May 2021

Dear Friends,

 

Jesus tells us to, “Go and make disciples.”

 

For much of the recent past, that has meant, “Go and invite people to church.”

 

What else can it mean? What else should it mean? What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ now?

 

Our discipleship is rooted in Jesus’ teachings, miracles, death, and resurrection. It grows with discussion and debate. It strengthens as we wrestle with how to apply faith to our own lives and contemplate what it means for the world around us. Discipleship matures into a relationship with the Triune God through these encounters, conversations, meditations, and prayers.

 

As a church, we need to think about how to make disciples. Yes, we need to be the place where people can gather together to worship. We also need to be a place where people can gather together to disagree, learn, grow, and evolve. This is where discipleship takes hold. We need to sit down in small groups and talk about the intersections of faith and violence, love and guns, hope and racism. If the church isn’t the place where these topics are discussed, then we leave the ultimate decisions bereft of serious engagement with the crucified and risen Christ. If the church is not the place that we seriously engage our faith, then what are we?

 

Jesus didn’t call us to go out and make a group of tithing churchgoers. He called us to take our discipleship into the world to make disciples of others. To do this requires a daily devotion to looking at the world around us and asking where our faith intersects what we see. My prayer for myself, my family, and my church is that we would have eyes to see Jesus at work all around us and a discipleship honed enough to recognize and join him.

 

With love and gratitude,

 

Matt

 

April 2021

Dear Church,

The first lesson that I taught our confirmation class was about faith. I explained that neither doubt nor sin are the opposite of faith. We all have seasons of doubt. We all struggle to believe everything all the time. In fact, a little skepticism is a very good thing in most of life. We all sin and fall short of God’s glory. We are all in need of    perpetual grace. Rather than doubt or sin, the opposite of faith is apathy, quitting.

As we move forward with yet another step toward a more open and traditional worship service, I want to thank all the people who kept the faith by staying engaged. Digital worship is NOT the same as being here in person. Rotations and reservation lists are miserable for those organizing them and applying to them. Designated seating can force us to be in part of the building that we find less worshipful. Nevertheless, many of you remain engaged! You kept the faith! Thank you!!!

There were things that we tried that utterly failed (hybrid classes). There were things that succeeded despite our skepticism to the contrary (outdoor children’s Christmas service). There have been unexpected benefits to digital worship (returning members), and there have been unanticipated setbacks along the way.

Our church never gave up. You never gave up. Together, we kept trying, evolving, shifting, and growing toward the new future that God is already creating in our midst. Right now, our efforts mandate 2 services; only God knows what it will look like next. We won’t stop listening, learning, growing, trying, failing, and ultimately succeeding. We will keep the faith!

 

With love and gratitude,

Matt

 

March 2021

Dear Friends,

 

Allow me to get straight to the point and share some of the highlights around FPC.

With the increased number of vaccinated members, the approach of Spring and warmer temperatures, and other positive developments in the country, Session is working on a new worship plan to begin in April. We want to move away from lists and reservations; we want to move toward a new beginning of open and welcoming worship.

Live stream worship is here to stay. Our digital worship has connected us to family, friends, shut-ins, vacationers, prospective members, and more. Even when we are fully back in worship together, we will continue to offer a digital option. To that end, we need your help. If you’d like to learn how to help enable that, please let me know!

The church is abuzz with activity. Presbyterian Women, art class, church business meetings, recording music, handbells, Bible Studies, Meals on Wheels, collections and distributions for community partners, confirmation and youth group, counseling and visits, and so much more happen every month. There are so many ways to connect in addition to worship; reach out if you are looking for an additional place to plug into the life of the church.

The Holy Spirit is moving and active all around our church. You are all in my prayers this Lent as we cultivate and let go, as we prepare to remember the cross, and as we eagerly anticipate celebrating the resurrection next month!

 

With love and gratitude,

Matt

February 2021

Dear Friends,

I rearranged my office. It’s not much; I turned my desk, moved some books around, and added some art. It has changed my productivity, engagement, and attitude for the better. While I have no clue what “feng shui” is, I do know a little bit about perspective.

When Jesus came to earth, there was a radical shift of perspective. The poor and powerless were elevated to positions of strength. The lonely and outcast were brought into community. The sick and suffering were healed. A world that looked one way—looked totally different after Jesus’ ministry, life, death, resurrection, and ascension.

Our faith causes us to shift our perspective from the ways of this world to the ways of God’s Kingdom. We no longer see the world through the lens of enemies/friends, sinners/saints, broken/together, or us/them. Our Christian faith gives us the lens of love to look at folks through the perspective of Jesus.

Where is your perspective askew? What little changes can you make to help you look at the world differently? What needs rearranging in your life, so that you see new possibilities, opportunities, and kingdom moments?

As winter plods along, I pray that we are all able to find little ways to look at this world differently and experience a fresh perspective for God’s continuing work of making all things new.

 

With love and gratitude,

 

Matt

 

January 2021

Dear Friends,

 

           My 3 favorite hymns are: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Abide with Me,” and “This is My Father’s World.” All three of them share a longing that God will accomplish God’s promises and bring about a        wonderful, new future. They are rooted in hope with an anticipation of what is to come.

 

          We have pinned many of the trials and tribulations of the past several months together and named them “The Woes of 2020.” Yet, we know that the calendar year does not define our reality. A new year doesn’t wash away the stains of the pandemic, racial discord, and more. There is nothing magical about the ball dropping in New York City; it doesn’t magically fix the world around us.

 

          Instead, we join our voices with the hymnists of the past and sing, pray, work, and hope for the world that is coming into being. We pray for God to ransom those in captivity, abide with those who grieve, and bring earth and heaven together as one. We pray for God to do the work of the Almighty, and we will do our part to prepare the way.

 

          I am exceptionally hopeful for the coming months and year. I am looking forward with an expectant hope that this autumn will resemble those of previous years. I am looking forward to widespread vaccines and a ceremonial step into a new normal. Whenever that time comes- we will be ready. Until that time, we join our voices in the songs and we join hands in the work of hope, expectation, and love.

 

 With love and gratitude,

 Matt

 

December 2020

Dear Friends,

 

We will be looking at dreams this Advent. This isn’t dream interpretation; rather it is the earnest longings in the depth of our souls. What is God’s dream for humanity? What are our dreams for our life and faith? Where do they intersect? Where do they diverge? We’ll look at questions like these over the course of Advent as we wait and prepare for celebrating the gift of the Messiah.

Hannah and I have read through your feedback from the surveys and prayed over every response and responder- named and unnamed. We hope that our different Christmas Eve worship opportunities match your hopes for celebrating as you feel led. We have also added an intergenerational, congregation wide, in-person or Zoom opportunity for faith development and fellowship. During Advent, we’ll meet on Monday’s at 7pm in the sanctuary and on zoom for this time together.

The entire staff is working diligently to provide safe and welcoming opportunities to worship over the Christmas holiday, and we are beginning to dream about what church and ministry will hold in the year to come. Things can’t look “normal” yet, but we are excited about the multiplicity of ways that God is at work through this church and the promise of a return to a new and wonderful normal in the year to come.

There are 3 specific ways that you can help us in our Advent preparation, Christmas celebration, and springing forward into the New Year.

  • Pray. I don’t mean this in any trite way. We are ministering to victims of abuse and neglect, members struggling with spoken and unspoken crises, and there are countless other issues that are still unknown to us. We value every prayer for our church!
  • Pledge. The finance committee is trying to finalize a budget for 2021, and they need to know our financial commitment to do their work.
  • Participate. Join us virtually or in-person for worship, study, Christmas Eve, delivering goodies, and/or sharing your joys and concerns. You are the church. The collective congregation is the body of Christ. Together, in participation in fulfilling God’s dreams, we will see miracles abound.

 

Most importantly, I pray that each and every one of you have a blessed, safe, and wonderful Christmas as you celebrate God’s greatest gift- Jesus the Christ.

 

With love and gratitude,

Matt

 

November 2020

Dear Friends,

The strangest sensation blew through the church offices with the mid-October breeze. For the first time in ages- we felt contentment. Don’t get me wrong- the world is still broken; several of our families are struggling. Yet, a wave of peace blew through the office as we prepared lessons, attended classes, wrote sermons, paid bills, and sanitized surfaces.

In the last few weeks, I’ve laughed so hard that my stomach hurt. I’ve been invited into the most honest conversations: from fear of death to hope for 2021, from anger at the virus to hope that we will not be so judgmental when it’s over, from immeasurable loss to the joy of seeing an unmasked smile.

There is so much to lament. Yet, in our worship, classes, and fellowship opportunities- there is a growing and abiding sense of wholeness and joy. My prayer for all of you is that the October winds and November rains will wash over your soul and bring an abiding sense of God’s peace and tranquility.

In love and gratitude,

Matt

 

October 2020

Dear Friends,

 

Allow me to offer some answers to the top questions that have come through my office in the last 3 weeks.

 

1)   Is this the end of the world?

No. I don’t think this is the end of the world. Times are tough; life is hard. However, there is much that calls us to celebrate and rejoice.

 

2)  When can we go back to the sanctuary?

Returning to the sanctuary for indoor worship is a Session decision. The Administrative      Committee is finalizing a proposal to submit to Session with procedures and protocols. While the final details are all still fluid, I want you to know that real plans are in the works to make indoor worship a possibility.

 

3)  Are the church finances where they need to be?

Yes, by the grace of God and the generosity of all of you- we are on track and where we need to be. We will continue to collect offering at our outdoor services and through the mail. I encourage you to take a look at your stewardship booklets to see where we’re are headed; there is a lot of enthusiastic hope around the church!

 

The Christian faith is a perpetual tightrope walk. On one side is a pit of knowing despair; the other side is a pit of joyful ignorance. Both sides are pulling at us stronger than ever. Don’t fall… just keep walking. Keep your eyes forward with an awareness of the two chasms at your sides, but just keep walking.

 

We are all in this together: outside, inside, online, on the phone, in our prayer, in our devotions, and in our service for the kingdom.  We’ve got this- together!

 

In love and gratitude,

 

          Matt

 

 

September 2020

Dear Friends,

 

By now you should have received the mailing with all the wonderful things happening around the church. Please know that YOU make these offerings wonderful. Without you- we are talking to a blank computer screen. Without you- communication and prayers are words in the wind. Without you- the church is only an idea. You bring the energy of the Holy Spirit when we gather together in person or on a screen.

September 1st marks my 1-year anniversary with FPC. It is beyond remarkable to think about the myriad of ways that the world has changed in that 1 year. We were planning large gatherings for Rally Day, Stewardship, and Christmas. We were building community by meeting around the church and gathering for worship in the sanctuary. We were getting to know each other with

coffee meetings, after church chats, and office visits.

While I miss ALL of that, my incredible team here at the church is helping me to focus on the amazing work that we can do in the midst of the world that exists. We don’t need to dwell on what was. We don’t need to obsess over what will be. We can only create the best possible today, given the parameters of the moment.

This is where I give praise to God for the gift of the Spirit. She moves in wonderfully flexible and mysterious ways. Whenever I get stuck in the dogma of tradition, I am reminded of the Spirit’s presence in creating something new.

I pray that you are all able to experience the Spirit’s guidance, pull, and love as you rejoice with us and reengage in new and exciting ways around our church.

 

With love and gratitude,

 

Matt

 

August 2020

Dear Friends,

 

In my engineering studies as a young adult, I learned a principle that continues to shape how I plan, lead, and implement ideas in other arenas of life. The more moving parts in a system, the greater the possibility for systematic failure. Said positively, the simpler a plan, the more likely it is to succeed.

August 2020 at First Presbyterian Church feels like it will have more moving parts than an automotive manufacturing plant. We will have a Montreat @ Home experience for the youth; we also will continue planning for Confirmation, Stewardship, and worship during a pandemic. We will be on-boarding our new Community Pastor, as Hannah and Jake are moving to Rocky Mount as soon as possible. This will be followed by an Ordination and Installation service in the near future. We have tough decisions to make about events like Rally Day and other events. There are roof and window repairs around the church alongside a switch for higher capacity internet service. Individual families will be working to make the wisest decisions for how their family will approach school, communal activities, and safety as we move into another academic year. There are enough pressure points and moving parts for the system to fall apart.

Thankfully, our church is not driven by the pastors, session, or even the membership. The moving parts that could cause failure are not ours to fully understand or control. Rather, we are led by the Holy Spirit, into whom we entrust our plans, our hopes, our dreams.

Our church is holding on to the breath of God and trusting in God’s sustaining power in a very eventful, stressful, and ever-changing season. Help me and one another to remember that moving parts are not places where we can fail; rather, moving parts are places for the Spirit of God to do the most amazing work.

 

In Love and Gratitude,

Matt