A Note from Stephen- January

Life is full of surprises. At least that has been my experience. I did not grow up planning to be a Presbyterian minister. It came as a shock to my family when, while in college, I discovered theology and chose to go to Seminary rather than to Law School. In Seminary I planned to go into teaching or chaplaincy work, but found myself drawn to the life of a congregational pastor. Having grown up, gone to college and done an internship in big cities, I felt prepared for service in an urban church, so I did not foresee my first pastorate in a village with a  population of 350 people in a dairy farming community. I didn’t anticipate meeting my wife at a continuing education event, or that our lives as pastors would lead us from upstate New York to Iowa, then Pittsburgh and Richmond, Virginia, and then to Nebraska, first Edgar than then Kearney. None of it was my plan! It was God’s plan.
God has surprised us again. In recent years Caroline and I have thought about several locations to which we might retire, but never the place in Maryland to which we are moving; but an unforeseen realignment which we could not predict a short year ago—our sons both unexpectedly moving, proximity to Caroline’s mother—made it happen.
Of course it isn’t the places that matter so much—it is the people. The great blessing of my life is the wonderful people I have come to know in my forty years of serving churches.
I am a planner. The plans I have implemented, for myself and for the churches, are a big part of whatever worthwhile contribution I have made in my ministry. But beyond my plans is God’s plan, and every time God’s plan differed from my plans, it has been better. I saw some good things happen in the churches I have served because of my plans, but the truly great things I have witnessed have the results of God’s plan, which always includes unpredicted people and places and purposes.
I guess I am trying to say two things. The first is that I am more grateful to God than I can say for the immense privilege of having come to First Presbyterian Church. You have graced my life in countless ways. It is hard for me to say good-bye. But I am also saying that I am absolutely certain that God has great plans, for me and Caroline in retirement, but especially for this church. The church is already amazing, but even more amazing are the things that God will do in and through this church in the future. What a great time to be part of the First Presbyterian Church family. You have a front-row seat for the show God is about to put on; better yet, God is inviting each of you to come up on stage and steal the show.
With much love and gratitude, I will you a happy, blessed, and surprising New Year!

A Note from Stephen-December

In an article published in the December 2005 issue of Presbyterian Outlook, Timothy Read, a minister from Charlottesville, Virginia began an article with these carefully chosen words:

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by itselef but the wrod as a wlohe.

He concludes by saying that
“What I think is that we are inhibited by our sense of being less than perfect people to share with others the good news of God’s love. We seem to think that unless we do it perfectly, we should do it at all. But is we truly mean to show love and concern, that Christ is the beginning and the end of all that we do. “I am the Alpha and the Omega” says Jesus, the beginning and the end. No matter how mixed up we are in between, the message of God’s love in Christ will be communicated to those who need it most.”

The English writer G. K. Chesterton, author of such classic Christian works as St. Francis and Orthodoxy, was making the same point when he wrote: “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”
We often fail to express our love and good will to others because we are afraid of not doing it perfectly, but in fact the message we need to share with our family, friends, and neighbors is that
It dseon’t mtaetr how ipmrfecet you tnhik you are:
God lvoes you mroe than you can eevr konw.

I take great comfort in what Read and Chesterton say because I am so keenly aware, in my last Christmas with First Presbyterian Church as your pastor, of how far short of perfect have been my efforts to fulfill my pastoral responsibilities, and the many mistakes I have made in my ministry among you. And yet I hope that in spite of my imperfections, I have sometimes been able to let others know the important truth, that God loves you more than you can ever know—and so do I. Merry Christmas, and may 2018 truly be a year of in which we all know that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit is with us all, and always.