By Ed Thompson
“Love is in the air, everywhere I look around.” That line comes from a song by Australian singer John Paul Young, which was recorded back in 1977. It spent two weeks at No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart and was his only US Top 40 hit. (You can find a version on YouTube if your memory or your curiosity gets the best of you.)
For some reason, that song comes to mind as I think about the pending sale of the Presbytery office building. It makes more sense when you replace the word “love” with “change.” Change is in the air, everywhere I look around. It’s in emails, in phone calls, in Zoom meetings. It pops up in conversation with random church members and with the staff. Sometimes, it wakes me up at night. (There are other things that wake me up at night, but those are probably more age related than anything else.)
Part of me is excited. Part of me is, well, not terrified, not really dreadful; maybe anxious would be the word. That mostly revolves around the question “What am I going to do with all these books?” The answer may be the “Kanawha County Public Library Used Book Sale.” I also seem to remember that the Union Seminary Library would accept used theological books and send them to seminary libraries overseas. I need to check to see if they still do that. However, with gas prices what they are, I also need to consider whether it’s going to be worth the field trip to Richmond even if they are taking books now.
I love books. When I was growing up, my parents would frequently refuse my request to buy toys, but I never remember them turning me down when I wanted to get a book. Some of the books on my shelves shaped my thinking. They impacted my ministry. It will be hard to let them go. I’d rather do that, though, than simply store them in boxes. Once that happens, unless it’s to get them from here to there, they are likely to stay in boxes. Far better that someone else have the chance to read them, enjoy them, and hopefully learn from them as I did. I’m certainly not going to get rid of all my books, but there will be a significant culling. I am not looking forward to that.
On the other hand, I am excited about the future of the presbytery. The future will be challenging, but it was going to be challenging whether we owned an office building or not. It will be challenging regardless of how many staff members we eventually end up with. I have no doubt that the presbytery staff will be able to continue to serve the churches and pastors of this presbytery well regardless of who they are and where they park their computers or pick up their phones.
There will be bumps in the road. Things we didn’t see coming. We will overthink some steps and overlook others. I ask for your patience with us during this time. We will do our best to make everything go as smoothly as possible. I am certainly grateful for the work of the Administration Committee, the Leadership Team, and the Trustees. They have stepped up and are stepping up during this process. I am also grateful for the work of the staff. They are facing this head on. They deserve our thanks and our support.
We have the opportunity to rethink how we do ministry together, to reconsider what will be the most helpful to our churches, to reimagine what staff we need and what skills we would like them to have as we move into this next chapter of our life. It’s not the 1950s when we started a camp and conference center at Bluestone. It’s not the 1980s when the Presbyterian Church finally was able to move past the divisions brought on by the Civil War and merge the three presbyteries that covered most of West Virginia into one. It’s not even the 2000s when the last remnants of the quadrant ministry that had been so important to the first part of the life of this presbytery finally disappeared.
I almost said a new day is coming, but the reality is that a new day is already here. Maybe we don’t like it. Maybe we’re not ready for it. But I believe God is good. I believe God still has work for us to do. I believe God has given us all the gifts we need to do good and faithful ministry. My favorite ordination question (that certainly strikes me as a uniquely Presbyterian phrase) is “Will you serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?” We need all those qualities now. Perhaps we need imagination more than ever. But maybe John Paul Young was on to something back in 1977. “Love is everywhere.” Change is, too. But then, so is Jesus.