Members and friends of Shenango,
Grace and peace to you in this hope-filled Easter season.
I am both honored and energized by my election this week as our next Executive Presbyter and Stated Clerk. In the words of the old spiritual, there was a “sweet, sweet spirit” in the air at our called meeting on April 29. It was a blessing to a part of that good gathering, and we owe a debt of gratitude to Rev. Jim Mohr and Westminster College for hosting us on such short notice. We will send you a link next week to an online video of the scripture reading and sermon from the meeting, so that you can share them with your sessions and others as you deem helpful.
When next you see members of the EP/SC nominating committee, offer them your thanks for their diligent work on a tight timeline during a busy time of year. I was encouraged by their great unity, clarity, and sense of calm throughout the process. Thanks to Rev. Bill McGary and the committee for their labor on all our behalf. Furthermore, let us be grateful for Rev. Don Stanley lending his wisdom and support to our ministry committees during the interim time between executives. Don is always at the ready with the right words at the right time — one of many wise pastors in our midst.
As for my transition from one post to another, I want you to be aware that Monday, June 2 will be my first day on the job as EP/SC. This start date will give me two weeks to connect with our presbytery office staff, our council and committee leaders, and our retiring Stated Clerk, all before attending General Assembly in Detroit, June 14-21. Later this month, I will be in touch with you again to give you my new contact information for the future.
Until June 2, I will be wrapping up six years of ministry with the New Wilmington congregation. I give thanks to the Holy Spirit for the fruits of officer development, local mission engagement, and weekly blended worship we have enjoyed together. June 1 will be my final Sunday with the congregation, as I will no longer be functioning for them in any pastoral way. I will no longer be worshipping with them on a regular basis. Friendships remain, but pastorates must end and space be made for a new Teaching Elder to serve them. As for me, I look forward to spending at least three Sundays a month worshipping with and greeting our Shenango congregations. More about that effort, and a great many other plans, after June 1.
As I indicated at our called meeting, these are not easy days for Shenango. Local demographic challenges, shifty religious appetites, and persistent denominational noise make theologically-rich shared ministry most challenging … yet all the more urgent. Let us not lose heart, even amid smaller numbers and uncertainty about Detroit. Christ is alive and will have his church, this much we know. It is only for us to be open to the movement of his Holy Spirit, who comforts and challenges us with the good news. On days in my ministry when the way ahead has been distressingly unclear, the strange news of the empty tomb has made all the difference. Be encouraged. Stay engaged. He is risen. That is enough.
Until June, I remain, your friend and partner in ministry,
Ralph W. Hawkins