I first walked in the door at Nacoochee Presbyterian on a spring day in 1999. My husband had said to me, “You need to see this beautiful church. Let’s see if the door is open.” It was, of course. I remember my immediate reaction to the space. I thought it was lovely beyond compare – daylight streaming in the old windows, muted blues in the rug and furnishings, a sense of God’s whisper of love and acceptance. It was for me an experience of “coming home to a place I’d never been before.”
Five years later, when my husband and I were looking for a new church home, a friend of ours, Dr. Bill Jackson, said to us, “Come visit our new church. We love it.” It was Nacoochee Presbyterian. When we visited the following Sunday, we knew almost immediately that there was no need to look further. We’d found our place of peace and belonging.
We joined the choir and became active in the church. Nacoochee ordained me to serve on the Session in January 2006. About the same time, the Committee on Preparation for Ministry advised me to get some experience in another Presbyterian congregation as I prepared to graduate from seminary and continue my journey toward ordination to Minister of Word and Sacrament. So, I left Nacoochee to serve as Director of Christian Education at First Presbyterian Church of Cleveland, where I stayed for more than three years. My husband, Phil, however, remained at Nacoochee and continued to sing in the choir until 2010, when I was hired by Mount Hermon Presbyterian Church in Ila, Georgia, to serve as their contracted pastor.
Because it still felt like my Presbyterian “home church,” and indeed had sponsored my engagement with the Committee on Preparation for Ministry, I wanted to be ordained at Nacoochee. I’ll never forget the day – February 28, 2010. It was a celebratory joining of three Presbyterian congregations – Nacoochee, Mount Hermon and Cleveland FPC – to affirm my call and bless my ministry as I began my pastoral career. My Ordination Commission included my childhood pastor, Rev. Furman Lewis, plus several friends and mentors from Nacoochee – Keith Nickle, Bill Jackson and Bob Prim. Rev. Lewis helped me into my clergy robe, Keith Nickle placed a cross of nails on a cord around my neck, Bill Jackson delivered the Charge to the Congregation, and Bob Prim preached the ordination sermon. My daughter and my best childhood friend read scripture lessons. A combined choir from all three congregations sang “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need,” and “How Can I Keep from Singing.” Finally, Nacoochee Church hosted a joyous reception in the Fellowship Hall for all the guests to greet me and meet my family.
Is it any wonder then that I am delighted to be returning to Nacoochee? You have meant so much to me, because you helped “launch” me into ministry. You supported me steadfastly, affirming my call to ministry, standing beside me (quite literally) when the going got tough (a story for another day), and hosting the celebration that made firm my identity as pastor.
I look forward to joining with you in ministry on March 1. We will step into Lent together with a Service of Ash and Remembrance on March 2. And we’ll open the next chapter of a story which began to be told long ago when the founding members of Nacoochee Church first sat down and began to pray and dream together.