Plumb Line Committee
Our Stories…What Matters Most to Our Church Community?
First Presbyterian Church is currently undertaking a process to discern its core values. As a part of this process, the First Presbyterian Church Plumb Line Committee has invited members of the congregation to submit their stories about FPC at its best or at its most meaningful to them.
The stories received to date are shared below:
My Story – Robert Yoder
I am a retired Presbyterian minister in good standing. When I knew I would be retiring and my wife and I agreed that we would be moving to Durham, one of the first things I wanted to know is where I would find my church home. I did some checking around with contacts I had and found First Presbyterian Church highly recommended. I wanted to become a part of the life of a church that took mission and ministry seriously. I was looking for a church which was open to all kinds of people and wanting to make a positive difference in the community. This became even more evident when I visited First Church’s website and read their statement that you celebrated human diversity and were open to everyone.
Our first Sunday we found ourselves in the sanctuary of First Church and were warmly greeted by people around us. In fact, by chance, two members who sat in front of us were to become nearby neighbors although we did not know it at the time.
We also were drawn to both the liturgy and music of the church. The only downside was the echo in the sanctuary which does not seem to be much of a problem anymore either because our ears have become accustomed to the room or changes have been made to correct the echo.
Later we were to discover how stimulating the Church School was. And we were impressed as we interacted with people of different ages, interests, outlooks, and races. We were to learn later that many of our Black members come from Africa, particularly Kenya.
One thing we did not expect in our move was illness on my part. I had not had any illness to mention other than one bout with pneumonia prior to my retirement. In retirement it seems like I “fell apart” with several surgeries. My first trip to the hospital, I suspect, was caused by emotional anguish over my retirement and leaving a congregation I truly hated to leave. It also may have come through physical exhaustion in the move itself which we tried to do by ourselves as much as we could without reliance on a moving company except for bulky items. Each time I became ill I was surrounded with love and care from members of the staff. Pastoral care at this church is excellent.
We did visit one other Presbyterian church at the invitation of a next-door neighbor but it just did not attract us as much as First Church. Those in attendance looked too much like us. We liked the diversity found at the corner of Main and Roxboro.
After about the third Sunday we were ready to join. We learned through the bulletin that a new membership group was meeting at the Harvards. I found the address using the Harvard’s telephone number on the Internet and we just showed up. We were accepted immediately and some we met continue to be our friends.
Since that time I volunteer on Thursdays with people who come to church in search of help during these difficult financial times. I also enjoy being with a marvelous choir where members have great talent and training. I feel humble just to be accepted among them. My wife volunteers as a teacher with the toddlers.
One thing we did that meant a lot to me personally was the Lenten “cell group” worship experience. I would like to see that continue occasionally. It was good to use what skills I have as a minister of word and sacrament in this setting.
Subject: Abi’s Story, Submitted with permission by Cherrie Henry
Recently, Abi applied for a position at the Duke Youth Academy. As part of that process, she had to write a brief version of her faith journey. With her permission, I am submitting it here:
As is the case with many spiritual journeys, mine has been a series of twists, switch backs and frequent stumbles. The daughter of two ministers, I spent much of my life inside churches. Before I can remember I attended Sunday school sessions, children’s choirs, Christmas pageants and youth group meetings. I must admit, I first I loved church for the social scene. As a child, church was another chance to play with my friends.
In early middle school church gave me my first opportunities to flirt with boys. Of course while I socialized, I was also exploring and testing my faith. I had many questions about whether God existed. What was this whole Holy Spirit thing about? How Jesus could possibly understand what I was going through, I mean, HE had never been the ONLY girl in seventh grade without a boyfriend! My youth minister and, more frequently, my parents were patient and always willing to entertain whatever questions I asked. My faith continued to be primarily an excuse for a social life until my eighth grade year when my church hired a new youth pastor. Unlike our previous, boisterous Duke undergrad, this Duke Divinity student was much more reserved and couldn’t quite relate to many of the kinds in our Youth Group, no matter how many well- intended efforts he made. Youth Group was suddenly not the cool place to hang out. However, I still went because my mom was convinced that having a church community was good for me. Fairly quickly, my church realized that the new Youth Minister was a dud. He was replaced by a member of the congregation. She was older than the previous Youth Ministers, but had the same spunk and energy of those who had served before. I was hopeful that she would draw more people back into the youth group. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
Throughout high school I was one of four steady members of the Senior High Youth Group. At first, I went grudgingly, but by my senior year, I must confess, I loved Youth Group even when it wasn’t cool. I loved the community created by our misfit group comprised of two seniors and two freshmen. I loved discussing and learning about different denominations of Christianity. More than anything I loved being a part of a Christian community where I could care for others as they cared for me.
I am a sophomore in college now and I am creating my own community. Most of my friends are wary of organized religion. Many have unpleasant memories of uncomfortable pews and “too many rules.” I often feel sheepish admitting my faith to others on campus, even within the ecumenical Christian group that I attend. Nevertheless, I feel deeply drawn to seek out a community of faith, for that is what I think Christianity is about in the end. It is about trying to love each other as we have been loved by God in ways that were demonstrated by Jesus. I feel that this love is calling me to a vocation in Social Work where I will be able to provide help to communities in our nation who are going uncared for. I will take these experiences of Christian community with me and I am grateful for the bending path God has led me on thus far.
A Story with a Letter shared by Cris
Friends: I recently found the letter I wrote to Joe in 2004 when Beth and I were looking for a church home. I think in a strange round-about way, it sums up at least the beginning of my FPC story:
July 22, 2004
Joseph Harvard, II, Pastor
First Presbyterian Church
305 East Main Street
Durham, North Carolina 27701
Dear Rev. Joe Harvard:
I had planned on writing you an email, but after composing several sentences, it seemed better that I write you a real letter. (It would have been even better handwritten, of course, but that art, alas, may not have been successfully passed to my generation.)
I would like to ask you a few questions regarding my apprehensions in attending services at First Presbyterian, not from a lack of incredible hospitality and kindness from your congregation, which has been nothing but generous and inviting, but rather from uneasiness stemming from my own insecurities as a “house-less” Christian.
A quick introduction: I was raised Roman Catholic in Southern Maryland, and up through college was quite active in my church. I attended Duke University, where I was involved with the Catholic Student Center, ministering at Duke Medical Center, IVCF, etc. Severe clinical depression forced me to leave school temporarily, but I remained in Durham, working briefly in the school system and in the restaurant/hospitality industry. It was during this time that I came out as a lesbian.
After coming out, a burden seemed lifted from me. More confident and secure with my identity, I was able to return to Duke after a six year hiatus and finish my degree. I worked as an arts instructor and documentary filmmaker for two years, but am now career-shifting to not-for-profit accounting, taking classes at Durham Tech and taking temporary positions doing bookkeeping for elderly clients and area non-profits.
My loving partner of five years and I have been seeking a place of worship in which we can both be comfortable. My partner Beth grew up in Pensacola, FL as an active member of First Presbyterian Church there. (I think you may remember meeting us recently.) In the past year, we have attended your services (both at your church and at the temporary space at Trinity), and seeing as we both value diversity and tradition in congregations, we are very attracted to FPC’s long tradition, its commitment to social justice and intellectual inquiry, its connectivity of faith and action, and its “embrace of liturgical renewal.”
There are other churches in Durham where we have looked. While Mass at Immaculate Conception still has, for me, some aspects of “coming home,” the structure of the Roman Catholic Church and its doctrine have infuriated me, so much so that I do not think I can still be a positive force for change, despite my long admiration of its view of charity and service to others. I am increasingly discouraged by what I perceive as vicious attacks from my “own” church, particularly in this present political climate where certain sectors are trying to claim Christianity and homosexuality as incompatible. As for other denominations, to put it bluntly, we are not attracted to the homogenous “gay congregations” of Metropolitan Community Church nor the almost too broad scope of inquiry within the Unitarian Universalist Churches to which our closer friends belong.
All in all, we’d like to continue with orientation and inquiry at FPC, but have started hesitating. For me personally, the issue is two-fold: 1) Not having spoken to anyone directly and openly at FPC, and having faced open hostility in other churches, I am unsure how our membership to First Presbyterian will be perceived. Mainly, I do not want Beth to experience the horrifying rejection that I have repeatedly felt in my home church every time we go home to worship with my family in Maryland. I assume this is why she is also taking this slowly (as brave as she is, she is also very self-protecting). On the other hand, we are not comfortable with “making waves” where it isn’t our place, and do not want to be anywhere where we would become an issue. 2) I am trying hard not to feel like I was “kicked out” of my church. I know that I am, rather, looking for a place where I can learn and speak to God in a way that makes sense to me, but at times, I feel like I am running away by joining a new denomination. I know it is not suppose to be easy, and I don’t expect it to be. But I would rather be persecuted because of my beliefs than by those who are also supposed believers.
To make a long story short, I am writing this merely as an introduction. Perhaps it would be possible to schedule a time to speak with you, an associate pastor, an elder, or any other congregant whom you felt could best answer my questions. You may email me a response if that is quicker, and feel free to share my letter with anyone whom you think it appropriate.
Meanwhile, if you could let me know if it is appropriate for a baptized and confirmed Roman Catholic to participate in Communion at your church, I would be very grateful. As you probably know, this is not a reciprocated gesture in the Catholic Church due to the Transubstantiation of the Eucharist (another reason Beth doesn’t like going to Mass). On the website, it says all “baptized Christians” may participate at FPC, but as a Catholic, I am almost always confused on this matter.
Thank you so much for your time.
Sincerely, in peace and love,
Part II of our journey with First Presbyterian is more widely known and not entirely uncommon among our membership. Joe contacted me almost immediately after receiving the letter to invite me to the Lord’s Table. Shirley and the membership committee had us in an inquiry class faster than you can say “friendship pad.” Lanny and Kathy cornered me at the next congregational dinner because there was a rumor that I could carry a tune. We shared a meal at the Harvards’ home with a fledgling new fellowship group that in refusing to be named “young adults,” took on the mantle “Crossroads” instead. It still took us over a year to actually join FPC, as I shuffled my feet due to certain PCUSA polity – which, of course, warranted another unannounced home visit by the pastor when he was “in the neighborhood.” While not without controversy, our new church home was welcoming but real. During that first year, my heart was fit to burst because I felt I had come home, and I was brought to tears from both sermons and the comments of lay members in adult Sunday School. I have been blessed by this church family and each individual member that makes us so rich in talent and generosity. I look forward to the next chapter.