Meeting Times at 4th United Presbyterian Church

Cafe' Worship: 9:15 a.m. each Sunday in Gathering Hall (activities provided for children; coffee; snacks)
Adult Sunday School: 10 a.m.

Sunday Worship: 11 a.m.

Bible Study: each Thursday at 6 p.m.

Community Forum: last Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. with meal (no community forum in November, 2011)

About the 4th United Presbyterian Bible Blog

Posts on this blog are from me, Rev. George H. Waters, one of the two organizing co-pastors of 4th United Presbyterian Church. Our other organizing pastor was Rev. Sonya McAuley-Allen, who is now pastor of a church in Charlotte, N.C. Since June of 2011, Rev. Elizabeth Peterson has been our parish associate pastor for new church development. The earliest posts are sermon notes from the few I have typed the last two years. Then, there is a series of notes posted on the book of Romans. After that, it varies from week to week, sometimes church news, sometimes reflections on a happening, a passage of scripture, or even some pictures. This blog is meant to open the conversation we have going on in our church to others in our community.

The picture below is of our church's sanctuary, built in 1913.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Coming to Understand My Appalachian Heritage

I have been thinking about how I was raised, and how I really approach situations in life. I am a Hillbilly, which means I am a child of the Appalachian Mountains, who is a stubborn individualist. Now, I was taught at times in school and certainly in seminary about how awful it is to be individualistic, but I never really accepted that academic teaching. Sure, I understood that it was a real negative to be selfish and unable to identify with or care about those outside "the narrow confines of your day to day life," but I never really bought all the stuff about individuals being defined by a community. Sure, each of us is shaped deeply by our social environment, but there is something in the individual that the social environment can't determine. There is a central core in each person that reflects the mystery of God. So, I have always seen it from the other direction: a community is defined by its individuals and there is something irreducible and indestructible and well, indefinable about "the individual human being."

My Dad didn't teach me too many strict rules for living, but one thing he said over and over again was "if you have to be accepted by any group to feel like something, then you are in real trouble in life." Life just really wouldn't have been worth living for Dad if he had ever thought he had to wait around and look over his shoulder to see if somebody approved what he was doing. He would make his choices, live his life, try to help others in living, and that would be enough. In as sense that is the real goodness in the Appalachian way of life. YOU MAKE YOUR CHOICES, YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE, YOU TRY TO HELP OTHERS AS THEY LIVE THEIR LIVES, AND THAT IS ENOUGH. IF ANYONE ELSE HELPS YOU OUT, THAT IS A REAL GIFT, BUT NOT EXPECTED. AND, WHEN YOU REFLECT ON WHETHER YOU ARE LIVING YOUR LIFE THE RIGHT WAY OR NOT, YOU PULL AWAY FROM THE CROWD AND YOU COME BEFORE GOD THE BEST YOU CAN, AND YOU TRY TO LOOK AT YOUR LIFE HONESTLY. THERE MIGHT BE A TIME OR TWO IN LIFE WHEN YOU SHARE THIS REFLECTION WITH A TRUSTED FRIEND OR LOVED ONE, AND, WELL, THERE MIGHT NOT BE.

I guess when it comes down to it, I am a pretty trusting hillbilly, but I am still a hillbilly. My idea of a good place to live is a place where you can't see any other houses, streets, neighbors, or hear them.

The only real community I have ever known anything about is a community that gives a lot of room for individual peculiarities, accepts a lot of nonsense from individuals, and somehow draws the best out of individuals which in turn allows for the best community possible. I guess you would call my view of community one that starts from the "grass roots," which is to say, starts from its individual pieces. It is significant that Paul's definition of the Christian community gave a lot of attention to individual differences and the importance of respecting those. You didn't have to conform to some preset role defined by the community, but the community had to figure out how to accomodate your God-given, perhaps even peculiar gifts and bear with your weaknesses as well, just as you were to do the same for others.

Notes About Making Some Changes for the Better

There are professionals now who are called “Life-style coaches.” Their job is to work with individuals to develop strategies for changing life for the better. Counselors and therapists are coaches in a sense too, as they help individuals understand internal dynamics and begin to guide one’s internal dynamics in a positive direction. What we are coming to understand about human change is that not only does it require internal, psychological understanding, but it requires a change in external behaviors and patterns to go with the internal work. The mind follows the body just as often as the body follows the mind. Exercise and diet can restore healthy patterns of thinking and praying, just as healthy patterns of thinking and praying can help establish healthy patterns of exercise and diet. The internal and the external patterns are mutually reinforcing when they are negative and when they are positive.

What we need if we are to change for the better is the development of positive patterns in our external and internal lives. Fortunately, most all of us have experienced positive external and internal practices in the past. Most of us have been through times when we were exercising and eating in a helpful way. Most of us have been through times when we were engaging with others in a healthy way. Most of us have been through times when we enjoyed time alone, enjoyed times of prayer, enjoyed worship. Most of us have been through times when we gave up hurtful and negative patterns of behavior as well. When we made some hard choices to turn our lives in a new direction.

But, I ask: “Where are we today?” “Where are you today? Where am I today?”

What if I am at a point of dissatisfaction with how I am managing my life. Maybe I move back and forth between blaming someone else or some circumstances I can’t control for my disrupted life to beginning to take responsibility for negative patterns of thinking and acting.

Some words come to me: “You are responsible for your life whether the burdens you bear were self-imposed or imposed by others or by forces beyond your control. You are responsible for your life – to bear it out into the world for the glory of God and for the good of others and yourself.”

And, what is the biggest problem with my life? Often our basic problem is a lack of positive energy. What about this simple plan for change?: Stop doing those things that deplete energy; start doing those things that restore and sustain energy.

We need to remember that overeating (and, undereating), overdrinking, worrying, blaming (self and others) deplete energy. Exercise, praying alone, reading, working, listening,speaking honestly, music, crafts, especially self-expression, leisure with others, moderate eating and drinking restore and sustain energy. We don’t need to be overly moralistic about strategies of change. It is more helpful to simply name behaviors and ask whether they help create and sustain energy or cause the loss of energy in life.

God came among us to bring us life, not some rigid code of behavior. God came among us to make us holy/healthy,not to give us some religious code that would make us feel holy (and, perhaps feel holier than others). Secular pursuits can be more “holy” than religious pursuits if those secular pursuits create and sustain the energy of life and those religious pursuits deplete the energy of life (Jesus said: “I came that they might have life, and that abundantly”).

Note: self-expression through playing music oneself or writing or painting or building or knitting, etc. is almost always engaging, not disengaging behavior. Disengaging diversions are ones that require no self-expression, but rely on stimulation from outside, not from inside. The numbing part is that one is involved in something that does not require the presence of the self.

Now, it is often a matter of doing what you have done in the past to get back on a good path in life. Choosing to do so one day, and then another day, until you’ve put together a month, until you’ve put together a year, until it is simply the course of your life – so strong that you would have to consciously and wholeheartedly choose against it in order to keep the momentum from continuing on this good path. At the core of the positive choices; at the core of the engagement is a knowledge of the negative force of disengagement and a continuous, second nature choosing to both look out for and to resist any leanings towards disengagement with life. But, the leading thought is positive and engaging behavior,not negative and avoiding behavior. A primary focus on avoiding the negative simply leads back to disengagement.

Note: extremely conservative religion or rigid ideological religion (even if “liberal”)falls into patterns of disengagement by avoidance behavior. The worry over disengaging patterns becomes so extreme that it creates what it hoped to avoid: mind-numbing,disengagement from life. Examples can be drawn from rigid orthodoxy and the rigid patterns of behavior it generates, and examples can also be drawn from rigid “politically correct”lifestyles that cannot ever engage in life because of fears over “inappropriate” expressions both from oneself or from others.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Worship in the Sanctuary this Sunday, October 17, Knoxville College Homecoming

After being unable to use our sanctuary since mid-February of 2009, we will be back in it for the first time this Sunday, October 17 for our morning worship service. And, what is even better and fitting for this occasion is that we will have the community of Knoxville College with us for worship as we will be hosting their annual Homecoming Worship at our church.

Throughout the history of the former 1st United Presbyterian Church, the church and college joined together each year at homecoming in the sanctuary of 1st United Presbyterian Church which also served the college as McMillan Chapel. So, we are very pleased to be able to maintain this important bond from our history as many of us that now make up 4th United Presbyterian were at 1st United Presbyterian on Knoxville College campus for many years. And, some of our current members at 4th United Presbyterian attended Knoxville College, and became involved in 1st United Presbyterian in their college days. Others among our membership have had very close ties with the college, as teachers, staff, and as members of the Knoxville community who strongly supported education in this traditional black Presbyterian college.

So, come join with us as we welcome the Knoxville College community and as we continue to worship God together and thank God for the vision given those who founded Knoxville College in 1875.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

New Church Development Thoughts

Fourth United Presbyterian Church is a new church formed by uniting two old churches. The congregation of First United Presbyterian Church relocated as a result of this union, moving from the Knoxville College Campus about two miles away over to the corner of Glenwood and Broadway. The congregation of Fourth Presbyterian Church had mostly vacated the building by the time the two churches became acquainted with each other. But, there were 10 or 12 people still attending at 4th Presbyterian at the time. Whereas there were about 35 people participating at First United Presbyterian at the time of merger.

Within the first few months of our union, all but three members from Fourth Presbyterian Church had left our new church, but almost every one of those from First United Presbyterian remained with our new church. In fact, a few people who had been visiting at First United decided to join the new church as well.

At various points over the last year and a half at Fourth United, we have had visitors who became more or less involved in the life of the church. They are with us for a while and then move on. These visitations were positive experiences. Of course, we would like for a few of those who visit with us to join with us for the long haul. But, it is always nice to have someone who visits with you and shares the life of the church with you even if just for a time.

One reason our church doesn't "capture" new members too often is that we don't ask or expect a lot from visitors. Occasionally, there may be someone who doesn't feel welcomed because we are so low key. But,then a few people have just walked in, enjoyed the quiet welcome, and felt a sense of peace and good will and have stayed. I am one of those people who walked through the door of First United Presbyterian Church the first week of September of 1995. And, I have stayed all this time.

And, clearly there have been some changes in the congregational life over the years while we were First United Presbyterian and certainly in the past year and a half as we have been Fourth United Presbyterian.

We have younger church officers than when I first started. We have more babies, less youth. Less easy understanding of Presbyterian polity, and more need to have regular meetings to communicate over how to carry on the work of the church. Our congregation is much more active in participating in worship than formerly. That is, the singing is just much better and enthusiastic than in the past. Bible Study participation is a little less than in the past,though meetings continue to be very positive. Adult Sunday School is consistent, and perhaps better attended at times than in the past. The effort to establish a 3rd Wednesday Communion service at noon each month has not been too successful, but we continue to try as I am working with Rev. Patrick King,hoping to make this a community service and eventually provide a light meal for attendants. If you are able please come on Oct. 20 at noon as Anglican minister, Rev. King will be preaching and leading the service. I will be unable to be there because of my other job.

I'll only say one more thing about our new church development. Probably the most important thing our members and visitors and friends can do at this time is simply come whenver possible and join with us for services, Bible Study, Sunday School, Community Forums, 3rd Wednesday Communion. When you are a small group trying to make it, it is a great encouragement to just see people show up and to have people join you in worship, study and fellowship. As with any project, work, or effort to establish something new,the first thing is "showing up." The more people we have who are committed to showing up,the better off we are. But, talk like this usually ends up bringing on the feeling of pressure and provokes guilt in those who haven't been "showing up." And, our church has never been about that. If you don't show up, then, you still remain part of our fellowship. As I said, we are pretty low key. If you haven't been at worship for six months or a year or whatever,and you need some help, don't hesitate to call me or Rev. Allen or someone else. Don't feel like we've forgotten you if you haven't been around and we haven't checked on you for awhile. We don't tend to badger people. We don't ask a lot as I said. But, we are always glad to see those who come. We are encouraged by their/your expressions of faith, by their/your sharing of stories with us, and the sharing of a meal, a prayer and hug with us.

I hope we are doing something at Fourth United that will make people want to come and be a part of our worship and study and service on a regular basis, but whether regular or irregular we will be thankful to see you. Maybe one of the problems with a small church is that almost everybody has to be a regular, every Sunday participant to keep things going. If the church membership was larger, then you can have a core of regulars and a good number of less regular participants and it all works out just fine. For now, it would seem that our less regulars could help us get things going by being more regular until we get things going. And,then you less regulars will have served your role in our new church development and can start taking those "leaves of absence" again.

One thing about that. Not going to worship on Sunday can certainly be just fine. We don't go under compulsion to worship anyway. The only thing that concerns me about some of the patterns I have noticed over the years is that a signficant number of people take "leaves of absence" from church when they are in dark places, as if worshipping God was only something to be done when you are in the better places of life. This really worries both me and Rev. Allen. It indicates that we have not gotten through very well in our preaching that faith abides in the valley and on the mountain tops, and praise is a reality in the darkest times as well as brightest times. Sometimes I think that no matter what we preach, that the T.V. preachers are really the ones many people hear. And, the message of the T.V. preacher is generally one of health, wealth and success through faith. I know that some members or especially visitors may be a bit disappointed from time to time that Rev. Allen and I don't preach that gospel and hoot and holler about that kind of stuff. But, we do what we can to bear witness to the God of Jesus Christ, who calls us to be faithful, loyal, loving, just and merciful in our living whether it pays off with success in the world or not. It didn't pay off too well for Jesus in society as he ended up getting capital punishment, but God remembered his faithfulness and raised him to life outside the bounds of society. To live in faith, we must find a way to live outside the bounds and constraints and expectations of society even as we are part of society. To simply try to use religion to help us achieve the goals of success in our society is live within the bounds of society and under its constraints. Rev. Allen and I are trying to point to a better way - something they can't take from you when your bank account is gone, something they can't take from you when no one will take your side, something they can't take from you when disease runs you down. We aren't talking about escaping from this flesh and blood life and its challenges, but about experiencing within these earthen vessels the transcendent power of God, the power of the God who raises the dead, whose power is made perfect in our weakness. And, when you are in communion with that power of God, it brings a peace into life, and there may be some secondary benefits as well. But, seek you first the kingdom of God and the righteousness of God, and all these things you desire and need will fall into line one way or another as God becomes the one you need most of all. Amen.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Our First Community Forum on September 30

It was great to have a kitchen again and be able to meet in the downstairs fellowship hall. Betty Bomar was hard at work cooking and getting the kitchen organized, and Jane Parker was playing the old piano. And, a good group gathered to discuss the constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. We dicussed the nature of police-citizen encounters, and ended up wondering and planning about how we could work towards establishing better understanding of the role of police in our community. It was very encouraging to see the good turnout and particularly good to be a part of an active discussion that was looking for ways to help build a spirit of peace and understanding in our community.

Our next community forum will be on the last Thursday of October, October 28 at 6 p.m. If you have an idea for one of our community forums, contact Mary Whaley (524-4680) or George Waters (805-3618).