Roughly 125 years ago, 42 individuals in Eastern North Carolina had a vision for the rural town of Rocky Mount, that this town and its people were “specially constituted for missionary purposes.” Over the course of the following years, eight Presbyterian Congregations came into existence. Today, the five remaining congregations are located in the heart of downtown (First Presbyterian) and nestled in the neighborhoods throughout the city (West Haven, Bethlehem, Mt. Pisgah, and Morton Memorial Presbyterian Churches).
At their origination , each of these congregation was strategically placed so that people throughout the town would be able to travel to and find community with one of the eight congregations. In a world where commuting is now less of a concern, the five congregations in Rocky Mount are seeking to both renew and reclaim their role in the community in new and relevant ways. Rev. Dan Davis regularly encourages the congregation at Bethlehem Presbyterian Church to think critically about the way in which they welcome visitors into the fold. Rev. Mary Harris Todd (M.Div., 1988), pastor at Morton Memorial Presbyterian Church, has developed and leads a weekly music class for young children in the community. Members of West Haven Presbyterian Church regularly combine worship and other activities with the Disciples of Christ Church just down the road. Rev. Raymond Privott of Mt. Pisgah Presbyterian Church is active in the local community and government, keeping the needs of the community well within his focus.
Over the last several months I have had the privilege of worshiping and fellowshipping with these congregations. Their stories are both heartbreaking and uplifting, each one inspiring when so many say that there is no hope. Our discussions have been the start of what we all pray will be a great movement of God’s love throughout the community. Each congregation, at the urging of Rev. Mary Harris Todd, has begun to explore their story in the light of Evangelism– what have they done and where they feel called to go. A few weeks ago, four of the pastors sat down to discuss this–
Union recently gathered with individuals from all over the Rocky Mount, NC and New Hope Presbytery area to share part of our story and hear their own stories. This video was shared and those gathered were invited to discuss their thoughts on evangelism with those at their table before Dr. John Vest shared some of his own thoughts. These moments of laughter and storytelling among friends and colleagues offered a new way for many to see “the E word” (as Dr. Vest jokingly refers to evangelism) as well as see how easy sharing our own thoughts and beliefs can be.
Union Presbyterian Seminary is striving to be “For The Church in The World” and our relationship with these congregations, as well as each of yours, is one way we are doing this. The addition of Evangelism in our curriculum for students, in our continuing education opportunities for congregational leaders and lay people alike, and in our culture is empowering each individual to seek to live out our call to ministry in a new way.
We do not yet know where we will go or what will occur as we explore Evangelism throughout the community of Rocky Mount and these congregations, but we do know that God will be working through each person involved and God’s love will be shared and felt. We pray that this relationship will empower and inspire each congregation as well as those of us at Union Presbyterian Seminary so that we can continue to build other similar relationships in the future.
Union Presbyterian Seminary would like to thank those who served on the planning committee for our dinner at Rose Hill in Nashville, NC– Mayo Boddie, Wicky Thorpe, Ed Roberson, Richard Anderson, and Rev. Peter Bynum.
If you are interested in learning more about what we are doing with evangelism at Union Presbyterian Seminary, please visit http://www.upsem.edu/evangelism and register for our upcoming continuing education opportunity, “Start with Good News”.
If you feel called to support the Evangelism program at Union Presbyterian Seminary, please visit http://www.upsem.edu/giving/ and note in your “Donor Designated” gift that your gift is for “Evangelism”. We thank you in advance for your support!
Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer