“Memories, Dreams, and One Last Scripture”

1 Corinthians 1:18-25, 2:1-5

Dr. Robert J. Anderson

June 21, 2015

 

My ordination was on Sunday, August 12, 1973, and I was installed as the pastor of the Vanport Presbyterian Church in September.

 

I wondered what life was like in 1973, so I looked up a few things.  Nixon was President and Agnew Vice President (at least for part of the year, as he was the first of the resignations of the two highest elected officials in our country).  A postage stamp cost $.06.  The movie The Exorcist popular.  An almost unnoticed break in at the Watergate happened.  The median household income was $10,512.00.  The median price of house was about $32,000.00.  Milk cost $1.31/gal.  Eggs $.78/doz.  Gas was $.39/gallon before the oil crisis and it shot up $.55/gal.  Remember the lines at the gas stations and rationing?

 

Hiland Presbyterian Church, my home church, was founded in 1800 and I was the first person in their history to be ordained into the Gospel Ministry.  My father was in the hospital and not able to attend the service, but one of the members had access to a “new toy,” a video camera!  The service was videoed and my father saw it.  Later, Lee Smith would transfer it to a modern format!  Thank you, Lee!

 

In Vanport, I remember being alone one day in the church wondering “What am I doing here?”  It wasn’t a statement of fear, but one of “Seminary didn’t teach me all this fine print stuff!”  Stuff like moderating a Session meeting, keeping the minute and record book, etc.  I remember that there was a lot to do.  There were hospital visits, pastoral visits, meetings, community meetings and more.

 

The Elders and I did a retreat once where you had to put in order of importance the things a pastor should do.  I think there were 25 items on the list, and the elders were to put in order of importance 20 and so was I.  I remember having preaching as number 25!  It didn’t make my cut!  So, I think I made in number 20!  I figured I couldn’t not have it on my list, I was the pastor!  For the Elders, sermons were #1!  I realized that for me preaching was one of the many things I had to do, but for the Elders and members it was there whole week so-to-speak!  I changed my thinking!

 

The highlight of my time in Vanport was Rob’s birth!

 

In 1981 it was time to move to Christ Presbyterian Church.  CUP as it was known was an interesting and exciting call.  Its history dated back to 1775.  It was a new congregation resulting from a merger that resulted from the merger of denominations.  It was a new building; I was the first installed pastor in the new building.  The church had a pre-school and day care and very involved in community services.

 

I served CUP for 20 years, the longest tenured pastor there in decades.  While there I completed the Doctor of Ministry program at Pittsburgh Seminary.  The program was geared to doing ministry in a church.  For those of you that have served on the Nominating Committee, it is in this program that I learned about “Forced Pairing!”  If you haven’t served on the Nominating Committee, find someone that has, and I am sure they will roll their eyes and tell you!

 

It was at CUP that I met Diane, Bob, Bill, and Amy and married Diane!  We watched Bob, Bill, Rob, and Amy graduate from high school and launch into their life.

 

2001 brought us to the Halifax Area, ironically arriving on Father’s Day weekend!  Diane and I came to Highlands Presbyterian Church where we were greeted warmly. I followed a long-term pastor and a series of interim pastors (Bob Smith among them). They were eager to have a pastor, and we were excited to be in a new ministry.  You are aware of the history as much as I; so you know that Highlands and Southminister Presbyterian Churches merged on March 13, 2005.

 

What a joy it has been to be United!  A congregation and staff that has embraced Diane and me.  Warm caring people.  A congregation that puts into action the very meaning of hospitality!  Ethnically diverse.  People filled with an adventuresome spirit, willing to try anything once to see if it honors God and builds them up spiritually.  A people filled with joy!  A group of people that are truly in every sense of the word our extended family but as close to our heart as if “extended” was dropped from the equation!

 

One of the dreams I have always had of the church has come true at United.  Being from western Pennsylvania, I envisioned two people on a hill overlooking a valley in which there was a church.  One would say to the other, “See that church down there?  They disagree a lot, but don’t ever cross one of them, because you will have the whole bunch after you.”  I dreamt this dream not from the perspective of cantankerous group fighting all of the time, but a group where everyone cared about their church and its ministry and pressed their point with energy and enthusiasm!

 

Diane and I found such a church at United.  Each person is passionate about our ministry.  Each person comes together with others to support, love, and encourage each other.  You reach down and pick up those who are down and celebrate with those who are up.  You take food to the hungry, people to doctors’ appointments, and call and write to those who are absent for a while.  It is impossible to come to United and feel unwelcome and uncared for.  And, Diane and I testify to that and will miss that when we leave.  United is unique because the people of United are unique and special.  Thank you for letting us in to your lives!

 

A last scripture.  Paul writes that the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but it is the power of God to those who are being saved.  God created the world and loves the people of creation without bounds.  God is passionate to reach into each person’s life with life-giving love that forgives and renews that, when all else failed, he sent his son to show that love.  The forces of evil could not stand the God of love and truth, so they nailed him to a cross.  The cross is the symbol humanity at its worst and Christ’s resurrection is God at his best!  You are loved by God, and there is nothing you can do to change that.  Humanity tried to change God and failed.

 

So, as Paul said, I came to you not with eloquence of human wisdom to share God’s love with you, but only armed with Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I did come to you in fear and trembling, as I have never led a congregation through a merger.  I came to you with a life offered to God and a belief in the power of God to work through what I had offered him that your faith might be strengthened by God’s power.  I came in a spirit of openness to God’s Spirit and openness to everyone regardless of background, circumstances, or orientation; because I believe that God loves all the little children of the world “red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in his sight!”

 

So, as we move on into our future spiritual journey, let us hold on to this scripture.  In this time of transition, hold onto Christ and him crucified and be open to the power of God flooding your life.  As Diane and I move on to another chapter in our lives, let us hold on to Christ and him crucified and be open to the power of God flooding our lives.  Neither you nor I know what the future holds, but we do know who holds the future!

 

Thank you…  Jerry, for walking into our office looking for a place to begin your ministry and congregation and being a part of our “larger church” witness to the community.  Jim, for linking hands and hearts in ministry and worship.  Christmas Eve is really special here with you and your congregation and Conexión Church celebrating the birth of Jesus, gathered as the whole people of God.  Members and friends of United, thank each of you for opening the doors of your heart, and letting Diane and I come in and share and grow with you.  Your hearts are sacred spaces and we were honored to be invited there.  Thank you Richard for your wonderful music and sense of humor.  What a joy it has been to minister with you in this congregation.  Thank you Diana for taking on a bunch of people that like handbell music and making beautiful music with us.  You certainly had your work cut out with me in your choir!  Thank you Tom for keeping things neat and orderly.  I know you can’t wait to get into my office!  But, you will have to wait a few more days!  Thank you Linda for…where to begin: keeping the office going; greeting people with your warmth and smile; for putting up with my sense of humor; for being a friend and sounding board; for co-laboring with, and among, this congregation; for opening your heart to the “little German!”

 

So, although the pastoral relationship ends, the friendships do not.  In the end it is not “good-bye.”  It’s “see ya!”