Bull City folks can be impatient. Last week, someone asked in an e-mail, “What’s happening at First Presbyterian? It’s been a year since the pastor retired. How long does it take to find a new one?”
Actually, it’s been almost 18 months since the Rev. Joe Harvard ended his 35-year tenure at the historic church at 305 N. Main St. in downtown. And about a year since the Rev. Mark Diehl arrived in Durham as the interim pastor.
Here’s a stab at the answer.
“The polity of the Presbyterian Church USA requires a specific process and First Pres is following it,” the interim pastor said this week.
Now, just cool your jets, folks, if you know anything about Presbyterians, you know they never do anything in a hurry. The watchwords in this church are “decently and in order.”
Making hasty decisions is not a Presbyterian thing.
Take the decision to ordain women as ministers of Word and Sacrament. It came about a decade after the United Methodist Church had already begun to put women in the pulpit.
Diehl said it is common for a Presbyterian congregation that is moving from a long-term pastorate to intentionally take more time to assess its life, its ministries and mission, where it has been, and where it feels called to go in the future.
“Most people have the mistaken notion that the purpose of the interim period is to ‘find the next pastor.’ It isn’t,” he said.
“The purpose is for the congregation to understand its identity and unique calling in following Jesus Christ in the present moment of history and the needs of the community and world; to intentionally embrace that identity and calling and then to find a pastor whose ministry is congruent with that mission and will lead the congregation forward fulfilling that calling.”
He pointed out that it might be quicker and more efficient if the church had someone to appoint the next leader. This is the type of church government practiced by Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans and Catholics, to name a few, who have bishops, elected officials, who take a leading role in finding a new pastor and can actually appoint one to a congregation.
Buy that’s not the Presbyterians way.
“Besides,” Diehl said, “the congregation [at First Pres] continues to do ministry in its downtown location, contributing to the leadership of community efforts to address root issues of poverty, homelessness, prejudice and violence. The ministry of the church is not the work of the pastor; it is the mission of the people.”
Pancakes for People
Pancakes for the People is an event at Trinity United Methodist Church that takes place only when there are five Sundays in a month. It’s a community breakfast that’s been a feature of church life for almost 10 years, according to the Rev. Taylor Mills, senior pastor.
It began because this congregation, located right in the middle of downtown, wanted to reach out to people living in its shadow and to anyone else who might be hungry on Sunday morning for a tall stack and a good cup of coffee, all served free of charge to anyone who comes by the fellowship hall at the church, 215 Church St.
The event started small as do most such happenings, but over the years has grown to monumental proportions with up to 250 people accepting this kind invitation on a fifth Sunday, like the one this month.
“They start lining up before 8 o’clock and there are usually more in our breakfast line than at Monuts Donuts, the doughnut shop on Parrish Street,” Mills said.
In addition to food, church volunteers also see that other needs are addressed as they make available such things as grocery items, clothing and right before school starts, backpacks and school supplies.
An inner-city congregation like this one with a large historic building has also found other ways to minister to the city.
“We have more space than people,” Mills said
For that reason, the church has made space available to groups doing various other ministries in the Bull City. For example, Habitat of Durham has a whole floor of office space and a staff of about 28 people coming and going during the week.
Just recently, Trinity has made office space available for Open Table, the ministry led by the Rev. Carolyn Schuldt, a United Methodist deacon, that addresses the needs of homeless people, many of whom still live in the woods.
The Rev. Dr. Tammy Rodman, director of Sanctuary Outreach Ministry, will lead the program at the Community Luncheon Roundtable from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday in the fellowship hall at Shepherds House United Methodist, 107 N. Driver St.
Women who have survived sexual abuse to achieve healing with spiritual guidance will take part in the program.
Lunch will be catered by CORE Catering.
The event is sponsored by the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham. All are welcome.
You can reach Flo Johnston at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 910-361-4135.