Pastor's Pen: State of the Church 2022
Updated: Jan 27
Stuart and Mary Manley are a married couple who own a second-hand book store in Alnwick, a small town in northern England. In 2000, Stuart was looking through a box of books that he had acquired at a recent auction. At the bottom of the box, there was a folded poster. At the top of the poster was a depiction of a Tudor Crown, a symbol of the British monarchy. Below the crown were the words, “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
The poster was a creation of the British government in 1939 in preparation for World War II. There were three posters in the series, but this one only had a limited release. The message was meant to evoke self-discipline, fortitude, and calm in adversity. They were held in reserve to be used after “serious air raids.”
Stuart and his wife liked the poster and displayed it in their book shop where others saw it and wanted their own copy. In 2005, the Guardian newspaper wrote about the poster, and from there it received international fame with many imitators.
In 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, I put up a copy of the poster in my office. It’s a constant reminder to me not to overreact to the difficulties of the moment. In times of chaos, our witness to Christ must remain constant. As the Apostle Paul declares,
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
Moreover, we have an advantage that the British did not have during the Blitz. They did not know the outcome of the war. We know that Christ’s victory is assured. We don’t need to be afraid.
Change can always be a source of anxiety, and this year has brought a lot of change to our congregation. Rev. Clair Brewer retired, becoming Pastor Emeritus. Don Renniger, Tasha Prather, Lorri Shane, and Kayliann Schwinn stepped down from their staff positions. We started new ministries and mission partnerships. We engaged in our community in new ways.
Each of these circumstances could have created crisis, but instead, First Presbyterian Church “kept calm and carried on.” We said our prayers, worked through differences, developed new strategies, and made course corrections. We celebrated those who completed their ministries, and we welcomed new staff with new talents and abilities, like Julie Murdock, Malcolm James, Jenny Orth, and Kathi Flew.
No matter what the future may hold, we can have confidence because God remains the source of our strength. As we begin the new program year, let us “keep calm and carry on.”
ADDRESSING OUR CHALLENGES:
In 2017 as the search for a new pastor began, the congregation developed a Mission Study Report. This study outlined our past successes and the challenges ahead for the First Presbyterian Church. As we prayerfully chart our future, the report is invaluable. Since his arrival, Pastor James has used the report as a strategic plan.
The mission study outlined five areas of growth for our congregation:
Focus on Youth and Children.
Becoming More Generationally Diverse.
Educational and Spiritual Development.
Strengthen Worship and Music.
Focus on Mission and Evangelism.
Educational and Spiritual Development
Congregational Care. With the addition of Dr. Julie Murdock to the staff, we have sought to better serve our congregation through prayer and visitation. Under the auspices of the deacons, we have created a new lay visitation team to minister to the entire congregation as well as those in the midst of challenges.
Keenagers. Our Keenager program has grown from an annual party to a full-blown ministry. Our “seasoned citizens” gather monthly for support and enrichment. Over the course of the year, they have explored several topics together, including end-of-life planning, health education, and community issues.
Ministry Greenhouse. We have created a team to explore new ideas for ministry. We will take steps to nurture those ideas to maturity. We are prayerfully seeking new ways to deepen our journeys of faith. Rather than a think tank, this is more of a “try” tank. Listening to God’s guidance, let’s move forward in faith.
Focus on Youth and Children
Confirmation Class. This year’s Confirmation Class utilized our own video curriculum as we “flipped the classroom.” Youth prepared at home, which allowed classroom time for deeper discussion and special projects. The class culminated in a worship service led by the Confirmation Class themselves. It was moving to see our youth embrace the faith for themselves.
Middle School Mission Trip. For several years, we have committed to providing our high school youth with an annual cross-cultural mission trip. This year, for the first time, our middle school youth partnered with a Koren Presbyterian church and some inner-city ministries in Toledo. The youth shared how the experience was transformational. We are excited to see where this relationship goes.
Young Life in Norwalk. Started in 1941, Young Life is an international, ecumenical ministry that introduces young people to Jesus Christ. We are now partnering to bring Young Life to Norwalk. Where our traditional youth program has focused on “church kids,” Young Life seeks to minister to all the youth of Norwalk. Malcolm James is working part-time with FPC and part-time with Young Life.
Become More Generationally Diverse
Parental Workshops. As part of the 2019 Children’s Ministry Reboot, we saw the need to minister to our parents as well as our children. Over the past few years, we have sponsored workshops for parents and children. We have discussed how to lead family devotions, how to pray as a family and the role of Scripture in our spiritual life.
Strengthen Worship and Music
Transitions. Kayliann Schwinn has stepped down as our Media Coordinator for the past nine years. Her efforts have set a high standard for the creativity and the quality of our worship services. We have added Livestream, which has allowed us to connect during the pandemic and beyond. Kathi Flew has taken the mantle, and she has built on Kayliann’s foundation. We are better coordinated between our worship services and our communications. We have added a weekly video preview to our social media. The Weekly Messenger and the Pew Pad email highlight what’s happening in worship.
Focus on Mission and Evangelism
Inspiration Station. Maumee Valley Presbytery honored the work of Bob Sands and the First Presbyterian Church of Norwalk this year with a Matthew 25 grant. They celebrated Inspiration Station’s efforts to provide transformation for a neighborhood in Norwalk. This year, we added speech therapy to the tutoring program there. We continue to look for other opportunities to build relationships with the families there.
Love Our Neighbor. Through her work as a deacon, Joyce Ditz has continued to seek reconciliation across racial barriers by connecting community leaders in the city, the police department, the sheriff’s department, the schools, the businesses, and the churches. A big emphasis this year has been to educate our community about the influx of agricultural workers from Mexico into the Norwalk area.
Mission Trip to Belize. In 2020, we took a team of over twenty-five to build homes, install a septic system for an orphanage and provide CPR training for a prison in Belize. After the Covid pandemic, we are returning. This time we are leading a medical team and building an elder care facility. We have seen those who have gone on these short-term trips return with excitement for missions both abroad and locally.
Pleasant St. Presbyterian Partners. Two years of a pandemic have placed a burden on our kids and our schools. FPC is showing the love of Christ to teachers, staff, and students. We have begun a partnership with Pleasant St. Elementary School to be a support and encouragement. We have provided lunches and breakfast for teachers, and we have provided resources for students on field trips. We are building this into a sustainable ministry to meet the real needs of our community.
Stuff the Bus. Thirteen years ago, a conversation after worship in the sanctuary led to the formation of Stuff the Bus. Since then, the organization has provided school supplies to those in need in our community. This year, the organization has officially become a ministry of FPC. After government resources from the pandemic are gone, Stuff the Bus will continue to do great things in our community.