Dear Darnestown Presbyterian Church Friends,
It is hard to believe it has been more than five months since I began serving as your Interim Pastor. The time has flown by for Nancy and me. It has been joyful, meaningful, and a whole lot of fun to begin this interim.
As New Year begins, I want to share with you my sense of what comes next in our life together. It appears to me that I may be serving here for two years or more, as we have a lot of work to do that I would describe as transitional ministry. Much of that work, or laying the groundwork for what remains to be done, will happen over the next six months.
Please pardon the length of this letter, but I don’t want to leave out anything important. I hope you can find the time to read it thoroughly so you will be well-informed as together we discern God’s mission and our place within it in the coming year. I hope you will join me and Session members during the education time Sunday, January 21, 2018, when we will address questions regarding all of the interim period activities listed below.
First, I want you to know of my highest priority during this interim time — maintaining an effective worship experience for the Congregation every Sunday. Engaging with God together through Word and Sacrament holds a congregation together in the unity of Christ, so I plan to continue spending much of my time and energy preparing for worship and engaging others in that preparation.
I plan to be continually engaged in pastoral care with the Deacons. There may be a church somewhere that has a board of deacons as strong as DPC’s, but I have never seen nor heard of it. Together, we will continue to provide the care and nurture of the Congregation, especially during difficult personal struggles.
I am committed to continuing my involvement in the education program, rotating through different age groups at different times of the year, from children’s music during Sunday School to a Confirmation class, some Junior and Senior High activities, an adult new member class, leadership training for officers and potential officers, and Bible study for worship planning groups.
As a first step in handling the current work load, as well as further defining staffing needs, the Session has authorized the hiring of a part-time program manager to take care of many non-pastoral needs of the church. Terrie May has graciously accepted this position on a one-year contract.
With the assistance of an occasional supply pastor to preach in my absence, along with Carole, Eric, Terrie, Farid, Tim, and the strong lay leadership of this Congregation, I believe we can continue to function at a high level of ministry during the interim period.
In my work with the Session, we will carry out the Church Assessment Tool (look for this in your email this week) and a mission study designed to dig down into the most important issues to address. Out of that study, I expect us to glean the information the Personnel Committee will need as it discerns a long-term staffing model to recommend to the Session.
The big issue we need to resolve over the next few months, of course, is the building expansion and renovation plan. Over the last few months, I have listened carefully to people who are in favor of the project and those who are not. The people on both sides of this issue are people of sincere faith and integrity, so I continue to believe that we can resolve it while maintaining the unity to which Christ calls us. I will not lie to you: it will be challenging over the next few months. You, however, are a strong and resilient Congregation with a history of weathering difficult times and resolving problems faithfully, so I have every reason to believe that we will come through this with our relationships intact, made stronger by the challenges we will face together.
Let me briefly share with you why I have come to believe that the BEAR project is worth the financial costs and the practical challenges we will meet.
I have encountered many of the problems BEAR seeks to fix. I can envision a fellowship area where the Congregation naturally meets each other and newcomers before and after worship; fellowship, education, music, and meeting space that supports the needs of each type of gathering and promotes growth. I can envision a sanctuary that will accommodate a growing congregation and a chancel in which mobility-impaired members can participate in the choirs and/or as worship leaders and access the sanctuary without depending on an aging and fickle elevator.
I recognize that this involves a significant financial commitment, and we can all imagine different ways to use several million dollars. The counter-intuitive truth is that a building project and expanded mission are not mutually exclusive. Historically, the opposite is almost always the case. I encourage everyone to continue to imagine the ministry and mission possible with increased financial support—I am convinced that those resources will be easier to raise, and the ministry of DPC will be more likely to increase, after the building issues are successfully resolved.
Will BEAR make the Congregation grow in numbers? Not by itself. It will, however, address one of several factors that limit the numerical growth of this Congregation. I have every reason to believe that the other factors, including a more highly developed small group ministry, focused mission interpretation, a staff model designed for growth, and intentional relationship-building with community members who regularly use the building, can be successfully addressed. Many of these issues are already being addressed by the Membership and Outreach Committee, and I am eager to provide pastoral leadership to any who wish to help address those issues in the coming year.
There are yet contingencies to be met before BEAR can proceed. While a second phase of the capital campaign will be necessary, a very generous additional pledge to the capital campaign ($900,000) has put the BEAR project within reach. Therefore, the Session has taken steps to make it possible to proceed as each contingency is met.
The Session has assembled a Transition Commission to deal with the practical challenges we will face, such as worship space, office space, and space for outside groups who rent or use the building (Georgetown Hill, AA, Scouts, etc.) The difference between a commission and a committee is that a commission is given more agility to act within certain parameters without having to wait for the next Session meeting.
While groundwork is already underway for the second part of the capital campaign, we can expect the campaign to run from late February to mid-March. We do not plan to hire a campaign consultant for this second campaign. One of the things I have learned from listening to you over these past five months is that the advice of the campaign consultant, while sound from a statistical standpoint, did not fit very well with this Congregation’s needs. I plan to be part of the leadership team of a campaign that focuses on the theological importance of this project and the significance of every giver and every single gift of any size. Beyond the number of dollars raised, the importance of this campaign as I see it is in the unity that emerges from clarifying the ministry this Congregation will do with the finished building as a tool for mission and service to God. Who will be served in the name of Christ whom we have not yet reached? Who will be included in our fellowship who is now excluded? Who are the strangers who will become our friends? How will our service to others and worship of God be strengthened?
Along with a successful capital campaign, we will need approval of a manageable mortgage from both the Congregation and National Capital Presbytery. Our best estimate now is that it will be between $500,000 and $750,000 that can be paid off in ten years with a pastor and a part-time associate pastor and a little more time with two full-time ordained pastors. In order to make an informed decision, the Congregation and the Presbytery will need to see firm bids on the project rather than rough estimates. Those bids require a decision within ninety days of submission, so the timetable between firm bids (March) and a congregational vote (the end of May) will be necessarily tight.
Before the project can proceed, two preliminary projects must be completed. The Transition Commission will secure a long-term lease with Georgetown Hill that takes into account the disruption to their operations during construction, and the loss of several classrooms due to the construction plans. To that end, the former manse will very soon be undergoing a remodel to add one additional large classroom on the first floor. After completion in May, the former manse will provide Jr. and Sr. High youth space, GH classroom space, and possibly transitional office space during BEAR construction.
The Cemetery Committee is working hard to plan the moves of gravesites that will be impacted by the construction. This includes moving entire family groupings even if only part of the family grouping would be impacted. If it could have been avoided, we would not have chosen to have to do this work. The requirements of the Historic Preservation Commission left no other choice. While this work is being done, we will take time to honor the memory of those families, celebrate the contributions they made to establishing Presbyterian ministry in Darnestown so many years ago, and celebrate the future ministry they have made possible. We anticipate this project will take about a week, and begin this Spring, pending Session approval.
When I commenced my search for a new ministry position last Spring, Nancy and I prayed for a challenging adventure. God came through. Never could we have imagined how much love and joy we would also find in you, through God’s providence.
Neill S. Morgan