Michael Schulte Farewell

Friends,

Sunday, May 15 will be my last day serving as the Director of Christian Education at First Presbyterian Church. It has been a joy to serve this church the past three years, and I will always be thankful for the relationships we have built and the ways in which this church has supported my development as a congregational leader. I will be a better pastor to future congregations because of you.

Together we have navigated a global pandemic by implementing online worship. We have increased participation in our youth ministry program and hosted a speaker series which brought religious scholars to Lebanon to discuss pressing issues in the field.

Beginning June 1, I will undertake a year-long internship at the Dwelling in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The Dwelling is a congregational partnership between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Moravian Church. The Dwelling is unique because it is a congregation composed of people experiencing homelessness.

After my year-long stint at the Dwelling, I will appear before the Candidacy Committee seeking to be approved for ordained ministry in the ELCA. If approved, I will be allowed to enter the first-call process and begin interviewing with churches. Once I receive a call from a congregation, I will be ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the ELCA. Because I am a member of Faith Lutheran Church, it is possible that my ordination service will take place right here in Lebanon. Regardless, I will be sure to provide First Presbyterian with updates concerning my ordination.

In the meantime, I would appreciate your continued prayers as I transition to North Carolina and continue to discern God’s call for my life.

In closing, like Paul in Philippians, I thank [God] every time I remember you. In all my prayers for you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that [God] who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Thank you for your partnership in ministry. I pray that you will always remember that God’s grace is for you!

Michael

WilsonPost – April 13, 2022

The following, by Sherard Edington, appeared in the Religion Column of the WilsonPost.

We all know the saying, “Time heals all wounds.” It is a comforting but misleading sentiment because some wounds will in fact kill us. In addition, there are wounds we don’t want to heal and so we pick at them obsessively and wallow in our pain.

A wound is the result of an injury, a loss, or an intensely painful experience—physical or emotional. Following an injury, our lives revolve around our wound. Wounds demand our attention. Eventually, if allowed to heal, a wound becomes a scar—a tangible memory of our pain.

I am looking at one particular scar that is inscribed on my right hand at the base of my thumb. This unassuming little scar is a 40-year-old reminder that I should never run across the yard with a serrated kitchen knife sticking out of my back pocket. A more recent scar on my palm is a reminder to pay close attention when using a table saw. A scar on my soul is a reminder to always show compassion to others. Just writing these words makes me squirm in memory of the pain. The scars are doing their job.

Too often we ignore our scars and choose to live from our wounds in ceaseless rage and hurt and confusion. We become self-centered and self-absorbed and demand that everyone pay attention to us and our wound. On the other hand, a scar points away from itself. A scar proclaims, “I have learned from that experience, and I choose not to go there again.” We can even use our scars as balm to bring healing to others in pain. Wounds lack that power.

On Sunday, Christians will celebrate Easter. The greatest injury Christians have suffered is the crucifixion of our Christ. If we choose to view Easter as an open wound, then our faith devolves into endless fury and pain, and Jesus would forever hang crucified on the cross.

But Easter did not end on the cross. God intervened with power greater than we can imagine and transfigured the Easter wound into a glorious cross-shaped scar. That which died is alive. In the pain of Easter, we find a powerful testament to healing. There is no wound so devastating—even death—that God’s love cannot heal.

Amidst all the pain and suffering that exists in our world, Christians might embrace the Easter scar. It serves as a divine source of hope and healing. It is a scar that has defied death itself; it is a scar that is transforming our world.

As we approach the holy celebration of Easter, I challenge you to draw upon your scars and offer hope and healing to those consumed with pain. We are called to be Christ’s agents in this world. We must live from our scars, not our wounds.

As Easter approaches, my prayer is that you will experience sacred healing through the presence of God’s love made real to us in Jesus Christ. Wear your scars with pride.

—————————————-
Sherard Edington is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Lebanon and invites you to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord on Easter Sunday at 11:00 a.m. On April 20, at 6:30 p.m., everyone is welcomed to First Presbyterian to hear Vanderbilt professor Rachel Heath talk about “The History of Christian-Muslim Relations.”

Ashes Drive-Thru 2022

Dear Friends,

For Ash Wednesday this year, under the auspices of the Wilson County Ministerial Alliance for Race, I organized an “Ashes Drive-Thru” for the community. I enlisted ten pastors from Lebanon to stand in front of the Compassionate Hands Hope Center (just north of the Square) on Ash Wednesday to offer the ancient ritual of the Imposition of Ashes to anyone who walked up or drove up. (Most drove.) This was, I believe, the first time Lebanon has experienced an ecumenical Imposition.

It turned out to be a beautiful, sunny day which stood as a pleasant contrast to last year’s Ash Wednesday ice storm. It was almost too hot, but no one complained. We were happy not to be cold and enjoy the first sign of Spring. We brought our preaching robes, but we each decided it was simply too warm for that extra layer.

Remember you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.

Ashes Drive-Thru proved to be a wonderful opportunity to do ministry on the streets of Lebanon. Each pastor commented on how meaningful it was for them as clergy to interact with these drive-thru “parishioners.” In addition, each person who attended appeared to be enormously appreciative of the opportunity to receive ashes.

For some, it was their first time; others were well acquainted with the ritual. One woman told me that she had grown up Catholic and that she was on her way to Cincinnati to see her sister who was scheduled for surgery the next morning. The woman didn’t feel comfortable attending mass and was greatly appreciative of the opportunity to receive ashes and prayer. She was genuinely worried about her sister. Another woman told me that her mother had called and was upset that the daughter had skipped noon mass. The daughter spotted our event on Facebook and rushed over. One couple was staying at their house on the river and came for ashes simply because it was closer than driving back to their church in Franklin. One young woman told me she was Baptist and had always wanted to experience receiving ashes. One man came and then returned in the afternoon with his three sons. One person that I had asked if they had received ashes before simply replied, “No. I’m Protestant.”

I fully intend to organize the event again next year. I hope that it will become a local tradition.

Blessings,
Sherard

 

Click here for video of Ashes Drive-Thru

Women in the Church

women in the church

by Michael Schulte

Yesterday,  we celebrated sixty-six years of the Presbyterian Church (USA) ordaining women. The PC(USA) has ordained women since 1956 when the Rev. Margaret Tower became the first female teaching elder.

As I prepared for yesterday’s sermon, I wanted to learn more about what it means for the women in our congregation to attend a church where women are welcome in all levels of leadership. Below you will find reflections from several women in our congregations. They highlight women who have been part of inclusive congregations their entire lives and women who attended churches which told them they could not preach or teach. They include women who were empowered when they began attending Presbyterian churches as they realized that they too could serve our church in all capacities. Together these women bear witness to the power of God’s enduring word, that Christ breaks down artificial, man-made barriers and declares: “You belong just the way you are.”

A heartfelt thank you to all of the women in our congregation who contributed to this week’s sermon. Here are their stories:

When it comes to leadership, I think most women would call it an honor to use their gifts and talents of leadership, especially in the church. I find it a blessing to be able to teach and bear responsibility for guiding and leading our congregation. As a Christian woman, I believe I have a major role in serving with the objective to fulfill God’s commandments. As Paul states in Galatians 3:28 ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ As a female in a leadership role, I welcome the opportunity to carry the gospel forth, for we are all children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. (Pat Bone, Ruling Elder)

My personal faith journey has been a long one. I spent decades searching, researching, visiting and observing different denominations and different churches in many middle Tennessee and Florida cities. I have been searching for a new church since the age of 14 when I refused to accept that playing cards or dancing was a sin. I rejected some churches along my journey due to the lack of acceptance of the Trinity, hearing more about John Wesley than Jesus Christ, or simply because they kneeled more than I cared for. The one common denominator in all of my visits was always: Where are the women? Are they only in the nursery and youth Sunday School classes? Are the women welcomed to serve as deacons, elders, and preach from the pulpit? Are they respected and regarded as Christ regarded and respected women? My search journey has brought me to the Presbyterian Church USA. (Jackie Cowden, Ruling Elder)

During my childhood years, I noticed that children usually came to church with their mothers or grandmothers. Rarely, did you see a father or grandfather with his children in church unless the mother was there also. Thus, I have come to believe that women tend to set the primary example of  faith in a family. So, it would seem to be a natural transition for women to be ordained into church leadership not only as Deacons and Elders but also Ministers of Word and Sacrament. Women also bring a different perspective to the many aspects of faith and life, thus, broadening the faith experience of the entire church.” (Mickey Stueck, Ruling Elder)

“I grew up in a church where I watched women do meaningful work to sustain the congregation and its day-to-day operations, with little credit and no ability to serve in official leadership capacities. The older I got, the more I realized I was not cut out to fall in step with those patterns of patriarchal leadership, amidst so much matriarchal, but unrecognized, leadership happening right in front of me. The inability to reconcile this contradiction distanced me from any church for more than a decade, and I will always be grateful for the inclusive leadership and open doors and arms I found here, that helped bring me back to a more regular and intentional practice and observance of my faith. (Anonymous Church Member)

I was baptized into the PC(USA) church as an adult when we joined John Calvin Presbyterian Church in Bridgeton, MO. It was extremely important to me to become a member of a denomination that held women in the same regard as men – ordaining both. This practice makes me feel valued as a woman – that my gifts are equally important as men – and that I would be welcomed and supported in whatever role I felt called for. I have been both a Deacon and an Elder at several PC(USA) churches. Being called into leadership of a church is very fulfilling to me, always bringing a feeling of being closer to God. (Robin Orewiler, Church Treasurer)

Because women become educated, formally and informally, because we think, because we believe, because God loves us and we worship Him, we women have voices that benefit those who hear – babies borne by us resting in their cradles, children and teens who encounter us in person or through media, and adults who marry us, befriend us, read our words, or sit in our audience when we speak. It is of inestimable significance that the most important thought and work of our religion should support us in more than smiles or hand pats, but in the equality of ordination. I have no vocation for ordination and none for my sisters’ enforced silence. (Anne Donnell, Church Member)

Until I was led to First Presbyterian Church in Lebanon, I regularly attended a church denomination which did not teach me anything about women in the history of the Christian faith.  Women in this and many other churches were only permitted to cook and teach small children in Sunday School. Not so at First Presbyterian Church in Lebanon!  As I learned more about my Christian faith with the help of fellow FPC folks, I realized that the only constraint to me serving God and God’s people as an elder was devised by men, not God. How wonderful and liberating this realization was! It became even more real when I was asked to serve on the Session, facilitate the Disciples class, and lead the youth group.  At last, I was able to serve God in any and every way. I am so thankful for that faith-enriching experience. (Becky Burris, Ruling Elder)

Like most good parents, mine tried to instill a certain set of values and beliefs in me, and, although I listened, I was always looking for outside verification. When our local Presbyterian church elected its first female Session member it was a big event, and told 12 year-old me that, once again, my parents were right, I could be anything I wanted to be. By recognizing women as truly equal, the church not only made me believe in myself but made every other teaching of the church more easily accepted, on faith. (Catherine Hanson, Church Member)

My husband and I were first invited to First Presbyterian by Marty Bone who has served many roles in church leadership. Over the years, I have observed women in our Sunday School class express their gratitude at being able to serve as Deacons and Elders. When we had our children and were raising a family, it was the women of the church who reached out with a phone call, a card, a visit, or a meal letting us know they supported us and this provided a wonderful example. When we have had joys and sorrows over the years, it was the women of the church who shepherded us. God made women more sympathetic and empathetic to the needs of others and I think it’s a requirement for church leadership. (Anonymous Church Member)

The Bible is confusing, no two ways about it. Sometimes, when hearing a very literal interpretation of a biblical issue, I think, ‘But do you know anything about the context or culture that may make a literal reading inaccurate?’ On the other hand, when I hear someone waxing philosophical I may think, “Why read anything into it? Maybe a pillar of salt is just a pillar of salt.” I have questions – so many questions. What I don’t question, though, is that God values women. He honored women by allowing them the privilege of giving life to the newborn Christ. The Bible highlights the role that Mary played in Jesus’s life and ministry, but we don’t hear as much about Joseph. The risen Jesus appeared to women. While men of that era placed women at the bottom of society, God didn’t.

Women who were influential in teaching about Jesus included his aunt, Elizabeth, Priscilla, Mary Magdalene, and Timothy’s mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois. Confusingly, Paul praised the faithfulness of Timothy’s mother and grandmother but told Titus that women should learn in quiet and full submission. Maybe Paul meant only the women of Ephesus should be quiet. Maybe they were more involved with the first century version of their phones as opposed to spreading the gospel.

We don’t know everything about the Bible. Paul seems to give conflicting information on the role of women and that ambiguity continues today. However, I would argue that God was never ambiguous about women’s importance in the ministry. Not children’s ministry, women’s ministry, or the ministry committees that people don’t want to sign up for. Women are essential to ministry.

When choosing a church, I opted for one that allows all of its community to utilize any gifts they have, including leadership. Women may choose to learn quietly and submissively, or they may decide to lead from the front. A church that shows the same trust in women as the Bible shows was the only choice for me, no question about it. (Laura Simmons, Deacon)

May the testimonies of these women and their service to our church continue to point us towards the Living Christ!

Veterans Day 2021

Veterans Day

In the United States, Veterans Day is observed on November 11 to honor all those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.

FPC would like to honor all Veterans on Sunday, November 7, both in prayer and also by listing their names in the worship bulletin. Please submit the names of Veterans you would like to have honored by placing their names in the comments below. Please feel free to tell us more about them. (Comments are moderated and won’t show up immediately.)

HVAC

Dear Friends,

Our church is heated and cooled by two separate HVAC systems—one which serves the sanctuary and the fellowship hall and another which takes care of the education wing, offices, and chapel. The first system is running just fine (knock on wood). The second system, at 20+ years of age, is nearing the end of its lifecycle. For the past several years, repairs on that system have set us back five to eight thousand dollars each year. Presently, this unit is running on only one of its three compressors. Its days are numbered.

The kitchen HVAC

Our current HVAC unit

After exhaustive research, two engineering studies, and lengthy discussion, the Buildings and Grounds Committee unanimously recommends replacing this unit. At its meeting on Sunday, the Session agreed.

The Committee recommends that the single unit—the 20 ton system located in the kitchen—be replaced with two smaller units—10 tons for the downstairs and 7.5 tons for the upstairs—to be manufactured by Trane and installed by J&D. The cost of the project is $85,000.

There are numerous benefits to this plan which are listed below.

This HVAC system has been an item of discussion for several years. The Building Committee wanted to take action while the system still functions and avoid being forced respond to an emergency situation (such as no AC during a summer heatwave).

Funding will come from two sources. Half will come from our Building Fund and half will be paid with interest earned in our investment account.

If you have any questions about this action, please feel free to contact me, or David Howell.

We anticipate the new system being installed in July.

Meanwhile, stay cool.

Sherard

Benefits

  • A new system with a life expectancy of 20 years.
  • A split system with the ability to regulate the upstairs and downstairs independently.
  • Increased efficiency.
  • No monthly maintenance expenses for the cooling tower.
  • The ability to switch between heating and cooling at any time.
  • We can also expect to have reduced noise levels in the library and chapel.

January 6, 2021

Dear Friends,

It was with much disbelief and overwhelming sorrow that I watched Wednesday’s images showing citizens of this nation storming our federal capitol, smashing its doors and windows, fighting with the police, and vandalizing that historic building. My heart breaks for my daughter and all our children as I contemplate the country they might inherit. I worry that the great American experiment in democracy has been lost forever. I pray that it has not. The next few years will be crucial for our nation if we are able to chart a course toward repairing our republic.

The system of government that binds us together is designed for disagreement. Our freedom is that each person has a voice—there is no monarch telling us how to think. We are free to speak our minds; we are free to dissent; we are free to vote. But in the end, the expectation is that we will work together for the betterment of all. It has always been the case that each “side” believes the other side does not listen. That may or may not be accurate. But it doesn’t matter. No matter what “side” we are on, each of us must make the effort to listen, because only by listening can we love.

I find that the words of Paul are helpful now. And I especially like the way his words to the Philippian church are translated in “The Message.” They remind us that, as Christians, we are called to love each person as Christ loves them. Paul writes: If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand (Philippians 2:1-4).

Friends, in this new year, let us make it our goal to learn to love as Christ loves each of us.

Blessings,

Sherard

Advent Devotion – December 24 – Michael Schulte

“. . . and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”

 Matthew 1:18-25

 

Scripture: Matthew 1:18-25

2020 may prove to be one of the most consequential and fateful years in modern history. As I write, over 225,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. The death count already surpasses the number of Americans who died in World War I. If projections are correct, by Christmas Eve, the amount of deaths will be very close to surpassing the number of Americans who died in World War II.

In addition to a deadly pandemic, our country has been embroiled in nationwide protests which seek to reform our legal system and confront our nation’s enduring legacies of racism. We have witnessed the harrowing video of George Floyd being choked to death by a Minnesota police officer. We have witnessed radical vigilantes take justice into their own hands and murder innocent civilians. We have watched peaceful protestors be tear gassed by the state despite its illegality in international war.

Maybe like me, you have been wondering, “Where is God?”

Matthew’s Nativity narrative reminds us that Mary gave birth to Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”

Christian faith is believing in things unseen. It is a radical hope that one day God’s justice will be the world’s justice, that the peace of Christ will pervade the immoral and unjust systems of this world. It is a belief that Jesus, despite our sinful nature, loves us and uses his mighty hand to intervene on our behalf.

Lutheran theologian Cynthia Loe-Mobeda writes, “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain the believer would stake [their] life on it a thousand times.”

This year it has been hard to believe that God is with us. It has been hard to know that God’s mercy and grace still abounds.

But when we look a bit closer, I am confident that we will see the work of the Spirit, God within each of us, present in our communities. I see the work of the Spirit in Dr. Anthony Fauci who continues to communicate hard truths to the American people. I see the work of the Spirit in protestors who risked their well-being to stand up for the oppressed and the marginalized. I see the work of the Spirit in thousands of people who waited in lines for hours to vote. I see the work of the Spirit in our church as we continue to house the homeless, feed the hungry, and participate in racial reconciliation.

This Christmas let us be reminded that we believe in a God who is with us, a God who sacrificed divinity to assume the position of humanity, a God who breathes into our lives each and every day.

God is with you and God’s grace is for you. Thanks be to God!

Michael Schulte

Advent Devotion – December 23 – Max Carter

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:1-7

Scripture: Isaiah 9:1-7

Advent was established as a part of the liturgical calendar late in the 4th century A.D. in response to the gnostic Priscillian movement. At this time, it was used as a season of fasting in preparation for Epiphany much like Lent is for Easter. By the 8th century A.D., a consensus for when Christmas should be celebrated was made and the focus of Advent shifted to a time to commemorate the Israelites awaiting the coming of Emmanuel.

The birth of Christ marks two eras in history. The author of Hebrews refers to these periods as long ago and the last days. Isaiah alludes to this concept describing the former time and the latter time. During the first era God was expressed through intermediaries such as, Moses and the prophets. The arrival of Emmanuel, “God with us,” marked the beginning of a new era where God is expressed directly through the incarnation. For modern Christians, Advent has a dual focus. We reflect on the time, long ago, when the Israelites were awaiting the arrival of Emmanuel. We also live in expectancy of God’s coming reign.

The ancient Israelites experienced times of chaos and instability. Isaiah describes these experiences as walking in darkness or dwelling in a land of deep darkness. The promise of light in Isaiah 9 comes in a child that is destined to live opposed to governing systems of oppression. Isaiah writes, “and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

The promise of God’s peace is a kingdom that endures from now until eternity. The kingdom is sealed with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Advent accentuates the duality of the Christian life, experiencing the gospel of Christ while waiting for the totality of God’s kingdom.

The question for the modern Christian becomes how we should wait. Life is hectic and stressful, especially, in a time of pandemic and political polarization. Anxiety can be compounded by the pressures of secular society to focus on materialism during the holiday season, but we are called to be disciplined and focused on God.

Father Alfred Delp, while awaiting execution for his participation in the German Resistance, wrote, “Woe to any age in which the voice crying in the wilderness can no longer be heard because the noises of everyday life drown it, or restrictions forbid it, or it is lost in the hurry and turmoil of ‘progress’ or simply stifled by authority, misled by fear.”

During this time of Advent let us take time to reflect on awaiting Emmanuel as well as how we can contribute to the establishment of God’s everlasting reign.

James M. Carter

 

Core Idea: God’s reign is abounding in steadfast love!

Advent Devotion – December 22 – Ozzy and Dot Foutch

And he came t0 her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

Luke 1:26-38

Scripture: Luke 1:26-38

God sent an angel to Mary who told her that she would give birth to a baby and she was to name him Jesus. Her son would grow up to be a very special person who would help people learn about God.

After the angel said all of these things, Mary said to the angel, “Here I am” and “Let it be me.” Jesus was born because Mary said yes to God’s’ plan. Because she said yes, she raised a son who also said yes to God.

Ozzy Foutch
Dot Foutch
Children’s Worship

 

Core idea: When we say yes to God, we share God’s love with those around us.