Friday, January 20, 2017

Friday's Essay - Thoughts on 2016

Below is an essay that I sent to those on the Cove Presbyterian Church e-mailing list. You can hear a podcast of this message by going to the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website ( for more church information.

 If you find this meaningful, please consider sending an offering directly to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal

Image result for 2016On Sunday, Cove is having its annual congregation meeting. And since we do this yearly, every January we have the opportunity to reflect on what happened during the prior year, and I’m including both the positives and the challenges. And personally, I believe it’s important to consider both, because if we aren’t open and honest about our church, it’s likely that we’ll stay just the way we are into the next year, if we’re lucky. If we’re not, we’ll become like old soldiers and just fade away, trying to be relevant in a world that may no longer exists and doing what we’ve always done while expecting results different than what we’ve seen in this last decade. And so I think it’s necessary to spend a little time reflecting on the recent past. Of course, I also recognize that every member of the congregation has his or her own opinions; therefore, the conclusions reached won’t be anonymous. As a matter of fact, someone might view an event as a success while someone else might see it as an abject failure. That’s just the way it is. But even this can be positive, if we’re willing to listen to one another, try to understand the other perspective and then work together to chart a new course somewhere in the middle. And so that’s what we’re going to do on Sunday.

And even though I’ll have my own report, I’m going to take this opportunity to share some thoughts about what I saw happening last year. And remember, these are just a few of my own  observations. They carry no more weight than the opinion of anyone else. And you can feel free to agree or to disagree as much as you want.

Now having said that, it seems to me that things were pretty rough as we entered 2016. Although we were in a financial tight place, we also seemed to be struggling with something as basic as unity and as Christian as joy. For example, it seemed to me that we lacked direction, but not with the big stuff, and I’m talking about our faith in Jesus Christ. Rather we were suffering death by a thousand cuts. In other words, a lot of relatively small things were pulling us apart, all of which were distracting us from our mission to share the gospel of Jesus Christ to as many folks as we could. And this was also draining a lot of our joy. People seemed unhappy about “this, that and the other.” And we conveyed that unhappiness in every worship service. Of course, regardless of the kind of hymns we sing or the order we follow or the bulletin we use, it’s hard to be inviting to those on the outside when you’re unhappy about what’s happening on the inside. Anyway, from my perspective, that’s where we were at the beginning of last year. We seemed to be floundering.

But you know, with the help of God working through some amazing men and women, in the last twelve months, I think the  ship was not only righted but given direction. For example, God has blessed us with a wonderful staff, both paid and volunteer. They have enabled us to stay together as we passed through some challenging times. And even though small in number, I believe our session has done a remarkable job, developing a plan for the future, making contact with all inactive members and serving this congregation with dedication and enthusiasm. As far as I’m concerned, for anyone to suggest that the deacons were lazy and uninvolved last year, for me, those are fighting words. The trustees continued to focus on the future even when new demands forced their primary responsibility to shift. The Endowment Committee took seriously our needs, and the Presbyterian Women continued to provide support for fellowship and mission. But maybe the greatest strength has come outside of boards and organizations. In my thirty years of ministry, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many Christian men and women offer their time and talents to enhance the ministry of their congregation. Whether it involved teaching our children in Jesus Time, repairing the building or doing a whole of different things for worship, the people of this church stepped up and stepped forward to get the job done. Now, I’ve intentionally not listed names, because there’s no way I’d remember them all. But by including specific words of thanks in the bulletin each week, something we started doing in the fall, I hope they know just how much they’re appreciated.

And thanks to their dedication, involvement and work, we’ve did some things last year that were memorable. For example, we had a lenten dinner series, something we hadn’t done in my time here. And we scheduled a theatrical production that not only drew in people from the community, but established contact with our neighbors at Striplight Theater. Along with rummage sales, we hosted vender shows. And when combined with the activities hosted by the deacons, like our carnival at the Fuzzy Peach and maybe the best Project Christmas Smile we’ve had, youth-related events, and special services and studies, we’ve taken steps to be more involved in our boarder community. And as to the broader community, our outreach online provides new contacts within the valley but also to the ends of the earth.

Of course, in this next year, we’ll have the chance to address some of the issues we face. There are still folks who feel as though their needs are neglected and their opinions ignored. We need to address those concerns. Low worship attendance remains an issue, and financially, we don’t have a very large safety net. Although we’ve taken some very definite steps to improve communication both online and in the bulletin, there’s still room for improvement. And I don’t believe there’s any question about our need to reach out into community that surrounds us and to do it in a way that engages folks, encouraging them to come and see the one we recognize as our Lord and Savior. In other words, we still have plenty of growing to do. But this is something we can do together. And I believe that process has started. From where I stand, a lot of the negativity I heard a year ago, I don’t hear anymore, and that’s a good thing. In the last couple of years, some new people have gotten involved who’ve brought into our congregation a new sense of excitement and purpose to say nothing of some great, new ideas that we’re going to need as we move into the future.

And so, I can say with all sincerity, I’m a lot more optimistic today than I was a year ago. And even though we may be taking baby steps, I think we’re moving in the right the direction. Without question, God has put us here for a reason. Whether we like it or not, we have a mission in downtown Weirton, in the upper Ohio Valley and around the world. In this next year, let’s come together and coordinate our time, talents and money so that we might, first, claim it and then, second, begin to accomplish it.

Below are some congregational pictures from 2016:

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