New Chapters

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Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

In November of 2001, Covenant Presbyterian Church in Durham, NC broke ground on a new chapter in their (then) 114 year history. After starting as just a small Sunday School class in an old building in 1887 where they made history as the first African American church in Durham, Covenant Presbyterian began work on their fourth home (third church building) located in the heart of Durham, NC only one mile away from North Carolina Central University. Two years and one week later, the first worship service was held in the beautiful sanctuary in the new building located between two neighborhoods on Weaver Street. Today, members of Covenant Presbyterian fill the sanctuary with songs of praise every Sunday and hold lunches and workshops in the fellowship hall monthly. Kids run through halls with excitement as the adults catch up with one another and discuss plans for upcoming programs.

This past Sunday as I sat in the pew at Covenant Presbyterian and listened to a children’s sermon about the new school year to begin the next day, I began to think about all of the new chapters that not only the individuals in the room were facing, and those that the greater Church is facing, as well.

For the members of Covenant Presbyterian, the next chapter will be marked by burning their 30-year mortgage… a few years ahead of time. I am sure committees are already being dreamt up (if not already formed) for exciting new ministries that can happen with that item removed from their budget, as they move closer and closer to November 15, 2015.The excitement is contagious!

As Covenant looks at bringing their “new building” chapter to a close, Union is looking at the first pages of a similar chapter. In the coming weeks we will break ground on both our Richmond Hall and Westwood Apartments renovations.

Every individual is starting a new chapter in his or her life every day—some big and some small. The larger Church is starting a new chapter every day, as well. The question is: how do we discern the presence of God in these chapters?

What stood out to me most about Covenant Presbyterian was that the impending mortgage burning was only a small aspect of what was going on. The posters on the walls and Sunday bulletins are filled with ministry and fellowship opportunities, and I imagine that many more will follow in the coming months.

Whether your congregation is close  to paying off a mortgage, starting on a new building, or  kicking off a new Sunday School year- where will you find God in it?

I invite you to share YOUR new chapters with others in the comment section so that we might pray with, and for, you in your new beginnings.


To learn more about the rich history of Covenant Presbyterian Church (led by Union Presbyterian Seminary alum who graduated from PSCE in 1986 and UPSem Board of Trustees member, Rev. Jimmie Hawkins), please visit their website.

Please visit our blogs about both the Richmond Hall (including the Syngman Rhee Global Mission Center and the Jim Holderness Dining Room) and Westwood Apartment renovations. If you wish to donate to Union Presbyterian Seminary to support these renovations, please go here.

Welcome, Nicole!

Nicole C. Ball Church Relations Officer
Nicole C. Ball
Church Relations Officer

We are very excited to announce that the Union Presbyterian Seminary “Church Relations Program” has welcomed Nicole Childress Ball to our team.

Nicole C. Ball received her Master of Divinity from Union Presbyterian Seminary in 2011. Prior to taking the position as Church Relations Officer at UPSem, Nicole spent 3 years in hospital ministry as Staff Chaplain and ACPE Supervisory Education Student at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She is passionate about people, serving the Church, and representing Union in the community!

In 2008, Nicole received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religious Studies from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia where she played for the Women’s Basketball team (Go Jackets!). Nicole and her husband (and college sweetheart!), Dr. Tyler Ball, DDS, reside in the city of Richmond with their hound dog, Bea.

Nicole will work with congregations in the Virginia and Washington D.C. areas. Jordan Davis, our Church Relations Officer who has been building relationships between the seminary and our congregations, will move her focus to North Carolina and South Carolina congregations.

As Nicole finishes her first week on the job, she writes-

Greetings from the campus of UPSem, Richmond!

I’m thrilled to be welcomed ‘home’ to Union Presbyterian Seminary to serve as the VA/DC/WV Church Relations Officer. Union Presbyterian Seminary nurtured me in so many ways when I started my graduate studies in 2008. I entered Union-PSCE with a focus on academics and enrolled in the Master of Arts in Theological Studies program. As a cradle Southern Baptist, I was sure of God’s call to service in ministry in the name of Jesus Christ; however, I was unsure of where I fit in the Kingdom of God.

The community welcomed me with open arms, embraced me as I navigated my first steps in Reformed theology, and challenged me to my core. I learned valuable lessons about grace and about the necessity for critical theological reflection. As a result, I began to speak with a new voice in the world around me.

My unique journey is only a piece of the greater story being told each day at Union Presbyterian Seminary. I look forward to sharing my story and the stories of others with you!   I am available to come to your church to share with you some of the exciting programs happening at UPSem.  Preaching, providing a minute for mission, teaching, leading a youth group or other study—I’m open to however you can use me to share about the seminary.  Please contact me and we can work together to find a venue that works for your congregation.

Yours in Christ,

Nicole C. Ball

To schedule a time for Nicole to visit your congregation, please contact her at nball@upsem.edu or (804)278-4285.

Going Home

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Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

This past Sunday I met a wonderful older woman who plays piano at Nutbush Presbyterian Church in Townsville, NC. Following worship, I thanked her for the wonderful addition to the service and asked if she was/ used to be a piano teacher. She explained to me that she is self-taught and began playing for this very church when she was only 15 years old. After moving away for school and to teach school, she found herself back at Nutbush several years later and enjoys playing for them again today.

I thought about her story on the drive home and began to wonder what it might be like to go back to my childhood church as an adult, and even more so as an older, retired adult.

Among the differences that would exist today (in my case, roughly 15 years later) we might find a glimmer of what we knew to be our church. I remember visiting my childhood church several years ago to find out they had just reinstated a game that my friends and I started, “Broom Hockey,” and subsequently had it banned after breaking a window when we were in middle school. The youth who remembered me as their babysitter were so excited to show me this great new game, and I couldn’t help but smile as I remembered being that same age and showing my mom our new game after youth group one night.  My aunt, who still attends the church on occasion, found a bulletin covered in notes between me and my friends, preserved between the pages of the hymnal of “our” pew. Somewhere in the attic, among even older boxes, there is a box filled with hopes and prayers for the next 30 years (with the plan to find them again in 2030) my friends and I hid during a lock-in one night. There are also some sadder memories, like the columbarium marker for my friend–another active youth member–who died in a car accident.

What about you? What are your memories of your first church? Are they the ones who gave you your first Bible that I mentioned in last week’s blog? If you were to return today, what would you expect to find? How do you think you react to changes from “the way things were done” when you were there?  Do you think you’d be open to them?  Resistant to them? Most importantly, how would you take part in their ministry today?

As I talked with the pianist on Sunday, I realized that she had an incredible story to share. I wanted to ask her more questions- what was most important to her at this church? Why did she come back here instead of going elsewhere? What memories did she have here? Who gave her the first opportunity to lead in worship when she was younger?

I find myself inspired by the pianist at Nutbush and look forward to seeing how I am participating in my congregation’s ministry as an older, retired adult and wonder if it might even be back at my first church. It also makes me think about how I can be sure that ministry opportunities are open to adults in congregations that I serve, especially since in many cases they have been there all of their life or are returning home after some time away. Sometimes I wonder if we spend too much time trying to relate to the younger generations and forget about those who have carried us to where we are today.

Those who are older than us can teach us a lot about not just the history of our congregation, but how to minister in new ways.

What opportunities are available for older adults in our congregations to not only lead in worship, but to lead the church through their own experiences and wisdom? How are we connecting generations within the congregation so that the younger members can learn from the older members? What would making our church “home” for our members look like– and not just a place to gather on Sunday morning?

Just a few things to think about, and maybe even ask of our older, life-long members!

Your First Bible

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Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

Do you remember your first Bible? I do. It was a small red story Bible with a drawing of Noah’s ark on the front. I remember receiving it as a very young child when I first started Sunday School at my church. Over the next several years I received a few more age appropriate Bibles- one was silver and sparkly with fun quips in the columns that made what I read more interesting; the next had colorful pages throughout and highlighted a common topic for teens and gave scripture references for the topic. As I got older, the Bibles got less colorful but more detailed in their study notes. Each Bible carries memories of my friends as well, those who sat by my side from a very early age as we learned to read and understand beyond the pictures of the first little red Bible and dig into those hard-hitting topics in our middle-school Bible. If I were to shake my Bible, I might even find a note or two that falls out from between the pages that was passed between best friends during worship.

Our first Bibles are filled with so much more than just scripture. They are filled with the love and memories with our Sunday School teachers and those who sat around the small table with us. They are filled with prayers for our faith journey from the person who wrote each of our names inside the cover and presented them to us that Sunday morning. We may not use these Bibles anymore, but many of us can still find them on our shelves or might have passed them on to our children (I ended up passing along my red Bible when I saw my niece fall asleep with it repeatedly!).

Wake Forest Presbyterian Church has added a very special element to the Bibles given to their confirmands each year. In the weeks leading up to the start of the new Sunday School year, members of the congregation are given the opportunity to donate $15 to help purchase a Bible for one of the youth and asked to include their favorite scripture and/ or a prayer for that youth. The scriptures and prayers will be written in the front cover and become a special part of that child’s faith journey. Whenever they open their Bible to study for confirmation or to read on their own, they will be reminded that they are not alone in their journey and others are praying for them.

In the Presbyterian Church (USA), Scripture is authority and “rule of faith and life”. The Bible is where we are able to dig deeper and explore the history of those stories we learned through pictures as toddlers. Scripture serves as our guide as we learn more about Christ and come to know God through our belief. It is very easy to find a Bible- they are even available at the dollar store now; but it means so much more when we know that the Bible was given to us with prayer and hope, from someone who is on their own journey with God.

I don’t have children of my own yet, however I have loved sitting with my nieces as they look through the Bibles on my shelf. Some have pictures, most do not. However, they have learned that most of my Bibles were gifts, just like I have given them several Bibles. They love to ask me who gave it to me as they thumb through the pages. So much of our faith comes from relationships with those who have helped nurture us in our development and I love every time I get to share that with them as we talk about my own Bibles and the ones that I give them, many times straight off of my personal bookshelf.

Who gave you your first Bible? Which Bible is your favorite and why? As church leaders, these are great questions to think about at times as we remember where we started and where we are starting our own children, both in our families and in our churches.

The Passion Behind the Goal

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Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

It’s that time of year- Vacation Bible School is wrapping up and “Rally Day” is on the horizon. Directors of Christian Education all over the country are breathing a sigh of relief that they have made it through another summer as they look around the office and wonder if they will ever get it organized again, much less, in time for next summer. When I was a child, this is the time of year I loved because my sisters and I had our mom (a Director of Christian Education) all to ourselves for a brief few weeks.

I am very familiar with the exhaustion that follows a summer full of VBS, camps, and special programming. Naturally, I was stunned to not only see a smile, but sheer excitement from Rev. Stephanie Arnold Workman at Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church (Cary, NC) when I noted the camp materials littering her office this past Sunday. “Ahh- wrapping up from VBS, huh?” Right away her face lit up as she began telling me that the materials weren’t actually from VBS, but from the church’s Summer Enrichment Program.

Kirk of Kildaire backs up to a lower income, mostly Spanish, neighborhood. Knowing that there were members interested in education and who could speak Spanish, they began a tutoring program for the children in the neighborhood. This tutoring program has grown into a free, ten-week program over the summer led by both Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian and Greenwood Forest Baptist Church (just down the street). Every Monday and Thursday, church members volunteered to lead activities and provide food as the neighborhood children filled the buildings from 10am-noon.

As I listened to the brief recap of the last ten weeks, I began to wonder what the world would look like if more churches teamed up to meet the needs of the neighborhood. What if denomination was our final thought and “I wonder how we can serve the people who live around us” was our first thought? What if we did more than simply inviting our neighbors to worship or a one day fall festival, once a year?

Listening to the background of the Summer Enrichment Program, it sounds like it is such a success because of the tutoring program and constant ministry to the community. However, I think it goes even further than that. When children show up, they are greeted with smiles and excited volunteers with passion in the eyes, not just for the “goal on paper” for the program but for the children themselves, the “WHY?”  of the program.

This Summer Enrichment Program serves as a great model for other congregations. What are the needs in your community, and further what are the passions in your own congregation? The next time your mission committee sits down to find a new partnership, look for the place where these two meet up and you just might have the starts of a successful ministry! I think that too often, we only see one or the other- the needs OR our passion. If the two don’t meet up, we might only see a dent in our budget with very little to show for it.