Summary: Not a sermon, but a farewell statement given to the congregation at Sunrise Presbyterian Church
I have been reflecting on what we have accomplished at Sunrise.
When I came here, Sunrise was a hurting and very conflicted church. But it was clear that this was not your nature. Your nature was to be "the church where love lights the way."
I remember my first Session meeting -- elders yelling and screaming. What a night! After a few months of session meetings like that, I made all the elders start meeting in the Upper Room, and I told them that we would not vote on any business until we learned how to work together. I told them I wanted them to ’come with excitment and anticipation that something special was going to happen’ and that after the meeting they were to ’go home with joy in their hearts.’
One elder called that a radical idea. But soon that was the way we were meeting, and joy returned to the Session.
I have had 5 great years at Sunrise -- of course, many of you know I’ve been here SEVEN years. The first two, I will admit, were pure hell.
But those conflicts are over. Thank God.
I pray that you do not experience that conflict again as you did the last time you were between pastors.
Please remain the church ’where love lights the way.’
I want to commend you for the work you have done while I have been with you.
In the area of CHRISTIAN EDUCATION...
Nancy Jones did a great job years ago on the School for Christian Living. A couple of years before I came, I understand there were as many as 200 attending classes on a mid-week evening. When I got here, I was surprised to see it had dwindled down to about a dozen.
Nancy was a great Director of Christian Education and she knew that you always have to be creative -- constantly building up the programs of Christian Education.
The School for Christian Living had to close. But other things came up in its place.
We started Bible Study Fellowship in September 1996, an ecumenical and intense Bible Study for women that has been held every Monday night. What a great program that is -- with over 150 women attending these classes.
When I arrived, only about a dozen adults attended Sunday School classes. Now there are over 50 in attendance. We doubled the size of our enrollment in Christian Education programs.
But remember -- you have to remain alert! Be creative. Don’t be afraid to let some of the ministries I began close. Be willing to start new ones!
I think one area that I take great satisfaction is in CHILDREN’S MINISTRY. The first Sunday I was here, I invited the children to come forward for a children’s sermon. Four little girls came forward. Four!! This morning in church we had so many kids! I counted over 30 kids. Wow!
I can’t begin to tell you how many things Sunrise has done for children.
One thing we did right after I got here was to make the weekday preschool and kindergarten a Christian school. Until then, prayer and Bible Study was not allowed. I insisted that it be a Christian school and I started meeting each week with the kids for a chapel. I remember how nervous I made Nancy Jones, who was the director back then. She worried we would lose students. A few weeks later, she came in my office with a big smile on her face -- true, we’d lost one student -- but we were gaining new ones because of the religious emphasis.
A lot has happened in the preschool. We added an art teacher in 1998 and a music teacher in 2000. Two years ago, in 2001, the Sunrise Preschool became the Sunrise Christian Academy -- we now go through 3rd grade! I want to thank all the work Barbara Hassal has done to keep that program alive and growing!
I hope you always remain proud of that program.
It is a wonderful ministry to the community.
But we also minister to our own children.
Maryann Tatum has said many times that she remembers longing to be old enough to join the youth group. Now kids no longer have to wait. Our youth program goes from Preschool through High School, with the KFC, or Kids For Christ, being offered to our younger children.
If you want to see energy -- come here on Sunday nights and look at the 60 to 100 children and their leaders!
But remember what I said a moment ago -- Christian Education, youth ministry, and children’s ministry all takes creativity. Don’t be afraid to join in! And don’t be afraid to close programs I started so you can create new ones.
In the area of MISSIONS...
Many of you know how dear Missions is to me. I was glad when we began supporting missionaries in 1997 by helping to fund the work of Harry and Debbie Horne in Guatemala. I knew Harry from a time when we both served in Savannah Presbytery together -- although I did not know him well. I’ve gotten to know him better as we have received his letters from the mission field. What great fun we all had a couple of years ago when our children collected almost 1000 toys to send to the children in Guatemala.