New Church Plant

ShipOfFools_web_07292016“Now those who were scattered
went about preaching the word.”
(Acts 8:4)

New Church Plant

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Maryam and I worshiped Sundays at Lewinsville Presbyterian Church in McLean, Virginia after we were married there in 1984, commuting for two years from Shirlington and then from Centreville where we purchased our first home. The half-hour commute from Centreville, however, became tedious and made participation in activities after work during the week difficult. When we received a circular in the mail about a new Presbyterian congregation being organized in Centreville, we were eager to check it out.

The circular directed us to Chantilly National Golf and Country Club on Braddock Road, about 2 miles down the road from our home on Shipley Court. On that Sunday morning on January 18, 1987, we had wet slushy snow so we were happy not to have to drive to McLean. The meeting room was in the back, down a long, narrow hallway past a small bar with patrons sitting on the stools who turned around and gave us the eye as we walked past. While Maryam would normally turn heads when she walked by, I was not used to such attention—even in my suit. The meeting room was packed with 40-50 people, most of whom we had never seen before.

The pastor that morning, Richard (Dick) G. Hutcheson, Jr., was an experienced and stately speaker, a retired Navy chaplain who had attained the rank of Admiral. I remember the elegant pacing of his voice and his ability to employ rhetorical flourishes when he spoke. I do not remember what he spoke about, but the group was quickly hooked and most of those in attendance returned the following week, in spite of being relocated to a drafty, neighborhood clubhouse in Little Rocky Run.

The relocation took place because the congregation was dis-invited by the country club. Apparently, the patrons at the bar were not excited about having church folks see them tipping beers on Sunday morning. It is most ironic that this Centreville mission began its corporate life by being kicked out of a country club.

Ben recruited me that first Sunday in Little Rocky Run to join the pastoral search committee, but what made my commitment meaningful was Pastor Hutcheson, who had been drafted by Vienna Presbyterian Church (VPC) out of retirement to launch this church plant. Unfortunately, Dick’s heart was set on writing a book, not on pastoring another church so he stayed for six months and left. Left to fend for ourselves week after week, we were subjected to supply pastors of all stripes, some better than others, but most not willing to get involved in the hard work of organizing a church. Within a few weeks of Hutcheson’s departure, Sunday morning attendance dropped to under 20. Along the way I was invited also to join both the steering committee and the choir, in part, because there really wasn’t anyone else available.

The choir normally met in Mary’s townhouse, just off Newton Patent Drive. Being good friends with Mary, Maryam used to come with me, but she did not sing. Other choir members included Ken and Cathy, Jean, and our pianist, Sherry. We had a good time practicing hymns and choral music borrowed from other local churches. On a good Sunday, the choir made up as much as half the congregation and the choir was also well-represented on the steering committee.

This early steering committee worked rather informally relative to a formal session, in part, because few in the group had a Presbyterian background—I was one of the few—and, in part, because two-thirds of the committee represented other churches. Things happened a bit mysteriously because business got done somewhere other than in Centreville, either in VPC or National Capital Presbytery (NCP). The absence of a permanent pastoral moderator contributed to this informal operational style and to the rise of Ben, a charismatic Centreville volunteer, as a key leader in the steering committee.

The pastor search committee shared this same three-group structure, but, because VPC financed the Centreville mission, a quiet, fundamentalist from VPC, Sam, chaired the search committee. The already Byzantine call process outlined in the Presbyterian Church’s Constitution, known better as the Book of Order, plus the three-way political divide within the group made the pastoral search process long and hard. After about 18 months of reviewing personal information forms (PIFs) and interviewing selected candidates, the committee narrowed the list to three candidates—one for each of the groups. NCP volunteers supported a local female pastor who had previously organized a local church; VPC volunteers were enamored with a pastor from Indiana; and Centreville volunteers focused on a well-educated pastor, not unlike Pastor Hutcheson.

The committee decided, on my recommendation, that each of these three pastors be called in the above order until a candidate accepted our call. The NCP candidate refused the call because the vote was not unanimous; the VPC candidate refused the call over because of the financial terms; the Centreville candidate, Horace Houston, was the only one to respond to the call and he accepted. News that the search committee had called a pastor gave hope to the long-suffering congregation, exhausted by poor-quality, supply pastors—Sunday morning services, already meeting in Cub Run Elementary School for over a year at that point, were so weak that even members of the steering committee stopped attending and several left the group never to return. This announcement freed up members of the committee, like myself, to devote time and energy to other pressing needs in the group.

Still, I was exhausted. As a member of both the steering and pastoral search committees, I was only able to keep up at that point in my career only because Maryam and I delayed having children until I moved into finance and my career began to take off.  As my career began requiring more time and effort, the temporary lull in work in the Centreville mission was short-lived. Ben and Horace did not get along. When Ben’s wife volunteered to take over the group’s finance setting up the prospect of further conflict, I proposed that the sterling committee divide finances between receipts and disbursements, making it necessary then to volunteer to serve a treasurer. Horace quietly planned his own departure which he announced on the anniversary of his arrival, sending the mission into crisis—I was not the only volunteer at the point of exhaustion.[1] Pastor Peter James at VPC sensed the threat to the group and convinced NCP to initiate an accelerated call process to replace Horace.

When the new pastor was properly installed, Maryam asked me to take a breather from church leadership for three years. Taking Maryam’s request seriously and sensing the need to give the new pastor breathing room, I divested myself of the jobs that I held at the time—membership on the steering committee, the treasurer’s job, writing the annual report, chair of the chartering committee—and focused on singing in the choir.

References

Hutcheson, Jr. Richard G. 1988. God in the White House: How Religion Has Changed the Modern Presidency. New York: MacMillan Publishing Company.

General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). 1985. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): Part II, Book of Order. New York.

[1] Horace preached an excellent sermon on Psalm 103 that Sunday in June.

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Results of Book Cover Survey

Book Covers by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Book Covers by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Thank you!

I want to thank all of you that participated in my book cover survey over the past week.  The survey is now the second most popular posting on T2Pneuma.net since the blog was established in September 2013.

Who Participated?

Twenty-four people (24) completed the survey.  Everyone responding said that they speak English at home, but about 10 percent live outside the U.S. Slightly more than half of respondents (54%) were male.

Surprisingly, about that many (54%) also listed their age as under 30 years old.  Another 37% were over the age of 50—the demographic profile of most people attending church these days.  About the same number of people (71%) as in national surveys cited their religion as Christian.  The other affiliations cited were Other (21%) and Not Sure (8%).

Survey Results

The most popular choice (57%) of respondents was the Hagia Sophia book cover (1).  The second place honor was pretty evenly split among the other 3 book covers.

Rankings suggest that the Path book cover (2) was actually everyone’s second choice; the Blue Leather cover was third choice; and the Postmodern cover was the last choice.  However, this result looks suspiciously like a survey weakness because the rankings mirror the order of the covers presented in the survey.

Seventy-eight percent (78%) prefer a paperback book.  Respondents were evenly split in their preferences for electronic and hardback books.

Comments Received on the Book Covers

A total of 20 comments were received from respondents and they serve as an interpretative lens on survey numbers.

In the comments below, the numbers cited in parentheses are the ages of the respondents.  The age diversity of the different covers is truly striking.  It would be hard to anticipate the distribution of ages of respondents and religion affiliations favoring particular covers.

Hagia Sophia:

  • As a Catholic, I am drawn to icons and today, with a severe muscle spasm, I have a serious attitude, which this cover portrays. On other days, I might like the path cover. I like covers #1, 2 and 4, but not the plain blue leather, which seems noncommittal. Spirituality is perhaps the most crucial aspect of our lives and that cover seems bland. The postmodern cover is nice, but is it too busy – trying to include too much? Overall, 3 of the 4 covers are excellent in my opinion (51 to 60).
  • The cover is right in tune with the thesis of the book (61+).
  • This clearly gives the potential reader the subject matter from afar and looks great and clean (21 to 30).
  • It is a common Byzantine Christian icon, by showing the figure of Christ himself it makes the content seem important. Therefore, before you open the book the viewer is under the assumption that the material is profound (21 to 30).
  • I have always loved this one (21 to 30).
  • “Jumps out at you the most”. It is clear that it is a Christian book (51 to 60).
  • Looks more interesting and has depth (21 to 30).
  • It caught my eye as a religious book before I read the title (61+).
  • It is peaceful and meditative. The colors have such depth (61+).

Path:

  • Although the lettering is more difficult to read than the first. This cover looks more modern. An appealing book cover that looks up to date may go a long way to opening it (1-20).
  • Non suggestive. A cover anyone would see and want to know what the book is about (21 to 30).
  • This image creates a relatable book cover for all walks of life (1-20).

Blue Leather:

  • It’s a classic type of cover, not too simple and not too busy. All the other ones are too old fashion (21 to 30).
  • Hey Steves. I just asked a group of people what they thought and they liked the blue 2:1 (21 to 30).
  • It’s very simple (21 to 30).
  • I like simplicity (41 to 50).

Postmodern:

  • I like the blend of images which seems to say that there are many forms spirituality can take, not just one, even as we affirm there is one God (61+).
  • Looks the most unassuming. Blue Leather and Hagia Sophia look too pious. Path isn’t bad but I just prefer Postmodern (21 to 30).
  • Blends ancient and modern (61+).
  • It’s a nice collage and very inviting to the eye (51 to 60).

Commentary

As I drafted this survey, I had two questions on my mind.

  • Which book cover is most popular?
  • How should I match book covers to alternative editions of the book?

Clearly, the Hagia Sophia is the most popular book cover surveyed.  The only caveat to this conclusion is that because I have used the Hagia Sophia in association to the book in my postings, perhaps the survey is simply picking up this association—a kind of survey bias.  Setting this possibility aside, matching the Hagia Sophia cover to the paperback edition—the most popular cover and most popular edition—is an obvious conclusion.

Less obvious are how to choose covers for the electronic and possibly hardcover versions of the book.  The preference of young people for the Blue Leather cover may not, for example, match up well because blue leather is also more-expensive.  The use of the Postmodern cover on an electronic edition, by contrast, might make sense.

This survey was done online using SurveyMonkey (www.SurveyMonkey.com).

Background on the Book Covers

The Hagia Sophia cover (www.pallasweb.com/deesis/picturegallery.html) is a 12th century mosaic found in the Church of the Holy Wisdom in Istanbul, Turkey.  Hagia Sophia is Greek for holy wisdom.  The image that I have been using is licensed from iStock (www.IStockPhoto.com).

The Path cover is a photograph that I took on my IPhone 5 after a snow storm on March 6, 2014.  It shows the portion of Popular Tree Road in Centreville, VA which was cut off with the construction of Route 28 and turned into a part of Ellanor C. Lawrence park (www.FairfaxCounty.gov/parks/ECLawrence).

The Blue Leather cover was modeled after a number of denominational hymnals sitting on my bookshelf.

The Postmodern cover builds on the idea of a collage which is a stereotypical postmodern art form.  Articles on how to draw books covers often advise prospective artists to illustrate non-verbally the contents of your book which is easy with a collage.

The drawing on the Postmodern cover depicts Jesus’ baptism in Matthew 3:16:  And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him.  The image shows a hint of a dove (>), a hint of clouds on either side, a hint of sun beams, and a hint of a stream with Jesus (+) parting the water.

FYI.  Check out my first You-Tube video (Welcome to T2Pneuma.net!)

Results of Book Cover Survey

 

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Reconciling Strangers in Christ by Nathan Snow

Centreville Labor Resource Center
Centreville Labor Resource Center

Our guest blogger, Nathan Snow, attended a breakfast for area faith leaders and wrote this post as a reflection on the conversation that took place.  It appeared on the Centreville Presbyterian Church website (www.CentrevillePres.com) on February 26, 2014.

Visit to the Centreville Labor Resource Center

God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself… gave us the ministry of reconciliation (katallasso).” (2 Corinthians 5:18)

How often do we make friends of the invisible people that we pass daily at work or in the market? Do you know your hairdresser? Do you know the person who serves you coffee? Perhaps yes; many times no.

But even with perfect strangers we cannot, as Christians, treat people with fear or indifference. In Christ, we exchange not only money and goods, but also ourselves, our joys, and our dreams. Christ inspires us to take risks and to be open to everyone we meet.

Market places, when they operate without too many restrictions, draw us closer together and reconcile perfect strangers.

The Greek word for reconciliation “katallasso,” means to make friends by being decisively changed. The word also meant making “exact change.” Of persons, it means changing from enmity to friendship.

Richard Whately, a 19th century economist and Archbishop of Dublin, recommended the word “catallactics”, rather than economics, to refer to the study of exchange. Some economists have recently followed Whately’s lead and used this term. After all, to exchange and make friends is the whole point of a knowledge society.

Earlier this month I visited a new market place called the Centreville Labor Resource Center (www.CentrevilleLRC.org). People were friendly, smiling and talking about work and new job opportunities they had heard about. They shared information with one another over coffee and small talk. People from multiple different cultures, languages, and walks of life were joined to one another to learn new skills and ways to care for their families. This is a true market place.

But this new market was also unique, even peculiar.  Like Monster, or LinkedIn, it was like the websites many of us visit when looking for a new job.  However, these were people “off the grid”.  None of the people at the market I visited could look for a job online–they were all day-laborers. This was like a temp service for individuals who do not have access to a temp service. Undocumented workers and other day laborers are matched with contractors or individuals needing odd jobs taken care of around the house. The service protected the worker and reduced the risks to the employer of hiring a complete stranger. It is always easier to do business with friends that you know and trust.

The Centreville Labor Resource Center is a reconciling ministry: a market and a place to make friends.  It creates community. In doing so, it provides a safe, organized place where residents and contractors can negotiate work arrangements with day laborers.  And, it receives no government funds.

Biography

Nathanael Snow is an economist and amateur theologian. He and his wife spent 8 years in full time ministry to inner-city Durham, NC. His research looks at the intersection of Theology and Economics, in particular the structure of religious institutions.  Twitter @NathanaelDSnow.

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