‘Tis the season around here for a mid-year assessment when our staff completes annual job evaluations. In my mind, an evaluation is a tool of measurement upon which to reflect upon the events, priorities, decisions, gaps, and oversights of the past year of work. Part of this exercise is straightforward: measuring our work off the job description (and its expectations) from which we were hired. But part of it is less so: finding clarity and honesty around areas of affirmation, growth, and opportunity.

In my review this week, I shared with our chairs of Deacons and Personnel reflections on this past year of my work, some of which I share now with you today. I began it saying that the work of the Special Committee on Facilities and Mission was the frame around ministry this year, for me and for our church. In so many ways, I feel immensely proud of this work we did together as a committee and congregation. I trust that the process by which the Special Committee came to its recommendations was one of prayerful discernment, deep faithfulness, tireless consensus, and a dynamic dream for our church and its future. I find great hope in the outcome of a 90% churchwide vote in affirmation of this presentation, a vote that was conducted with care and transparency by our Policy Committee. Even when I don’t know what it will look like, I feel confident in the road ahead. I am infinitely grateful for the shared leadership by our immensely capable staff, our Deacons, various committees and teams, and our Special Committee, all of whom demonstrated their ongoing love for God through First Baptist in significant ways!

But beyond that, we’ve had a number of significant moments together since last July! Our staff has welcomed two new calls with the addition of John Thornton and Amy Cook, and together, we have deepened our love and trust with one another. Nineteen new members have joined our midst, nearly half of which are under the age of 40! Through the generous gift from Lenwood Ammons, we transformed our old library into the Ammons-Lolley Commons, a beautiful space for friendship and connection. Our “year of living neighborly” spilled outside our walls, as you in worship attendance one Sunday in May walked out the door with a $50 bill and the instructions to “live neighborly” with it! Strong months of your faithful financial giving to the church have stabilized our stewardship. A most meaningful September 2016 worship service welcomed back our beloved Randall Lolley and Fred Kelly, along with countless others who have known and loved our church for years. Similarly, a weekend this June broadened our horizons as we were joined by our CBF field personnel in Cambodia, David and Lauren Bass. Our staff and lay leaders are leading with excellence in state and global denominational life. And in all things, we have continued the meaningful rhythms of life together in our beloved community: worship and preaching, discipleship and fellowship, missions and justice, leadership and friendship. Particular highlights this year included prayer partners for children and adults, high holy seasons of Advent and Lent that deepened our spiritual growth, delightful and delicious fellowship events throughout the year, small groups that have flexed the core muscles of relationships within the toxic partisanship of today, pastoral care that has walked the road together with a number of us, celebrating the missions engagement of our church like the 1000th ramp with Serving Our Savior, and a continued shift among our committees, teams, and leadership bodies towards more connected and transparent work. The addition of baby Silas into my family was the icing on the cake!

In all of this, there were still disappointments and clear areas of continued growth in my role. The decision to close the Children’s Center and the intense media glare that followed created a climate of urgency that led me to feel reactive at times instead of responsive. The work of the Special Committee was so comprehensive and consuming, that several goals I had given myself for the July 2016-July 2017 went unattended or unmet. I had hoped that we’d welcome 40 new members into the church this year. I had planned to meet regularly with the chairs of all our committees. I wanted to visit all the members on our homebound list, and I fell woefully short. I desired to write a number of “thinking of you” handwritten notes to you all throughout the year, but failed. The list could go on!

Even in affirmation and challenge, I continue to see areas of opportunity for me, particularly in what you might call ‘time management.’ Since my maternity leave offered me an extended period to step back and refocus, I have sensed such an energy in my life around how I “live and move and have my being.” I have read a good bit this year on the rhythms of work and life, finding guidance on how to practice sabbath, how to work deeply in a way that has the capacity to transform institutions, how to prioritize and identify the essentials in any setting, how to delegate and “do less, better,” how to cultivate a deep sense of self and belovedness and identity. These readings and conversations are convicting me daily of how I might live most fully and abundantly into who God is calling me to be, and, by extension, what First Baptist has asked me to do.

What next? As we look ahead to sure change on the horizon and a full year of planning and committing to a transformational shift of our facilities and mission, I covenant to lead with courage and conviction, trusting that the God of yesterday, today, and tomorrow journeys with us on the way! And in all things, I will choose to live and lead in the Love that brings us together.

Together in the work of Love,

Pastor Emily

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