After hearing very little news for almost two weeks while on vacation, the very first thing I heard while making my way through the airport last week was the hourly update on our Presidential Election and the negative feedback from every corner. I sighed, missing the peace and quiet of the silent cell phone and absent computer. As I thought about what I was hearing on the news and reading in the selected scripture text in preparation for Sunday’s worship, I hoped and prayed that what I had been told about Hillsborough Presbyterian Church by their pastor, Rev. Bob Brizendine, was true because I had a feeling that I would touch some nerves with my sermon. When Rev. Brizendine and I met over lunch last month he explained to me that this is was a very open-minded congregation but I couldn’t help but think, at the time, “Sure… everyone says that!”
Hillsborough is a small town at the edge of Orange County in North Carolina, only minutes away from both Durham and Chapel Hill. The town has become home to several people who travel to “the city” for work but seek the calm of a small town for the “off hours.” This small, and even sometimes forgotten town (at least when talking to people from “the city”), is a beautiful mix of both blue and white collar, conservative and liberal, and almost all mainline Protestant denominations.
As Rev. Brizendine and I talked about the life of this particular congregation within this town, he explained that later that day they would gather with their Muslim brothers and sisters at a local Mosque for a study and then meal (after sundown as this was during the season of Ramadan). He continued to explain some of the other connections the congregation has within the community as well as the beautiful dynamic that takes place as the members discuss and challenge one another in their discussions and studies, never forcing agreement but instead seeking to understand disagreement.
On Sunday, I was delighted to witness and receive this incredible welcome and open-mindedness that had previously been described to me. At times during the sermon I had the thought of “I bet I am preaching to the choir!” but as I saw many nodding along with what I said, I could also see that there were those who were challenged by what I said. Following worship, I was surprised when these same individuals who appeared to be challenged by my words still came and not only thanked me for the sermon but engaged in discussion about what I said.
I would love to think that this is something that we all experience each week, but I know from experience that it is not. This is not to say that this is better or worse than any other congregation, but I do tend to think this is a rather unique experience especially in a small town. As I continue to ponder what I was told about Hillsborough Presbyterian and what I experienced firsthand, I can’t help but think that this beautiful dynamic has come to be with thanks to the nurturing of current and past leadership.
As congregational leaders, we are called to care for our congregations not just by making them feel good about themselves and the work of the Church, but also by challenging them and helping them to think and live in new and different ways as we usher in this new era for the Church. Even if we do not always agree, we learn from these discussions and experiences and our lives and ministries grow in incredible ways.
How do you encourage your congregation to break out of their comfort zone, thinking and living in new and challenging ways? What has been the result?
Please share your own story so we can learn from your experiences as well!
Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer