Many of you know that I have been part of a program this past year through Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School called “A Convocation of Christian Leaders,” a year-long seminar for about 30 young pastors, denominational leaders, and seminary professors. For four times this past year, we’ve left our posts around the country to gather in Durham to learn about Christian leadership from some of the most innovative, excellent practitioners serving in ministry today. I speak with no exaggeration when I say it’s been one of the most significant, meaningful, and immediately applicable times of professional development in my life! The learning environment has been so rich and full: interdisciplinary, ecumenical, diverse in every possible measure.

And what a season in our church life to be talking about leading institutions in the midst of change! These fellow travelers have journeyed with me – and by extension, with all of us – as we’ve made major decisions about our facilities and mission this past year. As one of our church members described this program, “it’s like you’re being handed the keys to a Cadillac of leadership!” I certainly have felt every bit of the honor and privilege in learning from these colleagues and mentors who have now become friends.

I travel for my last seminar at Duke in a couple of weeks, but will do so this time as the recipient of a new grant for our church! Our program culminates in the opportunity for each participant to apply for a $5000 grant for “a pressing need for innovation in our context.” I share this with you as a point of celebration: we got the grant!

My proposal was called: “Making Our (Church) House a Home: Engaging a Congregation to Tell Their Story through Creative Imagination of Long-Beloved Spaces.” In it, I told about our existing facilities, and all the energy we are and will be spending in restoring, renovating, reducing, and reimagining our physical space. I wrote about my desire for us to tell a new story of who God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do through small, creative, and personal touches within the facility that will remain. I wonder: in the midst of massive change in facilities and place, can a historic and hospitable congregation like First Baptist Church on Fifth use its old building to become the blank page within which that new story is told?

Over the coming year, we’ll think together about reinvigorating our Sanctuary building with personal, artistic, and historic touches, ones that warm up our building with the same warmth that we share in relationship with each other and in so many of our homes. We’ll commission artists and woodworkers in our congregation to create pieces (perhaps even using materials from buildings that will come down!) that give life to our walls and help tell our story. We’ll dig into our history and find new ways to visually portray our story of gathering and scattering, innovating and creating. And together, we’ll dream anew!

For sacred spaces that equip the saints for the work of ministry, I say thanks be to God!

Together in the work of Love,

Pastor Emily


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