The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1
Dear Friends at National,
Despite the strangeness of the last 16 months, it’s been wonderful to be able to connect with so many of you Sunday by Sunday online, and in recent weeks, to visit with some of you in person in the sanctuary. God willing, and knowing the new uncertainties caused by the Delta variant, I trust that by the beginning of September many more of you will feel comfortable enough to worship again, not just “on-line” but “on-campus” on Nebraska Avenue! (Please know that your safety, health, and sense of comfort are of primary importance to us: online services – as glitch-free as possible — are here to stay).
Our councils and staff have planned much of the fall program, and I want to share some of the exciting details with you. Here are some key dates:
- Sunday, September 5 (Labor Day weekend) – worship at 11:00 a.m. and afterwards, a celebrationreception on our expanded new upper plaza
- Sunday, September 12 – Our new Sunday worship and Sunday School schedule begins
- Sunday, October 17 – Dedication festivities for our construction and renovation project
As we launch these plans, I have some news for you about my plans as your pastor.
First, let’s look back, and then skip ahead to September 2022.
Looking Back: A few years ago, at a congregational gathering where we were planning our major renovation project, someone asked a personal question: “How long did I intend to stay at NPC as pastor? When was I going to retire?” I replied that my plan was to see the capital project through to completion, and then probably stay one more year. That’s what I said then – and that – with both a tear and a sense of confidence in the faithfulness of God – is what I want to share with you now!
Looking Forward: Next March, I will be 70, and my plan is to retire from my role at NPC at the beginning of September 2022. In personal terms, the retirement will coincide with the 45th anniversary of my ordination to the ministry of Word and Sacrament (how time flies when you are having fun!). In terms of the church, the completion of a major project is always a good time to pass the baton of leadership and the planning for future ministry to a new pastor and leader.
Why share this now? Why one year ahead of time?
Retirement of a pastor is not quite the same as a pastor leaving a congregation to accept a call to serve elsewhere. Usually when a pastor takes another call, he or she leaves within a very short period of time – often within 4-8 weeks. This speedy transition is not necessarily the case with a retirement. Indeed, in meetings over the last year or so, the Session and I have discussed the best timeline.
There are two main reasons for the twelve-month period, but the bottom line is that the year ahead will give us plenty of time for fellowship together post-Covid, and will also provide time for some vital work for Christ. In terms of work, two projects rise above the others.
THE FIRST REASON for my one-year announcement has to do with details of the Capital Project and Campaign that still need to be completed. Several years ago, we set out to expand our outreach ministries with an extraordinary mission gift of a million dollars, and to renovate and significantly improve our facilities for ministry.
(Do you remember the chart we showed, pointing to the following elements? Deferred maintenance, hospitality, accessibility, layout/flow, main door, flexible rooms, youth, future income, environmental stewardship, organ repairs and staff offices)
Through your generosity and the day-by-day faithful work of our construction team and Facilities Director Diane Stewart, each of these areas has been addressed in some significant manner. However, if you have ever been involved in a home renovation, you know that the “end of a project” is never quite “the end”! This has been my experience in churches too. There are always loose ends that need to be dealt with as we turn our “new house” into a “home.”
For example, in each of the construction projects I have been involved in with previous congregations there have been furnishings, finishes, and other parts of the project that did not quite look the way we’d intended. There have been new spaces and old that didn’t quite work the way we anticipated; and there have been possible improvements left out of the initial project that now seem more important and urgent than they did before . . . so . . .
Before a new pastor comes, I want to help us resolve as many of the “loose ends” as possible, and assist in this transition of our building from “house” to “home.”
In addition, we are only in year 4 of our 6-year capital campaign initiative: in the next twelve months, I want to encourage us to trust God with our personal resources, and to complete our financial commitments ahead of schedule , exceeding them if possible, in order to place the church in a strong financial position for a new pastor to enter with enthusiasm and vision.
THE SECOND REASON for a “one year heads-up” has to do with the timeline of the Presbyterian process for calling a new pastor. Our Presbyterian system is democratic but is also often cumbersome. When a pastor leaves for another call, the congregation usually cannot begin the search process until the date of departure. However, the good news is that when a pastor announces a retirement, our presbytery permits congregations to begin the search process while the retiring pastor is in place.
The process can begin shortly by seeking nominations for a Pastor Nominating Committee (the “PNC”). In fact, PLEASE prayerfully consider those who might serve in this capacity. We’ll keep you posted about how to submit names for the new PNC to our Congregational Nominating Committee.
The call process can sometimes take up to two years, and rarely less than one. In recent years, much study has been undertaken with effective congregations the size of NPC, and evidence shows that extended interim pastorates are not always the best mode of transition. Consequently, with the process beginning now, and with my retirement in early September 2022, your Session hopes the PNC will be close to completing its work, with a new pastor in sight, with no extended interim period. Of course, if God works on an even faster track, and a new pastor is called sooner rather than later, my date is flexible. If the process is slower, then the Session will decide on how best to handle any interim period.
BACK TO THE COMING YEAR AND GOD’S EXCITING WORK FOR US TO DO TOGETHER . .
1.We have an exciting Fall full of celebrating our blessings together:
On Sunday, September 5 (Labor Day Sunday) we will have one service at 11:00 a.m. with a celebration reception on our new upper plaza after worship.
On Sunday September 12 we will begin our new Sunday morning schedule with two services.
- •8:45 – 9:45 a.m.: Contemporary Worship (moving from Jones Hall into the Sanctuary)
- •9:55-10:45 a.m.: Sunday School for all ages (with all adult and children’s classes now inthe main church and education buildings)
- •11:00 am: Traditional Worship (with choir returning in full voice)
Note that both the 8:45 and 11:00 services will continue to be broadcast online.
On Sunday October 17 (which we hope will be a glorious Fall day!) we will joyfully and formally dedicate our newly renovated facilities. Many families have been in and out of the church for Bible School and activities over the past few months, and some of you have already been gathering for Sunday worship in the sanctuary. You have seen the changes taking shape before you. For many of you, though, the return to Nebraska lies ahead and I hope that you will have a sense of joy when you arrive at a campus that looks wonderfully familiar – yet with many changes.
2.We have more ground to cover in Scripture! In my sermons we’ve traveled a long way overthe past few years: telling the story of the whole Bible; spending a year with Jesus; and then thispast year looking at the early Church and the apostle Paul. In the Fall we are moving back to theteaching of Jesus in Matthew 5-7 — the Sermon on the Mount – where Jesus covers a lot ofground: he speaks about God’s presence in our happiness and our inner spirit, in our losses andour demeanor, in our longings and our thoughts, and in our calling to work for peace and showmercy to one another, even in the face of trouble.
3.We have the challenge of growing in our role as a reconciling church in a divided world.
There’s still time to read John Perkins’ book, “One Blood,” which I have highlighted as a greatstarting point for healing conversations. I affirm Perkins’ understanding of the Church as an agentof God’s reconciliation in a divided world – especially a world in which the racial divisions in ournation simmer and then erupt again and again. I have no illusions about the difficulties involvedin resolving this painful and significant issue, but, with Dr. Perkins, I am fully convinced that theChurch of Jesus Christ needs to be an active part of the solution, and not a passive or unwittingpart of the problem. A good way to begin to create change in this regard is by talking together.We are planning now for small groups – existing and new ones — to talk about One Bloodtogether this Fall. Pray for God’s guidance and illumination of our hearts and minds.
Friends, I share all of this with hope and confidence: hope in all that God has in store for us in the year ahead and far beyond, hope that we will remain unified in Christ, and confidence in our Lord Jesus Christ.
So glad to be your pastor,