FROM THE PASTOR’S STUDY
Over the course of 2022 Nacoochee Presbyterian Church will have to do what is known in the Presbyterian Church (USA) as a “Mission Study.” This study is a way to prepare for choosing the next pastor. Part of the work will be to think about what the core values of the congregation are. This is not a question about the values to which the congregation aspires; rather, it is a question about the reality now. Another way of asking the question of core values is: What really makes us tick? What are the unquestioned assumptions that guide our behavior as a community of faith? I’d like to take a shot at this from the perspective of having been the pastor here for the last 24 years. Here are my top three.
*We value diversity and others who value diversity. (The conundrum for us is that we have difficulty with those who, in our minds, are intolerant of others). The primary way this value has manifested itself has been in our openness to LGBTQ people in membership and in all leadership positions in our church. This has certainly set us apart from our neighboring churches, especially since this openness has been a firm part of our way of being since sometime in the late 1990s. I am confident in saying, by God’s grace, we have been right about this and right for a long time! This issue has been front and center for mainline denominations for several decades, and we arrived at our commitments to openness early. There are many churches and whole denominations still fighting about this issue, but there are some coming to see things our way, and that is a good thing and something of which we can be proud. In our area, presbytery, and denomination we have been a leading voice for inclusion and diversity.
* We value the small, friendly, family-like atmosphere of Nacoochee Presbyterian Church. Many churches claim to be a friendly place, but when you attend the feeling is much different. We are not immune to the dangers of cliques and overlooking strangers in our midst – it happens sometimes in our worship services because we are happy to see one another. I think, however, that the norm is friendliness and a generous welcome to those who visit.
We are a fairly small community of faith and there is strength in the fact that we tend to like one another. We are proud of our communion and we enjoy being together. The weakness of this core value is the way in which we have tended to grow and then shrink in worship attendance. We have often over the years gotten to a place where there was no room in the pews for a visiting family of four. This would last for a while and then we would lose members, or people who had been visiting would stop coming, and we would be back to our comfortable, family-like number.
Our worship space is beautiful, and it attracts visitors and comforts those of us who are regular in worship. The smallness of the space, however, limits our abilities to handle growth.
I’m not sure which is the driver of our swings in the numbers of people who attend. Is it the limits of our worship space? Or is the driver of our ups and downs in worship numbers our core value of a family like atmosphere? Maybe both? Maybe it is not a problem.
*We value thoughtful, grounded, relevant, musically rich worship services that lead us into the world to embody God’s love and compassion. One conviction that I have brought to my work as a Minister of Word and Sacrament is that the most important thing a church does in the world is worship God and then send people into society to embody God’s love. This is the unique gift we in the church offer the world. Worship is what separates us from businesses, social service agencies, schools, country clubs, political parties, and every other human community. We can and do help build homes through Habitat for Humanity, feed the hungry through our food pantry, reach out to those suffering addictions by allowing our building to be used for support groups, send money to areas devastated by natural disasters through special offerings, speak and march to support social justice causes, help support impoverished people in other countries by offering microloans, support the denomination’s connection-al work through our financial gifts, seek to be good stewards of the earth by having solar panels and by maintaining the valley that surrounds our church building – there are many more things that could be listed here, but the point is that each one springs from a vibrant worship life that connects us to God and to neighbor. Worship is the heartbeat of Nacoochee Presbyterian Church.
These are the top three core values I see in our community of faith. Maybe there are more and maybe you would list different ones as the top three. I invite you to prayerfully consider the question of “core values” over the next year and a half as Nacoochee Presbyterian Church prepares to call new pastoral leadership.
Grace and peace,