Pop-Up Mission Conference

Dear NAPC Family & Friends,

This coming Sunday will be a true highlight in the life of our congregation with our first ever “Pop-Up” Mission Conference. Our guests include two especially dynamic and gifted global Christians who are pastor-theologians, the Rev. Dr. Riad Kassis and the Rev. Dr. José Pezini. Both men have been personal friends of mine for many years, and both have a long and rich history with NAPC.
 
Dr. Pezini and his wife are originally from Brazil and were members of North Avenue for a number of years. He served The Outreach Foundation as a church planter of Portuguese speaking congregations up and down the East Coast of the United States.  His ministry among these communities is legendary, as God has gifted him with strong gifts of vision, preaching, leadership, and mentoring.  He will be speaking in the Gym at 10 a.m. in the Foundations Class about his current ministry in Brazil.   
 
Dr. Kassis is also an esteemed pastor and theologian and good friend of North Avenue. He and his family sojourned with us during the year he was on sabbatical at Columbia Theological Seminary.  His messages to our congregation during that year were riveting as he shared theological insights from the perspective of a Middle Eastern theologian. He will be preaching in both the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. worship services, drawing on the Book of Habakkuk. 
 
An additional Sunday opportunity will take place at 12:15 p.m. in The Underground, the youth space on the first floor.  That discussion will focus on how all of us can learn from one another across our cultural and racial backgrounds.  Then, on Sunday evening at 5:45 p.m. in the Broyles Auditorium, Matt Seadore will interview Dr. Kassis about what the Middle Eastern Church and North American Church can learn from one another.
 
Please join us for any or all of these important occasions to grow our faith and deepen our connections with the global church.
 
With joy and anticipation,

Scott

Following the Resurrection

Dear NAPC Family & Friends,

Please take a moment to read my column in the April Newsletter about my reflections on Easter Sunday at North Avenue Presbyterian Church!  The message, in brief, is that it was a joy-filled day throughout all three worship services in celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ!  Thanks be to God!  He is risen indeed—on Easter Sunday and every day of our lives, as we abide in Him, by God’s grace. 
 
This week we are pleased to continue in the Easter season with a focus on the events just following the Resurrection.  At 9 a.m. and 5:45 p.m., our staff lead for Young Adult Ministries Ben Allward-Theimer, M.Div. (Duke Divinity School), will be preaching an important message about “Doubting Thomas.”  As the word of the resurrection of Jesus spread among the disciples, Thomas simply had a hard time believing it could be true.  He needed to see the risen Jesus for himself, up close and personal.   Ben has deep insights into the Scriptures, and his message will be a blessing to our congregation.  I look forward to co-leading the service and offering the Prayers of the People for our congregation, our city, our nation, and our world!
 
At 11 a.m., we look forward to a special Service of Ordination for North Avenue Elder Irene Wong, M.Div. (Fuller Theological Seminary).  Irene will be ordained at North Avenue on behalf the broader church of Jesus Christ, within the PC(USA), to her new position as Executive Director of AMIS (Atlanta Ministry with International Students).  I look forward to serving as the Moderator of the  Ordination Commission of special guests, both clergy and elders, on behalf of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta.  Upon Irene’s request, the Session has invited the Reverend Jihyun Oh, ordained PC(USA) pastor, and mentor to Irene, to deliver the sermon.  Her text will be that extraordinary passage that is found only in Luke 24:13-35, often referred to as The Road to Emmaus.  This Service of Ordination will be an enormous blessing to our congregation, as we once again ordain one of our own to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament. 
 
Cynthia and I look forward to worshipping you on Sunday!
 
With anticipation,

Scott

Palm Sunday at NAPC

This coming week is the most important of the Christian year for the followers of Jesus around the world. It begins with a focus on Jesus’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. As the people in first century Jerusalem witnessed his entry, we too will celebrate the coming of our Lord into Jerusalem. The King is coming—Shout Hosanna! 
 
You will not want to miss worship this Sunday (March 25)! The Rev. Dr. Tom Tewell will be preaching in the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. worship services. The founding Executive Director of Macedonia Ministries and former pastor of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City, he is one of the truly great preachers in North America. He will incorporate into his sermon how he and Fifth Avenue Church responded to the horrific events of 9/11/2001.  We also are privileged to have North Avenue’s Young Adult Ministry Coordinator Ben Allward-Theimer preach at the 5:45 p.m. service.
 
One of the festive traditions of North Avenue on Palm Sunday is the hosting of a petting zoo. The animals help remind us that they were likely everywhere present in the streets of Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday, roaming here and there. Members and friends of all ages always love seeing the animals. The zoo will be available beginning at 8:30 a.m. and continue until after the 11 a.m. worship service. Weather permitting, the zoo will be on the upper parking deck; if we have inclement weather, the zoo will be on the lower level of the parking deck. 
 
A special feature of the 11 a.m. worship service is the Procession of Palms. Again, weather permitting, we will gather at the front of steps of the church on Peachtree Street. From there, we will process down Peachtree Street, across the parking deck, and into the Broyles Ministry Auditorium. If the weather is inclement, we will gather inside the church in the Welcome Center, just off the upper parking deck. From there we will process into the Broyles Auditorium. 
 
The day also has a hint of heaviness to it, as the people in the original crowd began to realize that Jesus was not coming as a powerful military messiah; instead, he came as a humble servant to give his life on a cross.  Instead of restoring the ancient glory of Israel by earthly might, Jesus does something vastly more extraordinary and transformational. He gives his life for the salvation of the world, as he becomes the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). In and through his death and resurrection, Jesus brings about reconciliation between the God of all Creation and all people who trust in him. That reconciliation spills over into the reconciliation of all things in heaven and on earth! 
 
On Maundy Thursday (March 29), our congregation will gather in  homes across the city to observe fellowship in Christ’s name and to share in the sacrament of Holy Communion on the night of Christ’s arrest. We urge you to sign up here to attend one of these gatherings.
 
On Good Friday (March 30), you are invited to a worship service at noon at our partner church, First Congregational Church, 105 Courtland Street NE, Atlanta. (Their congregation will join us on Easter Sunday morning for our combined Jazz Urban Sunrise Service).  If you are interested in meeting at North Avenue on Friday at 11:30 a.m. for a ride to First Congregational Church, please send a message to andrea@napc.org by Tuesday,
March 27 at 5 p.m. 

 
Then we wait in silence and in prayer for the glorious celebration of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead on Easter Sunday!
 
Please make every effort to join us in these important services of worship. Your presence means so much to all of us!
 
With prayerful anticipation,
Scott

Keep Your Head Up

As we continue to journey with one another and with Jesus into Holy Week, I want to share a testimony from a courageous young woman who has been walking her own path toward Holy Week.  To respect her privacy, I will call her Sabrina.  Sabrina was rescued from sex trafficking four years ago, with the help of Street Grace, a ministry that seeks to end Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking.  Until her rescue, Sabrina had been repeatedly bought and sold in the evil business of modern day slavery.  A few weeks ago, she was on her way to a Street Grace board meeting when she saw a former “buyer” on the street.

This sighting resulted in “nightmares, flashbacks, and memoriesand later, a trip to the hospital.  Sabrina’s encounter was unknown to all but two of the board members, yet the meeting ended with a time of prayer over her and other survivors.  Sabrina later said that her own prayer upon entering the board meeting had been, “Daddy God, I just need a hug.” God answered her prayers that day with multiple hugs from a female pastor. 

Sabrina is out of the hospital and doing well.  She said, “I push through; that’s what we do, that’s how we’ve survived.”  Her personal strength is incredibly inspiring, to be sure; but Sabrina recognizes that God is the ultimate source of her recovery: “I think all of your prayers, combined with all the others going up, helped me get through that process, and I’m so grateful.” 

Jesus’ journey to Holy Week led him into the face of evil, sin, and death.  For Jesus, and for all of us, those forces are never the end of the story.  In the power of the Resurrection, Jesus shows us that in the end, God is the One who triumphs over all things.  If Sabrina can recover, thrive, and find a new life in the face of such horrific pain and suffering, so too can we.  As Jesus said to his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”  Let us remain strong in the power of our Lord.

In the hope of the Resurrection,

Scott

A Day to Remember

Dear North Avenue Family,

You'll be seeing this letter in the March edition of the North AveNews as well, but I truly want you all to know how grateful Cynthia and I are for last Sunday!

The last Sunday in February will be a day that Cynthia and I and our family will long remember. Even though I am often front and center in the midst of our congregational life, I’m not one who feels comfortable being the center of attention to receive affirmation. Even so, I must say that both Cynthia and I were greatly encouraged by the acknowledgment of our 20 years of service at North Avenue and for all your kind expressions of love.

During my brief remarks I did mention the remarkable gift that Cynthia is to me. Without her support, I wouldn’t be able to live fully into my calling. We support one another in each other’s calling, and for that I am forever grateful.  You as a congregation helped raise and nurture our children—Christen, James, and Justin—in the love of God.  They learned from you (and hopefully from us) that authentic faith is vibrant, dynamic, winsome, and Christ-centered.  

North Avenue is a very special community that excels in love. As the Apostle Paul says so eloquently in Colossians 3:14,
“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”  Thank you for your readiness to love us and to love one another, and thank you for being a community that is willing to extend love to people who come into our midst from any walk of life. We admire you so very much for being, “Inwardly Strong and Outwardly Focused.”  

Thank you to our amazing staff—current and past—who share in the partnership of ministry and mission, together with church leaders and members, that forms the heart of our life together. 

As we were leaving the church after the celebration, a bright-eyed third grader came up to me and said, somewhat forlornly, “I thought you were going to thank me when you got up to speak.”  I loved that lament! To be perfectly honest, that comment was just all-the-more “icing on the cake” of an already fabulous day! To think that she felt that special to me was so uplifting, because she is! I told her that I had run out of time to thank everyone I wanted to thank. She said, “Well, please mention me next time!” I said, “Will you stick around for another 20 years?” She was pretty sure she would still be here. So, here’s to the next 20 years! (Don’t worry— just kidding!) 

Thanks be to God for every blessing from heaven above—especially for each of YOU!

With love and thanksgiving,

Scott  & Cynthia 

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

 

Dear North Avenue Family and Friends,

Over the next several weeks, Roger Young (Executive Director of Finance and Operations), the North Avenue Finance Ministry Team, and I will be communicating with North Avenue members and friends to say thank you, thank you, thank you for your extraordinary and extravagant financial generosity in 2017, and especially in the last part of December.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow—because of your year-end contributions, the church was able to fulfill every ministry and mission commitment for the glory of God. 
           
Each and every gift, no matter how small or large it may have seemed to the giver, was vitally important to the overall offering to God.  The image that kept coming to my mind in those last days of the year was the image of the young boy who gave his meager lunch of two fish and five small barley loaves to Jesus with eager expectation.  Jesus blessed that small gift and multiplied it, so that he and the disciples could feed 5,000 people. I love that story!  In a way that can only be explained by God’s grace and power, your year-end gifts accomplished a great work of faith.  Again, thank you, and thanks be to God!
           
While all of the above is completely inspiring and true, I do want to encourage you to take a few minutes when reading this column to reflect, along with Cynthia and me, on the importance of giving our gifts, as we are able, each step of the way throughout the year. Without a consistent and reasonable level of giving throughout the year, it sometimes becomes challenging for the staff and ministry leaders to know if we are keeping in step with the Holy Spirit’s leading, or if we are overreaching or under reaching in ministry and mission. I do want you to know that the Finance Ministry Team is prayerfully diligent in developing a budget to present to the session each year for approval.  In most cases in recent years, we can look back and say that we have almost hit the mark, by God’s grace.  Please keep our church leaders and staff in your prayers as we look toward approving the 2018 budget in early February. 
           
In the meantime, may the Lord continue to make his love known to you in countless expressions of his grace, so you may extend such love to the hurting world all around us.
           
To God be all glory and praise!
 
With gratitude and joy,

Scott