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Unwrapping Gifts & Unbinding our Souls

It’s the Christmas season, which means that many of us are at work wrapping up gifts that will be opened by our loved ones in just a few weeks.

In the same way our church has been wrapping up the gift of our mission to share with our neighbors and friends in January. Our mission is to “Make Disciples of Jesus Christ who love God, love each other and serve in the world.” This is easier said than done! But we have been working steadily for 2 years to learn how to pray and share with our neighbors.

And we are ready!

Just like those presents under the tree that are ready to be unwrapped, we are now ready to share our faith with our neighbors and friends using the next book in the Unbinding series: Unbinding Your Soul.

It’s going to be fun!

Once again, we will have opportunities for the whole congregation to participate in this church-wide study. My sermons will go along with the weekly devotions and many small groups – whether they be a home group or a Sunday School – will discuss the weekly chapter in your book.

But most important of all – this will be a wonderful study to do alongside a friend.

The purple book we did in 2017 was called Unbinding Your Heart. We had over 100% of our weekly worship attendance – from ages 2 to 92 – all reading the same scriptures and saying the prayers. Unbinding Your Heart communicated the most significant research about why we should share our faith in Christ.

But now we’re ready for the how. How do we share our faith in the context of relationships and conversation? How do we move from knowing to doing?

That’s what Unbinding Your Soul is for. This yellow book is designed to give you lots of opportunities to have interesting conversations about your faith and to listen to the stories and experiences of new guests.

Let me share a secret with you that I have learned over the years in sharing my faith with friends: December is the perfect time to invite someone to do a bible study with you in January.

January is very often a “slow time” in the lives of many people. It’s after the Christmas season, the weather is cold, people are getting into new routines for the start of a new year.

It’s the perfect time to invite a guest to give Covenant a “test drive.” For 21 days in January we are going to do a “short and sweet” study of Unbinding Your Soul. It’s a wonderful “no pressure” opportunity for a friend or neighbor to give Covenant a try – to experience the warmth and love that our community has to offer as we “love God, love one another and serve in the world.”

You don’t need to do any additional preparation or study ahead of time. Your friend doesn’t need to have ever been to church before. I myself have had a WONDERFUL time doing this study with friends who had never read the bible and never prayed before. No matter where you are or where your neighbors are, this will be a fun chance to talk about God.

This study is ready for you to experience side by side with a friend so that both of you feel the joy and fun of unwrapping the “gift” of your conversations together.

So what are the next steps?


Pray each day of advent that God would give you an opportunity to invite someone to do Unbinding Your Soul with you in January. You may be surprised how God answers this prayer!


When you feel a little “nudge” from the Holy Spirit, ask your friend if they’d like to do a 21-day book group with you. Tell them it’s the perfect way to “experiment” to see if they’d like to talk about God or would like to feel what it’s like to be a part of Covenant’s church family.


January will be kind of like an “open house” for our church. We can’t control who comes (God is in charge of that!) but we can control how we treat them.


God’s in charge and we’re going to have a blast with whomever he sends our way. I can’t wait to see what happens next!



What Does the Lord Require of You?

Micah 6:8 (NRSV)

8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

What does the Lord require of you?

That’s a question I have been asking myself each day this last month.

And over and over again I have thought about our theme verse: Micah 6:8.

I want to thank all of you for being so supportive of me, Alison and George since the death of our son, Callum. Understandably, this slowed us down during these last few weeks. I knew I could not do everything. So I had to ask myself each day – Lord, what do you require of me today?

Let me give you a hint. He doesn’t require us to be God.

Our only job is to walk with God.

There are many things in our lives that are challenging. There are many moments that we would rather not live through. These moments give us pain. These moments slow us down.

But it is the job of God to hold these moments in his almighty sovereignty. It is his job to be in control when we are weak, broken and vulnerable.

Our only job is to walk with God.

And as we walk close beside him, through our savior Jesus Christ, you will find each day that the Holy Spirit is out in front of you.

And as he hovers in front of you – as he hovered over the deep waters of creation (Gen. 1:2) – you will find that he points out a small moment of justice. You will find that he points out a small moment of kindness.

And we hear the voice of the spirit say this moment is for you, too. Take it in your hands. Do justice. Love kindness.

Where is the Spirit of God calling us as a congregation?

I don’t know. But I feel him gathering us together.

We had our most successful Trunk-R-Treat yet last month, extending almost 500 invitations to the community. We picked up a long tradition of Covenant, with almost 90 people attending family camp. I am so pleased and proud of our children and youth who continue to lead us in scripture and song. We have added a new Wednesday worship that averages almost 50 people weekly. God is gathering us together. My prayer is that he transforms us into his apostles. That he would continue to build us up in power and send us out in mission, wherever we go.

Your servant in Christ,



“Wherever We Go….”

Covenant Family,

Thank you!  Thank you, Covenant, for your kind hearts.  Thank you for your willingness to serve.  Thank you for encouraging one another always.  We have had a month of coming together in the newness of our journey.  You have welcomed me with open arms in my new role as Senior Pastor and have encouraged me daily with prayers, kind words, and uplifting spirits.  We have embarked on a new adventure which calls us to examine ourselves and open up to others around us to know God.  I pray that Covenant can continue to keep this at the forefront of our minds and that God uses us in all situations.

With this change has come great responsibility.  We have come together as a family to take care of our own.  I am so proud of this church family.  We all gathered to serve the Cloud family and Hase family during their time of sorrow.  I am so thankful for each and every person’s contribution in their own way.  God has granted us abilities to help and that is exactly what we did.  God has asked us to be His hands and feet.  That is exactly what has happened.  These families’ legacies will live on through the generations and we were able to honor them because of your efforts.

I am very excited about our upcoming Family Camp at Maranatha on Oct 26-27.  It will be a time to grow together as a church family, get to know each other on a more personal level, and see how God plans to use Covenant to influence the world through Jesus Christ.

As we move forward, I encourage you to continue to keep our strategic goals handy.

  • Be Transformed from Disciples to Apostles
  • Maximize Covenant’s Impact for the World
  • Balance Covenant’s Ministry

Look into each goal and see how you can make it personal.  How can you become the person that God is molding you to be?  How can you serve the people in the world but not be one of them?  Is God guiding you out of your comfort zone into another ministry that hasn’t even begun yet?  I pray that God will grant Covenant clarity as we commission our church to pray for those not in our congregation.  Give us courage to go where He guides us, listen to His voice, and pray through Jesus Christ that others will come to know Him.

I leave you with our Charge.  Take these words and make them your daily anthem.  Ask God to give you the strength and patience of the Holy Spirit as these words come alive in your life and the life of our church.

Wherever we go, God has sent us.

Wherever we are, God has put us there.

He has a purpose in our being there.

He has something He wants to do through us,

Wherever we are.

After the Pulpit…

Wow! I will never forget the amazing month of August 2018. What a remarkable time of celebration, tears, laughter and joy. This was a farewell that every single one of you made special in so many ways. After 32 years of faithful service we sent Hal and Jean off with every honor and blessing that were in our power to bestow. Among the many favorite moments I will take with me was the delightful skit at the Saturday night concert. Our own Murrill Robinson (and his fabulous back-up singers!) sang a parody of the Drifters’ 1964 classic “Under the Boardwalk” with words composed for Hal and Jean: “After the Pulpit.”

Then we danced the night away! It was as fun as any wedding reception! I watched two-year-olds twisting with teenagers and 90-year-olds putting on a dance clinic. I heard Hal remark: “This is what the Kingdom of God looks like.”

The next morning was special in a different way. I have never heard such a beautiful sound as our sanctuary filled to the brim with 400 voices praising Christ. Russ, Matt, the Praise Band, the Choir and Betty all did a tremendous job working together and the Celebration Committee and all their co-workers transformed our campus once again into a late-summer picnic palace.

I was personally very moved by the 8:30 prayer service. Hal surprised us all and showed up to join in the prayers. The meeting began by praying through Isaiah 61 for the Oakley family and for our church. Then together we listened to the Holy Spirit and each of us gave a short word from the Spirit to send Hal and Jean on their way. A 94-year-old charter member bowed his head next to a four-year-old kindergartner. Together we laid hands on Hal and offered up the following words of blessing from the Spirit’s prompting. I would invite each of you to prayerfully read these words as a prayer for Hal and Jean’s glorious new season.

A job well done
Confidence in the work done and the work ahead
The work is not over yet!
Healing for Hal & Jean
Unscheduled Days
Lord, continue to lead them
A sense of abundance
We have many problems, but the Lord will help us
Go out with rejoicing
Joy with grandchildren
Spiritual Leadership
God is sovereign
Blessed are the peacemakers
First rest, then adventure
Redeeming love
Lots of Fun
You have led well, now you may follow well

One member then read from Isaiah 41:10
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

At the end of the laying on of hands, Hal closed the meeting – as he has closed every meeting in his 32 years – by singing the doxology.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise God all creatures here below.
Praise Him above ye heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son & Holy Ghost.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.

A letter from Hal and Jean

Our Dearest Covenant Family and our Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

It is with mixed emotions and heartfelt gratitude that we write this final newsletter article. Our hearts are saddened as we prepare to walk away from pastoral leadership at Covenant. We have shared the journey of life and discipleship with you for almost thirty-two years, and have been richly blessed. Our family has experienced the depth and breadth of God’s love and grace through you. Together we have shared that same love with our community and world. We have much to celebrate! Thanks be to God!

Yet we know it is time to move to this new season of retirement. It is easier for us to take this step because we have a strong leadership team in place – truly a gracious work of God. Knowing this, we leave confident and excited about what God has in mind for Covenant and for us. More than anything our hearts are filled with gratitude. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

This morning Hal was reading the letter we received from Roy Nichols in November 1985. Roy was chair of the Pastor Search Committee. We were beginning nine months of correspondence and interviews that led to God’s calling us to Covenant. We remember meeting members of the search committee, engaging in their exceedingly thorough interviews, praying and worshiping with them. During the process we wondered, “Is this the place to which God is calling us?” It is reassuring to look back at that process from the perspective of 32 years of ministry together. We are thankful for God’s goodness expressed through you and how you have loved us and our children so well.

Many of you have asked about our plans for retirement. One of the experiences we are looking forward to is traveling together, being somewhere and saying to one another, “Let’s spend a few more days here.” Travel is one of the things we hope to do. We plan to spend more time traveling to visit our children, places we have never been, spending more precious time with our grandchildren, reconnecting with old friends and keeping up with you. In addition, we plan to engage in short term mission work with some of our mission partners in Africa, Ireland, Lebanon and even Asia and Central/South America. This could involve teaching, preaching, leadership training with pastoral couples among other things. We also plan to spend more time with Jean’s parents helping them in the aging process. They have loved and supported us through the years, and we consider it an honor and joy to love and support them in their last days.

Some of you have asked what our relationship with Covenant will look like. First of all we have treasured our time of pastoral leadership. However, Hal has an ethical obligation to refrain from pastoral leadership at Covenant so that you can help David become your pastoral leader. It is time for a new season of life for us. What will that look like?  We hope to continue our relationship with you as you are our family, and we treasure your friendship! Please feel free to communicate with us as friends. We love and value you! Second, we plan to step away from Covenant for at least a year for two reasons: l. to give us time to get used to being in a new relationship with you, and 2. to give you time to bond with David as your pastoral leader. We hope you will love, encourage, support and pray for David and Alison as you have for us and all of the Covenant staff on this new journey. They are all blessed to serve our gracious Covenant Family; and you are blessed to have them serve among you.

As we’ve approached retirement we have considered what our future might look like. Would we remain in Huntsville? For how long? Would we move? Our original plan was to keep our home in Huntsville traveling near and far and living primarily with Jean’s parents. However, we recently had an opportunity to purchase a condominium in Knoxville which we believe was a precious gift from God! We were not planning to move immediately, but one day drove by this condo, saw someone outside, looked at it and made an offer. It was the right location near our children and grandchildren, Hayden,  Jennifer, Camden, McCoy and Layla and not too far away to care for Jean’s parents, the right space and the right price for a perfect retirement home. As we have reflected on our future, we realized that we needed to go ahead and move to be close to Jean’s parents and one of our children. It will be hard to leave Covenant and Huntsville after 32 years, but we are confident that we are in God’s will with this move and will miss you so much! Please know that our home and our hearts will always be your home so you are always welcome to visit us in Knoxville!

Our words can never fully express the overflowing love and thanksgiving we will always carry in our hearts for our precious Covenant Family!  (Our Prayer for You – Philippians 1:2-11)  You have blessed our family with the beautiful, faithful and gracious gift of His love for 32 years!  How beautiful is the Body of Christ! Covenant shines with His beauty, love and grace and is His light shining brightly in the darkness to Huntsville and the world!  We leave with the assurance of Christ’s hope, promise and love as we entrust our plans and futures to Him, knowing that we will all be together in our eternal home, glorifying and enjoying Him forever!  (Jeremiah 29:11-13 and John 3:16)

Our Beautiful Covenant Family, we love you beyond measure, give thanks for you, pray for you and trust God is faithful and will always hold us close in His Spirit forever!

Grace and Peace as We Remain Faithfully His Disciples,

Hal and Jean

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good and His love endures forever!

This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!”  Psalm 118: 1 & 24

This is the Word of the Lord, Thanks be to God!!!


Be Prepared

What a wonderful season of God’s abundance this Summer has been! I feel like I’m the most blessed Pastor in this country to have the opportunity to share in ministry with my mentor, Pastor Hal, and to be able to take his legacy of leadership forward into the next generation.

As I preached this sermon series in June called “Be Prepared” (watch the whole series again on our YouTube channel!), I have been very aware that God has been preparing both me and this church for many years to serve Huntsville in this next season. God has used Hal and Jean’s leadership to prepare us. God has used parents and grandparents and teachers to prepare us. God has used the Holy Spirit in our hearts to prepare us. And God has used his Holy Word in scripture to prepare us.

All of these things have tied a towel around our waist.

That’s the core image from my sermon series. The Greek word here is Zonnumi (zoh-NU-mee.) It means to tie something around your waist. Metaphorically it means that you are “ready for action.”

You can understand why if you’ve ever seen me in my office at 10:58AM on a Sunday morning. Sometimes with all the wonderful ministry we pack into the Sunday School hour I find myself rushing to get ready for the 11:00 service! I tangle a tie around my neck. I rumple my robe onto my shoulders…

And then I pick up the edge of the robe … and run down the stairs to be on time for worship.

That’s what the ancient idea of zoh-NU-mee means. By tying the edge of a long robe up above your knees, you are ready to run. You are ready to stoop. You are ready to serve.
In other words, you’re “prepared.”

So when Jesus ties a towel around his waist at the last supper, he scoops the hem of his robe above his knees. He is saying to each of us “This is what it looks like to be a disciple – are you prepared?”

I have a deep feeling in my bones that God wants us to zoh-NU-mee this Summer.

Because come September he’s got a race for us to run.

Come October he’s got a journey for us to travel.

Come December he’s got a feast for us to serve.

And he needs everyone of us to be prepared to MOVE!

But the good news of the Gospel is that we don’t do it alone. It is the Holy Spirit that has made us ready since before we were born. It is the Holy Spirit that equips us with power beyond ourselves in the present. It is the Holy Spirit that straightens the path ahead of us as we step out into the future.

And as we tie a towel around our waist

to share the good news,
to pray,
to welcome,
to heal,
to listen,
to bless and
to serve,
we will find that the Risen Christ is already in our midst, stooped down low, washing the feet of our neighbors.
I am so excited for this journey we are about to take together. Let us pray each day this summer for God to make us ready.


Not Just Jumping Through a Hoop

When David and I were installed as Co-Pastors on Sunday, April 8, I expected it to be a perfunctory exercise, something we had to do to satisfy an ecclesiastical rule, just jump through a hoop. Was I ever surprised at the emotional and spiritual experience of moving from Pastor of Covenant to Co-Pastor with David! I had served as your Pastor for over thirty-one years; David and I had served together as Pastor and Associate for almost two years. Ours has been a shared ministry from the outset. Suddenly, we were renewing our vows to become Co-Pastors, to further share our ministry at a deeper level. Effecting this transition among colleagues in our presbytery( Braxton Ashe, Rosemary McMahan and Bob Lord), including our own Covenant friends (Jim Matthews, Sheila Cloud and Newell Witherspoon), welcoming David’s Dad, Karl Kling, and in the context of worship with you, our Covenant family, made it a very special experience. I will remember this transitional act as the culmination of God’s faithful work among us during this transition in pastoral leadership.

When we began planning for our retirement, I prayed that God would provide a strong leadership team to lead Covenant into the future. At that time I could not imagine what that would look like. Yet we continued to pray. As a Session we sought to discern God’s will in this transition, in our pastoral succession. As we discussed, shared, listened, prayed, we tried to be patient and be open to whatever God wanted to say to us.

When we involved you in this process of discernment, so many of you met with us to listen, share and pray. The Session thought we had heard God’s voice in lifting David to succeed me as Pastor; at the same time, we sought further confirmation in asking you if God was speaking through you. We wanted to listen to you, to see if we might hear God’s voice through you. And, yes, God was faithful. And so God was faithful in the good work our presbytery Commission on Ministry as they carefully and prayerfully guided us through the process.

So, back to the installation as Co-Pastors. What I thought would be just jumping through another hoop turned out to be a memorable and life-changing moment. Something happened that Sunday. Suddenly I felt God lifting some of the responsibility and pressure of leadership from me and transferring it to David. Seeing David, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, receive this new calling with enthusiasm, joy, awe, confidence and humility, enabled me freely to share this new calling.

I wondered when I would begin to feel a lighter pressure from leadership as I approach retirement. Until our installation as Co-Pastors I had not felt significant release. Knowing that we are sharing this ministry in a new way, and accepting that David is the future pastoral leader has been helpful. I am moving to a new level of trust in God’s plan. I am no longer a part of staff leadership planning for the future. It is strange, but it is good and right. God called me to serve here over thirty-one years ago. I am grateful for the good work God has done among us. Now, God is calling Jean and me to a new season of life and ministry. Exactly what that will be is yet unclear. However, we trust that just as God has led us in the past, God will lead us, David and you into our future.

As you receive this newsletter Jean and I will be nearing the end of our journey in the footsteps of Paul in Greece. We ask for your prayers for rich time together and safe travels.

In addition, I ask for your prayers for our Associate Pastor Nominating Committee as they begin the process of sharing and listening to one another, sharing and listening to God. Once again we will trust God’s faithful provision. Our APNC: Ray Rowley, Rebecca Boone, Phil Maddox, Bonnie Moore, Tom Morehead, Jane Roark, Kurt Schultz, Alice Searcy, Rachel Sullivan, Lori Visone.

Grace and Peace,


Take Off Your Shoes!

April 8 was a day that I will never forget. Thank you to each of you for giving me the opportunity to be installed as Co-Pastor alongside Hal on that day. It was a truly beautiful celebration and a fitting conclusion to the hard work and prayer of so many people in our congregation and presbytery.

The highlight for me was that my Dad, Pastor Karl Kling, gave a charge to Hal and me from the pulpit. This is a very old tradition in the Presbyterian Church that a member of the clergy gives a word of exhortation to a newly installed pastor to set the tone for their upcoming ministry.

Karl noted that the largest Presbyterian church in the world is the Myung Sung Presbyterian Church in Seoul, South Korea. They report 100,000 members (!) and seven worship services on Sundays. Their esteemed Senior Pastor, Dr. Kim Sam-Whan, has been their leader since 1980.

But for all that grandeur and achievement, the pastors of Myung Sung have a rule before entering the pulpit: Take off your shoes.

That’s because our worship is Holy Ground. It is bigger than the preacher. It is more than the congregation. Every week as we gather together to hear and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, we stand in the presence of the Living God, the Risen Christ.

So like Moses in Exodus chapter 3, we must take off our shoes. We stand in the presence of one who is

bigger than achievement

bigger than our pain

bigger than our slavery

Jesus Christ leads us through the wilderness of sin and death and into the land of God’s promises.

So every week the pastors of Myung Sung take off their shoes before they preach. And each day that Hal and I serve you as Co-Pastors we promise to take off our shoes, so that we might serve you not out of our own strength, but out of the strength of the Holy Spirit.

Thank you for sharing this Holy Ground at 301 Drake Ave SE with us. Let’s all take off our shoes as we walk through this new season together into the land of God’s Promises.

I can’t wait to hear what happens next!




A Letter from Hal

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Our family cannot adequately thank you for your prayerful, loving support following Hosanna’s birth and death. Your prayers, your expressions of love sustained us during her brief life, her death and as we began to move forward in resurrection hope. We share with you the biblical hope that in the final resurrection Jesus will return to establish his kingdom, transforming a broken world into a whole one, making everything right, even restoring our precious grandchild, Hosanna, to the fullness of God’s shalom. Even so, we have lives to live this side of heaven. We ask for your continued prayers especially for Shelton and Scott as they grieve their loss and try to    figure out what the future looks like.

Jean and I ask for your prayers for us as well. When someone you love hurts, you hurt. It comes with loving someone. How we wish we could protect even our adult children from pain in life. At the same time, we understand that the best form of protection is to make our children strong. In this case, we are thankful for your strategic role in helping our children grow spiritually strong. It is this strong faith that will enable them and us to endure in hope. Thank you for sharing our journey over the almost thirty two years.

Grace and Peace,


“Thank You!”

Dear Covenant Members and Friends,

Thank You! That’s all I can write this month. Thank you so much for your love, your support and your trust in me as your pastor. I am humbled and honored that you have called me to be your next Senior Pastor beginning in September 2018.

The journey that God has led us on together has been truly remarkable. And I believe that the journey ahead will be an adventure that we will never forget.

Two years ago I remember meeting with the wonderful Associate Pastoral Nominating Committee – whom I want to thank by name:

Robin Strong, Ray Rowley, Martha Lehmann, Steven Herriott, Nita Maddox, Lora Keiser, Joe Jones, Tom Cunningham, Debbie Hester, Mary Gray, and Bill McDowell

It was during a sparkling evening over dinner at Nita Maddox’s home that I began to ask myself: “God, what do you have up your sleeve?”

One year ago I remember meeting with the wonderful Pastoral Transition Team – whom I would like to thank by name:

Newell Witherspoon, Sheila Cloud & Tom Coon

Thank you!

It was during a powerful meeting in our Library with these three elders that I began to ask again: “God, what do you have up your sleeve?”

Throughout this time, I would never have been able to fulfill my calling without the partnership and selfless service of our staff – whom I would like to thank by name:

Susan Pendergrass, Alice Searcy, Lana Stapler, Katherine Bennett, Eddie Glasser, Steven Herriott, Cyndy Sarkisian, Betty Augsburger, Matt Carey, Russ Ivey and Pam Holmes

Thank you!

It is a privilege to work with you each day. I deeply feel that your sacrifices and support for me are a gift beyond measure.

Nowhere is it more apparent that I am just one member of a God-picked team than when I work alongside the best officers I have ever seen. To our Deacons, Session, and Trustees – I do not have enough words to thank each of you for the incredible dedication that you bring to your responsibilities. Being counted among your number as a Teaching Elder is an honor that I treasure.

Thank you!

In particular I want to thank the session members who prayed and discerned alongside the Associate Pastor Nominating Committee (beginning in 2014), the Pastoral Transition Team, and the church-wide discernment groups with such integrity:

Jeff Baker, Betty Collins, Herb Guendel, Andy Huttula, Elaine Woodling, Nancy Cloud, Ted Lehmann, Dennis Glasser, Amy Langford, Rebecca Boone, Susan Pendergrass, Jack Royster, Don Searcy, Betsy Estopinal, Mary Griffin, Kerry Rowley, Jeff Strouse, Sheila Cloud, Andy Glover, Dottie Hicks, Frieda Howell, Nita Herrington, David Stumbaugh, Sandi Williams, Rob Barnes, Art Woodling, Tom Pendergrass, Rita Icenogle, Steve Mowry and Steven Herriott

Thank you!

Alongside the discernment and wisdom of our elected officers and elders have been the gracious contributions of members of the Special Ops team and many Covenant Senior Leaders, who gave wise counsel and direction early in this process beginning in 2013 and provided ongoing input, feedback and guidance to the work of the Session and Associate Pastor Nominating Committee. To all who served selflessly in these “behind the scenes” groups:

Thank you!

I believe that the efforts and prayers of all these people – and so many more – have been very near to the heart of God in part because of the tireless intercession of the prayer team here at Covenant. I feel the prayers of this team hem me in behind and before as I walk forward into this new role and I know that I felt their prayers even when I was in Seminary preparing for a job I did not then know I would receive. To the prayer team:

Nita Maddox, Sheila Cloud, Martha Lehmann, Mary Edna Sharpe, Vicki Cape, Sylvia Townsley, Lana Stapler, Marilyn Cardno

Perhaps more than anyone I need to thank my mentor, friend, and boss, Hal Oakley and his peerless wife Jean Oakley, who is my colleague in Stephen Ministry. Their prayers and support and coaching will remain with me for my whole life long.

In addition I have to thank my wonderful wife Alison, who first identified Covenant on the PC(USA)’s job listing website and who heard the voice of the Holy Spirit calling us to Huntsville. Thank you Alison for your love and support!

And over these last months I have experienced an overwhelming surge of support, prayer and encouragement from the whole congregation. The list of names in this short letter is sadly incomplete without you. So many of you have served with me on wonderful committees, sent me touching cards and emails and shared your lives with me in ways beyond my deserving. While your name is not listed here, I hope to use the coming years to show my thanks to you.

Thank you to each of you. I can honestly say that I am the happiest I have ever been in my life because you have blessed me with your generous listening and faithful discipleship.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

I feel like John the Baptist in that I am not worthy to tie the sandals of our Lord who has called us to follow him together.

But I also feel the wind blowing around us as we are about to lift up our sails for the breath of God – the mighty wind of the Holy Spirit – to blow us forward into his mission:

To make disciples of Jesus Christ who love God, love one another and who serve in the world.

Wherever we go…

Your thankful brother in Christ,


Now the Work of Christmas Begins

As we emerge from the Christmas Season into the New Year, it is an auspicious time to reflect on how our lives will be influenced by the Christmas story. For most people, whose Christmas celebration is mainly cultural, Christmas ends on December 26. However, for those of us chosen and called to be lifelong disciples of Jesus, the work of Christmas is just beginning.

Howard Thurman (1899-1981), an influential African-American author, theologian, educator and civil rights leader wrote the following poem I take as a challenge and guide:

Now the Work of Christmas Begins

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flocks,

The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among the people,

To make music in the heart.

Let’s think about how we might be challenged and guided into God’s purpose for our lives this year.

  1. To find the lost: What would it look like for you to give heightened focus on reaching out to people who are spiritually lost, who do not know the love of God through Jesus Christ, who are not serving God through his church? A good start would be to identify those in our lives who are spiritually lost, confused or wandering. Identify them and commit to praying for them each day. Then ask God to give you opportunities to have spiritual conversations with them and guidance in how to listen and speak. And ask God to give you a deep and abiding love for these people, so that whatever you do you do it out of love. This is the work of Christmas.
  2. To heal the broken: The truth is, we all are broken in some ways. If we take time to look around and get to know people, we will likely become aware of the brokenness in others. The greatest danger is that we will become judgmental and condemn them. The other option is to develop hearts of compassion for them. Remember Jesus in Matthew 9:36, “When Jesus saw the crowds of people, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Pray that God will give you humility and compassion to listen to others as they share their brokenness. This is the first act of healing. Listening. The second act of healing is accepting others right where they are. This is the work of Christmas.
  3. To feed the hungry: This is a formidable task. Most of us are overwhelmed by this problem. However, there are ways we can be part of the efforts to feed the hungry. For example, a part of our Outreach Budget goes to feeding the hungry in our community. A part of our One Great Hour of Sharing (Palm Sunday and Easter Offering) goes to the Presbyterian Hunger Program, which feeds hungry people in America and beyond. On the first Sunday of each month, we have a grocery cart in the hallway outside our sanctuary where people can place canned goods that go to food pantries and Huntsville Assistance Program. Or you could get a group together and serve at Manna House. This is the work of Christmas.
  4. To release the prisoner: We usually think of prisoners who are in prisons. If you want to minister to them, get involved in Kairos, a prison ministry. Or consider that many people are prisoners of or in bondage to many different things: alcohol, drugs. Or maybe you know someone who is a prisoner of his/her own unforgiveness. Might you help that person gain freedom from such bondage? You could secretly make cookies to serve those in Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon. These groups meet at our church each week. This is the work of Christmas.
  5. To rebuild the nations: whoa! This is a big task! Maybe pray for nations who are torn apart by hatred, distrust and war. Or go and serve with “Words of Isa” in southern Lebanon. The Todds are mission partners of Covenant. They would welcome your involvement. This is the work of Christmas.
  6. To bring peace among people: Stop and think. How many people or families do you know who are estranged from one another? Maybe you experience this in your own family. Meditate on God’s Word in Colossians 3:13: “Bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you have against one another; forgive one another as Christ forgave you.” Life is short. God created us to be whole as individuals and whole families and communities. Maybe commit to be a peacemaker this year in your family. Or commit to working for racial understanding, peace and reconciliation in our community. This is the work of Christmas.
  7. To make music in the heart: What is this? One way I make music in my heart is to enjoy worshiping God through singing hymns or spiritual songs. Commit to “making a joyful noise”. This means you don’t have to carry a tune; just make a joyful noise before God. However you sing will be music to God’s ears. We have wonderful choirs and praise teams to help us do this. Carrying music in our hearts through the week will transform our attitudes toward God, ourselves and others. Try it. This too is the work of Christmas.


May we be partners as we do the work of Christmas throughout this year.

Grace and Peace