Early last year, I wrote on my Facebook page that I believed that "2009 is going to be really special." It was far more than special. It was extraordinary, marvelous, amazing, blessed. Last year was a simultaneously a year of fulfilled promise and growing expectation.
St. Paul's Baptist Church
Without a doubt, the major highlight of the year centered on my call and installation as the Fifth Pastor of the St. Paul's Baptist Church, 1000 Wallace Street, Philadelphia, PA. In reflecting on why this was a "best of" moment, I really have to start with the search process itself and the way that, because of the committee's treatment of me, many wounded places were healed, even before I received the call. To be treated with respect by a search committee, to have one's gifts and worth and dignity honored matters, whether one ultimately becomes their choice or not. By the time it was clear in April that I was one of the final two candidates, I already had much to thank God and St. Paul's for. I walked through the doors of St. Paul's for the first time on April 14th. On April 19th, I preached there for the first time and talked about God's ability to restore our faith even in the midst of our despair. Beyond our imaginations, I testified, God knows how to make believers out of us.
On Sunday, 17 May 2009, the St. Paul's Baptist Church extended to me a call to become their pastor. After I had verbally accepted the call in a conversation with Deacon Jackson, the chair of the deacons, I called Reverend Charisse Tucker, and we went down to St. Paul's so that I could take pictures of my new church. Here's one of my favorites.
I began my pastorate at St. Paul's on Pentecost Sunday, 31 May 2009. Friends from around the region came to share with St. Paul's and me as we began our journey together, and I had the blessed surprise of a visit from the venerable and legendary Rev. Dr. Henry Mitchell who offered the pastoral prayer. Thanks to the wonderful public relations work of Leslie Patterson -Tyler, we had extensive media coverage, including an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer. I preached a sermon titled "It's Time" about the fulfillment of God's promise in the birth and empowerment of the church. Following the church-sponsored reception after service, my friends and I went to Maggiano's for some serious eating. Below are pictures of me in the sanctuary, the congregation at worship, and my friends after Maggiano's. What a glorious day!
Just when I thought that the celebratory feeling would overwhelm me at St. Paul's, then the funeral season began. I was privileged to preside at several funerals during my first two months at St. Paul's, which allowed me to get a feel for the congregation. It also allowed the congregation to get a real feel for me. I am particularly mindful of the funeral for Mrs. Clara Gilliam Lightfoot, about whom I blogged here.
After a much busier summer than I anticipated, the time for the installation arrived. I need to admit that although I was really hearing a promise from God that the installation festivities would be heavy with the divine presence, I still had some anxiety as the day approached. We began the month of September with a series of pre-installation revival services and were blessed by the preaching of my friends Reverends Ernest Flores, Jacob Chatman, and Alyson Browne Johnson. Each brought his or her own special flavor to the moment, and the worship grew increasingly intense from week to week.
The installation weekend began on Friday, 25 September, with a youth concert designed to benefit Philabundance, Philadelphia's largest hunger relief agency. Although there were many challenges in the planning of it, even up to the last minute, once the event began it was marvelous. We were blessed with the ministry of Minister Antonio and his group. We heard Chad Sisk. Shadia Combs presented spoken word. And our own children's choir sang beautifully. We raised $1000 and a great deal of nonperishable food items. Most of all, God's presence was thick in the room. Within 20 minutes of the service's beginning, I knew that the whole weekend would be unforgettable.
I don't want to go through a blow-by-blow of every event. Let me just offer some observations. My friends who spoke, whether at the banquet or in the installation, gave a rounded picture of who I am. It was fun to hear about the Leslie, the Rev., the Professor. But they did even more than that because they helped me to remember aspects of my own self and story that I hadn't thought about for a long time and that I needed to remember. The support of my family, whose pride beamed like a spotlight, induced gratitude and healed old wounds. The preaching of Reverend Dr. Raphael Warnock who preached the temptation at the luncheon; Reverend Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Sr., who preached about Phoebe on Sunday morning; and Reverend Felicia Y. Thomas who preached about higher ground at the installation service, inspired, provoked, corrected, and encouraged. And the generosity the congregation, from the cards to the offering to the Phillies playoff tickets (from the installation committee) showed me how blessed I am to have become St. Paul's pastor. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
I do have to say a word about the actual service of installation: AMAZING. The turnout of clergy who came to support me, including women in ministry - some of whom I didn't even know - blessed me tremendously. I was especially encouraged by the elders: St. Paul's Pastor Emeritus Rev. Dr. Arthur Lee Johnson, who offered greetings and his blessing, and the Rev. Dr. Henry Mitchell, who prayed the prayer of installation. The support of my family reinforced the sense of blessedness and favor. The joyful worship encouraged my heart and exalted the Lord. (Perhaps those of you who were there and who read this would like to elaborate more on the specifics, but amazing is about all I can say.)
The installation really was a kickoff to the ministry. Since then, we have grown numerically. Our worship is intensifying, even though we were without a permanent minister of music for the last 3 months of the year. The work of pastoring is showing me more and more about my own strengths and weaknesses. Mostly, I am learning that this really is Jesus' show. We are going somewhere, but I am not driving. I too am a passenger, and I am enjoying the ride.
Best Sports Experience - My Beloved Phillies
My love for the Phillies only grew this past year. And because I was not the only one who was loving on them, it was very difficult to get tickets at Citizens Bank Park to see them play.
Seeing the Phillies in Pittsburgh and then in the playoffs at Citizens Bank Park (thanks to the generosity of the installation committee) was so much fun. I am only sorry that they did not beat my American League team the New York Yankees in the World Series.
During restaurant week in Philadelphia on September 18, I went to Amada a Spanish tapas restaurant. The food was magnificent. From the lavender-infused honey to the cafe con leche with dessert, this is just marvelous eating. I also want to give an honorable mention to Honey's Sit and Eat, which is near the church.
I have to say, though, that on a consistent basis the food, fun, laughter, and fellowship at the home of Deborah and Ernie Flores during the weekly Monday night taco nights represents the best eating I do from week to week.
Best Medical Procedure
I know that sounds crazy, but I needed to be able to say something about finally having my wisdom teeth extracted.F
Best Sermons/Lectures I Heard
I have to give a major shout out to the the Hampton Ministers Conference, where the President Rev. Dr. William Curtis, along with morning preacher Rev. Dr. Claudette Copeland and conference presenter/prophet Rev. Dr. Renita J Weems brought it with prophetic power, passion, clarity, brilliance, and anointing.
Just as I did last year, I need to note the consistent preaching of Rev. Dr. Albert F. Campbell and District Elder Brenda (Birdie) Cuthbertson. District Elder Cuthbertson brought an extraordinary word at Easter "Same Story, Different Ending." That was some preaching!
My last comment about 2009 is that I turned 40 in the midst of a record-setting snowstorm that ruined my plans to spend my 40th birthday with my new church family. Despite my disappointment, I had a marvelous day, as some dear friends braved the snow to bring my gifts and take me to dinner. See me on my 40th birthday at Maggiano's below.