The past couple of Sundays at Central have been remarkable. First was Youth Sunday, with beautiful music, meaningful liturgy, and excellent sermons. For several years now we have been having confirmands join the church who I baptized when they were infants, but this year we had graduating seniors preaching on Youth Sunday who I have known all their lives. Evan Francis and Garrett Middleton were two of the first babies I baptized here at Central the first summer I was here.
Then last week the children led us in worship, with all three choirs singing and many of the children leading in the liturgy. They filled the choir loft and they filled our hearts, didn’t they? Much work was required both Sundays by staff, by volunteers, by parents, and by participants, and much preparation throughout the year.
In actuality, though, a foundation was laid over a number of years that led to what was able to happen these last couple of weeks. We all stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us, so I want to begin my message about the future by paying respect to the past. We should really always be doing that. As Hebrews says, time would fail me if I went back too far into the past and talked about those who established this church and those who had the foresight to move to this location and many, many other stories. I’ll start with the fact that when I arrived this church was coming out of a period of exile when there were lots of painful experiences and many people departed to other congregations. But I found a strong, committed, faithful core of families who were determined to be here for the long run, through thick and thin. They knew the value at the heart of this church, and they knew the God who brings people through and out of exile. They trusted the God who spoke these words to exiles in Babylon: “Surely I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” They were willing to endure the difficult times and trust that times of joy and fulfillment lay ahead.
That’s a really important thing to emphasize, because each of our lives encounters these kinds of exile periods. Nothing happens in a straight line progression in church or in our faith lives. There are ups and there are downs. There are times when you are really excited about how things are going, and times when you are so down about what is going on that you think you might go somewhere else. Wherever you go there will be difficult stretches that you have to persevere through, trusting and hoping for the joy to come. They may be small or they may be large, but learning to persevere in spite of disappointment is a huge learning in the Christian life.
After I arrived, in consultation with the Session, we agreed that our first focus needed to be on growing our Christian education program and our numbers of youth and children. So we hired a full time Director of Youth and Christian Education, Anna Johnson. This was so successful that over time a second staff position was added, first part time but eventually full time – Nancy Dykes, focusing on children’s ministries. Catherine Neelly, Rebecca Roser, Carrie Pannell, Amy Rawlings, Stephen Price, all have played important roles in growing and developing our youth and children’s programs to the point we see them at today.
And let’s not forget music. We started out with a part time Director of Music and part time organist, and were blessed with wonderful people in these positions: Karilyn Slice, Steve Grant, and now Chris Cole as organists; and Porter Stokes, Deedy Francis, Tim Hill, and John Warren as music directors. Nine years ago, though, the bold decision was made to hire a full time Director of Music, Mandy Davis, and a couple of major financial gifts helped ensure the success of this venture. We see the fruits of that investment every Sunday, but especially over the past couple of weeks. A successful children’s and youth music program really requires starting with the youngest age and building interest and ability over a period of years, and this is what we are seeing in full fruition now.
The Session of this church believes it is now time to take another leap of faith in order to move to the next level. Near the end of 2015 the Session appointed a committee to review our staffing structure and job descriptions. This committee met with staff, reviewed job descriptions, gave numerous opportunities for congregational input including a series of focus groups led by a consultant, met 17 times for a total of 51 hours and presented a comprehensive plan which was enthusiastically and unanimously approved by the Session.
Hopefully members have received a letter from me this week giving the details. If you are a visitor there are copies of it in the narthex today. The basics are as follows: In the process of moving from one Christian Education position to two over a fifteen year period and adding and sharing various responsibilities, a lot of confusion existed both among staff and among church members about what specific job responsibilities belonged to each staff member. So all job descriptions have been thoroughly revised and have been made very specific to bring much needed clarity to this question.
It became clear to the committee and was confirmed by the consultant that the numbers of children and youth we have warrant full time positions just for those areas. So responsibilities for adult ministries and general Christian Education have been removed from the job descriptions of our youth and children’s directors. Mandy Davis continues as full time Director of Music and Amy Rawlings is full time Director of Children’s Ministries. A committee chaired by Jimmy Huff will begin searching immediately for a full time Director of Youth and College Age Adult Ministries. And a new full time position is being established for an ordained Associate Pastor whose responsibilities will be Adult Ministries, Christian Education, and administrative and pastoral duties. A committee chaired by Gail Southard will search for this person with the hope of having the position filled by the beginning of 2017. The Administration Committee has been asked to begin work on a plan for funding this new position.
For a number of years we have had a part time Parish Associate minister position, so this is not an entirely new position but will expand it greatly. With the growing numbers involved in children, youth, and music program, and with the aging of your minister, all of us have struggled to give the needed energy and attention to adult ministries and the Christian education program as a whole. Hence the belief that it is time to address this need and to do it in the right way.
It is frequently said that children are the future of the church, but in actuality children are the present of the church. Some of the children will move to other churches to be with their friends when they become teenagers. Many of them will move to other communities after they finish school. We can hope they will be the future of other churches, but it will not be this one. Some will settle in this community with jobs and hopefully will remain active at Central and will want to raise their children here.
Children are the present of the church. They bring energy and excitement and joy. They bring smiles to our faces as they bounce down the aisle and squeal and say funny things. They remind us of the mission we have to teach and instill faith in the next generations, and hopefully motivate us to do our part in helping that happen.
But the future of the church lies in making this a church family where the parents of those children don’t just stay as long as their children are children, but find a community, a family of nuture and love and support that they are going to want to be an active part of long after their children are grown and out of the nest. That’s the point of this new ministry position and staffing construct.
I cannot overstate the positive energy and enthusiasm generated by this special Staffing Committee. In spite of the many meetings and long hours they have all told me they loved serving on it and feel great about the outcome. The Session’s joyful reception and endorsement of their work and very positive reception by the Deacons this week are further signs that the time is right. I’d like to recognize the people who served on this committee: Gail Southard, who chairs the Christian Education committee and chaired this committee; Jimmy Huff, who was chair of the Youth Committee when the committee was formed; Bonny Daughtry, who was chair of the Preschool Committee last year, and Mary Ann Reno, who chairs it this year; Jean Wachs, who chairs the Planning Committee; Bill Reno, who was chair of the Christian Education Committee; and Lujack Orr, who was chair of the Administration Committee. I’m sure any of them would be pleased to talk with you and answer your questions.
What can you do? Embrace and share the joy that we have so much to be thankful for and so much to look forward to. Pray for the two search committees, that God will lead them to the right candidates, and for the candidates who will interview for these positions, that God will be leading them as well. Pray for our current staff as we adapt to changing job configurations and expectations, and be helpful and encouraging. Be prayerfully considering your personal stewardship. We don’t know exactly how much, but there will certainly be a significant bump up to the 2017 budget. There will be more specifics by this fall as well as presentation of ways you can help if you feel called to. When we transitioned to a full time Director of Music, two families came to me separately, both offering to give $20,000 a year for five years to help get that position established. If anyone is similarly excited about this next leap of faith and would like to get the financial piece of it off to a good start, please come see me.
The last thing you can do is going to sound like an odd one. You can prepare to persevere. It is my experience that when something really good happens, when things are going really well, there is usually going to be a bump in the road ahead. Maybe it is the devil not wanting us to succeed in what we are doing for God. Maybe it is God wanting to see whether we are really willing to see it through. Jesus is baptized and hears God’s affirmation and is immediately driven by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted. The wilderness experience is a normal part of the Christian life. Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
Gratitude. Prayer. Generosity. Perseverance. With these we can together take the next steps needed to ensure that Central will provide adequately for the care, nurture, and spiritual growth of our members from cradle to grave. For the next decade anyway, until the next leap of faith is called for.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
David J. Bailey
May 1, 2016
Central Presbyterian Church