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Journeying by Stages

In Genesis 12, God calls Abraham and Sarah away from home to go to a land which God would show them. So they went. The narrative names the first two places they camped and then concludes with this verse, “And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.”

We have enjoyed twenty years under the wonderful leadership of Dr. Glenn Doak. With his retirement, we are undertaking a journey of sorts. During Sunday morning worship services this summer, members will share reflections on our journey. Each week the notes from the previous Sunday’s reflection will be added here.

Carol Strickland
Associate Pastor

Interim Search Committee, Rod Canfield
August 7, 2016

Good morning.  This morning I have the pleasure of sharing good news: at a called meeting last Wednesday the Session followed the recommendation of the Interim Search Committee to hire Dr. Bruce Lancaster as our Interim Minister.  Dr. Lancaster is presently Interim Minister and Head of Staff at University Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas.  He will begin his work here at FPC on Thursday, September 8, and will give his first sermon the following Sunday.  That Sunday, September 11, is also the date of our annual Fall picnic, so this will be an ideal opportunity for you to meet Bruce. The Session has entered into a 12-month contract with Dr. Lancaster.  This contract can be extended for mutually agreeable periods of time, which would depend on the progress of our search for the next permanent Senior Minister.

Generally one anticipates an Interim Ministry to last for 12 to 24 months.  Dr. Lancaster has been an ordained minister for 37 years, and during the last eleven of these years he has specialized in Interim Ministry.  His work in this specialty has taken him to six different churches in six different states.

The Search Committee was of one very decisive mind that Dr. Lancaster is a wonderful match for our congregation.  We anticipate that he will provide the leadership to guide us over the coming months as we think carefully about our mission and sow the seeds for the next generation of ministry here at FPC.

A letter announcing this appointment, and giving some biographical details for Dr. Lancaster, was mailed at the end of last week to each family in our congregation.  Dr. Lancaster’s degrees include the Master of Divinity and Doctorate of Ministry from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur.  His wife, Cathi Lancaster, was present at the Session meeting on Wednesday night. We learned that Bruce and Cathi are the parents of two adult daughters, Emily and Eleanor.  Emily and her husband reside in Portland, Oregon; Eleanor and her husband and their twenty-one month old son live in Atlanta.  You can imagine that the Lancasters are especially happy about the location of their next ministry.

During the period of this search the Search Committee has been blessed with  prayers, nominations, and wise advice from the congregation, our ministers, and the presbytery.  A heartfelt thank-you to all.  Any member of the committee will be happy to answer your questions; besides myself, the other members are Diane Adams, Bill Childers, David Cole, Amy Cowsert, and Joy Holloway.  I am deeply indebted to each of them for their dedicated work on behalf of the church.

Why an Interim?, Stephen Covington
Sunday, July 10, 2016

Good morning.

I appreciate the opportunity to follow behind Diane, Robyn and Matt for the Journeying by Stages series this summer during our worship services. I was asked to speak today about “Why do we need an interim pastor?”

Carol Strickland and Hilary Shuford (in her role at the NE Georgia Presbytery) were kind enough to provide me with various sources of information on the role of interim pastors that I am sharing with you today.

From a governance standpoint, there are many years of history and precedent that have allowed certain rules and processes to be put in place when a pastor leaves a church, including working with an interim pastor. This rich history of the church working with interim pastors has provided the framework and guidelines for what a successful engagement will look like for a church and the interim pastor. Our church is in the process of working within those guidelines as we narrow our search for this position.

A number of things stood out for me about the value of interim pastors, and why this role is so strongly recommended throughout the local Presbyterys and PC(USA).

  • Interim pastors are specialized in their field. Most who serve in this role prefer the interim position vs a permanent position and feel called to that specialty.
  • It is rare for an interim that is in place to end their engagement before a permanent pastor is ready to serve.
  • There are multiple reasons that pastors leave their church, and interims serve a valuable role in those circumstances, including the one we are in now (where a congregation is replacing a beloved senior pastor who served the church for many years and retires). Experience has proven that pastors who followed a long pastorate without an interim did not serve as long as pastors who were called to serve after an interim. Churches who hired an interim after a long pastorate got much better prepared for their next pastor and were able to have another long and fruitful pastoral relationship.
  • An analogy on a more personal level that applies would be a person that is in a long term relationship through marriage or dating and that relationship ends. Most would agree that they would not want to immediately jump right back into a long term relationship with a significant other.

We have a vibrant and well respected congregation here at First Presbyterian Church in Athens. There will be no shortage of very qualified interim pastors who we will be able to choose from to determine the best fit for our church to fill this important position. As we move forward to replace Glenn, we should view this as an exciting time to reflect on who we are as a church now and who and what we want to be in the future. I truly believe our interim pastor will help us in this process and that both the interim that is called to serve with us and our church will benefit from our time together until our new senior pastor is ready to serve.


Journeying by Stages: Thoughts on Transition/Change , Matt Bishop
Sunday, July 3, 2016

Good morning.

We’ve had two great speakers thus far for this Journeying by Stages series. Ms. Diane Adams did a great job of kicking off the series outlining what we can expect from the personnel committee in terms of our search for an interim pastor. And last week, I just loved how Robyn MacDonald helped us realize that although we may be grieving over Walter’s (I mean Glenn’s) retirement, we must get to the stage where we accept that reality and move on.

So what do we do now? What do we, as a congregation of smart, independent-minded Presbyterians who all love this church, do now?

I have a couple of thoughts:

For one, we have to trust the process. Churches, even ours, have experienced this kind of transition before, and we have a great team in place to see us successfully through this one, so let’s trust the process.

Secondly, let’s recognize that there is going to be conflict during the transition. We’re a family and as it is with all families, we’ll disagree on some things. How we transform our conflict is what’s important.

What’s also important is that we pay attention to each other – that we actively and respectfully listen to each other. We anticipate that during the interim period we will spend significant time discussing the future direction of our church – what we want to be when the time comes to hire a permanent senior pastor. During that time of discernment, it will be important to listen to the heartfelt desires of others as we express our own individual desires for our future. Let’s listen to each other.

Finally, let’s stick together. We’re going to have some challenges ahead, but if we stick together nothing is insurmountable.

With tomorrow being the Fourth of July, I’m reminded that 240 years ago, our Founding Fathers were in a period of transition. They were journeying by stages so to speak. Their ability to trust each other, to transform their disagreements, and to engage and listen to each other created the most seminal event in our nation’s history.

By the way, 12 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were Presbyterians.

Like the Founding Fathers did, let’s stick together as we journey through stages. Thank you.


Stages of Grief for First Presbyterian Church of Athens, Robyn McDonald
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
Sunday, June 26, 2016

Week 1: Where is Glenn? Oh, yeah, he retired. At the end of that service he took off his robe, put on his civilian clothes and changed his name to Walter. Then Lee Epting had the big reception for him. I forgot.

Week 2: Maybe Glenn could be our interim minister. He is too young to retire. Maybe he could do some Bible studies for us. Maybe we could have a bake sale and pay off the building fund; then he could come back and not have to worry. I will talk to the personnel committee.

Week 3: Just like I was afraid of, attendance is down. I bet giving is down. All the staff are doing a wonderful job, but our country is falling apart and Glenn is a history buff. He could have lead us through this. I cannot believe he deserted us.

Week 4: I really miss Glenn asking God to startle us, especially in this age of smart phones that can do anything and Facebook which helps us connect with anyone. I miss watching him teeter from leg to leg. I miss his mind, his faith, his Bible lessons, and his kindness. Our church will never be the same.

Week 5: When Tom Granum left, I thought our music reputation would change but John Coble brought a fresh tune to our church. Carol brought a new creativity to our spiritual walk, Kim brought a new energy, Natalie brought us a new outlook. All of these new people have blessed us with new spiritual richness. If history repeats itself, a new interim, then a new senior minister, will help spark us in our spiritual journey. And Walter will speak to us at Wal-Mart. Maybe we are going to be alright after all.

To everything there is a season. A time of denial, a time to bargain, a time to be angry, a time to be sad, and a time to accept change. We are constantly changing. God is for us. God is always with us. God will see us through, and that is the wild improbability of what we say we believe.


Update from Personnel Committee, Diane Adams
“And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.” Genesis 12:9
Sunday, June 19, 2016

God opens doors for us when other doors close. We have all seen this in our lives and we are assured it will happen for the church as we change.

Last weekend was such a lovely service and tribute giving the congregation closure for the 20 years Glenn Doak led us. From the appropriate words, music, food, flowers, prayers, and gifts, this was a reflection of the bond of fellowship and love we have here. In the last newsletter Glenn Doak’s quote, “This is a wonderful congregation of God’s people,” has resonated with me and I hope with you.

We are thankful for Dr. Carol Strickland, Dr. John Kipp, Dr. John Coble, and the dedicated professional staff who will see us through this transition.

The Personnel Committee has become the Search Committee for an interim minister. This week we began looking at applicants. With the assistance of the Presbytery, a pool of five strong candidates with impressive resumes and experience in leadership has been presented for consideration. The search committee includes Dr. Rod Canfield, Dr. David Cole, Amy Cowsert, Bill Childers, Joy Holloway, and myself.

We are committed to finding an interim minister who will lead us as we seek God’s future for this church. We will study their sermons, conduct video-skype interviews, contact references, then invite one or more candidates to visit Athens.

The person who possesses the skills we feel God has guided us to consider will enter into a contract of service for one year. This will include an agreement that the Session or the person may terminate with 30 days notice.

Back to open doors – an interim minister for this congregation will perform the duties of head of staff. A key component to the mission of the interim minister is to lead us to envision our future. Their role will be to set in motion a process to assess and discover who we are and guide us to God’s future. Included will be opportunities for input from each of us. Please participate when this happens. We are a faithful, diverse congregation that works well together. Pray for a new vision. It will be exciting to see what direction God’s doors will open for the future.


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