Season of Change
First Sunday after Christmas
First Presbyterian Valdosta
January 1, 2023
Happy New Year! Are you loving those words this morning following a joyous Christmas with family and friends? Or are those words a little heavy this morning…a little uncertain knowing our church is entering a season of change?
Dr. G and Kinney gave us six years of love and nurture and spiritual growth while they were here. Most of us were here for those six years and some of you have only been here a few months, or a few weeks.
Dr. G was the best mentor I could have possibly worked with, and taught me much about what it really means to be on a spiritual journey.
For those of you who don’t know me, I grew up in a little country Baptist church in Berrien County where I was a member until I was in my early twenties. After moving to Valdosta to be closer to work, I met new friends and eventually moved my membership to a Methodist church here in Valdosta.
In each of these churches I grew spiritually, and I longed to learn more, to study more and be more for the glory of the Lord.
Then, in about 1988, I started dating one of your members, Dick Shelton, and we married in this church on January 12 1991, almost 32 years ago. We continued going back and forth on Sundays between the Methodist church and First Presbyterian.
Neither one of us being willing to give up the church we knew and the people we loved. However, I was certainly learning to love the people at First Presbyterian, and it became harder for me to not attend here.
Now as most of you know, Dick had four children when we married, and I cherished my new family. We didn’t have them with us full time, but we cherished our family time, and our house was a home every time we were all able to be together.
One weekend shortly after we married, the children were home and we were enjoying our family time when we heard a knock on our door. When I opened the door, there stood Eve Renfroe with a large jar of soup. “I thought you might enjoy this with your family.” She said.
I was touched … and the love poured from that jar as our new family sat around the table and enjoyed a marvelous bowl of soup made by one of the dear members of First Presbyterian! I’ve never forgotten it.
Then one Sunday when Dick and I were taking his Sunday turn attending First Valdosta, a dear member, Harold George, stopped me as we were leaving and said, “You know, that big church down there on the corner doesn’t need you like we do here.”
It touched my heart, and in that instant I knew my place, my spiritual journey would continue with my new church family at First Presbyterian Valdosta.
It’s always hard to say goodbye to friends and family we love, yet our journey requires us to turn the page, to move forward in life. It may not always be easy, and the path is not always clear or direct, but sometimes life requires us to move forward in faith and in trust of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Certainly, Mary and Joseph are proven examples of what faith and trust look like. The actions they made in response to God’s calls. In our scripture today in Matthew, Joseph was once again visited by an angel in a dream and this time told to “Get Up” and take his family to Egypt. I’m sure the suddenness of this angel visit was as shocking and disruptive to his daily schedule as the first visit by an angel telling him Mary was with child. If I were Joseph, I think I would be scared to be sleeping at this point not knowing what dream I was going to have next, because let’s face it…Joseph’s dreams were life changing to say the least!
In this scripture, we don’t know all of Joseph’s thought processes that followed upon receiving instruction in his dream, but we know “he got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt”.
We don’t know if it was that very night he had the dream, but if I had a dream telling me my child was about to be destroyed and I needed to leave, I don’t think I would be waiting around very long to pray about it or try and decide what I needed to pack and carry with me. I would be grabbing my most precious items, my baby and my wife, getting them on a donkey, and headed to Egypt as fast as I could go!
And their journey did not end in Egypt, as with more dreams, they were sent to Israel and finally to the district of Galilee to settle in a town called Nazareth.
When God spoke, Joseph listened, and he didn’t just listen, he followed the instruction he was given with action.
Reflecting back, Dr. Rev. Glenda Hollingshead is one of the most spiritual people that I have ever met, and I consider myself very blessed to have been on the PNC that chose her as our pastor over six year ago. I consider myself blessed that she came at a time when our church needed healing, and she knew how to help us. I consider myself blessed that I had the privilege of being mentored by her and working with her for three years here as your Commissioned Ruling Elder.
Under her leadership I learned several valuable lessons, and one was to be more willing to open myself to the presence of God. God, who created us to be in his presence, and to be companions, to have an ongoing relationship. She helped me become aware that many times we pray for God’s help and fail to praise God for the blessings we receive because of our relationship with God.
Dr. G taught me that not only can we seek God in time of prayer or crisis or need, but in everything we do. God is always present with us, and like the picture here on your right with Jesus holding the sheep, it’s easy to look at that window and think Jesus is holding a sheep, yet when we put that picture in motion, we can certainly see Jesus carrying the sheep, and that sheep is you! No matter how hard life gets, no matter how life changes, Jesus is carrying you every step of the way, always present, always near, always holding you up.
So as we consider this season of change, don’t let your hearts be sad that Dr. G and Kinney are gone, rather consider all that they gave us while they were here. How God allowed them to be with us for six plus years, and the gifts that were given and shared in those years, and the blessings that we received.
I would say to you that in this season of change, it is not for us to abandon those very blessings, but like Jesus carries the sheep, it is up to us to carry our blessings, to grow those blessings and to hold each other and let the Holy Spirit flow through all of us together as we move forward.
Whether you have been a member here at First Presbyterian for all of your life, or just a few months, or whether you are considering becoming a part of our church family, it is our time to shine in this season of change.
And how do we shine? We love one another, we press forward together on the journey that God has provided. We pray for one another, we pray for those who will be called to the new Pastor Nominating Committee and that the pastor selection process be one that is led by the Holy Spirit and by the direction of God. That each person chosen will walk closely with Jesus during this time, and seek the pastor that is most suited for our congregation.
No, we don’t like change, just like I’m sure Joseph didn’t like being awakened in the middle of the night by a dream and having to gather his family in a lurch and head out of town.
Yet, let us accept change as God’s plans for our lives, a part of our journey. Let us look at it positively and with eagerness of where our next journey will take us. Let us pray that it will be an even richer and fuller experience in the presence of God, and with each other, as Jesus carries us with his abundance of mercy and steadfast love throughout our season of change as we continue this journey together.
-Jane Shelton, TRE
*Cover Art Unsplash, used by permission