…sharing the love of Christ with Athens and the world!

Rooted & Reaching Reflections

First Presbyterian Church is “Rooted & Reaching.” This theme conveys that our congregation is grounded (in the God revealed in Jesus Christ, in history and tradition, in the Bible, etc.) but also growing (in outreach, in membership, in new insights, in faith, etc.). We are stable but not stuck. We are open to change and the new direction which we trust God will give us. “Rooted and Reaching” is an agricultural image and is reflected in many biblical texts including this verse: “Keep your roots deep in [Christ Jesus], build your lives on him, and become stronger in your faith, as you were taught. And be filled with thanksgiving.” Col. 2:7 (Good News Bible)

Elders from our session commissions are sharing their thoughts on our Rooted & Reaching theme in Sunday morning worship services.  These reflections will be updated here each week:

Worship and Music Commission Chair, Allen Crowell
August 14, 2016

I am Chair of the Worship and Music Commission of our Session.  I was on this Committee for many years before becoming an Elder – its mission is close to my heart.  We don’t do everything involved in our corporate worship – the pastors determine the order of the services, pick the hymns, and of course lead us each week – but just about everything else falls to this group.  Besides me, that includes Diane Hudgins, Joy Holloway, Joe Attaway, Margaret Johannsen, and Dr. John Coble.

We as a church are deeply rooted in the Reformed tradition established by John Calvin and later John Knox.  Calvin believed in the power of music to stir souls.  His friend and successor, Theodore Beza (along with Clément Marot) versified all 150 Psalms, and they were sung to powerful tunes (in unison and without accompaniment) written by Louis Bourgeois, Claude Goudimel and others.

Look in the Index of our Hymnal and you’ll find tunes from three different Genevan Psalters, all of them sturdy, vibrant songs, the most familiar of which we sing every Sunday – Old Hundredth (“All people that on earth do dwell” is the psalter version of Psalm 100, 220 in our Hymnal) but we sing it as our Offertory Response, (sing)“Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.”

Of course, all these Genevan Psalter settings were in French.  But the Scottish church followed the same practice of turning the Psalms into metered verse, and our hymnal is blessed with many of these strong tunes.  Just last week when Bob Googe was preaching to the text “Rejoice in the Lord Always,” not only did the anthem sung by the choir reiterate that, but so did the hymns.  Particularly I hope you enjoyed singing “I to the Hills will Lift My Eyes” to the great tune Dundee.  This is a versification of Psalm 121, which had been the first reading, and the tune is from the Scottish Psalter of 1685.  Then Dr. Coble played a fantasy improvisation on the tune for the Offertory.

So our congregational, choral, and organ music is completely entwined with our worship.

The setting of the Communion calendar each year falls to us, as does the preparation and serving of Communion.  Diane Hudgins, Joe Neighbors and Joe Attaway are responsible for filling the cups and bread patens.  Speaking of the patens, our old plates could not be adapted to the serving of gluten free bread.  They couldn’t be stacked.  So they used to be spread out on the side marble instead of on the Communion table.  Our commission worked for over a year to find new plates that worked.

Then there are the flowers arranged each week by a very talented team co-chaired by Diane Adams and Suzanne King working with many extraordinary volunteers. Sydney Jackson and Eve Morris especially help with Christmas and Easter decorations.  Diane says she looks at this as “bringing God’s nature into the sanctuary.” As you heard from Harry Shuford a few weeks ago, the Congregational Care Commission takes the flowers and reforms them into many smaller arrangements that are distributed to members who can’t physically be with us on that Sunday.

Let’s go back to hymnals.  This is the hymnal we use.  It’s named “The Presbyterian Hymnal.”  Don’t recognize it?  That’s because it was deemed that blue would not work in our beautiful sanctuary.  Fortunately the same book is bound in red with an ecumenical title from Colossians 3:16 – “Hymns, Psalms and Spiritual Songs” Can you imagine what it would look like entering church and seeing a sea of blue hymnals in the pew racks?

This is the Presbyterian Hymnal that I grew up with.  It came out in 1933. This was my textbook in Hymnology in 1956 – says so right here (point).  In the 1960s and 70s I sang at the National Presbyterian Church in Washington and we were still using this then 40-year-old hymnal.  Phyllis and I were at National two weeks ago and found that they are now using the same book as we do.  I bring this up because sooner than later we will have a big hymnal situation to face.  This is the newest Presbyterian Hymnal, “Glory to God.”  It will be a tough decision for our Commission, Session and congregation whether or not to move to the new book, but it’s something we must address.

That’s our rootedness.  As to “reaching,” we will continue to look for ways of enhancing our reaching out to God in our worship.  We are all on this journey.

Education & Discipleship Commission, Leslye Queen
August 14, 2016

It’s tough to be the opening act for Bob Googe. So as not to steal his material, I’m not going to try to talk about God or Jesus or religion or anything like that.  I want to talk about us, about the people of First Presbyterian Church and the things that we do. (Some of what I’m going to say will sound familiar to a few of you because I’ve said it before.)

I serve on the presbytery’s Committee on Ministry and through the COM I have seen, up close and personal, a church here in Athens that has lost its soul.  This church has forgotten that, at its most basic, the church is about love.  Love of God, love of Christ, and especially in this situation, love of each other. And while my heart aches for the pain that this has caused so many wonderful people, this experience has helped me see my own church with fresh eyes.

In case you haven’t heard me say it before, we have an amazing church family.

Think about it- how we care about each other, the way our friendships and fellowship go beyond the church doors, how we welcome new people and new experiences, the way we appreciate, support, and love each other, how involved we are.

And we’re not just involved with things here at church.  Think about what we do in Athens and beyond-

  • the Project Safe Thrift Store
  • teaching Sunday school at Denny towers
  • the clinic in Haiti
  • Our Daily Bread
  • mission trips to Philadelphia and Honduras
  • the Martin Luther King, Jr Day of Service
  • and so much more

At the risk of sounding evangelical, the love in and from this church is extraordinary! I recently read that if Jesus is the heart of the church, then the people are its life blood. And it’s true!  We are the life of this church. And this is how we do it If you haven’t done so already, please complete and turn in a Ways to Serve form.

There are so many opportunities here.  All of the things that Harry and Ella and Denise spoke about over the last few weeks and that Allen will talk about next week, they’re all here!  This is how you connect. And while you’re filling out your form, I encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and sign up for something new and different.

Teach children’s Sunday School, it is such a rewarding experience, or, if you can’t handle that, be a substitute teacher.

  • Help build our next habitat house
  • Join the choir
  • Join the flower committee (men!)
  • Chaperone a trip with the youth
  • Drive a van for IHN
  • Or deliver meals on wheels

In addition to helping others and doing the work of the church, this is a great way to get to know some of the wonderful people in this church that you may not already know.

As I said a few minutes ago, we are an amazing church family.  I wish I could say it as strongly as I feel it. If you don’t feel it, fill out a form so you can get started.


Mission & Outreach Commission, Denise Horton
July 31, 2016

Good morning.

When I was thinking about how my life has been enriched by my involvement in mission and outreach, I recalled an experience from two decades ago. A friend and I volunteered to drive two children to the women’s prison in Milledgeville so they could attend a Christmas party and see their mother, who was an inmate.

But it wasn’t the prison visit that left a deep impression, it was the children’s home.

We picked them up at their grandmother’s home here in Athens. It was a small, well-kept, clapboard home in an intown neighborhood. As we stood in the living room, waiting for the children to get ready, I saw there were several other older teens/young adults who were in the house, I suspect they were other children or grandchildren who lived there.

What struck me was that it was obvious these young people had slept there because there weren’t enough beds. One person was on the couch. Another was in a recliner. And then one young man was all scrunched up in a chair. It couldn’t have been comfortable! They didn’t have sheets or blankets or a pillow.

I’ve held that image in my mind for all these years as a reminder of the things we don’t know, that we don’t see.

Last night, I slept on a cot as one of the overnight hosts for the Interfaith Hospitality Network. Although John Kipp maintains that the “new” cots are far more comfortable than IHN used to have, they’re still not great. But, they are beds. With sheets. And a blanket. And a pillow.

When I arrived, Terry Nestor was helping a mom pack her things. This mom and her children have a new apartment. As she was leaving, Terry held up a box of Capri Suns and asked the mom if she wanted to take them with her. The mom started to cry and really didn’t stop. She hugged everyone, including me whom she had just met. She thanked us all and left for her new beginning in a new apartment.

I realize these aren’t profound stories, but for me, I’ve come closest to feeling like I’m doing what God wants me to do when I focus on making life just a little more comfortable for families. When I use my meager talents to help build a house with Habitat, or dig a latrine in Honduras, or make sure a child has a cot, I feel like that helps these families to feel God’s love just a little bit more and that when they’re rested, they can hear God’s plans for them just a little more clearly.

My experiences with mission and outreach have shown me so much about other peoples’ lives and has opened my eyes to the small ways I can help.

Because it’s the small things that can make a big difference in someone’s life – like Capri Suns. Or sheets. And blankets. And a pillow.

Fellowship & Evangelism Commission, Ella Stewart
July 24, 2016

Good morning.

I’ve been a member of this particular church for over 25 years so I guess you might say my roots are fairly deep. At the same time, I am still growing in my faith so I guess you might say I am still reaching. I hope you are, also.

Over the years, I have participated in various areas of our church life and each experience has helped me grow. Today I want to share with you how Fellowship and Evangelism has been a part of that.

Oops! Did I just say “Evangelism”? When you heard that term, did you shrink back in your seat or inwardly, gasp? That is a word we Presbyterians don’t use very often, but we practice it—sometimes without even knowing it! Evangelism is the announcement, proclamation, and/or preaching of the gospel. Have you heard the phrase, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day”? Are we “preaching” the good news in our everyday lives?

Here at First, I have received the good news through meaningful Sunday School classes, Wednesday night classes, and Circles where the Bible has been read and discussed and where the concerns and needs of our community and world are addressed. I have been comforted in times of sorrow and supported by the caring goodness of my church family. In all of these, I see the proclaiming of the gospel of Christ.

But what about beyond our church walls and church family? This is where it seems to become more uncomfortable for us. We aren’t accustomed to approaching strangers about their relationship to God, so often we stay silent and perhaps miss opportunities. Have you considered saying not only “Thank you” but “God bless you today” or something similar to the busy cashier at the grocery store or the neighbor who watered your plants or walked your dog for you while you were on vacation? What about the street person who might occasionally enter our atrium and help himself to a donut? Do you speak to him or invite him in to listen to the service? These are small ways we can share the good news. Maybe we can become more intentional in our evangelism—with some practice.

Fellowship—Yes, I hear you sigh to yourself—“Finally, now I can relax; she’s going to talk about something safe.” Really?!

Sure we enjoy smiling and greeting one another on Sunday morning when we “pass the peace” during our worship hour or in the atrium after church, but fellowship takes place during the week, also. Some of our members deliver flowers from Sunday worship to home-bound members, visiting and perhaps sharing a bit of church news. Personally, I have found this to be a rewarding “connection” that I might not pursue, otherwise.

We enjoy the fall picnic, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, Wednesday night suppers and classes, our several choirs, Easter Brunch, and many other opportunities for fellowship throughout the year. They don’t magically happen! Many people volunteer time and energy to bring them to fruition. Perhaps you’d like to help! While you are contributing to something for the church family, you may meet new friends or reminisce with those you’ve known for years. Try something you haven’t tried before-stretch and grow! Fellowship with others.

You know the Fellowship pads located in the pew racks? Take a minute to note anyone whose name or face you don’t recognize that may be sitting in the pew with you and speak to them. Concerned that they are long-standing members that might be offended? Perhaps you can say, “I don’t know if we have met before” and introduce yourself. They may be thinking the same thing. What if they are visiting for the first time and you don’t make the effort? So much for evangelism and fellowship!

The staff follows up on visitors who sign the pew pad, but in addition, I contact those who Carol tells me have attended more than once or twice. We see this as a more personal touch when I email or phone the visitor and introduce myself as a member of the church. I seek to follow up with a one-on-one meeting with the person when he/she again attends church.

Thank you for all you are doing and I encourage you to look for other ways to
“share the love of Christ”.

Thank you.


Congregational Care Commission, Harry Shuford, Jr.
July 17, 2016

You could say I have roots in First Presbyterian Church of Athens. I tell people “I grew up here.” A lot of significant events in my life have happened here. My family started coming to church at First Presbyterian when I was five years old, shortly after we moved here in 1962. My brother Jimmy and I were baptized together here when I was nine, about the time of his first birthday. I met my wife Hilary here in sixth grade Sunday school class. I went to confirmation class and joined the church here. Hilary and I were married here in 1989. I was ordained as an elder here in the 1990s.

Then, in 2001 we moved away from Athens to Northwest Ohio, and in 2009 we moved to Texas. We were able to move back to Athens in early January 2014.

The story of my rejoining First Presbyterian goes like this—-The moving company delivered our furniture in Athens on Tuesday. Sunday morning we came to church here. THAT night I attended the new member class that was starting. I must hold a record for the fastest time someone has moved to Athens and joined our church. But where else would I be?

We all have our stories about how we are rooted to this place. Stories about how First Presbyterian Church of Athens has been a place for significant events in our life.

About six months ago I became part of the Congregational Care Commission. This is a new experience for me personally. I’m a numbers person. I served our church previously on the Finance Commission and as Treasurer. This is out of my comfort zone. It’s a stretch. But it’s been great, fun, meaningful. And I have a great role model in my mom, Betty Shuford, who great gifts of hospitality and caring.

I serve on Congregational Care with talented people. Elder Sue Gray leads our Senior Adult Ministry. She’s quite an artist. With Sue’s leadership we are planning Senior Adult Sunday for August 28, a worship service and a reception to recognize and honor our senior adults.

And Elder Arlene Shirley is leading our Correspondence Team. She tells me she’s improving her letter writing skills this year! She’s getting a lot of practice. Each week they reach out to our church members and our extended church family with cards and letters, offering congratulations, or sympathy, or healing wishes, or just to connect and let someone know we are thinking about them.

But, in addition to the Elders I serve with, what I’ve been most inspired by so far are the large number of people in our congregation who are part of our ministry. Today I want to especially say thank you to all of the many dozens of you “quiet saints” of the church who help Congregational Care. Together we reach out, help nurture, care for, and respond to the pastoral needs of our congregation.

Thank you to those that prepare and deliver food, to those who host funeral and memorial receptions, to the people who pray on our Prayer Chain, to our Lay Callers.

And finally, thank you to our Flower Ministry volunteers. This ministry reaches out with the beautiful flowers that our Flower Committee arranges for our Sunday service. The Flower Ministry takes these flowers; they make new arrangements, and deliver to our homebound and Senior Care members a ministry of flowers, cards, worship bulletins, and visitation. Thank you.

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