Week of September 24

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

Please mark October 5 on your calendar as a day in the life of our church that you will not want to miss. Two years ago our congregation lost a beloved member, Barry Bennett Gibbs. Barry had not been a member of our congregation a long time, but she came to love dearly First Presbyterian Church, for it brought Barry and her husband Homer back into a worshiping community where they felt at home. Barry loved our church so much that she left in her estate a gift to First Presbyterian Church, and in conversation with Homer and our Endowment Committee, we established the Barry B. Gibbs Lectureship, using the proceeds from her estate gift to fund an annual lecturer or preacher to enrich our ministry and mission for Christ.

Sunday, October 5 will mark the first Barry B. Gibbs weekend, welcoming Dr. M. Craig Barnes to our pulpit, and New Testament theologian Shane Berg to offer a lecture in Courtenay Hall during the Sunday school hour for our whole membership. We are asking our adult Sunday school classes to consider attending Dr. Berg’s lecture on Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. Shane is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, earned his Ph.D. in New Testament from Yale University, and after teaching New Testament for many years at Princeton, Shane now serves as Vice President for Communications and as a special assistant to Craig Barnes, the seminary’s new President. Craig Barnes will be preaching that morning at both of our services, which is something that should bless us all! Craig is widely regarded as one of the finest preachers in America today. He is the author of eight books and countless articles on preaching and the Christian journey. For many years, Craig served as Pastor of the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. He was there when the Pentagon was hit by a terrorist attack, and the pulpit of National Presbyterian Church became one of the most profound and listened to voices in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

In 2004, Craig left National Presbyterian Church for a faculty position at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He later accepted the pulpit of Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, and held two posts, as both professor and preacher, for the next nine years. Last year Craig was called back to serve as the seventh President of his alma mater, Princeton Theological Seminary. A 1981 graduate of the Seminary, Craig went on to earn his Ph.D. in church history from the University of Chicago, serving pastorates in Colorado Springs, Chicago and Madison, Wisconsin. His great gift is preaching, and Craig is in great demand all over this country to fill pulpits and to offer lectures. He also writes a column for the Christian Century, one of the most widely read Christian periodicals in America.
October 5 is also World Communion Sunday, so we will offer a wonderful Sunday of word and sacrament, and a chance to hear one of the most popular and dynamic young professors of New Testament share his passion for the Gospel. Many of you have heard Craig preach at Montreat, Chautauqua, and at the National Presbyterian Church. Craig is clearly becoming one of the wisest and most thoughtful voices in American church life. I hope and pray that this will be the start of a relationship with Craig that continues to bless and enrich both First Presbyterian Church and Princeton Theological Seminary. In what is how our two-hundredth year, I am keenly aware of our congregation’s indebtedness to Princeton. ­­Walter Courtenay graduated from PTS in 1932, and Bill Bryant, Mark DeVries, Adam DeVries and Sam Cooper are also alumni of the seminary. The first Barry B. Gibbs series speakers will provide a wonderful opportunity for our whole congregation to be enriched and blessed by two outstanding Christian thinkers. Craig’s sermon is entitled, Jesus the Center. It is, of course, in three short words, the life we are called to live.

On another matter of church life, this a joyful note, Lee Barfield, who has served as an Elder on our Session and been our Clerk of Session, was named the recipient of the Joe and Honey Rodgers Leadership Award for 2014, an award that cites someone in our city whose life offers an exemplary model of Christian service and leadership. It was a heartening night of celebration for Lee, Mary and for their wonderful family. Lee has worked as an attorney in Nashville since graduating from Vanderbilt Law School for Bass, Berry and Sims, and served in our community in a variety of leadership roles to build up the work of God’s Kingdom, and to bless and enrich God’s people. He has had a passion for education at every level in our community, and has blessed our own congregation by teaching Sunday school and leading men’s study groups. Lee also makes Courtenay Hall a more hospitable place by his warm, engaging presence! One of the people playing an important role in this night given to honoring Lee was Marty Dickens, himself the recipient of the Joe and Honey Rodgers Leadership Award in 2012. As always, as Connie and I sat at our table with members of the Barfield and Frist family, we felt richly blessed to serve as part of this wonderful church, this remarkable community of faith that is known as First Presbyterian Church. We are two hundred years old, and still growing into what God is calling us to be!

Todd Jones

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