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

Hal

 

The Present and Future Church

Philip Larkin, a twentieth century Irish poet, writes in his poem, “Church Going,”

“Yet stop (at this church) I did: in fact I often do, and always end much at a loss like this, wondering what to look for: wondering, too, When churches fall completely out of use What we shall turn them into, if we should keep a few cathedrals chronically on show…..”

Not long ago I ran into an acquaintance who happens to be agnostic when it comes to God. He’s not sure; he says the jury is out. But he is sure about the church: he doesn’t want any part of us. He always questions me, “ Are you still pastoring?” and when I tell him “yes”, he asks “how do you stand being part of the church?”

I’m not threatened or defensive about his questions or his perspective. I always tell him I understand. We Christians are a messy lot. We don’t always look like our Savior, Jesus. There are reasons why many people don’t want to be part of the church. I admit that I, too, am sometimes frustrated and disappointed with the church. It’s not easy living in community with people, any group of people. We, the church, can be arrogant, pretentious and self-righteous toward those not in the church. On occasion we even tear one another apart, kicking our wounded when they’re down.

Yet, I also tell him I have the privilege of seeing Christ’s presence within the church. I see people giving generously of their time and resources for the good of our community and world. I see children growing in their love and compassion toward others. This really excites me. I see people of different political perspectives show love and respect for one another in a culture where some people unashamedly seek to destroy those who differ with them. For most of us we act out of what we have in common: our love for God and our desire to be the true light to the world.

In a way the church is for me a laboratory in which we carry out the experiment Jesus showed us 2000 years ago. God calls people together into a community in which, despite our differences of race, ethnicity, culture or politics, we love one another as Jesus loves us. What is truly amazing is that it works. Sure we get in the way of God’s calling and mess things up. Yet overall Christ makes his presence known among us. Just as God crawled over the barrier of our sin to love us in Jesus, so we too crawl over the barriers between us to love one another as Christ loved us.

Some might say we’re wasting our time. Maybe, and I grant that it’s hard and doesn’t always look pretty. But I think I’ll stick with the experiment Jesus launched among us, to glorify God and for our good. What if we invited others to join us not in the “church” , but in an experiment of healthy living. Studies do show that people who live well in religious communities are generally healthier, happier and live longer. Maybe we could invite others to join us in the longest lasting experiment in human history.

I don’t know what the church will look like in the future. I am committed to be a part of the movement of Jesus Christ in the world and plan to serve as long as God grants me life. Thank you for the privilege of sharing this life with you. It’s worth it.

Grace and Peace,

Hal

 

 

 

Remembering Sacrifice

In the year 2000, the Pew Research Group did a study of recognized virtues among American adults.  They interviewed 1000 adults asking them to list the 10 most important virtues.  What struck me was a word that was not mentioned by  anyone: 1000 people listing 10 virtues = 10,000.  Sacrifice was not mentioned.

Indeed, in a culture obsessed with individual rights, the concept of sacrificing for others has fallen on hard times.  It has led, according to some, to women becoming doormats and people in general being taken advantage of.  Upon reflection, I suppose there may be some truth in that.  However, should that lead us wholly to negate the value of sacrifice or sacrificial love?  I rather hope not.

In the 1990s, there was even a small movement among Christians to diminish the importance and value of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.  It seemed too violent and bloody, too crass and all that.  They said we should focus on the love and forget the sacrifice. Given that Romans 5:8 reveals that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,”  I am hard pressed to separate the love from the sacrifice.  Indeed, the sacrifice IS the expression, the demonstration, the proof of God’s love.

As I write this, we are approaching Memorial Day, a time when we are encouraged—even given a holiday for some—to remember the sacrifices of those who have served in our Armed Forces, who have sacrificed time, health, even life itself.  It seems ironic that most of us who are still alive and enjoying the benefits of others’ sacrifice get the holiday.  Those who gave their lives, well, they get a holiday in their honor, sort of.

Last Memorial Day (a few days ago) did you pause for a moment to honor those who sacrificed for our freedom?  If you didn’t it’s not too late: the act of honoring their sacrifice is more important than the day itself.

[You can do it right now, right where you are.  Try it..  If you do it, what was the experience like?

If you’re too busy or not inclined, well….]

This Memorial Day I will be remembering my father, who as a young 19-year old farm boy turned machine gunner on an American bomber, was injured over Europe.  As a result, he gave up college football and could never straighten his right arm.  But he did return to America alive. I am grateful for his sacrifice, and for the sacrifice of many.

I’m also grateful for the sacrificial love of my mother.  Yes, she was often taken advantage of, and was a doormat to my father.  Life is messy.  Yet, I hold her in highest esteem for the sacrifices she made on my behalf.  It could not have been easy.

I don’t have all the answers but I know she taught me what it means to love—sacrificially.  If I were asked to name virtues, sacrifice still ranks high for me.

  • The sacrifices of many who have fought for our freedom
  • The sacrifices of my mother
  • And the eternal love stamped upon me in the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross.

Take a moment to remember and give thanks.

What do you think?

Hal

The Christian Calendar

One of the things the early church developed was the liturgical calendar to help Christians learn about, remember and live out the life of Jesus. Over the years the Eastern and Western traditions of the Church have modified their own liturgical calendars. There are some differences but they are mostly the same. While Christians are not required to recognize or use the Christian  liturgical calendar, many have found it useful in practicing our faith, myself included.

While we are more familiar with the Gregorian Calendar which we use today, which begins in January and concludes with        December—what we call the calendar year—the Christian calendar is different. What does it look like?

  • Advent: the four Sundays prior to Christmas. Advent means “coming”, so it is a time when we prepare ourselves for the   celebration of Christmas, and remember that Jesus will come again.
  • Christmas (or Christmastide): begins Christmas Day and runs twelve days to Epiphany, January 6, customarily understood as the day when the Wise Men visited Jesus. While most of the world wraps up Christmas on December 26th, many Christians are just beginning their Christmas celebration.
  • Epiphany, January 6: a time to focus on recognition of Jesus as God’s Son, remembering how God manifested himself in Jesus’ life through his teaching, his example in living , his healing and his compassionate love especially for those considered outcasts. For me this season lasts until Lent.
  • Lent: beginning with Ash Wednesday, the Wednesday seven weeks before Easter. It is a time to remember Jesus’ humanity, his suffering, and our mortality; it is a time to contemplate the cost of following Jesus.
  • Holy Week: which includes remembrance of two important events in Jesus’ life—his last supper with his disciples, Maundy Thursday (from the Latin: Mandatum-Jesus command to love one another) and Good Friday, a remembrance of Jesus suffering death. We offer worship opportunities on these two days, though most people don’t give them a thought on the way to Easter.
  • Easter: a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday morning following the Friday of his death, the third day (Friday, Saturday, Sunday). The season of Easter runs for seven weeks after Easter. We often focus on Jesus’ resurrection appearances.
  • Pentecost: the seventh Sunday after Easter, when we recall and celebrate God’s outpouring of the Holy Spirit and, in the eyes of some, the birth of the church. Technically Pentecost lasts one day, and then the time from Pentecost to Advent is called “Ordinary Time”. I rather like to think of Pentecost lasting all the way through to Advent. As the longest season it reminds us that the life of discipleship is a marathon, not a 100 yard dash. It is a long season. It also reminds us that we are to live each day as if it is the last or the day of Jesus’ return, worshiping and serving God faithfully.

As we enter the month of April this year, we come nearer to the moment of Jesus’ suffering and death. I encourage you as you gather to worship to focus on the white cross in our sanctuary. As you look at it, what event in Jesus’ life does it shine a light on? What emotions does it evoke in you? What is the significance of the cross for you? For Christians in general? What difference does it make in your daily life? What does it mean to you when Jesus tells you that if you want to be his disciple you must take up your own cross and carry it daily? What does it mean that if you want to gain abundant life you must lose your life? What questions do you bring to the cross?

I look forward to sharing the journey of discipleship with you.

Grace and Peace,

Hal

 

Where My Story Intersects with God’s Story

 

In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.  I Peter 3:15

We have been using this verse as our theme in our study of I Peter. Peter, a disciple of Jesus and an early church   leader, was writing to first and second generation Christians who were experiencing persecution. His purpose was to           encourage them, in spite of their suffering, to remember why God had called them as a people: to witness to the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. In every circumstance Peter counsels them how to give their best witness. While life in first century  Roman Empire was very different from our time, God reveals important wisdom for our lives today.

As I begin each day I pray three things: I give thanks for a night’s rest and the gift of a new day of life. Trusting that God has given each day for his purpose, I express my hope that I might live into God’s purpose in that day. I like beginning each day in gratitude. It helps me remember  to live gratefully, to focus on what I have rather than on what I do not have (and may want). Second, I remind myself that God is sovereign, that God is unfolding his plan and purpose even in that moment, and that God is working for my good. I need to remember that. And finally it gives me direction, purpose and inspiration to see my life each day as living out God’s purpose. I like knowing that I am part of a much broader narrative—God’s story. This also helps me to be mindful of God’s faithful provision in my life. This is where my story intersects with God’s story. Through this process, the first ten to twenty seconds of each day, God fills me with energy, joy and hope. It’s a good way to begin a day.

Now don’t get me wrong. My days are not easy or without problems. I face many personal challenges and enter into the trials of others. I am often discouraged and perplexed. Like many of you my strength is drained by problems of the day, by doubt when I question where God is or what God is doing. I’m even tempted to give up on God. Yet in the midst of life’s trials I remember the things for which I am grateful; I remember that life on this earth is ephemeral, thus precious; I remember that God will never give up on me; I remember that no matter how I feel, God’s love for me is steadfast and it endures forever. I remember that I am on a mission to declare and reflect God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ. And then I am home again in the presence of the living God.

What about you? How do you begin each day? What gets you through the trials, the stress, the ennui (weariness and discontent) of each day? What motivates you? What guides your thoughts and actions?

As we begin the journey of Lent (beginning March 1 to Easter) may we reflect upon these and other questions. As a community of faith we will begin the Lenten journey in worship. Our Ash Wednesday worship will be March 1 at 7:00pm in our sanctuary. It is a good time to remember Jesus’ call to be his disciples and what that means. I am reminded how God laid down his own life through his Son, Jesus, proof of his sacrificial love. Do you ever think about Jesus dying for you or for someone else? What difference does that truth make in your life? How does it influence your daily living?

I count it a privilege to share this journey with you. I invite  you  to renew your faith in our Ash Wednesday worship on March 1. Maybe a good time to invite a friend. A good spiritual conversation might ensue from that experience. Who knows?

Blessings,

Hal

Vision and Purpose: Living the Christian Life

 

During January we have been using our Covenant Vision in worship. For three Sundays we joined in declaring what we believe is God’s vision for ourselves as one part of Christ’s Body. There is a difference between saying it and actually believing or buying into what we say. Does this vision help form who we are as Christ followers? Let’s think about our vision so that, just maybe, it will become “our “ vision. I want to look at the four statements in our vision and encourage you to think about what they mean to you.

  1. Covenant’s vision is to be a Christ-centered church where our love for God is evident in all we do.

What does this mean to you? How are you living out this vision?

  1. Our vision is to be a growing church, living as exemplary followers of Jesus Christ, viewing the world biblically, making disciples intentionally, and serving the church faithfully in the power of the Holy Spirit.

What does this mean to you? How are you living out this vision?

  1. Our vision is to be a church known in the community for open doors, acts of grace, God-centered worship and growing leaders.

What does this mean to you? How are you living out this vision?

  1. This family of faith envisions each of us loving and ministering to all people whom God brings into his or her presence.

What does this mean to you? How are you living out this vision?

Now consider our stated purpose: To make disciples of Jesus Christ who love God, love each other , and serve in the world.

What does this mean to you? How are you living out this purpose?

As we enter 2017 the time is ripe for considering new things, for reevaluating our lives. Why am I a Christian? Does it make any difference in my life? How is my life formed by my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and his written word? How do I think God wants to mold or grow me in this coming year? Am I ready for the adventure?

Proverbs 29:18 says “Where there is no vision (revelation from God), the people cast off restraint (wander aimlessly  and perish); but blessed is the one who is guided by God’s word.”

What, or who is guiding you? What or who is forming your most important relationships?

I look forward to joining you in the 2017 adventure of faith.

 

Grateful

I often return to Paul’s sense of gratitude in his letter to the Christians in Philippi, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel….., being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:2-6)

This Fall I have relished the partnership we have in the good news of Jesus Christ, a deposit that has been handed down to us for 2000 years. What a joy it has been to witness God’s sovereign hand in you. I have seen God’s work in you as we:

  • Reach out to our community and world.
  • Grow in our knowledge, understanding and application of God’s Word.
  • Worship God in joy and gladness.
  • Honor our Super Senior Members. Thank you for your faithful witness.
  • Maintain our Covenant facility so that it can continue to be used for our community, to advance God’s glory.

The weekend of November 13 was very special. Thank you to all who contributed to rich and passionate worship as we ordained and installed David as our new Associate Pastor. David, thank you for offering a good Word from God as we consider God’s sovereign hand among us. Bryan Fraser, Alison’s father, provided a welcomed twist in playing the bagpipes, a reminder of Presbyterianism’s Scottish roots. We appreciated the presence of representatives from other churches in our presbytery and the warm support of David and Alison’s families and friends who came from near and far. Several of you commented that you appreciated being part of an ordination service.

As we venture into Advent, preparing ourselves for Christmas, may we continue to be alert to God’s sovereign presence among us. May we grow in our awareness of God’s presence and power at work in the church and the world. And may we look forward to a new year, trusting daily that we live in the palm of God’s hands.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!!!AMEN!!!” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

 

 

 

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

In the Fall of 2013, our Session approved the undertaking of a plan to celebrate Covenant’s strong heritage and strengthen Covenant for the future. We set out a three year plan with three phases, with specific goals for each phase. Sheila Cloud graciously accepted the call to lead this effort, and she has done an outstanding job. The current make-up of the team (Special Ops)is: Sheila Cloud, chair, Ray Rowley, Kerry Rowley, Debbie Hester, Tom Coon, and Roland Walker. Numerous others have worked on specific tasks over the past two and one half years. This team has worked diligently under the authority of our Session through our Administration Team. What has this group accomplished? Let’s take a look.

Phase 1

The first thing we realized we needed was a Covenant Operations Manual. We had all this institutional information inside peoples’ heads, but it was not recorded anywhere; it was not accessible. So the team set out to develop a comprehensive manual providing details of the history, policy, organization and governance of Covenant. We interviewed hundreds of people to determine the many ways different people are serving within Covenant. We have documented most, if not all, of them. We documented position descriptions for staff and volunteers, so that if someone accepts a new volunteer position, they have access to the description of that volunteer job. They realized that maintaining such a Manual would be ongoing, so attention has been given to how best to manage the process. Not only do we have this Manual in print (four large volumes), in addition they developed the Covenant Wiki. It is now online so anyone can access this information. This has been immensely helpful to David Kling as he began as our Associate Pastor.

Phase 2

Our Special Ops Team supported the Session in reviving our Associate Pastor Search Team (APST), realizing the importance of filling this position at this time. Our APST restarted their work last December and worked diligently toward calling David Kling as our new Associate Pastor. With David joining new staff members, Steven Herriott, Matt Carey and Lana Stapler, we are well positioned to move into the future with superior leadership.

In addition, our Special Ops Team began the process of helping us through a self –assessment. They identified a tool, CHURCH HEALTH ASSESSMENT TOOL (CHAT). In May 2015 approximately 200 of you participated in this process, taking the in-depth survey. Thank you for helping with this. Following the survey, Special Ops spent months evaluating the assessment, determining our strengths and weaknesses as a church. From that they developed a visioning process, involving about fifty people who participated in a visioning workshop. Further, we received almost 150 “ideas” from you. All of these were considered as they adopted a new Covenant Vision:

Covenant’s vision is to be a Christ-centered church where our love for God is evident in all that we do.  Our vision is to be a growing church, living as exemplary followers of Jesus Christ, viewing the world biblically, making disciples intentionally, and serving the Church faithfully in the power of the Holy Spirit. Our vision is to be a church known in the community for open doors, acts of grace, God-centered worship and growing leaders. This family of faith envisions each of us loving and ministering to all people whom God brings into his or her presence.

PHASE 3

Our Special Ops Team is currently working with David Kling to develop a new strategic plan for our ministry going forward. This new plan will guide us into the next five years. This Fall they will be engaging our Session and a small group of leaders and then plan to engage the whole congregation in 2017. You will be hearing more about this.

This is one of the most exciting times to be a follower of Jesus within Covenant. God has been faithful to us in providing strong, sound leadership. God has been faithful in lifting up so many – 200 to 300- to serve in a variety of ways. Each of us seeking to glorify and enjoy God through our service. This is God’s vision for us- “from (Christ) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”(Ephesians 4:16)

Thank you for the privilege of sharing this journey with you.

Hal

A Healthy Church

A Healthy Church

What makes for a healthy church? or a healthy family? If someone were to ask you to answer these two questions, what would you say? (QUICK, JOT DOWN YOUR THOUGHTS BEFORE YOU READ FURTHER.) Since the church is a kind of family, it seems to me that churches and families might become healthy by sharing the same traits. What might those traits be? Below I will reflect upon traits that reflect a healthy church and family. An assumption I make is that we can choose to shape and mold our families and the church as well. There are always obstacles. The largest obstacle is our own inertia, our tendency to keep moving in the same direction and resisting change. It’s hard to change the way we have always done things; but it’s not impossible. Another obstacle is the inertia of others. If you have ever tried to change others, or effect change in others, you know what I mean. It’s not easy. In this instance I think it is most helpful to concentrate on changes within ourselves. So, let’s begin to think together about what makes a healthy church and family.

First, a healthy church is committed to glorifying God.  The Westminster Confession of Faith Shorter Catechism begins with this question: What is the chief end of humanity? To glorify God and enjoy him forever. In I Corinthians 10:31, we are enjoined ,”Whatever you do , do all to the glory of God.” If this is God’s purpose for us, then it makes sense that churches and families who seek to glorify God in thought, word and deed, are living as we are created to live. If we were to ask ourselves before we speak or act within the church or our families, will what I am about to say or do glorify God, can you imagine how we might be healthier in our relationships? We would also be committed to worshiping God on the Sabbath and throughout the week. How might this affect the larger church body and your personal family?

Second, a healthy church and family would seek to balance Biblical instruction with personal application of the Scriptures. What if you were absolutely committed to growing in your knowledge, understanding and application of God’s Word? Acts 2:42 says the early Christian church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching”, much of which became our New Testament. Growing in God’s Word does at least three good things for us: it matures and stabilizes our faith in times of testing; it increases our ability to detect and confront error; it gives us wisdom(which, in Hebrew tradition, was the ability to see life and the world as God sees it). Chuck Swindoll once said that biblical teaching that remains theoretical can breed indifference or arrogance. It does not change lives. Preaching that fails to balance instruction with love and grace may reflect intolerance. And when biblical knowledge becomes an end in itself, it comes dangerously close to idolatry—worshiping the Bible above God. These principles build up a family, whether the one in your home or the larger church family.

Third, a healthy church and family exudes warmth and care for one another. Acts 2:42 also says the early church, meeting in homes at that time, “devoted themselves to fellowship.” They truly cared for one another. They took time to know each other, to see each others’ needs. This is important within our homes and within the larger church. How do you take time to get to know one another within your family? I mean really get to know each other at a deeper emotional level. Do you know each others’ hopes, dreams and goals in life and faith? Do you know the burdens the others are carrying? What fears they harbor? Within the larger church, we can’t know everyone, but we can make sure we getting to know someone or some smaller group.

Fourth, a healthy church and family reaches out to others. Caring for one another is important and good for us. It helps us love and feel loved. Enlarging our love for others outside our families and church not only gives away our love to others; it is also good for us; it makes us healthier. For one, it strengthens our purpose in life. It also gives us perspective regarding our own problems. We realize we are not alone in our own struggles when we get involved in the lives of others. We see that others may be struggling at a deeper level than we are. A family that is solely focused on itself is not preparing itself for the time when children will spread their wings and fly. Likewise, a church that is solely focused on itself is not preparing for the future; it is missing out on those who might bring new ideas and life into your church.

As we move into the future I hope we will develop a heart to grow healthier as a church and within our own families (whether immediate or extended). Consider what it would look like to nurture these traits within Covenant and within your own family. May we continue to be good for one another.

In Christ’s Service,

Hal

 

Staff Update

At the time you read this you likely know that we elected David Kling to serve as our Associate Pastor, to begin work in late July. He still must pass his examination before the gathered body of North Alabama Presbytery on July 19. We are confident he will. David will preach on Sunday, July 31st. I want to thank the Associate Pastor Search Team for their good work: Robin Strong, Ray Rowley, Lora Keiser, Debbie Hester, Martha Lehmann, Nita Maddox, Steven Herriott, Tom Cunningham and Joe Jones. They have done an excellent job.

With the addition of Steven Herriott (Director of Youth and Families), Lana Stapler (Executive Assistant to Pastors), Ben Tieslau (Director of Music), we now have an outstanding staff to join me, Cyndy Sarkisian, Betty Augsburger,  Susan Pendergrass, Alice Searcy and Eddie Glasser. I am overwhelmed with excitement and gratitude.

Now a few details to inform you of our plans:

  • Ben Tieslau will begin as our new Director of Music Ministry on July 1. He will be helping with worship and planning during July.
  • Second, Richard Brooks will continue to serve as our Assistant Pastor through July 31st as I will be away on vacation and study leave to plan worship and preaching for the year. Following this, Richard will spend some special time enjoying a second try at retirement with his family. In the Fall we will sit down and consider ways he may serve among us as a volunteer Parish Associate. Richard has become a good friend and colleague during the past seven months. More importantly, he has become one of the pastors of Covenant. He has served us well and you have extended a warm welcome and acceptance of him. Thank you.
  • Our primary task will be to help our new staff grow into their leadership roles. I ask you to pray for them and be open to ways you can help them.

I continue to thank God for the privilege of serving alongside you. God is doing some amazing things among us as we seek to advance God’s kingdom on earth. I covet your prayers.

Blessings,

Hal

To the Holy Land

Tomorrow, Jean and I will board a plane to Israel and the Palestinian Territory. Twenty-one of us will share the journey. It still doesn’t seem real, but it is beginning to sink in. All my life I have read and studied the Bible, learning the geography, culture, teachings and politics of this region. I go with mixed emotions. A part of me resists elevating the meaning of geography. Yes, our Lord Jesus  was born there and walked the area. Names like Galilee, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jordan River, Gethsemane, Jerusalem mean something to me. At the same time I am confident that God does not reside only or even extraordinarily in a particular place. I walk with Jesus each day in Huntsville. He has carried me in his arms everywhere I have gone. Yet, I expect the experience to be a palpable one. Walking biblical history will stir emotions and evoke thoughts that will change me. Seeing the geography of the Bible will awaken a  new and deeper understanding of God’s Word. I am also interesting in developing a deeper and fuller  understanding of the political situation in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.  I have always believed that Israel has a right to exist as a nation, but that the Palestinian people justly deserve the same right. My prayer and hope is that both would find a way to live in respectful peace and justice. Unfortunately, that has not happened and I am not optimistic that it will happen any time soon. I expect to leave with a better understanding, and even more questions. Please pray for the peace of Jerusalem. That name, Jeru=city; salem=peace, wholeness; it would seem a contradiction in terms. But I believe it is God’s vision. I have been reflecting on Psalm 133:

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!

It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard,

Running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes.

It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.

For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.

Is the psalmist speaking of a geographical city, or God’s vision for humanity? Or both?

We ask your prayers as we travel.

Hal

Welcome, Steven!

It is with considerable joy that I share the good news that we (our Session) have called Steven Herriott to service as our new Director of Youth and  Families.  As I mentioned in last month’s newsletter, he will devote 75% of his time to Youth Ministry and 25% to Family Ministry.  He, our Associate Pastor, and Cyndy (Director of Children’s Ministry) will work together in discipling young families/children and youth.

Now, who is Steven? Steven joined Covenant in middle school and became a leader in our youth ministry, serving as high school and college  intern.  He knows our philosophy of growing student disciples and has served as a volunteer in a previous church.  Steven has taught elementary school in Birmingham and Huntsville for eleven years.  He has a BS in     Elementary Education from Samford and a Masters from UAB. He is a gifted young man who is married to Victoria (Christian) Herriott.  They have four beautiful young children.  Both are active in our Young Adults Ministry.  We know Steven, and have known him for many years.  And that is important.  In addition, he is a gifted young man who will serve well.

He will be serving as our Temporary Youth Director for June and July, a full-time position, and will start his new position August 1st.  Please welcome and pray for Steven and his family as he joins our staff leadership team.

What about our other positions?  Our Associate Pastor Search Team is in the process of interviewing candidates. We are hopeful these will prove fruitful for us.

Our Director of Music Search Team is in the process of interviewing candidates and are hopeful one of them will serve among us.

Finally, our Executive Assistant to the Pastors Search Team is also interviewing candidates and reviewing resumes.  As with the other positions, we are excited to be in conversation with some talented people.

I want to thank our Session which has worked diligently and respectfully in discerning our needs and developing a staff leadership model to help us move forward.

And, a very special thank you to Richard Brooks who continues to serve as our part time Assistant Pastor.

What a joy it is to serve among you!

Grace and love,

Hal

 

 

Covenant’s Future

 

As we move into Spring, it has been exciting to walk the path of Jesus during Holy Week. Remembering his entrance into Jerusalem, the crowds celebrating the upcoming holy day, then facing betrayal, arrest, an unfair trial , suffering and death….and then the Resurrection. Celebrating the lives and resurrection of George Woodward and Teresia Reid were worthy worshipful expressions of our faith in the midst of life. Thank you to all who surrounded these families and helped with the receptions. I especially appreciate our deacons who led the effort in the receptions:  good times to enjoy fellowship. In addition, thank you to Richard Brooks for his pastoral ministry in my absence, and to our office staff and their support of Richard.

I would also like to thank our choirs and Chris Walters (our Interim Music Director) and Betty Augsburger (our Organist/Pianist/Harpist) for their leadership in worship throughout Lent and especially during Holy Week. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday were extraordinary experiences of worship as we remembered Jesus’ last supper with his disciples and his suffering and sacrificial death on the cross. Friday night as we left, it was dark and getting cold. But the thought occurred that “Sunday’s a-coming.” As I type this on Saturday night I wait with enthusiastic anticipation for our Easter celebration. What a privilege to gather freely to worship, celebrating Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and the inheritance that awaits us. George and Teresia, you join that great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) and are at this very moment cheering us on in the arena of life.

I would like to inform you about our progress relating to staff leadership positions. First, our Associate Pastor Search Team has reviewed almost a hundred resumes and conducted three Skype interviews. We are finalizing a personal visit for later in April or early May. We tried to arrange another but the candidate accepted another position. It makes sense that if we like someone, another church likes them as well. The team is prayerfully reading resumes, discussing our needs and discerning those who best fit Covenant. Please pray for them.

In March, after three months of prayerful discussion, our Session made important decisions regarding two positions: youth and music/worship. First of all, we decided to seek a full-time Director of Youth and Young Families/Adults . Looking to Covenant’s future, we agreed that our youth ministry remains a priority, and we see the value of adding Young Families/Adults to this position. The breakdown will be 75% Youth and 25% Young Families. The Associate Pastor would share in this responsibility. What we hope to create is a powerful and effective synergy between our Associate Pastor, Director of Youth and Young Families/Adults and Cyndy, our Director of Children’s Ministry. We hope this will help us excel in discipling the young families who are part of Covenant, and aid in our outreach to young adults/families. We have our eye on someone at this time and are prayerfully moving to make this happen. We hope to complete these plans by late April. We will communicate with you as soon as our plans are finalized.

We also decided to proceed with a search for a part-time Director of Music Ministry. As we discussed our needs and financial ability, it became clear that we could build an effective music and worship ministry using part time staff. In addition, as we look to the future, we concluded that we cannot afford four full-time staff leadership positions. We have appreciated Chris Walters work among us and would have loved to have him continue in this part time role. However, we recently learned that he will be moving to Atlanta to assume a new job. So we have set a search team for this Director of Music position and hope to make a decision by May. We already have several people who have expressed interest in serving at Covenant. The members of the search team are: Jack Royster (chair and Elder Worship Team), Art Woodling (Elder Worship Team), Rebecca Boone (Elder Admin Team), Sheila Cloud (Elder Admin Team), Marian Woerner (Choir Member), Syd Hoyt (Choir Member), Annette Shingler (Choir Member), David Wilkie (Choir Member) and Tanner Lindbloom.

Finally, our Session approved the position of Executive Assistant to the Pastors, a part-time position of 25-32 hours to replace Debbie upon her retirement May 31st. They decided to consider someone who is not a Covenant member, thinking it would be good to have one office staff member from outside Covenant. The search team will be: Rebecca Boone (Elder Admin), Sheila Cloud (Elder Admin), Bill McDowell, Alice Searcy, Susan Pendergrass and Hal (ex officio).

Please keep all of these  leadership teams in your prayers as we prepare for our future which God so faithfully holds.

Blessings Upon You,

Hal

 

Building Together

I have enjoyed reflecting upon our new Covenant Vision during February.  Thank you to our Special Ops Team for designing the devotional.

Covenant’s vision is to be a Christ-centered church where our love for God is evident in all that we do.  Our vision is to be a growing church, living as exemplary followers of Jesus Christ, viewing the world biblically, making disciples intentionally, and serving the Church faithfully in the power of the Holy Spirit. Our vision is to be a church known in the community for open doors, acts of grace, God-centered worship and growing leaders. This family of faith envisions each of us loving and ministering to all people whom God brings into his or her presence.

Several phrases have enriched my spiritual growth.  “Living as exemplary followers of Jesus Christ…making disciples intentionally…to be a church known in the community for open doors, acts of grace,….loving and ministering to all people whom God brings into his or her presence.”

As we embark on a new Habitat house (see schedule on page 3) I have been thinking about our vision.  Building a house for a family, joining with others in this work, …these are ways in which we live out God’s vision for us.

First I would like to thank Nes Cumings for stepping up once again to lead our construction effort.  As I have said, we need someone who actually knows how to build a house, and Nes has served as Habitat construction leader many times.  Thank you also to Tom Cummings (and Cheryl who made our poster) for service as our volunteer organizational leader.  Thank you to Richard Brooks, our new part-time Assistant Pastor, who is guiding this process and connecting with our “build partners.”  I am excited that we will be joining with several other churches and the Islamic community.

Last week someone asked me why we are engaging with the Islamic community.  A good  question, which led to a fruitful conversation.  Let me share four reasons why we have invited the Islamic community to work with us.  First, Jesus called us to “go and make disciples of all nations (people groups).” J. Dudley Woodberry, Professor of World Mission and Islamic Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, stated, “As Christians, we are enjoined to love God and people.  Part of the love of both is sharing the gospel, drawing more people to God through Jesus Christ.  Muslims are people—they are people God loves.  It’s not that God will love them when they become Christians; God loves them now.  We are called to do the same.  How can we love them if we don’t know them?”  The first reason is to engage with the Muslim community in such a way that we would be winsome witnesses for Jesus Christ.  It is my hope that the Muslims who join with us will walk away thinking, “These Christians are wonderful, gracious people.”  Just maybe, we will plant a seed.  Second, I hope we who serve in this ministry will discover Muslims who are people just as we are.  They love their families and friends and are trying to live as nobly as they can.  I’m reminded of an iconic line in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, “I think there’s just one kind of folks.  Folks.” Our eyes might be opened so that we may challenge some of the hatred we hear.  Third, I hope we will be a winsome witness to our community, examples of people who value reconciliation between diverse cultural groups.  Fourth, I hope we might be the ones who make a difference in a Muslim’s life.  I recently read an article by Yazmin Ali, a Muslim– American woman.  Her father is Muslim; her mother is an evangelical Christian.  She has experienced nasty looks, distrust and even hatred from strangers because she wears the traditional hijab (head covering).  According to FBI statistics, hate crimes decreased for all categories of victims except Muslims.  It is precisely these kind of hate crimes that could cause someone to withdraw from society and radicalize.  I like to think my personal conduct with Muslims, conveying acceptance and friendship, will make our society safer for all.

I hope you will join our team to build this house and/or bring snacks on Saturday.  Our goal is to involve over 100 people from Covenant.  Invite a work colleague or a neighbor. Come as a couple.  Join your child (must be 16 years of age) for a Saturday morning work session.  Help us make a difference in our community.

Blessings,

Hal

 

What’s Coming in 2016?

As we begin a new year, let me share with you a few things that are in store for 2016.  First as you are aware, Bryan and Suzanne Page are moving to Dallas where he will serve as Director of Music at Northridge Presbyterian Church.  Thank you to all who made their final Sunday a joyous celebration.

Beginning Sunday, January 31st, Dr. Chris Walters became our Interim Director of Choirs, conducting our Sanctuary and handbell choirs.  Chris is an experienced choral conductor and is currently director of choirs at Randolph School. I hope you will pray for and welcome him as he serves among us.  Moreover, we hope some of you will decide to jump in and become a part of our choir ministry.

Our Associate Pastor Search Team (Robin Strong, Ray Rowley, Lora Keiser, Joe Jones, Martha Lehmann, Nita Maddox, Tom Cunningham, Debbie Hester and Steven Herriott) is beginning to read and evaluate resumés.  We are advertising our positon nationwide.  Our hope is to call someone by this summer, but our main task is to discern God’s Will for the right person for Covenant.

What about leadership in youth and music/worship?  During the next two months our Session will be discussing staffing models and hopefully will make a decision by early spring as to how we will proceed.  Do we need full time or part time?  What can we afford?  Both full-time positions are included in our 2016 Ministry Budget.  We welcome your input and prayers.

In addition, Debbie Hughes our church secretary, will be retiring May 31st after serving faithfully for 25 years. Our Administration Team has been thinking about office staffing models for two years and, as a result, we plan to change the position from a full-time church secretary to a part time (25-30 hours) Executive Assistant without benefits.  This change is based on an assessment of our needs and finances.

What else in 2016?

Covenant’s 14th Habitat House!

An Opportunity to Make a Difference!

In 1990 Covenant led the effort to pay for and build Huntsville’s first Habitat house.  In 2012 the Love Family paid their mortgage in full.  Since 1990 we have built 13 houses joining many churches and other groups.  Nes Cumings will be the Construction Leader and we will be joined, as of now, by Faith and Fellowship Presbyterian Churches.  (We are still exploring other partners.)  We are committing over $18,000 to this building project.  (Thank you for your gifts.)

Our goal is to involve 100 or more volunteers in this effort.  We need a small team of people who would organize our volunteer effort and do publicity.  Contact Kerry Rowley at the.rowleys@knology.net, Andy Glover at ag1987@yahoo.com, or Hal at hal.oakley@covhsv.org. Work days will be Tuesday and Thursday from 8-noon (all you retired people!) and Saturday 8-1pm.

Does it matter how we help people?

In 1988 Bill McDowell and I traveled to Atlanta to visit with Bob Lupton, founder and director of FCS Ministries in the Grant Park area. Second Mile was in its infancy. We knew God was calling us to make a difference in the Terry Heights community, but how. What is the best way to help people? That day we visited their thrift store, called “Dignity for Dads.” FCS vowed from the beginning not to give things to people; rather, they would help the neediest people to purchase what they needed and desired at an affordable cost. They wanted to help without stealing people’s pride and dignity. We were duly impressed and returned to Huntsville to think and pray about how we might help in ways that guard people’s dignity. We had learned a lot.

We learned that it is appropriate and helpful to give things to people in emergencies, in the middle of the crisis. For example, Red Cross provides clothing and other things when people experience a disaster, when they have lost most everything. But they stay there only a short time until they have given people a boost toward the future. So it is good to give things to people in a crisis. However, we are learning that it is not good to keep giving things to people for the long term; it steals people’s dignity; it communicates to them that we don’t think they can do things for themselves; it creates an unhealthy and destructive dependency, which can continue through generations. This educational foundation led us to take our next step of providing toys during Christmas at a low cost. Out of that prayer group we decided in September ’88 to open a Christmas store, “Santa’s Secret Shoppe” for the month of December. We found a building in Terry Heights that had been condemned due to the construction of I-565. One Wednesday night dinner at Covenant we approached Ann Witherspoon, a recent college graduate, about directing the ministry. She said, “Sure”. And we were off. Through donations of new, good used toys and financial gifts that allowed us to purchase other toys, we opened the store from December 1-December 24. We wondered if anyone would show up. And people did come to shop. The community response was positive. We gave parents the opportunity to purchase toys and other gifts for their children’s Christmas. We gave them the sense of joy and pride that parents experience when they know they are providing for their children.  The next year we had to find a new building and we renovated the garage at Second Mile’s office and held Santa’s Secret Shoppe there. People still came

because they wanted to provide for their own children. The next year The Neighborhood Store/Pride for Parents was born and grew into a year round ministry. Parents who did not have money could (and still can) work in the store and earn credit with which to buy gifts for their children. This happens every year. Helping in ways that guard people’s dignity. Helping in a way that gives people a boost, not a hand out. I have watched parents stand in line at Christmas gift give-a-ways. They stand there, sometimes with their children, waiting to “get“ their “free” gift. Sometimes they must prove they are poor, or live in subsidized housing. Does it matter how we help people?

Recently Bill shared a Chinese poem:

Go to the people, live among them, Learn from them, love them.

Start with what you know. Build on what they have.

But the best leaders, when their task is done, the people will remark,

“We have done it ourselves.”

We believe it does matter how we help others, that we help others in ways that guard their dignity, strengthen them to go forward in hope. This is why Second Mile has been a signature ministry of Covenant’s outreach for twenty-nine years.

You can help provide new and good used toys for parents to purchase for their children at an affordable cost by bringing them to Covenant. As you enter our narthex/hallway you will see a brightly decorated BOX where you can deposit toys. Yes it is true. We will not get to see the bright smiles on the eyes of the children who will receive them. But their parents will. And that’s exactly what we want.

Making a Difference By Being Jesus’ Presence,

Hal

The Body

One of the metaphors in the Bible is the “body.”  The church is likened to a human body.

I Corinthians 12:12 says, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.  So it is with Christ.”  In other words, the church, like the human body, is one family, made up of many members.

Another biblical truth expressed in this passage.  Verse 15 “If the foot should say,
‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body.’….But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be…As it is there are many parts, but one body.”

In the church people sometimes think that they are insignificant.  The way they serve is not as visible or considered by many to be of less value to the body.  The Bible reminds us that each part of the Body of Christ is significant no matter how small it seems.  Paul reminds us in verse 27, “Now you are the Body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”  Not only that, each of you is  a significant part of the Body of Christ.

When each of us is doing our part the church functions more effectively.  If some are doing their part and some are not, we do not function as well.  As we reflect upon our roles as stewards of Christ’s Church, we hope each of us will step up to serve in some way—there are no small ways.  We hope each of us will commit to serving and giving financially to building God’s Kingdom through Covenant.

I hope you will join me!

In Christ’s Service,

Hal

 

 

Generosity and Simplicity

 

This past Sunday I shared that one of the spiritual disciplines Jean and I practice is “Generosity and Simplicity.” I have enjoyed three good conversations with people who have expressed a desire to grow in this area. Below are some thoughts.

Having decided we want to be generous, we must decide what it means to be generous. For Jean and me, it entails our whole lives: Time, Talent and Financial Assets. We want to give ourselves away, and we want to give away our financial assets as well. Committing ourselves to serving others is a way to be generous. Yet we also want to be financially generous. How then do we determine what it means to be generous? Do we define it or do we ask God, seeking his wisdom in the Bible? We are committed to the latter.

How does the Bible define generosity? We find three standards of generosity in Scripture. First, Malachi 3:6-12 seems to suggest God expects us to give a tithe (10%) of our income for the building of God’s kingdom. God goes so far to say that giving less than a tithe is robbing God. We decided long ago that we did not want to rob God.  Now we realize that someone who does not believe in God would dismiss this notion. Anyone is free to do that. Second, we discover that Jesus, in whom the fullness of God resides, sacrificed for our gain. In II Corinthians 8:1-9, we see the example of sacrificial giving-giving so that we must give up something. Third, we see in Luke 21:1-4 that a widow gave everything. We are humbled by our inability to live up to such a high standard. Yet, out of deep gratitude to God, we want to grow in this direction, which leads us to give away approximately 15% of our gross income to the work of God’s kingdom. This effort grows out of God’s gracious provision in our lives. Such grace frees us to strive for a generous life.

In order to live generously we have had to do two things: l. Trust God’s  faithful provision , and 2. Simplify our lives. We simplify by purchasing fewer things and saving more. We don’t automatically buy the latest new thing. We update our home very slowly, as we are able to save. Some things we choose not to update. We buy some of our clothes at the Neighborhood Store, which helps that ministry. We use coupons. We have always had one TV. There are many ways to simplify. G. K.  Chesterton suggested that there are two ways to have enough: one is to accumulate more and more; the other is to desire less.

We made the decision to simplify our lives almost forty years ago. It has added up over time, and has empowered us to grow in generosity. We do not claim to be the most faithful or generous Christians. Quite simply , we just want to grow in our faithfulness and generosity for two reasons: l. To glorify God (II Corinthians 9:11); and 2. We want to enjoy the fruit of God’s blessing (II Corinthians 9:6). We do not believe being faithful to God will make us multi-millionaires; however, we do believe the concept of stewardship impacts the quality of our lives. Erich Fromm, noted German psychologist, once said, “the essential difference between the unhappy neurotic type person and the person of great happiness and joy is the difference between get and give.”

In our experience there is some truth there, as it echoes biblical truth.

To the Glory of God,

Hal

 

 

Lifelong Journey of Growth

While in Montana this past summer we spent time with our son, Nathan and his family.  We enjoyed activities with our grandchildren.  One of the things that struck me was how our three grandsons talked a lot about their height.  On several occasions they would get out the measuring tape to see how much they had grown, as if we could see the growth in a matter of days.  They would ask, “Cap, Mimi, how much have I grown?”  Since two days ago?  We would respond by reaffirming that they were growing, encourage them to eat fruits and vegetables, and remind them that the stature of a man is not measured in inches and feet.  No matter.  We were measuring them again in a couple of days.  I understand all little boys want to grow up fast.

I don’t know about you, but continued growth is important to me.  Well, let me put it this way.  I’m trying not to grow my waist and other areas, but still value growing emotionally and spiritually.  This fall Jean and I will celebrate our 40th anniversary.  We have changed over these 40 years.  We’re not the same people, as we have journeyed through the trials and joys of life.  We have recognized and value the opportunities to grown emotionally and spiritually.

As we enter this fall season, I want to encourage you to consider your own spiritual growth.  Are you growing?  How?  Can you articulate it to someone?  (I’m always willing to listen and celebrate spiritual growth). What has stimulated growth in you?  Most of us would acknowledge that we have grown significantly during trials.  We understand and accept this, but most of us don’t want to plan additional trials in our lives.  I know Jean and I have grown through times of small group study of scripture.  We have experienced numerous small groups, all of them different, yet, all of them have contributed to our spiritual growth.

This fall there are many small group opportunities to grow.  Sunday,  Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday mornings and Wednesday evenings.  They are advertised in this newsletter. (See pages 16-17).  All of them are open groups in which anyone may participate.

I hope you will make it a part of your weekly schedule.  One of the best places to grow is beside others.

Gratefully,

Hal

Exciting Plans

 

We have just celebrated our high school seniors and our confirmation group in worship and, once again, I have come away with a deep sense of gratitude and hope: gratitude because God revealed his power and grace in these growing young people and the adult leaders who have invested time and energy in them, and hope because I see a glimpse of the future of Christ’s Church. God is good, all the time; all the time, God is good.

I also would like to thank all of you who took the CHAT survey. Your input is important as we discern God’s leading for our future. Additionally, thank you to our Special Ops Team under the competent, caring and inspiring leadership of Sheila Cloud. We continue to encourage you to read the book, BECOMING A HEALTHY CHURCH. There are a few copies in the church office to purchase, or you can purchase an electronic copy; or you can check out the book in our library,where we have five copies. We hope many of you will choose to participate in one of our small group discussions this Fall. Once the surveys have been submitted, our Special Ops Team will receive the results and make a macro report to our Session in June. Over the summer they will analyze more deeply the results and make a fuller report to the Session and congregation in the Fall. With our findings, we will engage the congregation in setting a course for the next five years. We hope you will pray for Covenant, one small slice of Christ’s worldwide Church.

Looking to the summer, I want to share with you some exciting plans. Our Session, recognizing that I have been the only pastor at Covenant for the past two years, has asked Jean and me to step away from pastoral leadership from June 22- July 31. We had already planned vacation and study leave time, but now will add some more time away with Jean’s parents and our children. They want us to take time away to rest from leadership and pastoral concerns so that we can discern God’s leading in our lives for the next few years. While we are away, Dr. Charlie Durham and his wife, Sandy, will join our Covenant community and Charlie will provide pastoral leadership. Charlie recently retired as Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Tuscaloosa after twenty-five years of leadership. Freida Howell and George and Mary Ann Woodward will gladly tell you about how great Charlie and Sandy are as they have children and grandchildren who have grown and served under his leadership. From January to May, Charlie provided  interim pastoral leadership at First Pres, Huntsville, and they loved him. I love you very much and it means a lot to me that you will be served by a fine, faithful servant of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  While here Charlie will preach (leading you through a series on Jacob), provide pastoral care, immerse himself in the life of Covenant, and serve as a consultant for ministry and leadership to our Session. I have recently gotten to know Charlie and Sandy and am thankful that Covenant will be in the hands of a competent, faithful Christian leader. I trust you will love them as well as you have loved us. We will return at the beginning of August.

We would appreciate your prayers for Charlie and Sandy, and for Jean and me, and our Session , Deacons and Trustees as they provide faithful, dedicated leadership. We are truly blessed. We count it all joy to serve alongside you.

Blessings,

Hal