A Note From Ashley – Covenant Newsletter, January 2018

Whether you’re engaged, have been married for ten days, or ten years, you should join us at this year’s marriage retreat. Why? I’m so glad you asked. Read in on just a few conversations I’ve had with people in the last four months about marriage:

  • we are a year in and are feeling really grateful for our marriage;
  • we think counseling, even during the healthy times, is really great for our marriage;
  • we just don’t do well with conversations about marriage;
  • hey, we really appreciate you asking, our marriage is going well;
  • we don’t handle conflict well;
  • we thought for the first 19 years of our marriage that we were doing marriage the best of anyone we knew, and then I had an affair this summer.

And then there was the conversation I had with a friend who, via text, told me she and her husband had just gotten a divorce and I had no.idea.they.were.even.struggling. Marriage is one of the best and most challenging covenants anyone could commit to. If you think you and your spouse can do marriage alone, I would graciously and humbly submit to you that, well, you’re very wrong. And anyway, it’s way more fun to have people you love and trust cheering for you in the stands, and to be those people for others’ marriages as well.

We are so excited to welcome James and Ashley Wilson to Nashville as this year’s marriage retreat facilitators. James and Ashley have been leading marriage retreats for the past four years around the country, and we can’t wait for them to join us. We hope you will, too. Friday evening, February 2, and Saturday morning, February 3, promise to be a time filled with friends new and old, laughter, sweet conversation, and words that move us deeper into relationship with one another– as spouses and as friends. Invite another couple you know and join us. If last year’s retreat was an indication, we promise you won’t regret this one.

See you at church and around town,

Ashley

A Note from Josh – College & Center Newsletter December Newsletter 2017

I have a daughter! (See picture.) Everly Kay was born on November 11th at 4:30am. Baby girl is healthy as can be. She loves eating, being held, and sleeping. The typical baby stuff. My wife and I are so glad that we get to be this little girl’s mother and father.

One of the first days we had Everly home, my toddler son, Jameson, was running around our living room yelling, rather loudly, nothing in particular, it certainly wasn’t coherent. Typical toddler stuff. His passion for life is a great source of joy for me. Whether he is banging on his toy drum set, watching Moana, or reciting Little Blue Truck from memory, he does so with gusto. On this day, watching him live his best life, untamed and unapologetic, I thought, “I love him so much.” Then, I looked down in my arms at Everly. She was sleeping quietly on my chest. Her presence in the room offered only the occasional baby coo and the warmth of her cuddles. As I looked at her, I thought, “I love her so much.” Then the question occurred to me, “How can I possibly love these two so much?” and “What kind of life is this?”

A friend of mine from Philadelphia once told me after having his second child, “Your heart will grow and you will love beyond what you know yourself capable of being.” I never understood his words until that day sitting on my couch, watching my daughter and son. I could be wrong, but I don’t think my friends words are true only at childbirth. I believe God has woven moments into our world that grow our capacity to love into the fabric of our world. A prayer I have for the First Presbyterian Nashville community is that during this holiday season, we would learn to love beyond what we know ourselves capable. Likely, it won’t come through the birth of your child, perhaps through the celebration of the birth of a child though… Regardless, may you be open to and looking for the person, place, or thing God may bring into your life that will cause you to love beyond your greatest imagination. If you would like to come meet my Everly, or Jameson, please don’t hesitate!  Jameson loves new friends to play with and Everly is always up for someone to hold her 🙂

 

Blessings,

 

Josh

A Note from Ashley – December Covenant Newsletter

I love advent. Or well, perhaps I should more honestly say, I’m learning to love advent. Growing up I just loved Christmas. My dad, a pastor for over 30 years, LOVED to shop on Black Friday. This was years ago when Black Friday wasn’t quite as wild- sinful, even?!- as it is now (read: stores opened at 6am on *gasp* Friday, none of this Thursday nonsense). He’d be gone long before we were out of bed and back around lunch time. A full day’s work. We learned later that after he shopped, my dad would take all of our gifts to my grandmother’s house, hide them in the attic, and spend some quality time with her before coming home as if nothing had happened. Dad/Santa, please. We knew better.

My dad passed away almost seven years ago. Since then, Christmas has been a little more bittersweet. That’s the thing about getting older. People we love change, even pass away. Christmas switches from the most magical morning of the year into something perhaps a little less special. Old traditions don’t quite seem the same as we and our families change and grow. And yet.

Maybe the changes and growing a little older somehow turn us a degree or two closer to the manger. In the season of advent, we are invited to sit with God and wait with anticipation for what God might do in and through us in the coming year–all because of the baby born that one crazy night.
Perhaps this season you find yourself a little more sad than in years past,a little more caught up in the busy-ness of all our culture desires to suck us into this season, or even a little more anxious about all that’s going on in the world. May we remember the message of advent: in advent, we wait. Why? Because once again we might be reminded that “God is not dead nor does He sleep.” God is very active in this world. One Christmas long ago God even put on human flesh to come show us what it looks like to love without limits, to challenge the status quo, to turn the world as we knew it completely upside down. And the world has never been the same.  Emmanuel. God with us. Hallelujah for that. Happy Advent. And Merry Christmas. See you at church and around town.

The Young Adult Ministry Has Changed

The Young Adult Ministry has changed, and I promise it’ll make more sense if you read this…

When you said your vows or even welcomed a child into this world, you entered into a covenant with that person(s) and with God, a relationship that says to both, “I promise we will do this together. I will care for you and will seek to live my life in continued relationship with you. Through all the change we face, I will face it with you and I will love you.” At First Presbyterian Church, we have spent much time this past year wondering and dreaming about how we might more faithfully support you in doing just that. This Fall, Covenant Ministry* was born.

Our deepest hope is that through our initiatives, we might continue to be faithfully attuned to the ways God is loving the FPC community by paying specific attention to those in the life stages of engagement, marriage, and the first decade of parenthood. We will look to do so specifically through community, education, and mission opportunities. Much of this will be done in partnership with other departments and committees who continue to serve faithfully as well. We are seeking to provide authentic spaces for you to grow in your relationships with one another as spouses and parents, in a community that provides the safety and support for you to do so.

We hope Covenant Ministry will offer you a place to:

• Belong: You belong here, just as you are (and we really mean that);

• Become: God has called you to something and we want to cheer you on as you discern, discover, and live into what that means for you and your family;

• Believe: Scripture has something to say to all of us and we want to be about the business of learning and believing what that is and the many ways we understand it;

• Together: Especially in these seasons of life, we recognize we don’t do it alone. Join us as we do life together.

 

I am excited to serve as the primary staff person of Covenant Ministry, in partnership with Associate Pastor Josh Rodriguez, and cannot wait to see where we will go together.

 Have questions? Ideas? Suggestions? Thoughts? I can’t wait to hear from you. Let’s do coffee (or a phone conversation if that’s more your style). Email or call me at ahiggins@fpcnashville.org or 919-414-7441.

 See you at church and around town.

Ashley

Pray the Words of Wesley

When I travel I like to call the numbers of the religious billboards on the side of the road that proclaim the good news as “turn or burn.” I’ve never had a particularly good conversation in doing so, but it makes for a more interesting drive. The other day Abbi and I were returning to Nashville from Ohio, traveling south on I-65, and noticed a semi truck with this quote on the side. “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. As long as ever you can.” The words were attributed to John Wesley. I had never heard this quote before, which struck me as odd because I went to a Wesleyan undergraduate institution, Indiana Wesleyan University, and it seems like a worthy quote to make common. It is certainly a better message for a drive than a fiery hell “gospel” message.  

Curious to locate the source, I began my google research. Several websites, none all that credible, credit these words to Wesley, but none of them provide a source. If John Wesley said these words, we do not know because of a primary source we can read. The best I found was a quote from a sermon he preached in 1760 on Luke 16:9 titled The Use of Money. Wesley said, “But employ whatever God has entrusted you with in doing good, all possible good, in every possible kind and degree, to the household of faith, to all men.”

The holiday season is a page turn away on our calendars, for those who still use paper calendars, for others, a thumb swipe away. All of us will make decisions about our time and money that define who we are as people who are striving to faithfully follow the footsteps of Jesus. Perhaps, as we prepare for the holiday season we can pray the words of Wesley, slightly modified, “Lord, may I employ all you have entrusted with me in doing good, all possible good, in every possible kind and degree, to the household of faith, to all people this holiday season. Amen.”

Where Do You Feel God?

I’ve spent the last 18 months working with a local non-profit called Faith & Culture Center. I have led this organization as its executive director since January, 2017, working primarily on bringing together diverse groups of Muslims and non-Muslims (many of whom are Christians) for dialogue and relationship-building.

Why do I do this work? This exhausting, energy-expending, frustrating-as-all-get-out work?

I do this work because I feel God in it.

Let me explain.

This work is hard. It is an uphill battle every day as we attempt to humanize the “other,” all the while having to continuously check ourselves and our own assumptions. While there is incredible and profound meaning in this work, there is no glory in it.

And it’s perhaps for this reason that I feel God’s presence in it so strongly — because I’ve had to come to God repeatedly in prayer to ask for help and guidance, and to understand my role and purpose in it all.

Through this work, God has supported me. God has given me a church home, and relationships with my pastors, that have fortified me and reassured me that I am to keep moving forward. At least for now.

Through this work, God has blessed me. God has transformed me through the relationships that I’ve developed with others who do not share my faith. These relationships have allowed me to truly live out what it means to be a follower of Jesus and to love Him by loving others. Every day, I get to experience the beauty of these incredible souls that God has brought into my life as they love and stretch me.

These relationships are not perfect. We falter, make mistakes, and misunderstand each other. But God’s presence pushes us forward towards understanding and reconciliation.

The process is hard and it’s painful. Especially as I’ve had to look inward and call out my own prejudices and shortcomings. But it has transformed me into a stronger Christian, and one, who, though she fails repeatedly, has become certain of God’s presence in her life.

Where do you feel God?

Mission Statement, Motto & Values of YA! – September 2017 Newsletter

In January the young adult department had a consultant come in and survey the ministry. He asked what our mission statement was as a department. We told him we didn’t have one. He asked what was the motto of our ministry. We told him we had never named one. He asked what our values were, and we admitted, we had not named those either.  Well, that was January, and now it is September, and we have created a mission statement, motto, and values of our ministry! 

 Mission Statement

The young adult ministry of FPC exists to invite young adults into a place where they are reminded that they belong to God and one another, where they are inspired to become the person the Spirit is forming them to be through worship, mission, and education, and where they are called to believe in the good news of Jesus Christ. Everything we do, we do together.

 Motto

Belong. Become. Believe. Together.

 Values 

Hope — We believe that God is at work in this world and we choose to look for ways to participate in God’s kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven

Acceptance — We strive to be a ministry marked by respect, unity, honesty and openness toward everyone’s whole self

 Joy — We enjoy celebrating life together

 Worship — The Holy Spirit gathers us regularly to remember God’s commitment to the redemption and reconciliation of creation and our commitment to be grateful for that work

 Vulnerability — We embrace a way of life that welcomes authenticity, truth, and brokenness in the name of growth, both personally and collectively

 Mission — We are committed to joining God’s ministry of reconciliation in the world

 In August we had a visioning retreat with about 30 members of the young adult community. We took the time to gather, dream, and name the work that God is up to at First Presbyterian Church and our community specifically. After we gathered, a small “renovation team” that was formed after our consultation, got together and further flushed out the sentiment and words of our time together. Then Ashley and I sat down and spent more time crafting each of these documents. Lastly, I put the final touches on each of these. I am grateful for everyone who participated in this process. It was filled with laughter, brilliance, and a few tears. Because of these efforts, we are better equipped to more faithfully follow Jesus, together. If you have any questions or comments on this process, please do not hesitate to reach out! See you at church and around town. 

 Blessings,

 Josh 

A Note from Kat (Davies) Bair – August 2017 Newsletter

“Hasta la Victoria siempre!”

Until the Eternal Victory. It was a famous quotation of Che Guevara, a reference to a Marxist communist utopia and victory over capitalist forces, and it was plastered on every billboard, cement wall, and government project we passed driving through the Cuban countryside. It was a rallying cry for Latin American communists to continue the work of creating the world that they envisioned with the faith that someday, their utopia would be complete, eternal, perfect and at peace.

I was lucky enough to get to spend 9 days traveling through Cuba with a group of young adults from First Pres. We were partnered with a group of Cuban Christians, most of who were in their early 20’s, and got to see seminaries, mission sites, churches, Christian camps, and the vibrant, inclusive Cuban faith through their eyes.

Our theme for the week was “eyes to see, ears to hear,” and what we saw was a community radically committed to reaching those on the margins, being present in unlikely places, and constantly reinventing what it meant to be the church. What we heard were the testimonies of dozens of Cubans of every age, color, and ability as to how God was at work in their lives and how they were working for justice, equality, and grace, building the kingdom of God, “En la tierra como en el cielo,” on Earth as is in Heaven.

I was inspired by what I saw and heard from that community of faith, and we spent many van rides and late nights talking over what it would look like to carry the fire and pragmatism of the Cuban church back home with us to Nashville. The divine spark we saw at work in that community lit all of us as well, and gave us new hope as to what the future of the church, of God’s work in the world, could be.

Cuban Christians take seriously the call to act as the hands and feet of Jesus and build a more just world around them. There is brokenness in their world, their church, their government, just as there is here. There are intractable social issues, systemic injustices, and economic realities that make their world fall short of what it could be. But their faith was not crippled by that brokenness but instead oriented around the truth that God is building a kingdom here on earth, and that, as long as we are here, we are the ones who are meant to do it, however imperfectly, until our world is made new.

Hasta la victoria siempre, indeed. –Kat

A Note From Ashley – July 2017 Newsletter

There’s a good chance you’ve seen this YouTube clip before (if not, watch it before reading further). It’s Allen Iverson in a press conference. He’s just been asked about missing a basketball practice and his response is hilarious. Iverson responds at one point, “We’re talking about practice? How silly is that?… When you come in the arena and you see my play, you see me play, don’t you?”

Here’s the thing. Iverson wants to talk about showing up for the game without talking about how much more important the practice is. As followers of Jesus, we might easily fall into the same trap (or am I the only one?). We want to just be Christians without practicing being Christians. Have you ever caught yourself thinking or saying outloud something to the effect of, “I’m just not feeling Jesus these days,” or  “I don’t really know if this Christian thing is it for me.” Our feelings are important and we should pay close attention to them. BUT. Your feelings won’t sustain your relationship with Jesus. Practice will, practice that looks like:

  • spending time in scripture;
  • spending time with the “great cloud of witnesses” in your life and in the life of this church who have experienced God in a long list of ways (especially those in a different age demographic than yours);
  • worshiping together;
  • playing together;
  • looking for the things in this world that do not look like God’s kingdom come and putting our hands, feet, and voices to work to bring that kingdom.

This is what practice looks like. The mountain top highs will not sustain you or me in our faith. “Feeling” like being a Christian will not sustain you or me in our faith. Going it alone will not sustain you or me in our faith. At the very end of the clip, Iverson responds to a question,

“How in the world can I make my teammates better by practicing?” That’s the whole point! Show up. Practice your faith. It matters for others and it matters for you that you do this faith thing in community.

Don’t just wait until you feel like it to show up for the game. And don’t try to play it alone, either.

Practice? We’re talking about practice? Yes. We are.

What’s your practice this week, next week, next month that will sustain and grow your relationship with Jesus?

See you at church and around town. -Ashley

A Note from Josh – June 2017 Newsletter

God is under no obligation to make sense to you. Do you believe that? I don’t know if I do, but I had the thought after reading the opening line in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new book, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. He wrote, “The Universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.” I replaced the word, “universe” for “God” and found the statement thought provoking. I would never have claimed to be entitled, despite my status as a millennial, for God to make sense to me, but I have certainly spent my time, money, and resources, in pursuit of becoming a Presbyterian minister, and, in part, attempting to make sense of God. My path may be unique but my efforts are not. I meet with people who are attempting to make sense of God on a regular basis. In death, life, marriage, politics, so on and so forth, people are trying to make sense of God’s presence, or absence, in their life, this world, and beyond. Occasionally, I decide God needs to reveal more to me, as if what has been given thus far, is simply not enough. I am not alone. I know people in their 20’s and 30’s are longing to know God. That is noble. But perhaps we can take a step back and ask the question, “Do I believe God is obligated to make sense to me?” If we answer the question, “yes.” On what basis would we stake our claim? If we are willing to say, “no, God doesn’t have to make sense to me.” How will we live in the tension? What questions are we willing to let go of, or take up, in the pursuit of faith in a God that is more dynamic and complex than our comprehension? Can we consider what God might be calling us to in the midst of these questions? Certainly God does not need our comprehension in order to work in this world, not that God would require our ignorance either. Are you looking to make sense of God? Do you need to let go of a question or two? Are you slightly interested in Astrophysics? If so, let’s start a conversation over coffee. See you at church and around town. ~Josh

 

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