Settle in, friends — today’s post is a longer update (with a cameo from Gary Knight too!) on happenings in our church that you need to know about.  

First of all, last Wednesday the gathered community at First on Fifth heard a presentation from the Special Committee on Facilities and Mission in response to our recent churchwide conversations around mission and vision. Taking your deeply valuable and meaningful input, the Special Committee and pastoral staff listened to you and to God about what language might for us illuminate a path forward in ministry and mission. What words or images might capture our courageous history of shaping Winston-Salem? What phrases or priorities might cast forth a path into the future of doing God’s work of Love? The language where we landed, what our congregation heard last week, says this:

Our mission reads: “we are a family of faith, seeking to know Christ and make Him known.” Sounds familiar, right? This charge has been ours for as long as anyone can remember. It accurately captures the ‘why’ behind our congregation. It has served us well and will continue to as an umbrella statement under which new words will fall.

Our vision describes purpose and direction: “We are a community in the heart of the city called by Jesus to practice bold love of God and neighbor and boundless compassion for all people.”

  • We are a community unlike any other of which you and I are a part. In the very best sense of the word, this common gathering of folks into uncommon union led by God binds us up in a day and time where other communities fracture all the time.
  • Right here in the heart of the city is where we most fully do our work of worship and fellowship, discipleship and service. Time and time again, rooting downtown has proven to be critical to our understanding of who we are and where we serve.
  • We are a people called by Jesus into active motion. As disciples of Jesus, Christ’s love compels us to act, to bear witness to his birth, life, death, and resurrection.
  • What are we called by Jesus to do? We’re called to practice. Practice — not perfect, not achieve, not finalize, but practice, entering into the everyday rhythms of grace.
  • That practice we’ll do has two parts — bold love of God and neighbor and boundless compassion for all people. We are a church that continues to enact the fierce and full love we receive from God and share it back in audacious measure to God and neighbor. Boundless compassion for all people demands that we suffer with, care for, and work without reservation or boundary for the good of all.

Our values spill forth from the mission and vision to articulate how we are to do just that. Each one illuminates another corner of our shared life together and help to define us:

☩  Worshiping faithfully
☩  Living neighborly
☩  Welcoming authentically
☩  Giving abundantly
☩  Leading courageously
☩  Engaging artistically
☩  Reconciling humbly
☩  Risking willingly
☩  Walking with the hurting
☩  Maturing in discipleship
☩  Belonging to God and each other
☩  Being transformed to do God’s work of Love

And finally, our priorities will direct our energy in particular ways, allowing for specific initiatives to emerge over the coming weeks, months, and years. They are:

  • Cultivating the well-being of children has been one of the longest-held priorities for our congregation over the years. The form in which we cultivate the lives of children has changed over time, but its centrality to our mission has not.
  • Mitigating poverty in our community demands that we continue in our care for those suffering the effects of poverty and take the next step towards advocacy and justice on behalf of our brothers and sisters who so often go without.
  • Becoming a teaching and learning church will enable our church to lean into our long-held value of education. This means strengthening our capacity to teach, from seminarians to young ministers and other churches with similar challenges, to one another and a community around us hungry for conversations that matter. It also means adapting a constant posture of learning, where we never stop discovering God and our world anew.
  • Growing in number and faithfulness puts our desire for growth in action. Numbers of people are far from the only or most important measure of a congregation’s health, but we know that numbers represent people, and people need God. We believe that God is at work in our midst drawing us into transformation, and together we are invited into deeper measures of faithfulness and to share that story — God’s story — with others.


This careful attention to language matters, because once clarified and affirmed, it gives us the proper framework within which to interpret decisions or questions, ideas or curiosities… things like our ongoing conversation around facilities. With this in mind, now read a word from Gary Knight, the chair of our Special Committee on Facilities and Mission:

In mid-January, several representatives from the Special Committee and staff met with our contractor, Frank L. Blum, and received our initial “Schematic Design” budget for the project. This budget represented the entire project, as presented to you in June 2017.  While a Schematic Design budget is normally high because of a high level of contingencies, we were surprised to find the budget was in excess of twice of our initial budget number that we had worked on with Blum prior to preconstruction work.

The direct construction costs in this early budget were about $11M with soft costs and contingencies adding another $2M. The Special Committee began immediately to work on refining this number and dissecting it. We went back and removed some things that were not critical to the overall programming of the facility. After this work, Blum confirmed with us that we could probably find $1M-$2M in costs that we could pull out, but we still believed that this number was not within the grasp of what we could responsibly do all at one time. We then went about the process of pulling together options that spanned the gamut of possibilities.

On January 28, we met with the Deacons and outlined a variety of options and costs. After some lively but unifying period of discussion, the Deacons provided some clarity and feedback as follows:

  1. The Deacons affirmed that we are now and still want to be planted on our corner of Winston-Salem. We are “First on Fifth”.
  2. The Deacons affirmed a functioning Sanctuary and Building A are a key component to this.
  3. The Deacons asked the Special Committee to work on potential phasing options prioritizing the most essential pieces first.
  4. The Deacons asked us to provide an update to the congregation, which is what we did last Wednesday evening and in this communication.

So that’s where we are today… Simply put, we’re now working with our architect, builders, and engineering professionals prioritizing and coming up with some phasing options and costs. Even though these numbers were not what we anticipated, we are grateful to know now the high cost of the project, so that we can discern a bold, faithful, and responsible path forward. Once we have better clarity and are ready to make a recommendation, we will be back with the Deacons and with you. Our plans for a spring 2018 capital campaign will shift to occur likely instead this fall. In the meanwhile, please catch me, or another member of our committee if you have questions. Thanks for your continued prayer for our church!    ~ Gary Knight, Chair of the Special Committee on Facilities & Mission

Chris Gambill, our fearless leader in recent conversations around mission and vision, reminds us of the old adage: “form follows function.” Thus, the pressing question of this moment sounds to us like this:  what facilities do we need in order to fulfill our mission and vision, and live out our values? This is, for me, the question upon which I pray each day, and I invite you to do the same!

Why does all of this matter, you might wonder? Why should we give time and energy to specific language, dollars and cents to facilities? In a world where differences between us can feel irreconcilable, in a country where devastating school shootings can simply feel routine, in a season when we give ourselves over to God in repentance and reflection, the work of the gospel within the landscape of the local church is as urgent, vital, and needed as ever before.

Theologian G. K. Chesterton once said, “the grinding power of the plain words of the Gospel story is like the power of millstones; and those who can read them simply enough will feel as if rocks had been rolled upon them.”

May our words not become the stones we throw, but rather the cornerstones upon which we build. May our buildings not feel like a pile of rubble we cannot control, but rather the bricks and mortar that create sacred space for transformation. May our church be shaped in this Lenten season and every season by the millstones of the Gospel, coming even more fully to life when those same stones are soon rolled away.

Together in the work of Love,
Pastor Emily

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