Running the Race

…let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us… -Hebrews 12:1b


Eastern Virginia is not naïve to the race scene in the state. With flat, winding roads around historic architecture and beautiful, water views, adrenaline-junkies flock to the shore to find some of the best races with pristine conditions. This March, the city of Newport News, Virginia will host one of its largest gatherings of racers and health-enthusiasts alike as they put on a three-day festival surrounding the One City Marathon.

The inaugural event was held last year and drew nearly 6,000 spectators, 800 volunteers and 2,600 runners over the 4 races offered: a traditional marathon (26.2), a relay marathon with 2-4 partners to conquer 26.2, an 8k race and a one-miler for kids of all ages.

With a flood of people coming from all over to enjoy the races and events, Rev. Clark Desarro-Raynal and Hilton Presbyterian Church came up with a plan to participate in the event. The two main race paths come straight down Main Street where the church is located. Hilton Presbyterian will meet during their regular worship hour with banners, noise makers, and signs to cheer on the runners of the race. They have planned to move their worship service to 3pm in the afternoon. “This is a great way to share our joy in Christ with our neighbors and the whole city”, Clark remarked.


Hilton Presbyterian Church

The proceeds benefit three local charities whose collective mission is to serve and protect victims and families affected by sexual abuse and domestic violence, an incredibly important justice issue for this community and for the faith leaders in the area. Hilton Pres. members decided this was an important mission to support as a congregation whose building stands on one corner with three other denominations of the Protestant church within a stone’s throw.

Last year, the congregation gathered to support the first annual races and it turned out to be a huge success. Parishioners showed up in great numbers to cheer on the racers with signs of encouragement. As the success of the race continues to grow, there is no doubt that Hilton Presbyterian will continue to cheer on those running the races, year after year, while sharing joy and love to the community.

Are there opportunities for your congregation to support local events or festivals in an effort to share the love of Christ with others? 

Nicole C. Ball, Church Relations Officer


“That progressive, little church on the hill?”

Original artwork by Cove Presbyterian Church member Karen Levering.


On my way to Covesville, Virginia this past Sunday to guest preach at Cove Presbyterian Church, I was side-tracked and missed my turn. Thankfully, a small shop nearby was open so I proceeded to ask for directions. The attendant remarked, “oh…that progressive, little church on the hill?”

Cove Presbyterian Church seemed just that. Nestled in a hillside off route 29 in Southern Albemarle County, the 1800’s sanctuary building sits as a beacon of history to the church and surrounding community. The intimate space is serene with vaulted ceilings, creaking wood floors and an eggshell-colored interior. Natural sunlight pours into the space thanks to beautiful, Gothic-style windows. I had several minutes in the space to myself before the service started and it was simply breathtaking.

In conversation with Covenant Pastor and alum, Rev. Joshua Andrzejewski, I began to learn about the congregation’s progressive nature. But it was during the announcement and prayers of the people portion of the worship service that I heard personal testimony, prayer requests, and member involvement which impacted my understanding the most.

Cove Presbyterian is passionate about serving others and is involved in hands-on ministry at many local mission initiatives in the surrounding community, including Covesville Child Development Center, Habitat for Humanity, and the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. Several members of the congregation are also involved in various international mission agencies, including Ixtatan Foundation, Building Goodness Foundation and mission work in Mexico.

Moreover, it was the warmth and community experienced in worship that helped me better understand this progressive, little church on the hill. The worship experience was book-ended by communal participation, through collective sharing of praise, burdens, needs, and opportunities to be with one another along the journey of faith. While they are few in number, this congregation abounds with willing hearts and eager hands to reach out in the name of Jesus Christ.

With this spirit in mind, Cove Presbyterian Church has discerned a new path to extend a call to a full-time pastor for a designated term. This is a bold step in an exciting direction for Cove Presbyterian. They covet your prayers for their Session and PNC during this time!

To learn more about Cove Presbyterian Church, including a link to their MIF on the CLC, click here.

Nicole C. Ball, Church Relations Officer




The origin of our tradition of giving something up for Lent is one that focuses on removing worldly distractions from our lives so that we can grow closer to God. I have heard many people equate this practice to the act of deny ourselves and carry our cross. Chocolate. Diet Coke. Cursing. Alcohol. Eating out. Facebook. My favorite is the attempt from 90% of students to give up homework.  If I am honest with you, I was a young adult before I really began to grasp the real purpose for the practice. I think the first time I even thought about giving up something was in High School when other kids started boasting about what they gave up. Giving something up for Lent was cool, so right away I decided that I would take the cool factor to another level and give up Diet Coke because somewhere in my 15 year old brain I thought it was cool that I drank a ton of it. The migraines hit though and it wasn’t long before I went running for that ice cold drink as soon as the bell rang to release school one afternoon. This was my first time giving something up, but not the last. Since that rough start, I have made an attempt to give up just about anything and everything… and in hindsight, it seems it was always in an attempt to build my perception of myself rather than to refocus on God.  As I read Facebook posts and talk to friends, it seems more and more as if Lent has become the time to get a second chance at the New Year’s resolutions that most of us have probably given up on weeks ago, a 40-day crash diet and self-improvement time. However, denying ourselves for social reasons is NOT what Jesus had in mind.

Over the last 2-3 years I have seen a slow change in focus during this season though, and one that I think is more in line with what Jesus was talking about and reminiscent of the original Lenten practice. A few years ago, I remember seeing a push to donate money and time (typically 40 hours) to charities for Lent. Last year, and again this year, I have seen a push to give up negative character traits and actions (including a list of 40, one for each day). One that really caught my attention this year was “40 bags in 40 days,” challenging participants to re-evaluate not just their material belongings, but many different aspects of life as they get rid of 40 bags of stuff over the course of the Lenten season, tackling one pile of stuff or part of your life each day. Suggestions included donating items to charities or getting your schedule de-cluttered so you can have some family time. While these are all great ideas though, we are called to change our entire lives, not just 40 days worth (even though this is a great place to start).

When I was in middle school and at summer camp, I remember a counselor crossing his arms in front of him and asking what we saw. Because it was a church camp, we of course said “a cross!” We talked about what a cross was and why it was important, but then he explained how it serves as a reminder of how we should live. He explained that the biggest part of the cross was the piece of wood that stuck in the ground and reached to the sky and can represent our relationship with God. The other part of the cross, the arms that reach out to either side, reminds us of our relationship with others. When we view the cross in this way,  the cross reminds us of that commandment to love God and neighbor, serving others rather than ourselves, and living our lives in a way that reflects what Christ taught us through his own priority to live and die for us.

I think the best part of all of this though is the little piece of the Gospel that gets overlooked due to the shock factor. Tucked in Jesus’ words when he tells the disciples that he will die soon is a word of hope, hope for the future. He will RISE AGAIN. The disciples aren’t being told to change their lives for someone who will be gone soon, but instead for someone and something that is so far beyond all comprehension that he will RISE AGAIN. He will give his life for theirs, and then live eternally with God the creator. Having born the ultimate cross, Christ will continue to live WITH us and FOR us in a way that no other person can. This is the same Christ through whom we are baptized and enter into a new life, a life that calls us to deny all worldly things and turn our sight to God. We, along with the disciples, are being told to remember our baptism during the season of Lent and throughout our lives because through Christ, there is hope for the future. Those who remember their baptism in word and deed as they deny human things, setting their mind on divine things, living in the way that Christ taught, will continue to live out their baptism in a new way with Christ for eternity.

As the ashes fade from our forehead and embark on this season of Lent, how will you turn your focus away from worldly things and return your focus  to God? How can our actions during this season, and the rest of the year, help us to relate with one another through Christ?

Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

If you have not already done so, we invite you to join the Union Presbyterian Seminary Community in our weekly devotions during this season of Lent.


5 Cents a Meal

baby_hand_money_inOur work as Church Relations Officers at Union Presbyterian Seminary keeps us busy on Sundays as if we were a full-time, parish pastors. The venue changes weekly, but we are challenged to bring God’s Word to a congregation with fresh perspective.


This past weekend, I had the pleasure of preaching at Providence Forge Presbyterian Church near New Kent, Virginia, a short 40 minute drive outside of the city of Richmond. The church is pastored by a Union alum Rev. Steve Hodges.


I was struck by their unique involvement of the little humans present in the worship space. Like most Presbyterian congregations, the children were invited to the front of the sanctuary some time before my sermon in order to hear a word about God prior to being dismissed to their own form of “church”. This small congregation gathered 6 little faces on the front stage to hear a word about God’s love for them and for all others (the scripture lesson was from 1 Corinthians 13:1-13).


After a brief reflection on love and a time for prayer, Rev. Hodges remarked, “What time is it?” In response, the little ones shouted, “5 cents a meal!” and scurried after a small bunch of baskets near the podium. Each little one grabbed a basket and began to wander among the pews to collect spare change for the Presbyterian Hunger Program. When asked, Rev. Hodges commented, “They take as long as needed.” It was a beautiful witness to the importance of their participation in worship.


I was embarrassed that I had not stuck a few spare dollars in my robes before entering the worship space, for I wished to have been paid a visit by one of those darling faces. Who could deny a little cherub face, bowl cut and argyle sweater? It was wonderful to reflect on the impact of that small gesture for the life of the congregation and for the growing awareness of participating in God’s great mission as a child.


Does your worship service include the little ones in some significant manner? How so?


I remember being included in various ways in my childhood congregation, whether singing in the choir or serving as an acolyte. I find it so important to present messages of inclusion to children as we model God’s love for them.


So your kid has bed head and her dress is stained with jam from breakfast? Christ challenged us to bring forward the little children for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them (Matt. 19:14).


That jam-stained, bed-headed child exemplifies God’s great love for us, even in our mess. What a gift.

Nicole C. Ball

Church Relations Officer


Check out Providence Forge Presbyterian Church and the wonderful programs they run in the surrounding community.