Pandemic Ponderings of the Transitional Executive Presbyter for the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley

September 21, 2020

Dear Friends,

It was another joyous Sunday in the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley. More and more of our churches have resumed some kind of in-person worship, a number using outside spaces, while maintaining an online presence. The lectionary served up the quail and manna story from the book of Exodus and the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (you know, the one where all the laborers get paid the same regardless of how many hours they worked.) Can I just reiterate that this presbytery is blessed with  excellent preaching!

In other news from yesterday, the presbytery had the special joy of ordaining Cecelia Change to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament. The service, conducted in both English and Korean and presided over by our moderator, Bill Stribling, took place in the sanctuary of Shades Valley AND over zoom. (The first hybrid of this nature I had seen.) In another first for me was that Cecelia, upon her ordination, not only officiated communion as is traditional, she also baptized an adult member the King’s Cross New Worshipping Community. She put her ordination immediately to use! Welcome to this ministry, Cecelia!

As part of our commitment to being a Matthew 25 presbytery and in light of our new policy that requires anti-racism training for all ministers and other leaders/staff in the presbytery, and because racism is a deeply imbedded feature of our national history and current reality, and because God made all the people in God’s own image, the presbytery’s anti-racism committee recently took a two day anti-racism training with Crossroads, a national training organization based in Chicago. You will be hearing more about this from the Anti-Racism Committee itself but, meanwhile, The Presbyterian Outlook, recently held a webinar featuring Kerry Connelly author of Good White Racist? Confronting Your Role in Racial Injustice. So, friends – particularly my white friends since the book is directly addressed to white people – I am asking you to, please, find 65 minutes to watch this webinar. As we do the demanding work of dismantling structural racism, it is important to have some common language and framework and this 65 minute presentation goes a long way to providing that. Please watch it and let me know what you think. Here’s the link:

“Write the vision; make it plain on tablets so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time,” God tells the prophet Habakkuk. Well, in the interest of writing the vision, the Executive Committee of the presbytery recently formed a Strategic Assessment and Visioning Team. They are tasked with taking an honest assessment of where the presbytery is right now in terms of mission, vision, direction, what we’re learning through the pandemic, staffing, resources, etc. The members of the team are broadly representative of the presbytery – geography, gender, race, theological perspectives, size of church, urban and rural. Here’s the make-up of the team:  Michael Bailey (First Tuscaloosa), John Brock (First, Eufalia), Tom Bryson, Southminster, Birmingham), Cecelia Chang (King’s Cross 1001 Worshipping Communities), Shirley Finley (Westminster, Birmingham), Terry Hamilton Poore (First, Birmingham), Charles Nash (Brown Memorial, Tuscaloosa), Caryl Privett, (IPC, Birmingham), Kathy Wolf Reed (First Auburn), Lin Veasy (Church of the Covenant and First Anniston), Jonathan Yarboro (First Wetumpka), and Bill Stribling (South Highland, Birmingham) who is also moderating the team. In addition to engaging in discovery and discernment this team will be wanting to hear from you so be aware of opportunities in the next few months for offering your feedback to inform their work together. In the meantime, please keep them in your prayers as they faithfully seek the mind of Christ for the sake of the church he brought into being and on behalf of the world he came to save.

Well, last week marked the sixth month of the pandemic. We grieve the many lives lost here in the United States and around the world. We grow restless with staying at home, at wearing masks, at homeschooling our children, at social distancing in general. We’re a sociable people, made for community, and our hearts ache at the isolation and the constant wary vigilance. I believe we have at least six more months of this and our strategy must shift from responding to a crisis to coping with a chronic condition. I suggest three things:

  • Lower your expectations. Your expectations about everything from what fun looks like, to what connection looks like, to how much energy you’ll have for the day. Instead, be gentle with the world as it is because that is, right now anyway, the way it is. Be gentle with others; they are carrying more burdens than you know. Be gentle with yourself. Jesus said to forgive 70 times 7 times. Forgive 2020 – it does not know what it is doing.
  • Get some kind of physical exercise every day. Our bodies crave movement and get stiff and inflexible when they are not moving.
  • Get some kind of spiritual exercise every day whatever that looks like for you – scripture reading, prayer, music, nature. Our souls crave connection and get stiff and inflexible when they are not connecting to their Source of Life Abundant.

Tammy is on vacation this week. I got all jammed up for this Thursday and will have to cancel this week’s 4:00pm gathering. I look forward to hosting you the following week.


As ever in prayer,




Sue Westfall




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