Expanding Leadership

Dear Friends,
 
I hope you are enjoying the worship series on the Book of Acts this summer. This past Sunday we learned about the need for expanding leadership to carry out the church’s ministry. I am grateful for the 9 new elders-elect who have heard the call to serve on Session for the next two years. Of course, a reason they could say “yes” was knowing that you, the congregation, are willing to serve alongside them, sharing your Spirit-given gifts. Those who are ordained and installed promise to pray for and serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love. They will be holding you in their hearts as they lead this congregation in the way of Christ. Please uphold Session in your prayers this coming year, as well.
 
One of their first acts as a Session in the next month or two will be to approve the Mission Study Report. This important report will set a direction for this congregation. As it unfolds, we hope you will begin to discern what part you might play in the body of Christ at work in Lexington. We look forward to growing together as disciples of Jesus.
 
Grace and peace,
Pastor Nancy

Rev. Dr. Nancy Jo Dederer,
Transitional Pastor
 
 


Celebrating Our Independence

As our nation prepares to celebrate Independence Day, I am spending a week of vacation in Williamsburg, VA, right in the heart of United States history! The “Historic Triangle” (Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown) is one of our family’s favorite places to visit. So much to see and do and learn. This week especially, the energy there is high!
 
It can be easy to get carried away in patriotism around the Fourth of July, when we remember the sacrifice people made (and continue to make) in the fight for independence and freedom. With each fight for freedom, we know blood has been shed, and we grieve the loss of life, of family member, of service man or woman, of friend. We give thanks to God for all who have given so much so that we may enjoy the privileges we experience today, such as freedom of worship or freedom of speech.
 
The shadow side of patriotism is to think that the United States is the only land God has chosen to bless and her people the only ones deserving of God’s blessing. Sometimes we think that for the United States to be the best, other peoples, other places must be “less than.” Shortly after 9-11, I heard This Is My Song sung by a church choir. It is such a gentle and important reminder that all are precious in God’s sight. I share it with you as a prayer-song that is as strong and meaningful as America the Beautiful or God Bless America. Perhaps you will add it to your lineup of patriotic songs this week, remembering that God’s blessings are not limited to time or space.
 
This Is My Song
Hymn text by Lloyd Stone, 1934; Tune: Finlandia (Be Still My Soul)
 
This is my song, O god of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
 
My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
So hear my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine.
 
May we remember with servants’ hearts that the whole world is in God’s hands.
 
Grace and peace,
Pastor Nancy

Rev. Dr. Nancy Jo Dederer,
Transitional Pastor
 
 


Summer is Nearly Upon Us!

Dear Friends,
 
Summer is nearly upon us. That time of cookouts, swimming pools, and lightning bugs! I enjoy the change-up of schedule that summer often brings. This year is somewhat different. Instead of things slowing down, they are starting to open up!
 
After more than a year of COVID-19 limitations, we are now able to gather more safely and even, praise the Lord, begin to sing in the last part worship! We rejoice in the miracle that is taking place with the various vaccinations that allow us to be together. If you are a teenager or adult and have not yet received a vaccination, I encourage you to make an appointment for one. Just like wearing masks, the COVID-19 vaccination is a way to love your neighbor. As of June 13th, 35% of Davidson County has had at least one dose of vaccination and North Carolina is almost at 46%, but we can do better. Talk to others about it and let’s do our part to improve our county statistics and health! We can be part of this unfolding miracle.
 
Peace to you,
 
Pastor Nancy
 

Rev. Dr. Nancy Jo Dederer,
Transitional Pastor


Caught in the Acts!

Dear Friends,
 
Grace and peace to you! Thank you to all who joined the Mission Study Team for lunch and conversation on May 23rd. We are grateful for your participation as the team continues to discern God’s direction for FPC.
 
In June we will begin a worship series on the Acts of the Apostles. Acts is written by Luke. Where in Luke’s Gospel we read of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, in Acts, we learn how the Church came to life and continues the work that Christ began. In Acts, God sends Gospel into motion. The Risen Christ accompanies the church. Gifted by the Spirit, apostles preach, teach, heal, baptize, and witness God’s expanding inclusivity and grace.
 
While at first, the church is painted as a nearly perfect group of people, we soon come across their humanity, foibles and all. Acts helps us imagine that early community of believers. It includes harmony and dissonance, unity and division, sharing and withholding, wilderness roads and riverside chats, jailbreaks and shipwreck, and even someone falling asleep during a sermon! All the while, the word of God moves into the world. The Apostles’ response might be, “The Spirit led us to it. In Jesus’ name we’ll do it. God will see us through it. So be it, Amen!”
 
I first read Acts as an older teenager and couldn’t put the book down. It read like a novel. I encourage you to open it up and take a look this summer! You will get to know the Church a little bit better!

See you in worship!
 
In Christ,
Pastor Nancy

Rev. Dr. Nancy Jo Dederer,
Transitional Pastor


A Season of Waiting

Dear Friends,
 
This past Sunday, the scripture was Acts 1:1-11, the story of Jesus’ Ascension and a commissioning of the disciples-turned-apostles. Before Jesus sent them out as witnesses to the ends of the earth, he told them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Holy Spirit.
 
Waiting. It’s such a chore. The apostles probably didn’t even know what Jesus really meant, even though he’d talked to them about the Spirit before. Waiting is rarely easy. We usually know what we want and want to go for it. As children, we couldn’t wait until Christmas morning—but we did! And what an exciting gift we found under the tree or in the stocking. When was the last time you waited with such anticipation?
 
As adults, we often interpret waiting as a waste of time, as not getting anywhere. We murmur under our breath that all “this time” will be for naught.
 
When Jesus told his disciples to wait for the gift, it’s not as if they sat and did nothing for another 10 days. They added to their circle of leadership. They gathered as believers and prayed. When the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost, they were ready to move out and proclaim God’s word to the ends of the earth, to exhibit the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, as our sixth Great End of the Church calls us to do.
 
First Presbyterian Church is waiting for a new pastor. And the Mission Study Team has heard your laments about the length of time it is taking. The Presbyterian Process is a lengthy one. It is not unusual for a transitional pastor to serve a church in transition for 18-24 months before the church calls a new pastor. Even though Pastor Lee left a year ago, I have only been here for 7 ½ months. The Mission Study Team is working hard. They have met 16 times in 19 weeks and have completed assignments in between meetings. Their purpose is to do an in-depth study of the congregation, its mission and ministry, discern where God is leading, create a new mission statement and write a report. When you think of the size of FPC and the variety of ministries and mission work you have been involved in, you may begin to understand the breadth of their responsibility.
 
The past couple weeks they’ve been discussing the church survey results and how those fit in with all the other information they’ve been gathering, including the feedback elders received from their weekly calls earlier in the year, the current programs, the financial health, and well-being of our membership. It is a ton of information to work through, and they are doing it with energy and faithfulness, with an eye to FPC’s future.
 
The Mission Study Team hopes you will join them for lunch and discussion outdoors at the church on Sunday, May 23rd, at 12:30. We will use this time to present some of the themes that are rising from your feedback. There will be large and small group conversation. (More on this elsewhere in The Action.)
The Mission Study Team’s goal is to complete their report by early to mid-summer. The report then goes to Session for approval and then on to the Commission on Ministry (COM) of Salem Presbytery for final approval. I happen to serve on that committee, so I will make sure it gets before them!

Once the Mission Study Report is approved, the COM will grant the church permission to form a Pastor Nominating Committee (PNC) to begin the work of calling a new pastor. Don’t be alarmed to hear that their work takes time, as well. The church, using the Mission Study Report, will write a Ministry Information Form (MIF). After Session and COM approval, the PNC will begin to receive Personal Information Forms (PIFs) from interested pastors. The PNC will conduct interviews and eventually select a candidate to bring to the congregation for approval.
 
Why is the process so long? It is to give time for the church to discern where God is calling them so they have an idea of the kind of pastor they need to fulfill their mission. God also uses this time so that just the right pastor will be ready for you!
 
In the meantime we wait. . . . We expand and equip our leadership, we consider how God is working in our midst, and we discover where our church’s strengths and passion intersect with the community’s need. And we pray, deepening our prayers for the person God is preparing, even as we pray for the church and world.
 
We wait and watch together. We continue to participate with worship, study, and mission. And we anticipate the gift of the Holy Spirit who will match just the right pastor with this wonderful congregation. Keep the faith!
 
Grace and peace,
Pastor Nancy

Rev. Dr. Nancy Jo Dederer,
Transitional Pastor
 
 


Messages and Messengers

Dear Friends,
 
We are still in the season of Easter, so I greet you with an Alleluia! Christ is risen indeed!
 
Jesus always seems to be breaking into disciples’ conversations during the Easter season scriptures. He seems to know just when to appear and encourage his followers along their walk of faith. On the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24), in the locked room of a house (John 20), Jesus offers peace and sends them out into the world in his name. How have you experienced Jesus this past month? How have you shared the Easter story?
 
As we step into May, each Sunday will prepare us for our own faith journey. On May 2nd, we will return to the theme of the PC(USA) Great Ends of the Church. Do you remember those from winter?
 
1. The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind;
2. The shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God;
3. The maintenance of divine worship;
4. The preservation of the truth;
 
There are just two Great Ends left. We will pick up the 5th Great End, The Promotion of Social Righteousness, on May 2nd. On May 9th we will focus on #6: The Exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the World. May 9th will also be Confirmation Sunday, so the topic seems especially appropriate. We hope you will join us for outdoor worship on the 9th, as our youth make a commitment to follow Jesus and share God’s love. May 16th is Youth Sunday, and we plan for that service to be outdoors, as well. Worshiping outdoors makes it possible for everyone to attend these extra-special services. In the case of inclement weather, however, worship will be held indoors with limited capacity, so go ahead and make a reservation to be on the safe side.
 
Looking ahead to May 23rd, we will celebrate Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus’ disciples as tongues of fire and emboldened them to proclaim the gospel to the people gathered. This is often known as the Birthday of the Christian Church. We finish the month with Trinity Sunday, on May 30th, when we remember the mystery of our Three-in-One God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three of our members will help in the worship leadership this day by sharing a part of their faith story. The 30th is also Memorial Day Weekend.
 
As you can see, the month is filled with messages and messengers to strengthen our faith and help us deepen our commitment to Christ. I hope this will be your experience.
 
Deep peace of Christ to you,
Pastor Nancy
 

Rev. Dr. Nancy Jo Dederer,
Transitional Pastor


Amid Uncertainty, Hope

Dear Friends,
 
The Easter season is a joyous time. We remember that Jesus, who underwent such suffering, is victorious over death. Even amid uncertainty, we have this hope that we are not left all alone. We don’t have to face challenging times on our own strength. The Spirit inspires life and possibility into us, even when we can’t see our future clearly. Just like the bulb in the ground seems dead for a big part of the year, it breaks through the ground when the season is right.
 
So does the church go through seasons. We look for renewal and may be impatient for it to burst onto the scene, but our faith reminds us that God’s time can’t be forced. So what do we do in the meantime? Ground ourselves in God’s word and commit to walking alongside one another for the full journey.
The Mission Study Team looks forward to studying the results of the church surveys. As of Sunday morning, over 100 people have returned a survey. Thank you! Once the team receives the results and has a chance to digest the information, they will share it with you. Be on the lookout for articles in the Action, Moments in worship, and opportunities to gather together (Zoom and in person) to share what we are learning.
 
In the meantime, I invite you to begin thinking about a biblical image or story that resonates with you when you reflect upon First Presbyterian Church. Email, call, or write me your ideas on this. It might be from the Old or New Testament, a prophecy or a parable, a psalm or epistle. What vision do you have of your participation in this particular community of faith? Think on these things over the next few weeks.
Finally, I want to thank the Reopening Team and worship volunteers for their many efforts to provide for in-person, indoor worship. It takes a lot of effort to make this happen and keep the virtual/tech side of things working effectively, too. Staff members Jeanna and Tommy have gone over and above in providing for as safe an environment as possible. We look forward to the day when we will all be able to gather safely and sing the songs of our faith and participate in liturgy and prayers. Until then, we rejoice in the ways we can be drawn together to worship.
 
Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
 


Walking Through Holy Week

Dear Friends,
 
We are nearly ready to begin our Holy Week journey. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, where the crowds welcome Jesus to Jerusalem with shouts of Hosanna! We move from that festive mood into Maundy Thursday, when Jesus gathers with his disciples for the Passover Meal, what we refer to as the Last Supper. Passover is the remembrance of the Angel of Death passing over the homes of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, leading to their release. Those who put the blood of a lamb over their doorway were spared the death of their first-born. As we move into the Garden of Gethsemane and Jesus’ betrayal, we understand that now Jesus is the sacrificial lamb. His body broken, his blood poured out for our salvation from sin.
 
We will offer a worship service live streamed at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 1st. Communion will be celebrated. Then on Good Friday we remember with both sadness and hope how Jesus gave his life over to be crucified. We gather once again in joy on Easter Sunday to rejoice with Alleluias! Christ is risen, indeed!
 
I hope that you will find time in the coming week to reflect upon Jesus’ death so that we may live again. Take some time journaling or walking or sitting quietly to feel the depth of this holy time. How does Jesus’ life transform your own life?
 
I am so grateful that we will be able to gather outdoors (weather permitting) for worship on Palm Sunday and Easter. It will be good to see your faces, — masks and all!
 
Grace and peace,
Pastor Nancy
 
Rev. Dr. Nancy Jo Dederer,
Transitional Pastor
 


Questions to Ponder

Dear Friends,
 
In my sermon on March 7th, I quoted an article by Karl Vaters titled “Will the Congregation Come Back?” Should Not Be Our Biggest Concern (6 Better Questions). The first three questions Vaters proposes are:
 
1. Have we represented Jesus well during the lockdown?

2. Are we representing Jesus well as we come out of the lockdown?

3. What have we learned – and what are we still learning?
 
I encouraged the congregation to ponder these over the next week. In fact, Session met that night and responded to these.

For those of you who are curious about the other three questions…here they are!
 
4. How can we better serve the people at home?

5. How well are we serving our online church members and visitors?

6. How are people hurting, and what can we do to help them?

Vaters ends his article by saying “How we honor Jesus by reaching the hurting people outside our doors is what matters. Ministry needs to happen from the church, not just in the church.”

We are grateful for the many ways our congregation has been able to keep reaching out, in spite of the restrictions the pandemic has put before us. Even though we haven’t been able to worship in person, there has still been a strong sense of community. Your Session and care ministry teams have been doing their best to connect with you regularly over the months. The food collections continue in the lobby to provide nourishment for our hungry neighbors. Technology has enabled not only the congregation to worship, but people from all over the country! Who knows how many lives have been touched through your ministry this past year? Thanks be to God!
 
In the special Session meeting on Sunday night, we discussed when we might begin to reopen the sanctuary for in-person worship. This was a long and thoughtful discussion, and it was clear that we were not all of one mind. Concerns for people’s health and safety remain a priority. Not everyone has been vaccinated yet. We don’t know about the various strains of COVID-19 and what the long-term effects of exposure will be. Is it right to open if not everyone can be together? Is it best to open if worship will be so altered? And yet, there are many who feel ready to be back together, many who are longing for “God’s courts of praise.”
 
The Session did make a decision, as seen in the Clerk’s report elsewhere in The ACTION. We will (weather-willing) hold our Palm Sunday and Easter services outside so everyone who wants to attend may do so. You’ll need to dress for the weather and bring your own chairs as you did last fall. Then, beginning April 11th, we will offer indoor worship with a limited number of attendees. The service will continue to be livestreamed. In the last March ACTION (next edition), we will remind you of the protocols and how to make a reservation for indoor worship.
 
I hope you will offer thanks to your Session members for serving so faithfully in such a time as this. They certainly have lived into their ordination vows to pray for the people and serve with energy, intelligence, imagination and love!
 
Grace and peace to you,
 
Rev. Dr. Nancy Jo Dederer,
Transitional Pastor


In the Wilderness

Dear Friends,
 
Welcome to Lent. The First Sunday in Lent tells the story of Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days, where he is tempted by Satan. Churches in transition often relate well to the feeling of wilderness. They are between two pastors, wondering how much longer until we get there? Whether it is like Jesus fasting in the desert or the Israelites wandering around for 40 years, the wilderness can be filled with pitfalls and challenges, not to mention heartache and impatience.
 
What can I say to that?
 
1. The transition takes time. Your Mission Study Team is hard at work, meeting weekly, looking at community and congregational demographics, charting a map of where our members live, and asking questions about who FPC Lexington is and where God is guiding the church toward the future. Soon, you will be asked to take a survey that will be extremely valuable in learning from the congregation your sense of the church’s identity, strengths, and challenges. Your eager participation aids in completing the Mission Study Report. The time taken in preparation is time well spent and leads to a long and healthy relationship with your pastor-to-be.
 
2. Keep your eyes and heart centered on God. That will help keep you from succumbing to the temptations of complaining, being ambivalent, or checking out altogether. Pray. Imagine what God might be saying to you and your church in this time. What is God teaching you or the church in this in- between time? What are you learning about your neighbor? How are you growing as a disciple of Jesus? How are you still sharing Jesus’ love, even in the midst of the pandemic?
 
3. Recognize the gifts in the wilderness. For the Israelites it was manna, quail, and water from a rock. They were also gifted with the Ten Commandments. For Jesus, there were angels who attended him. What gifts in this wilderness time have been offered to you? What gifts are you giving to others to ease their strain?
 
4. God is with you. Jesus walks alongside us in this time of uncertainty. The Holy Spirit equips us with what we need to keep worshiping, serving, and growing in our faith. All in the name of Christ.
Grace and peace to you on this Lenten Journey,
 
Pastor Nancy
Rev. Dr. Nancy Jo Dederer
Transitional Pastor