“There’s something happening here,” FPC member said to me, placing her canned goods for Urban Ministry in the FPC van. She waved her hand up in the air, gesturing towards our campus. “I can feel it; it is amazing.” She smiled, hopped in her car, and drove away.
I took a deep breath and surveyed our campus, mostly empty since March 14, 2020. That was the day necessary to close our campus doors, repeatedly having heard the instructive words, “shelter in place” & “flatten the curve,” in hopes of ushering the deadly COVID virus out of our city.
“There’s something happening here” … Where?
- Inside of our historic and majestic sanctuary where our worship and music once glorified God?
- Inside of Redhead Hall where the Young Men’s Bible Class used to faithfully meet, rain or shine?
- Inside of our Memorial Chapel that for five plus years has welcomed over 100 Congolese refugees worshiping God in Swahili on Sunday nights?
- Inside of our wonderful Welcome Center and Solarium where hot coffee and warm biscuits have brought generations together for fellowship on Sunday mornings?
“There’s something happening here”… Where?
In my mind, the pandemic had had the audacity of taking away joyful faith-filled events in spaces we hold sacred, stripping us bare of what had been our normal, our routine. Now, we’ve spent 11 months questioning and reshaping how we are “ the church.”
FPC friends, there’s something happening here. We have prayerfully sought out the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and we have created new ways to be “the church” March 2020- present.
I found this powerfully evident on Ash Wednesday, February 17.
Early that Wednesday morning, Jill, Keith and I stood outside of the sanctuary steps on Fisher Park Circle. These are the steps that people have climbed, babies and children in tow, each Sunday to worship God since 1928. We stood on the sidewalk where, behind were the entrances to our church columbarium, an intentional symbolic reminder to those who came for the imposition of ashes that this is where we are laid to rest at the end of this earthly journey.
With the help of the Session appointed COVID task force and our FPC staff, we were safely gowned up, surgical gloves and face masks and shields donned, ashes and Q-tips in hand.
To be honest, we had wondered, “Will people come?”
To see us ready to worship that day, one might joke about how we could’ve been mistaken for a COVID testing clinic if it weren’t for our purple stoles. A reminder that, “there’s something happening here.”
In planning for that day, our staff discussed and tucked away preconceived theological notions and liturgical training that Ash Wed services were supposed to be in our sacred spaces of the sanctuary and the chapel. We had to open our minds and hearts to the Spirit of Lord telling us that this would indeed be an unique offering.
And on that day, something happened. Many of our active members we have sorely missed seeing arrived, smiles on their faces, hands outstretched as they received the ashen symbol of the cross, closing their eyes when they heard the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
I also met new faces like “Carrie,” “Tom,” and “Susan and Ebony.” All of these newcomers chose to receive ashes at our church. Their eyes filled with tears as I placed ashes on their hands or foreheads (as some insisted) and then we prayed together. No longer strangers but new friends I hope will return again.
Something was happening on Fisher Park Circle Ash Wednesday. It was sacred, and I believe our Triune God smiled.
This Lent, we begin our journey by first honoring the place where our identity is formed, the place we are named and claimed as God’s own, the church..
I hope you will walk this journey with us.
I am excited for you to check out our website and hear stories of some of our members whose families have been a part of FPC for many generations:
- Bob Beall, a direct descendant of Father Paisley
- John Redhead, son of the late Dr. Jack Redhead
- Molly Mullin, daughter of the late Dr. Joe Mullin
- Adelaide Fortune McIntosh, great granddaughter of the late Adelaide Fortune Holderness, whose leadership and weekly presence in our church is now celebrated by a plaque, reserving her preferred seat: pulpit side, center aisle, last pew.
Their Christian journeys all began in our sanctuary; their faith deeply rooted in this place we call First Presbyterian Church. AND, they have chosen to be active members today, growing deeper in their own Christian identities, their family roots bolstering them as they follow Jesus today being His hands and feet to others.
“There’s something happening here.” … Yes, indeed, the presence of the Lord surely is in “this place.”