Week of July 23, 2014

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

As I write this letter to you, we are in the process of welcoming Adam DeVries as our new Associate Pastor to Youth and Their Families. This, of course, is a position held by his father Mark since 1987, during which time the youth ministry program of First Presbyterian Church, Nashville, has become one of the most deeply respected and revered in our community and across the country. Mark has served our church faithfully for over 25 years, and while he has been part-time since 2001, his impact upon our congregation’s life is incalculable. Mark, since 2001, has devoted his energies not just to our church, but also to building his consulting service to congregations across America and around the world. Mark reached a point where he realized that he could not keep working in both places and remain true to his sense of calling, and so we talked last spring about his desire to leave the payroll of our church, while still maintaining some role serving this congregation, which has meant so much to the DeVries family.

That left us with the task of replacing Mark, realizing as well that the time was ripe to move back to a full-time ordained person to lead our youth program into the future. In my quiet hours of prayer and reflection upon the future and health of our church family, I asked myself, “How do you follow a living legend?” As I pondered this question, it occurred to me that maybe you do it by calling the son of a legend! So I first raised the question of approaching Adam with Mark and Susan. They thought about it, and said, “Go ahead and ask him.” I called Adam in the fall and laid out the idea to him, urging him not to respond at all for at least a month but to think and pray about the possibility of a call to serve First, Nashville, and to follow his father. Around December, he expressed an interest in moving ahead with this idea. I next went to our Personnel Committee, then the Coordinating Council and the Session with this idea, making certain that they were in support of it as well. I then went with Sam Cooper to visit our Presbytery Executive and a member of the Committee on Ministry, the group charged with approving pastoral calls in our churches. I was open and forthright with our intentions, and after fair consideration, they urged us to proceed to elect an Associate Pastor Nominating Committee and to explain in advance to them our idea. While I know this is not the usual way that Presbyterian congregations fill pastoral openings, I also know that this is not your usual Associate Pastor position to fill. Steve Bartlett did an excellent job of heading up this committee, and the committee served ably, efficiently and well.

Of course, none of this would have happened if we already hadn’t known Adam so well! Adam grew up in our midst, attended Oak Hill School and then Franklin Road Academy. Upon graduation, he went to Sewanee! Adam came to work at First Church full time as one of our Youth Directors for three years, bringing energy and life to our whole church. During those years he and Sara married on the front lawn of our church. Shortly after Adam and Sara married, he accepted a position in a school in Quito, Ecuador, doing youth ministry among ex-pats and serving as a pastoral presence among English-speaking teens in Ecuador. Four years ago they left Ecuador and Adam became a candidate for ordination and started as a first-year student at Princeton Theological Seminary. In addition to earning his Master of Divinity degree, the basic ministerial degree, he also earned a Master of Arts in Youth Ministry at Princeton. In talking this past spring to Craig Barnes, the President of Princeton Theological Seminary, Craig said to me, “I am thrilled to learn that you are calling Adam. He is one of our very best!” (Craig Barnes will be with us in October as the first preacher in our Gibbs Lecture Series.) Of course, I knew this already about Adam, but it was a delight to hear this as well from one of America’s most astute theological educators!

Adam’s coming is an important symbol of our commitment to remain one of the premier Youth Ministry programs in our own Nashville community and in the nation. Between our Children’s Ministry led by Deb O’Brien and her staff, and our Youth Ministry led by Adam DeVries and our fabulous youth staff, I feel confident that no family in Nashville could find a better place to raise their children or teenagers “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” While we will pause to mark this transition by bidding farewell for a short season to Mark, he will continue to serve as one of our Associate Pastor and will find new and innovative ways to use his gifts as we need them to enrich and deepen our lives. Some of the ideas for Mark that we have shared include a Sunday School class on parenting, but we will cross that bridge in year when we come to it. Meanwhile, we will give thanks to God for Mark and Susan as they take a leave, knowing that they will return in God’s good time.

I could not be more excited about the future of our congregation’s life as we find ourselves at an important juncture in our life. Our staff is outstanding across the board, and I give thanks every day for the wonderful colleagues with whom I share in this ministry. We are richly blessed as a church with wonderful members and families who call First Presbyterian Church their home. Keep Adam, Sara, Parish and Nealy DeVries in your prayers as they enter our life for this exciting new chapter!

With Love and Prayers,

Todd Jones

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