foretold,

When with the ever circling years Comes round the age of gold;

When peace shall over all the earth Its ancient splendors fling,

And the whole world give back the song Which now the angels sing.

Friends,

I remember how long it took from Christmas to Christmas when I was a child. One year was an eternity. Now, Christmas seems to come sooner and sooner every year. While some days drag on, the years are beginning to race. The lyrics of “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” poetically portray this reality. The days are hastening on as the seasons of the year continue to circle.

Parents are frequently reminded that their little ones grow in a blink. Students are told to cherish their youth. Every rapidly approaching Christmas confirms our suspicion that time is limited to enjoy the world around us.

Here I pause to say, “This is fun!” The culture around the church office, the worship services in their variety and similarity, the special events in their decadent hospitality are all so special here at First Presbyterian Church. I have met unique people from other faiths, cultures, and backgrounds. I have been blessed to serve alongside some brilliant servants and learn from dedicated disciples. As time seems to be flying by and another Christmas has crept out of nowhere, I celebrate the time that I’ve been here and the vast experience and opportunity that you have afforded me.

My continued prayer for you is time to stop and say, “This is fun! This is special! This is beautiful!” I hope that you are caught up in the overwhelming love of Jesus’ birth. It was a story that caused the heavens to rip open with angelic song. It took shepherds to a newborn in a manger. It called magi from afar. I hope that you can experience some glimpse of glory, which causes you to stop and give praise for the blessed beauty in the brevity of life.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,

Matt

 

December 2019

Friends,

Thanksgiving and Advent are peculiar times of the year. We spend a day in gratitude for all that we have, but we rush out the next morning to spend and spend on more and more. We have a season for quiet waiting, but we fill it with noise and activity. As the weather cools and the evenings lengthen, we know we should pace ourselves for the winter to come. Instead, we run a mad dash to January 1st and crash into the New Year.

I want to say that the church is counter cultural. I want to tell you that the church is a place that exhibits the truth of Thanksgiving and Advent. The truth is: we are busier than ever as the celebration of Christ’s birth approaches. We are rehearsing Christmas music, writing liturgies, and preparing bulletins. It is a busy season. It has been a busy time of transition. It has been a very, very busy 2019.

My prayer for each of you is one of rest. I hope that you are able to pause for a moment and soak in the beauty of God’s presence in our midst. I cannot promise an entire season of reflection. Rather, I pray that you would feel and know the love of God through Evensong worship, the music of the season, the warmth of Christmas Eve candles, the laughter throughout the church office, or the simple act of joining in prayer. May the Prince of Peace be a source of peace this Advent Season.

 

In gratitude for you all,

Matt

 

November 2019

Dear Friends,

 

Thank you for the warm welcome that you extended to my family on Installation Sunday! October 6th was a glorious day with incredible music in both services, moments of laughter, and a feeling of hope. I am so delighted to be working alongside you in ministry, and I know that God has a lot in store for our many years together.

 

I want to offer a special thanks to Preston for his service to this church. Preston has maintained a high level of pastoral care and calm during this time of transition. His door has been open to members, staff, and myself for care, guidance, and support. It is incredibly tough for pastors to release control, but Preston has handed the roles of visioning, planning, and leading to me with grace and love. Our church is better place because of Rev. Dr. Preston Smith.

 

I want to echo something that Preston has been sharing with me. As our church plans, works, and assesses- we cannot forget the spiritual element. Jesus is at work in this church and this community by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our responsibility is not to force fit our agenda onto God’s plan. Rather, our responsibility is to discover together what  amazing things God has in store. I am excited to join in that mission with you!

 

God bless you this month as the weather (hopefully) continues to cool and the preparations for the holidays commence.

                                                                             Grace and Peace,

                                                                             Matt

 

October 2019

Friends,

     There is a cautious optimism that surrounds a new pastor.  Can they preach?  Can they lead?  Will they try to change everything?  Will they have an open door and easy personality?  Are they relatable?  Are they coming in with an agenda on their mind?  I hope that many of your initial questions have been answered, and I pray that the tense period of transition is slowly ebbing away. 

 

     As I hit the ground running, I saw who this church is at her core, and I could not be more impressed.  The leadership on every level has a heart for God and a commitment to the church.  The staff are brilliant.  The worship is powerful.  The facilities are welcoming.  The commitment to the community is a beautiful expression of love.  You, the church, are wonderful people whom I already love. 

 

     Here is my excitement for what is next. Jim, Jennie and I are planning an Evensong Worship    Service.  The youth have a lot of energy for youth group and trips.  We are assessing and expanding our digital presence.  The staff and I are working together to create systems to free our time for more ministry.  The APNC will begin meeting soon to see who the next person to join the team will be.  It is a busy and exciting time at First Presbyterian! 

 

     Let’s nestle into the new groove around the church as we worship together, show hospitality, and reach out into the community.

 

Blessings,

 

Matt