History in the Pines

Do you remember the first time you got the butterflies?

When you were overcome with admiration and felt at a loss because of the situation?

When I was in middle school, my dad received tickets to the local Washington Wizards basketball game and we had seats on the baseline. It was my first NBA game and I was in awe of the scene around me. Half way through the game, I went up the stands to buy some popcorn. On my way up, I glanced to my right as I was passing a VIP Box. I stopped, mid-step, to grab onto the railing because I thought I might melt into a puddle. I was staring at the face of His Airness, Mr. Michael Jordan. Being a fan was an understatement. I knew I was in the presence of someone extra-ordinary, someone that exemplified perseverance and excellence in the game. I was so overcome with admiration that I forgot why I was going up the stands in the first place and returned to my seat to tell my dad all about seeing Air Jordan, himself.

Providence Presbyterian Church, est. 1747

This past Sunday, I had a similar moment as I ascended the pulpit at Providence Presbyterian Church in Gum Spring, Virginia. This gem of a church sits back in the woods off of Three Chopt Road and has a history as rich as the soil of the area. I arrived several minutes before the service started to take in the interior of the church building, it’s simple, dark wood holding fast to traditions and memories of years ago. Some of the Michael Jordan’s of the religious freedom movement in central Virginia preached at this very spot! It was a real honor and privilege to share from such an historic pulpit where saints from our distinct Virginian, and Presbyterian, history once stood.

My role as Church Relations Officer gives me the distinct privilege to connect congregations with our historic Seminary. That Sunday, I was humbled by the privilege to stand in the very pulpit where many have come before me, many of whom studied and prepared themselves at Union to bring God’s promise of hope into our weary world.

Here is their story, in their own words:

Providence Presbyterian Church, a unique historic site within the Presbytery of the James, has also been one of its best kept secrets. Very few know that this building has the distinction of being the oldest Presbyterian Church in continual use in the Commonwealth of Virginia, indeed, it is the oldest one south or west of Pennsylvania. It is also the only remaining example of the seven “Meeting Houses” built by dissenters of Hanover and Louisa when the Church of England was the established church. In the early 1740’s, Samuel Morris invited a group of people to read the Bible and worship in his home. As this group grew, he began to build “Meeting Houses,” for Bible study. Upon being called to Williamsburg to defend his actions before Governor Gooch, Morris and other dissenters declared themselves “Presbyterians”. Governor Gooch granted them permission to worship in this denomination under the “Act of Toleration”.

Samuel Davies, Apostle to Virginia, arrived in 1747 to minister to this group of Christians in the seven Meeting Houses. Although he was a weak and sickly man, he had a profound impact on the move for religious freedom in Virginia. Patrick Henry was greatly influenced by Davies’ skill as an orator. During his tenure in Virginia, Davies taught slaves to read and sent missionaries to the Indians. Davies only preached at Providence until 1752, when the Presbytery sent John Todd to take over some of his preaching points. Davies remained in Hanover until 1759, when he was asked to take over the Presidency of the College of New Jersey, which would eventually become Princeton University.

John Todd became Providence Church’s first pastor in 1752 and he remained in this position for 41 years, serving until his death in 1793. He became a resident of Louisa County and established one of the first classical schools in the area. This school was a forerunner of Hampden-Sydney College of which Mr. Todd was one of the original trustees. Rev. John Todd was a supporter of the American Revolution and served as the chaplain of the Louisa Militia. It was also during Mr. Todd’s ministry to Providence that the famous evangelist, George Whitefield, preached from the Church’s pulpit.

Rev. Todd’s ministry marked the beginning of the long — and often difficult — history of Providence as a Presbyterian church. It is recorded that the congregation was nearly decimated by the Civil War, but was kept alive by one or two men and a few women. Over the years the size of the congregation varied little, usually hovering around forty members. Being a rural church, it was dependent upon the few residents of the area for its support. In 1947, the “Old Providence Rural Parish” was formed linking four churches under a resident pastor with Union Seminary and West Hanover Presbytery. This plan served the needs of the churches and provided valuable experience for seminary students and students of Presbyterian School of Christian Education. The plan worked so well that it was expanded to include other churches before a shift in Presbytery bounds caused it to be phased out of existence. The first seminary student to serve Providence under the parish plan was privileged to return as the church’s minister forty-six years later![1]

Providence is thriving and led by Union Presbyterian Seminary alum Rev. Karen Witt. They serve the surrounding community in a variety of ways, including Providence Preschool. For more information about Providence and their rich history, or their preschool program, you can find information on their website:




Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer



[1] https://providencepc.wordpress.com/


Worshiping With the Whole Body

When we physically participate in something, we are more likely to remember that moment or lesson. More senses are engaged and so more of the action is embodied and stored away for later. This is one reason why many suggest that it is better to take notes by hand rather than on a computer (clearly, those researchers never sat through on Old Testament lecture the week before an exam!).

“Research” also says that Presbyterians are “The Frozen Chosen.”

sleeping_in_churchWe have all seen it, and likely participate in it from time to time, if not every Sunday morning…the polite and calm worship service during which each person stands at the right moment to sing a hymn and sits at the right moment to pray. The communion tray is passed just so and each person nods just right in appreciation for the sweet and melodic anthem. The wiggle-filled child is quickly calmed down by the parent who glances sideways in hopes that no one was bothered by that dropped toy, and the older gentleman is gently nudged in the side by his wife at the slightest sound of a snore.

When I was younger, it seemed that my sisters, my father, and I had a goal to break every rule of “The Frozen Chosen.” We giggled with excitement when we saw a multi-language hymn in the bulletin and belted out the second language with great joy when the time came. We followed our father’s lead as he literally stood AS he began to sing, slowly and deliberately, instead of a few seconds before like everyone else. It was almost as if Sunday morning worship wasn’t complete without that glare from our Mom and that single finger held up, indicating that if we (the collective four) didn’t get it together, there would be a price to pay at home.

Now, maybe we did take it a bit far at times but I wonder if we were on the right track? We drew pictures of the scripture and made jokes about the sermon. We read every last word in the hymn in hopes of finding something to point out and laugh about. We focused on the prayers, even if sometimes that was just to find the right moment to make our sister laugh. We participated. We worshipped.

A few weeks ago, I worshiped with Northminster Presbyterian in Hickory, NC where one of our current students from the Charlotte campus, Jackie Putnam, is serving as Director of Christian Education alongside Charlotte alum, Rev. Merri Alexander (M. Div. 2013)- and what a joyful and participatory service it was!

Congos accompanied the opening hymn and brought a liveliness that was welcome the morning after Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina. It took a great deal of control not to stand up and dance with the music! The call to worship was joy-filled and the passing of the peace was love-filled. I have always enjoyed those moments of moving around to embrace one another and share God’s peace.

Finally, the time came for the children’s sermon… my personal favorite part. Jackie asked that all children come to the front, and told them she was going to share a story with them but needed help. One by one, she asked ten individuals to come out of the congregation and help her. As they came forward, each was bandaged and given the role of one of the ten lepers from the Gospel reading for the day. One by one, each person helped to enact this story and bring new life, and new laughter to something many of us had only read up to this point.

The congregation laughed, the children bounced on their knees and clapped with excitement. The choir director, also known for the day as the Samaritan leper, demonstrated a praise for Christ like no other. The story was embodied. Each person learned something new about that story in those moments, my sermon changed slightly in response, and those children will not likely forget the day that Nathan threw himself at Jackie’s feet because he was the leper that was healed.

There is something to be said about sitting and listening, ensuring that every part of the service flows just right. It is helpful for those who like order and it is easy to know what to expect if you are a visitor. However there is also something powerful about a bit of laughter and truly embodying the scripture and inviting others to do the same in this Holy time and space.

Every person learns differently. When we open worship to every learning style…physical, mental, emotional, visual…every person not only feels welcome and comfortable, they are also able to walk away with a new and beautiful understanding of who God is.

How do you help your congregation worship with their whole body?
What would you try in worship if you knew that you wouldn’t fail?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

Service and Gratitude

Bulletin board welcoming Jonathan Bowman to the Lunch Bunch

In addition to my Church Relations work, I have been preparing to meet for Final Examination for ordination. I have spent much time, recently, studying our Book of Confessions and reflecting upon the mission of the church for members, the community, and the world. In a recent visit to Mattoax Presbyterian Church near Amelia, Virginia, I was reminded about our collective mission, as the body of Christ, to love and serve the community:

The church disperses to serve God wherever its members are, at work or play, in private or in the life of society. Their prayer and Bible study are part of the church’s worship and theological reflection. Their witness is the church’s evangelism. Their daily action in the world is the church in mission to the world. The quality of their relation with other persons is the measure of the church’s fidelity. – The Confession of 1967, section 9.37

I met Nita Saunders during my visit and she shared with me how this call to serve inspired a mission outreach that serves an important group of people.  Nita had a dream to meet the social and emotional needs of the aging members of the congregation at Mattoax Presbyterian Church and their surrounding community. With some financial support and encouragement from the congregation, she started an outreach program titled, “The Lunch Bunch” which is a monthly, community gathering for anyone who wishes to share in fellowship, fun and a well-prepared lunch.

Sandi Huddleston-Edwards signs copies of her book for the Lunch Bunch

Nita and several others in the congregation help with gathering members and friends around the community by picking them up and taking them to the church for the social. Many of the participants live in the surrounding community on their own or in nursing and retirement homes. Building relationship with these members of their community is so important to the work of this little, country church. “Not everyone is a member of our church, and many of them are not even Presbyterian. There are folks who are Episcopalian, Methodist and Lutheran. We also have several people who are un-churched, and we welcome all. They may not join our church as a result, but we still want to show them our love.”

Author Sandi Huddleston-Edwards leads a discussion on her book

Each month, folks are welcomed into the cozy fellowship at Mattoax Presbyterian Church. Volunteers act as greeters and assist participants to their seats. While the program material changes each month, participants can expect a time which centers on fellowship, a guest speaker or presentation, time for games, and even an exercise element to get folks moving. Games and fellowship time are encouraged, and several members love to work on Suduko puzzle or play the crowd favorite, Bingo! A well-prepared, special lunch is shared with all before folks return home again.

A few months ago, the Lunch Bunch welcomed North Carolina author Sandi Huddleston-Edwards who authored, “Richard’s Key”, the feature for their book discussion. Sandi led the group in a discussion about the book and signed copies for every participant. Most recently, the newest Young Life leader to the community, Jonathan Bowman, visited with the Lunch Bunch and shared about this mission to serve high school students in the local community.

Nita receives so much gratitude from those who participate in the Lunch Bunch. “They are so appreciative for the little touches and the things we do for them. It doesn’t seem like much, but it is really important that we do something nice for them once a month. So many of them tell me how much they look forward to this event every time.”She has several others who help and contribute but much of the fine detail and special touch is from Nita, herself. For Nita, it is important that everyone experience welcome, friendship, engagement and community rooted in Christ’ example of love and hospitality to all.

How do your daily actions serve as the church’s mission in the world?


Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer

Unity in Brokenness

After another string of disheartening weeks in regards to the news we continue to receive about violence both at home and around the world, I needed the reminders that this past Sunday’s worship offered. On October 2, Christians around the world gathered around one Table in millions of locations as the Lord’s Supper was celebrated in a multitude of languages.  If only for one day, every Christian was reminded that despite our brokenness we truly are the ONE Body of Christ.

World Communion Sunday was highlighted in an especially beautiful way at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, NC. In addition to celebrating communion in multiple languages, the congregation also celebrated with the children as every third grader received their very first “real” Bible. Just as each person is called into God’s service by name, each child was called by name to stand at the front of the sanctuary with their parents. As they received their Bibles, Dr. Lynn Turnage (Director of Christian Education, M.A. 1982) encouraged each child and family to do three things:

1607611) For the next month, leave the Bible in a common area in the house where the family gathers regularly so that each family remember can look through and read it as they feel led.

2) Write in your Bible! Mark the things they like and have fun with it. Use colored pencils and write a date when you mark scriptures so you can look back one day and remember what was important to you.

3) Ask your friends to mark their favorite verses when they come over and ask your family members and people at church to mark their favorites as well!

After each child received their Bible and Lynn’s challenge, the congregation was reminded of the vows they have made at the baptism of each child, and once again answered:

“Do you, as members of the church of Jesus Christ, promise to guide and nurture these children,
by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging them to know and follow Christ and
to be faithful members of their church?”

In this moment, every voice was raised in recognition and reaffirmation of our baptismal vows to grow and lead one another in the way that Christ taught.

20161002_104509As we gathered around the Table, we celebrated and recognized that we did not come alone but came with Christians from all around the world, just as those who came before us and those who would follow us. The Words of Institution were shared in German, Dutch, Spanish, and a Ghanaian dialect as Rev. Ernie Thompson (M. Div., 1988) and I broke the bread and poured the wine. The elderly came to the Table and the children came, those who are both strong in faith and weak in faith, those who need comforting and those who comfort…  two dogs even came along side their owners!

In a broken and hurting world, I think we all needed a moment of celebration and peace this past Sunday and I pray that each person found hope and reconciliation around the Lord’s Table. I pray that each person was offered some reminder that each of us has been called by name, no matter where we find ourselves in life. I pray that God did hear true rejoicing, in every language and on every continent, as each child of God gathered together if only for a brief moment.

How did your congregation celebrate “World Communion Sunday”?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer