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

 

 

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