Minute for Mission: February 9, 2014

February 9, 2014
Capital Campaign Minute for Mission
Sam Pittenger

When I recently visited my Grandmother Patsy and Great Aunt Susan at Shannondale Retirement Center, I asked them both what they missed most about attending First Presbyterian Church. Patsy’s fondest memories were playing with blocks in the nursery and what she missed most of all was the wonderful food and the fellowship with all of her friends. Susan, missed her weekly Sunday youth group and the time they spent singing together. Both Patsy and Susan grew up in First Presbyterian church and were both Baptized here in 1920, almost 100 years ago making my great Aunt Susan the Oldest baptized member of this congregation.

Patsy’s love of this church spread to her husband, Frank, aka,” Pitt” years later, whom I’ve heard hardly ever stepped foot in a church prior to meeting Patsy.  Pitt and Patsy inspired me to attend this church by picking me up and delivering me to that black iron gated tunnel on Church Street every Sunday morning. I really didn’t have a choice in the matter. It wasn’t optional, but it did not have to be. I loved this place. I grew up here. My Christian faith originated here thanks to Sunday school teaches like Jane Armstrong and Mary Lee Moore. I could not wait to get to that classroom for them to feed me my animal crackers with a side of Christian education.

Years later in 1987 our church broke ground on our new fellowship hall. Pitt took a very special interest in this project due to his past concrete and mining engineering experience. Not only did Pitt like to build things, he loved to blow things up even more.  I’ll never forget the weekends when he drug me out of bed and made me walk all around this church holding his surveying rod while staring at me through that very transit. At the time I was 14 years old and the last thing I wanted to do was stand outside and hold that surveying rod.  I was more interested in girls, basketball, and most importantly, sleeping in on the weekends. Little did I know at the time, Pitt was teaching me one of his many passive aggressive life lessons. Pitt was 71 years old when he was plotting points on Church, Central and Clinch for our new fellowship hall. 71! He wasn’t doing this for himself. When Pitt was peering through that transit he was looking into the future – MY future, my family’s future, the congregation, as well as the communities, future. He wanted to contribute to a better place to congregate and enjoy fellowship with ALL the future generations of his church, as well as his community. I now look back and realize that this is the building where the vast majority of my current friendships began; this fellowship hall that I reluctantly helped build with my grandfather.

So who brought all of you here? Everyone here has a Pitt and Patsy. Whether it be the Pennoyers who drug the Mcadoos, the Freemans who brought the Morrishs, the Bibles bringing the Maryanskis, The Parents day out program delivering the Bartons, or Ashley Burrell kidnapping the vast majority of our choir members, and so on. Once these people are “in this old building”, members or not, the real inspiration begins. For instance, if it weren’t for Don Cassel and Chris and Mcadoo, I would have never accomplished my lifelong dream of playing the guitar. Ken Wise has inspired me to go to the gym and stay in shape so I can keep up with Max, my hyper six year old son. Ryan Worden, the blind, contra dancing , interpreter, choir member, actor, fiddle player, and maker of exquisite native American headdresses and attire, has inspired me to stay far away from his basement where he performs many odd and cruel techniques on deceased animals (most of which have been scraped off the  road) to further his taxidermy career. Matt Manrod has inspired me on how not to drive an all terrain vehicle. Ted Pennoyer has inspired me to use my Iphone to REMIND me when I need to attend my church softball games so I don’t miss them after verbally being reminded two hours prior. Preston Smith has convinced me that I am not old and that I can still play on our church softball team while, in turn, learning slowly to accept loosing gracefully. Speaking of the elderly, Charlie Cwiek continues to astound us all with his ability to hacky sack, chase Frisbees and his relentless love of chopping fire wood at such a “mature” age.  And then there’s the Maryanski family. You guys are truly an inspiration to every single one of us.

The fact that I can stand here and make fun of my fellow Presbyterian friends goes to show how close we all are as a unit. This Church is a place full of wonderful people, full of heritage, full of hope, heart, and grit. These people I so happily jeer upon are deacons and elders. They are community leaders; but most of all they are VOLUNTEERS who offer their time to better our community through the numerous ministries this church houses.

We have Sunday school teachers like Dr. Debbie Christian handing out ribbon laden circumcision scissors as visual stimulation to help depict the day our Savior was circumcised and formally given his name, Jesus. Where else can you sit around a campfire and watch your very own Presbyterian Pastor belt out Puff the magic dragon at a congregational retreat? And what can I say about Ashley and our music program? Wow! I never know when he’s going to stop. Seriously, I really don’t know if some of the songs will ever end!

All jokes aside, I’ve got to give thanks to both David Brant and Ashley Burrell for creating and fostering my love for Bach, Beethoven and many other composers that I still appreciate to this day. I was groomed at an early age to appreciate such beauty thanks to that thunderous organ and its music directors that pounded upon it.  Music has inspired a plethora of young children through our Community School of the Arts mission which continues to groom so many young minds to appreciate music, as well as life. As most of you know, this is just one example of the many programs that attract the 80% of the people that utilize our church that aren’t even members. Family Promise, another one of our churches missions’ houses homeless families through an extensive collaboration with other local churches in our community helping them get back on their feet and into permanent housing, reestablishing a once known sense of normalcy.

My point is that there is something wonderful happening in this old building and the people that have walked these halls, while sometimes lost, are simply the reason why. It might be a Pitt, it could be a Travis, or Parents day Out’s own Lauren and Cathy. It might be a professional musician like Greg Horne instructing a young child on rhythm guitar in the CSA room just outside this sanctuary, or An AA sponsor that pulls someone out of the doldrums of Alcoholism downstairs; or Pam Teague handing out food to those in need every Tuesday though our Fish Pantry mission.


The fact is the One that is bringing us into this old church, is, and will always be, with us. He teaches us this. This is the kind of stuff he wanted us to do. The selflessness, the compassion, the healing, the liberation, and the teaching – it’s all happening right before our eyes IN THIS BUILDING that was once just a turnip patch. It’s hard to believe, but we have been given such a great gift, or should I say an opportunity, to flourish and renovate this old building and make it EVEN better for our community. It has served its members and its community for over 220 years, and it is now our turn to show some heart and give back to it.