A Time for Meditation


Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

I have heard it said that much of the time, ministers preach on what they need to hear personally. Well, maybe I just need some quiet time in my life!

This past Sunday I had the incredible privilege to worship and guest preach at Davie Street Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC. As I prepared for this particular sermon, I tried to take my own advice from last week’s blog and included “personal prayer” on my “To Do” list. Not only did this make a huge difference for me mentally as I approached the text each day, but I felt much more prepared and at peace as I walked into the sanctuary on Sunday morning.

As worship came to a close on Sunday morning, I realized once again how important it is to make sure that we and our parishioners take a few moments of personal time with God when we entered the time for meditation, the final act of worship.

Songs had been sung, prayers had been prayed, God’s Word had been read and proclaimed and the charge and benediction had been pronounced. The organist played a peaceful arrangement of the morning’s anthem as the congregation remained in their seats in prayer and contemplation before they departed that sacred space to carry God’s Word into the world.

When I was preparing for my first sermon years ago, I remember my minister saying, “Well, that was pretty good but where is the challenge?” As I read the books and took the classes on preaching, this idea was further emphasized. How is the text challenging us to live?

I wonder how many times we have left the sanctuary on a Sunday morning, focused on where we were going for lunch or what project needed to happen that afternoon, and left the challenge of the day back in the pew? I know that I am personally guilty of that more than I would like to admit. However, this time that is set aside for the purpose of reflecting on what has been both said and heard during worship, provides the perfect space to begin what we hope is a week-long (if not life-long) process.

I encourage you to try this in your own worship services sometime. If you are a pastor and know what you will be preaching on, maybe you can include one or two questions in the bulletin or even include the challenge in print so each person can not only reread during this time, but have it in print to carry with them throughout the week.

I know that we would all love to think that prayer and reflection happen every day, however I think we can acknowledge that this isn’t the case. The best diets on the market seem to be the ones that involve a community to support the individual. When there are external factors holding us accountable, and others supporting and encouraging us in our endeavors, we are more likely to succeed. This is one of the reasons we meet together to worship each week. So, my challenge to each congregational leader that reads this today is this: how can you not only encourage, but make time and space, for you and your parishioners to take personal time with God within the company of the community?

Davie Street Presbyterian Church is located in downtown Raleigh, NC and led by Rev. Byron Wade (Presbyterian School of Christian Education, MA 1994). To learn more about how this vibrant congregation carries their reflections into their ministry, find them on Facebook.

Lord, hear my prayer…

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Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

Prayer. It is something that is seemingly so simple, yet so many of us find it so difficult at times. A few years ago, I led a study on prayer and remember asking the group of mostly older adults what types of things kept them from praying at times. As a young seminarian it was almost refreshing to hear them begin to list off different things that stood in the way at times since I knew I had my own list, but the one that caught my ear was that there isn’t enough time.

It is kind of crazy to think that we don’t have enough time to stop and pray. We have time to make “To Do” lists, we have time to watch the latest hit TV show,  and we have time to check social media but at the end of the day a lack of time is one of the things that stands in the way of us taking time with God.

We live in a world of schedules. The alarm goes off at 5:45am, we wake the kids up at 6:15am to get them to the bus in time before we race to work. Once everyone is home it is time to do homework, prep dinner, clean up, touch base with friends and family, and by the time 8 o’clock hits the couch is the only place we want to be. Exhaustion takes over, we go to bed, and start the cycle all over again. It seems that unless something written on the master calendar for the day, we will be so consumed by everything else that it won’t happen.

We can lead studies on how to pray in a variety of ways and we can send out daily devotions to our parishioners but I wonder how many see that email and take the time to read it and even further, say that prayer. I wonder how many of us congregational leaders remember to take time every morning or afternoon to say our own prayer and spend that sacred time with God? There are so many tools at our disposal, and I would be willing to bet that many of those who read this have a shelf devoted to those tools in their office, but how often do we take the time to use them?

When I think back to the many different worship services I have been a part of, one of the most meaningful things that I have experienced is a time of silent prayer. A time set aside in the midst of another pre-scheduled period of time; a time when it is perfectly ok for us to put life aside for a moment and just be with God. I have seen this done at the start of worship following the prelude, during the prayer of confession, and during the pastoral prayer. No matter when it was done, it was a wonderful moment when I felt the weight of the past week or the next week’s “To Do” list fall away. It was a moment when I finally felt at peace and was able to open up and feel God’s love and grace surround me.

The last several months have given us all too many reasons to need this time. I don’t know that a day has passed when we didn’t pick up the newspaper or check the internet and see that another tragic event has occurred.  As congregational leaders, we don’t always have the answer. Unfortunately they didn’t give us the magic tool in any of our classes in seminary and I haven’t seen it show up at a Presbytery meeting yet. When we don’t have the answer and we don’t know what to say, we can pray. It doesn’t have to be a verbose prayer or one that is worthy of being published. We can simply open the door for each person to say their own prayers so they can put their own fears on the table for God in their own way. We don’t always have to do it for them. This also gives us our own time to do the same.

This time for personal prayer isn’t only needed in times of tragedy though. Every week someone in our congregation is struggling, but at the same time someone is celebrating. Every week a prayer concern will go unsaid for privacy reasons or simply because it is difficult to put into words. Every week our parishioners find themselves in the midst of chaotic schedules and rarely does “stop and say a prayer” find its way on the list. My only plea is that if this time is offered, there is plenty of time offered. Ten seconds isn’t enough. We don’t have to offer five minutes, but we want to be sure that we don’t rush one another in prayer. Maybe a familiar hymn, sung quietly while seated, will allow those who need more time to continue praying as the congregation transitions into the next aspect of worship.

We can teach all day, but when do we allow time to practice? Just as we find opportunities for our parishioners to do mission and outreach, enacting what they have heard and studied in Scripture every Sunday, we need to find these opportunities for our parishioners to go to God with their own prayers.

In this life of schedules and “To Do” lists, Lord, hear our prayers… Lord, hear my prayer.

The Church is Dying?


Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

I don’t know if I got more sideways looks when I told people that I wanted to be a band director or when I told people that I was leaving music education and going into ministry. After all, neither option placed me in a highly paid or rapidly growing field. One of the most common arguments I heard against me going into ministry sounded a lot like, “Yeah… that is nice and all, but don’t you realize that the church is dying?” Even now when people find out what I do, I am asked if I am seeing any growth… any at all? And my response is always “YES!”

Maybe it is the former music educator in me, but I don’t look at numbers all that often. An 80-member band is no better than a 30-member band if the quality isn’t there, and that is where I see the growth in our church today- in the quality.

Over the last 10 months, I have visited with congregations ranging from 50 members (roughly 20 in worship) to 1,000+ members and have several worship services every Sunday. I have visited with congregations that, on paper, should not be able to open their doors on Sunday morning. I have visited with congregations who are trying to figure out where they can put another door to open and make the traffic flow a bit easier. Right away, I confirmed something that I always thought- every congregation is different and size doesn’t matter.

But don’t I realize that the Church is dying? After all, the stats recently released by PC(USA) show that our numbers have dropped from 1,760,200 members at the end of 2013 to 1,667,767 at the end of 2014. If the Church is dying, it is a good thing that I did not become a doctor because I am missing (or ignoring) all of the symptoms. The Church is not dying, the Church is growing. The Church is responding to negative generalizations like this and upping its game. More opportunities are becoming available for people of all ages, backgrounds, and social classes, as congregations re-evaluate their mission and vision statements to meet the needs of the changing society. Our overall numbers might be down, but our quality is growing!

In January, I visited White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Willow Spring, NC. This small congregation worships in a sanctuary that probably can’t hold many more than 50 people. If you don’t know where it is along the long country road, you might even miss the small white building. However, as the members make their way in for the 10:30 a.m. worship service, the projector screen fills up with pictures taken from members’ Facebook pages that week (one of their ways of sharing joys and concerns) as friends and family members catch up and make plans for the coming days. The sanctuary may not fill up physically, but the excitement and the joy of those gathered overflows and almost breaks down the front door as they come together to worship God.

All Souls Presbyterian Church is located in the heart of Richmond, VA and members can be seen slipping in the door even as the sermon starts. They don’t fill the pews and eyes occasionally wander up to the latest leak in the roof as they wonder how they will find the money to fix it this time (learn more about their fundraising efforts here.) Despite small numbers and leaky roofs, they yearn to explore their faith at a deeper level and they gather together faithfully throughout the week for studies and discussions. Members drive from 20 minutes away every week and together raise their voices and prayers to the Lord, praising God for the ministry that continues to grow from this congregation despite all of the realities that challenge them.

Weems, VA is a small village in Eastern Virginia that, statistically, is a community of older people. That hasn’t stopped Campbell Memorial Presbyterian Church from gathering together for monthly discussions to discern how they can best go about enacting the dreaded “E” word… yes, that is right-they gather together for a monthly lunch to talk about evangelism–how they can best practice evangelism within their community, and what that means for their congregation. Shrinking numbers haven’t caused the loving and welcoming congregation to stop or even pause in their ministry and worship. Instead they are more engaged in their ministry than ever, claiming what they believe and finding new and exciting ways to share that.

Membership may be down right now, but passion is up. With the recent changes in PC(USA), more people are taking a step forward and owning what it is that they believe and see as most important as they find new ways to lead and carry our Church forward. The Church Leadership Connection shows that there are currently 1,730 call seekers and 488 open positions. More and more, these call seekers are creating new ministry opportunities for the Church in lieu of accepting a “traditional” call with a congregation.

The Church is not dying. The Church is transforming. Just as prospective home owners spend months, even years, building their savings and watching that number grow so they can afford a down payment, only to watch much of their savings disappear as they actually start their new life, we are watching our numbers drop as we start a new journey. However just as those homeowners move into the new house and start a new life, we too are starting a new life. Our dropping numbers do not mean that we are dying. They do not mean that we are sick. Our numbers mean that things are changing, and that isn’t bad.

The Church of 2015 is ushering in new opportunities, new passions, and new faces. I have yet to walk into a church that is dying, but I have walked into several churches of all sizes that are transforming as they look at the needs of their community and respond appropriately, finding new (or old?) ways to live out Christ’s teachings.

The Song of Summer

Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

For many, a Sunday morning worship service or Sunday School class is one of our first exposures to song outside of our parent’s comforting arms as they rock us to sleep. As small children in the church, we learn simple songs like “Jesus Loves Me” and “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”. We are exposed to new hymns every Sunday in worship, maybe even learning some by memory as they are repeated. As a hospital chaplain, I remember standing by a bedside and singing “In the Garden” with a family as their loved one drew their last breath; I remember sitting with a 98-year old woman who could no longer speak or read, but she could still sing two or three hymns from her childhood.

Music is a unique, but universal language. I don’t know about you, but I rarely left my high school French or Latin class with a phrase, much less an entire poem, stuck in my head for the rest of the day. I do, however, leave church most Sunday mornings with a hymn stuck in my head and continue to sing and praise God through that song for the rest of the day (and sometimes into the week!).

Sunday morning worship gives us many opportunities to utilize this incredible love and praise language as we express what it is that we believe through black dots and lines turned into beautiful music. Congregations lift their voices to the heavens, choirs praise God with anthems, and instrumental musicians pull at heart strings as they share their own interpretation of classic hymns. Young children have the opportunity to share their developing talents publicly for the first time, many times as they sit beside a retired member who is dusting off almost-forgotten talents.

Calypso Presbyterian Church in Calypso, NC sees the importance of music in worship and has changed things up for the summer to broaden their musical reach. In lieu of an anthem this past Sunday, Rev. Nick Nielsen invited members of the congregation to call out their favorite hymn numbers. The first hymn, #339 in what is now lovingly referred to as “The Blue Hymnal” was first and the congregation sang the very familiar “Be Thou My Vision.” The second hymn reached a little further back, only vaguely familiar to a 27-year old like myself- #459 in “The Red Hymnal” is one that older generations than my own may remember singing, “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus”.

Many of our “go to” hymns may not be ones that are regularly sung today, just like “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus,” but they are still alive within us and for that reason, they are still available to us today even if they are not in whatever hymnal your congregation currently uses.  As we sing these hymns throughout the remainder of our Sunday and with our children and grandchildren, we share something almost as old as many of our confessions of faith; one could even say that they are confessions set to music.

I honestly don’t remember singing “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus” in worship, but I do remember my great-grandmother singing it to me when I was only 3 years old and curled up with her in her bed. Hymns are gifts that keep giving. The hymns that my great-grandmother sang to me will be sung to my own children one day, just as the hymns that are important to one individual in a congregation can be shared with others when we provide time and space to “call out any number.”

Many congregations find themselves in a situation with half of the choir during the summer, if the whole choir isn’t on vacation. Calypso Presbyterian, only a few hours from Topsail Island which is very appealing on a beautiful weekend, decided to give the choir a break during the summer and they will open the time set aside for the anthem every week. Some weeks the congregation will call out hymn numbers, other weeks members might share their own musical talents. Whatever Calypso Presbyterian’s anthem is, whatever your congregation does for summer music, I pray that praising God will be at the center of it and that every person walks out into the sun singing for the remainder of the day!

Calypso Presbyterian Church, located in Eastern North Carolina, has welcomed many Union educated pastors to their pulpit throughout their history (usually as a first call!) Learn more about their ministry at www.calypsopresbyterian.org.

Church Family Time


Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

don’t know about y’all, but the Children’s Sermon is usually my favorite part of worship. Not only can we count on the kids to say anything (one young boy recently told me about how his Mom forgot to make his lunch one day… right there, on the steps, in front of the whole congregation), but it is also a great time to bring sometimes complicated ideas to a very simple explanation; we may not cover the whole thing, but this brief time serves as a great introduction for everyone. When the Children’s Sermon looks at the same scripture as the “Big Sermon,” it might even make that a bit easier to understand.

Most worship services today have this time set aside for children, but what happens when there are no children or you don’t know week to week who will be there? All too often I see the minister (or whoever is to give the Children’s Sermon that day) look around and see that there are no children and proceed with the service. Knox Presbyterian in Norfolk, VA does just the opposite, remembering that we are all children- children of God.

“Church Family Time” fills the time slot that many churches reserve for a Children’s Sermon. During this time, members of the church take turns highlighting ministries and aspects of their faith that are important to them. On the day when I visited to guest preach, one of the members used this time to share what he thought was most important about Union Presbyterian Seminary and why he was excited that we were there.

There is something about remembering that we are all children and can benefit from that special, simple time in worship. How many times during the rest of the worship hour do you regularly find yourself laughing and truly enjoying the act of worship so deeply that you cannot help but smile? Even those of us who are Teaching Elders will tell you that worship can be very mundane at times and the sermons aren’t always top notch. Why should we let this special time go just because there are no kids in the pews?

When church members are given the opportunity to explore an aspect of their faith that is especially important to them, share a story or feature an outreach program with the others that have gathered, the worship services “belongs” to the whole congregation as opposed to how it might feel when the music director and pastor plan the whole service. When there is a greater sense of ownership, there is a greater desire to be present and engaged. When individuals have an opportunity to share what is on their mind when they think about their faith, the community grows stronger and we live into Christ’s teachings to support one another.

Yes, there is something special about watching fidgety children as they sit on the steps of the sanctuary and say any number of things. I think we can all say that we have learned a lot in those moments. However, there is no reason that we can’t have that moment of simplicity and joy just because there are no kids one day or every week.

Children are known for finding great joy in the most simple things and for being extra curious about new things. We may be “all grown up,” we may have our own kids and grandkids, but that doesn’t have to stop our own joy and curiosity.

Whether you have children in worship every week, or only at Christmas when they visit their grandparents, remember that we are all children of God. How can we help our parishioners find that joy and curiosity again? What would happen if we all got up out of the pew one Sunday and gathered on the floor at the front of the sanctuary for just a few minutes?

Knox Presbyterian Church is located in Norfolk, VA and is led by Rev. Ron Blade (M. Div. 1987), pastor. Check them out on Facebook!

Our cover image comes from http://go-newhope.com/connect/children/sunday-mornings-for-kids/

“I Am Jim”

Rev. James (Jim) B. Holderness
Rev. James (Jim) B. Holderness

Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

Webster’s Dictionary defines “hospitality” as “generous and friendly treatment of visitors and guests” and from the stories that I have heard this past weekend, the picture next to that definition should be of the late Rev. Jim Holderness.

This past Sunday, I was honored to represent the Union Presbyterian Seminary community at a special event to honor Jim at his last church, First Presbyterian Church in Wilmington. As I listened to the “New Life Band” practice for the 9am worship service, I wandered Gilmour Hall and read reflections about what members love most about this church. Hospitality, love, and grace were some of the more repeated characteristics. I can attest to this as I reflect on the warm welcome that my husband and I received from the minute we walked into the building.

Ginny Ward Holderness, wife of Jim Holderness, looking at the plans for the renovated Richmond Hall which will include the new dining room, with her son and daughter.

I fully believe that characteristics like hospitality are innately within us, however they need to be nurtured so that they can come to full fruition. As Congregational Leaders, Ministers of Word and Sacrament, and Teaching and/or Ruling Elders we are called to help guide and nurture our parishioners and provide opportunities for growth. From everything I have heard, Rev. Jim Holderness did just that for all whom he met, truly embodying the teachings of Christ to love our neighbors.

In a video made especially for this weekend’s event, YouTube star Penn Holderness (Jim’s nephew) highlights what makes Jim special as he asks “Don’t you want to be like Jim?”  and on Sunday evening, roughly 100 family members and friends of Jim gathered together around the table for dinner and celebration, showing how they are each like Jim in their own ways. Upon their arrival, each person was given a button that says “I Am Jim” in an effort to encourage each person to think about how they can continue embody the lessons that Jim taught in new ways. Laughter and excitement filled the room as all were welcomed in and God’s grace and love enveloped all as they remembered a man who was a living example of just that. There was no stranger in the room as “new family members” were quickly introduced and welcomed to the table.

Union Presbyterian Seminary is a community of congregational leaders in all stages of formation. As Rev. Haywood Holderness (Jim’s brother) mentioned at the dinner on Sunday evening, one of the greatest ways in which these future 11039220_970509406326995_3436887398979283676_nleaders will grow is through fellowship around the table. A space for community development and hospitality to occur is not only desirable, but a vital part of a congregational leader’s development. Family and friends of Rev. Jim Holderness, including First Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, are honoring all that Jim represented by giving to the fund for Union’s new dining room that will be named “The James B. Holderness Dining Room.” Our future students may not know who Jim was, but they will learn all that he represented as they gather in “Holderness” for their daily meals, studying, and fellowship events. All that they learn in this special space will help to form who they are as congregational leaders in the future.

In a world where differences can cause great collisions, we sometimes need reminders of how to be hospitable and examples of God’s love and grace. Rev. Jim Holderness, his family, his friends, and the members of First Presbyterian Church in Wilmington are just a few of many that offer that reminder and example of how to be hospitable, gracious, and loving. It has been an honor to get to know Jim through these people, and it is my hope and prayer that I am not the only person who learns a new way of living from the stories that they share.

Many gathered at First Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, NC to celebrate the life and gifts of Rev. Jim Holderness and the future “James B. Holderness Dining Room” at Union Presbyterian Seminary.

For more than 45 years, the Rev. Dr. James (Jim) B. Holderness faithfully served the church of Jesus Christ as a pastor, mentor, leader, teacher, and friend. Born and raised in Tarboro, NC, Jim graduated from Woodberry Forest School, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Union Theological Seminary in Virginia (now Union Presbyterian Seminary), where he earned both the Master of Divinity (1967) and Doctor of Ministry (1982) degrees.

He was ordained into ministry in the Presbyterian Church in October 1967 and began a distinguished pastoral career marked by his passion and gift for preaching and teaching the Bible, particularly the good news of the gospel. His ministry was also deeply influenced by his recognition of the importance of Christian community.

If you would like to donate to “The Holderness Dining Room”, please visit imjim.org.


First Presbyterian Church in Wimington, NC is located in Downtown Wilmington, only a few blocks from the river. Three of their four ministers are Union alums (Rev. Ernie Thompson, M. Div. 1988; Rev. Kathy Beach, M. Div. 1997; and Rev. Jay Atkinson, M. Div. 2014.) Visit http://www.firstonthird.org to learn more about their ministry!