A MESSAGE FROM THE REV. J.C. AUSTIN: A DELIGHTFUL AND MOVING SURPRISE
Last Sunday, I was completely surprised by the celebration of the church’s worship staff that had been planned for weeks, as I understand it. One of my good friends is pastor of a church that is in a community immediately adjacent to Langley, VA, where the CIA is headquartered, and when I told him what happened, he said that you gave his members who work there a run for their money when it comes to secrecy!
In all seriousness, it was a delightful and very moving surprise to receive that celebration and all the lovely and thoughtful notes that you all wrote to us. I was tempted to plough through them all on Sunday afternoon, which was also coincidentally my birthday, but I made the decision to read a selection of them each day, which has made this whole week so much brighter in so many ways. I know I speak for Lindsey and Dave in saying how much it meant to us for you all to do that, and how grateful we are to serve a church that practices gratitude and generosity so faithfully and well.
To that end, I thought perhaps it would be fitting to do a gratitude letter of my own this week. First, I want to express my thanks to Lindsey and Dave, as well, for the privilege of serving with both of them. It is not uncommon to find myself in conversation with other pastors who are struggling with their directors of music, complaining that they don’t care about the larger ministry of the church, or are unwilling to explore anything beyond the status quo, or refuse to be a real partner on staff.
And I simply smile, because not only am I confident that Dave’s musical abilities are without peer among these musicians, but he is deeply committed to the full mission of our church, always willing to step up and lead new initiatives, has a work ethic that is so strong that I literally have to order him to take time off at times, and is a constant and wonderful friend and partner to his colleagues on staff. His ministry and leadership is a true gift to us and our church, not simply our music ministries.
And Lindsey has been, quite literally, an answer to fervent prayer, not simply in coming here as Associate Pastor, but in the relationships she has uniquely built and the ways she has grown and developed the Associate Pastor role from its already ambitious beginnings to a much larger impact inside our church and beyond, from helping us design more innovative and meaningful special worship services to the relationships she is building for us in the larger community, and everything in between.
Lindsey is a compassionate pastoral presence, an energetic and insightful strategic thinker, a constant and compelling voice for our congregational mission, and a delightful and constant friend on staff, serving with dedication, humor, thoughtfulness, and creativity. I am deeply blessed to count them both as partners and friends in ministry, and our congregation is blessed to have them.
I also want to express my profound gratitude for our other staff members who play such crucial roles beyond the worship life of the church, and for our congregational leaders that give so much of their time and energy and skills and vision to leading this church into the dynamic future to which God is calling us. Unfortunately, space does not begin to allow for all that in just this newsletter. So, not unlike how I have spaced out reading your letters in order to give full attention to each one of them, I am going to continue on this theme of gratitude in future newsletter articles, as well.
That said, I want to be sure to express my profound gratitude for our Facilities Manager, Kevin Konczyk, this week. Kevin will be having heart surgery on Monday, and will be on leave for a couple of months as he recovers, so I want to highlight him this week, and ask you to keep him in your prayers as he recovers.
It is no secret that our buildings are simultaneously one of our great assets for ministry and mission and a massive challenge to maintain, especially given the decades of deferred maintenance that we have inherited. It is a daunting responsibility to be charged with managing and maintaining them, yet Kevin does so every day with extraordinary skill, patience, wisdom, and dedication, all while maintaining an air of affability and unflappability that I can’t imagine maintaining myself if I was in his shoes!
I am deeply grateful for Kevin’s leadership and collegiality, and we look forward to welcoming him back when he has healed up. I am also grateful to Rebecca Angione for temporarily coming out of retirement and filling in for Kevin on a part-time basis while he recovers, so we are in very good and experienced hands while he is away on leave.
And I want to conclude by expressing my deepest, heartfelt thanks for you as a congregation, to whom I feel deeply privileged to be called as your pastor. When I accepted the call to come here over five years ago, more than a few of you took me aside at some point and asked with genuine curiosity, “so, why did you say yes to actually coming here?”
The question was predicated on the challenges we were facing at the time, of course, with the schism still ongoing and the resolution unclear. But while I was not naïve about those challenges and felt like I had something to offer the church in addressing them, those were not the most important reasons I came.
The reason I came were the people of this congregation that I was encountering in the interview process: your indefatigable spirit, your deep sense of commitment to inclusivity and unity, your vision for being a thriving church whether that would be based at 2344 Center Street or somewhere else, your willingness to experiment with how to realize that vision, and most of all your joy and love for being a community together of Christ’s followers and for supporting each other in doing that.
Those are the things that have seen us through the end of the schism, through the rebuilding of the church after that, through the challenges of the pandemic, and now into this new season of discernment and envisioning and experimentation.
I turned down two other calls that were extended to me at the same time in order to come to Bethlehem, and I have never regretted or reconsidered it for even a minute of an hour of a day since, because of you: all of you.
Your generosity of spirit on Sunday was a wonderful microcosm of that, and I am deeply, deeply grateful for it, and for the opportunity to be together as we move into the future!
Grace and Peace,