FIRST PRESS | an online newsletter | September 2017  
What makes a successful church?
Plenty has been written to address the question of why churches die, or why they're languishing, or why our denomination is dying on the vine (it isn't). Chicken Littles are everywhere!
But not enough is offered about what makes a church work well. I can think of at least four things:
  • A highly functioning church puts worship at the top of its priority list. It is thoughtful, well-planned, consistent worship that brings together a congregation and helps it to coalesce around the grace and love of God found in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. While the music and prayers may change from one Sunday to another, the regular discipline of coming together serves as a means to recalibrate our hearts and minds for the week ahead. And here's a tip: if, in that hour on Sunday, you don't like a particular hymn or sermon, remember it's not about you! It's about God and the praise of God alone. Without the vital component of assembling to worship God, the center of a faith community cannot hold. A church that prays together stays together.
  • A healthy church also values community. When different groups of church membership try to impose their will upon a congregation - be it theological, practical or otherwise - trouble ensues. Paul's metaphor of the church as a human body, with many different but equal parts, is essential to ensuring it remains healthy and whole. Respect for each is respect for all. Additionally, a community of faith is valued when its members care for each other and the world around it. The compassion of Christ shared with our brothers and sisters is essential to understanding and reflecting the compassion of God shared with us. No church isolated from itself or from its surroundings can survive.
  • A vibrant church comprises all age groups. Sadly, too many American congregations are graying at an alarming rate, signaling they have become irrelevant to younger generations. The church with as many babies as retirees is the one providing spiritual nourishment to all its members through worship, education, fellowship and mission. What's more, each generation teaches another about the wideness of God's mercy and makes the process of  "doing church" so much more interesting.
  • A living church reflects joy. With each welcoming handshake and kind word, with every act of appreciation or congratulatory celebration, a church signals that its chief end is to "glorify God and enjoy God forever," as the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it. A church with a despairing soul is devoid of the necessary fuel needed to run its faith engine...that of a joy derived solely from Almighty God. Perhaps more than anything else, it is unfettered joy to which seekers of a church home are most attracted.
There are many others rubrics for well functioning congregations, but those are mine. How do you feel about your church? Is it healthy? What is your role in making it that way? Can we do better?
I am deeply humbled and highly privileged to serve you and this congregation.
John's signature

From the Associate Pastor

Sunday, August 13 , 2017 will forever be a special day for me. It's not just because, after almost a six-year journey, I was ordained, but it's because of the love shown through this congregation during this celebration. I am grateful for all the support offered throughout this process. Thank you for welcoming my family and friends with open arms. A big thank you to all who volunteered in various ways leading up to, and on, that day. The lunch afterwards was a wonderful way to celebrate with our new church family. Overall, I hope each aspect of our worship together, in the sanctuary and in Fellowship Hall, was as moving an experience for you in our shared faith as it was for me.

However, that weekend will not be a pleasant memory for everyone in light of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. Ever since August 13 , I've been asking myself, "What does it mean to be ordained the day after the Charlottesville rally? How would I respond if this happened in a different college town, especially my new college town? If I am to 'be decent and in order while 'giving and receiving Jesus,' how am I called to respond to this tragedy?" One thing that has been helpful as I wrestle with these questions has been a daily devotional from the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a German Reformed theologian active during the Nazi rise to power and the events of WWII. He was eventually killed for his resistance to the Nazi Party as it sought to control the activities and beliefs of the German Church. The devotional is, "I want to Live These Days with You" and was offered on August 16 th . I'd encourage anyone to pick up a copy for yourself if you are looking for a daily devotional to incorporate into your own spiritual practices.

Human beings are not supposed to sleep but to be awake. Being awake means being sober, living not in dreams and wishes but in stark reality. Being awake means loving the day and its work. It means being without illusions, because illusions idolize the world for us and veil our vision of the one God of whom one is to make no idols; illusions let us see the world in the colors of our own wishes and prejudices. Being awake means seeing the world as it is before God, without judging it. Being awake means being open, being ready for the future, looking in the eye and not fearing it. It means seeing God's clear day as it is, loving his creation and his work, but at the same time seeing the suffering of creation, the misery and helplessness of other people, hearing their petition even where it remains unspoken. And it means knowing about eternal guilt. This being awake is not something we can give ourselves. Rather, God must call us to the being awake... Live before God as the one he has made you to be! But this word 'live' cannot be a command; it is the word of God himself as Creator.

My original offer from this past month still stands: that my door is open for us to spend time together so that we may know one another more fully...and I hope you'll still take me up on that offer. However, I would like to extend a second offer in light of the entire weekend of August 13 th.  My door is open to anyone whenever you would like to talk, study or pray together in light of life's heavy and serious events such as those in Charlottesville. By being together, may we be awake to the movement of God's Spirit as we seek to live "not in dreams and wishes but in stark reality...seeing the world as it is before God, without judging it."
  Financial Summary
Summary of Stated Session Meeting
The Session of First Presbyterian Church held its stated monthly meeting on Monday, August 14, 2017, at 5:30 pm in Fellowship Hall. 

Highlights are as follows:
           1.  Property:
    • Four new hearing devices have been added to the church's system for use in the sanctuary.  There are now a total of eight devices available.
    • The maple tree on the front courtyard is being treated for a beetle infestation by an arborist with Fulgham's Inc., a tree preservation service provider.  The treatments will be performed on an annual basis.
    • The repairs to the UKirk space in the annex building should be completed by the end of the week, and the repairs to the insulation of the ceiling in the youth space will be underway soon.
    • The floors in the Education Building have been cleaned and waxed, and plans have been made for a drop tile ceiling to be installed with new lighting in the building.
    • The church parking lot will be closed each Saturday home football game this fall for UKirk's parking pass fundraiser. 
    • The ministry team has addressed mold issues in the annex building classroom, and they also reported that aesthetic improvements have been made there.
             2.  Mission:
    • The Haiti mission trip is scheduled for January 13-20, 2018.
          3.  Membership and Hospitality:
    • The next new member class will be held September 17, 2017.
    • Appreciation was expressed to Joanne Oliver for overseeing the work with the Sunday church registers.
           4.  Adult Christian Education:
    • Wednesdays Together will be held September 20-October 25, 2017. The first event will include a church-wide talent show with supper provided. The next five programs will include the study of various aspects of the Reformation, the 500th anniversary of which is this year. These sessions will be led by Revs. John Semmes, David Randolph, Ann Kelly and Allison Wehrung. Dr. Jeff Watt, a University of Mississippi history professor, will present an overview of the Reformation at the last session.
    • Mary Thurlkill, University of Mississippi religion professor, will be teaching a class about the Bible and the Koran this fall. It will be open to students and the community. For two of the sessions, she will use Fellowship Hall: August 29 and September 5.
5.  Worship:
    • Beginning September 10, 2017, the church will again offer regular worship services at 8:30 am and 11:00 am.
           6.  Children's Christian Education:
    • The ministry team reported that Rally Day was a success. Sunday school classes are fully staffed with teachers and the classes have been well attended.
    • Nursery volunteers continue to be needed during the Sunday worship services.
    • Whitney Allen resigned as the director of the nursery due to her promotion at Discovery Day School at OUUMC. LaShaunda Sisk has been hired as the new FPC Nursery Director. She will assume her role as director September 3, 2017. The ministry team is also in the process of staffing the additional paid nursery positions.
           7 Finance:
    • As of July 31, 2017, year to date revenue was $577,677.69 and expenses were $547,159.58. The ministry team was pleased to report that 93.5% of the budgeted pledges have been collected.
    • The ministry team will meet August 23, 2017, to begin plans for stewardship season.
The Session recited The Lord's Prayer and adjourned at 7:08 pm.
Summer Worship Hours Through September 3
11:00 am - Worship with communion
9:45 am - Sunday School
Nursery Weekly: 10:45 am - 12:15 pm

Regular Worship Hours Begin September 10
8:30 am - Worship with communion
9:45 am - Sunday School
11:00 am - Worship
Nursery Weekly: 8:15 am - 12:15 pm
Lectionary Texts for September

September 3 - Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45 b; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28
September 10 - Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 149; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20
September 17 - Exodus 14:19-31; Psalm 114 or Exodus 15:1 b -11, 20-21; Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35
September 14 - Exodus 16:2-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45; Philemon 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16
Sanctuary flower dates are available...
September 24 and October 1, 8, 15 and 29.
If you would like to provide flowers in
honor or memory of a loved one, please contact
Margaret Fancher at 234-1359 or
email her at
PYF News
Fall is here and PYF is back in full swing! We want to give a big thank you to the Haskells for hosting PYF for its annual pool party last month. We had a wonderful time at Mary and Sam's beautiful home, swimming, eating delicious food, and just having fun with our family of faith. In September, we move into our split schedule beginning on Sunday, September 10. Jr. High youth will meet from 4:30-6:00 pm, and Sr. High youth will meet from 5:30-7:00 pm. Our Sr. High prayer breakfast starts back on Thursday, September, 7 at Panera Bread Co. beginning at 7:15 am. Also, if you have a child in grades 7-12 and have not heard from our church about PYF activities, please contact the office as soon as possible so that we may get your him/her involved in this ministry!
College News

UKirk Ole Miss is back! Thanks to a kick-off dinner provided by the FPC Deacons on August 29, we are off and running for another school year. Our regular dinner and worship gatherings return September 3 in the UKirk building, and we're still in search of some meal providers. If you or your groups might want to minister with us in this way, the Tuesday night schedule is posted at  under "Supporters."

In addition to the tables we've been hosting before worship, we're excited to announce that we'll be having a UKirk Open House on Sunday, September 17. Instead of coffee in Fellowship Hall between services, there'll be coffee in the UKirk Building. We hope you'll come see our space if you haven't before, or come say "hi" again if you have. 

Our theme this semester is "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" and we're excited to see where this question might lead our time together. Mister Rogers asked it at the beginning of his show for nearly 40 years, and it still has plenty of wisdom to speak to our world today. We'll spend September digging into the parable of the Good Samaritan from its many perspectives, and then move through a variety of other texts and topics that speak to the ways we live together, and to what God has to do about it. 

As we all know, the start of the school year also means the start of football season! Thanks to this congregation's generosity, UKirk is again selling season passes for game day parking in the FPC lot. Passes are still available, and will be pro-rated depending on the number of home games left when you purchase. For those of you who may not be season ticket holders, we'll be selling remaining individual spots on each home game day. Parkers don't need to be FPC members to participate, so please do spread the word to anyone you know who might be interested. 

I'm so excited to have everyone back in town, and am looking forward to this coming year together. For more detailed updates throughout the year, subscribe to our monthly email newsletter by visiting . And, as always, if you have questions about or interest in getting involved please don't hesitate to get in touch by emailing me at .

Happy New Year,
Adult Education
The Bible and the Qur'an

Dr. Mary Thurlkill, a friend of our congregation, is teaching a course this fall that is also open to community members. The course will cover topics common to both the Bible and the Qur'an: Sacred Story and Interpretation, Ritual and Performance, Community and Ethics, Death and Afterlife. Classes will meet on Tuesday evenings, through Nov. 7, 5:30-7:00 pm. For more information, contact Christina Torbert at
Special Thanks
The members of the Alton Bryant Sunday School class want to thank Nolan Waller and recognize him for his leadership, his dedication to, and his spiritual teaching of, this class for over 25 years.

We appreciate Nolan's dedication to the class, his unconditional love for the Bible, his time studying for the lessons each week, the knowledge he passed along to us, and his presence of encouraging discussions during the class.

Thank you, Nolan.
Etcetera . . .
Reaching Out through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

Hurricane Harvey made landfall late on Friday and early Saturday, August 25-26 as a Category 4 hurricane. Damage in and near Rockport and Port Lavaca, where the storm made landfall, was catastrophic. There were several reported deaths and massive damage reported and the flood event continued as the storm dumped heavy rains in South Texas and Louisiana. It will be weeks, maybe months, before volunteer teams will be allowed into the area, but there are things we can do now to help our brothers and sisters impacted by the storm.
  • Contribute to Disaster Relief-US Hurricane Response
  • A.   Text - Presbyterian Disaster Assistance helps anyone in need due to Hurricane Harvey and the ongoing flood crisis. Donate $10 today by texting "PDA" to 20222. You'll be asked to confirm with "YES" for a donation to the Presbyterian Church (USA).
  • B.       Online - 
  • C.    Call - (800) 872-3283 to give by credit card.
  • D.   By mail -  Please designate your gift to relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey by writing DR000169-Harvey in the memo line and send your check to:        Presbyterian Church (USA)
                           P.O. Box 643700
                           Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700
  • Another way to be involved is by contributing money to First Presbyterian Church to help purchase a "Clean Up Bucket" for PDA. These will be needed for many months to come, and your gift can help replenish the supply in the PDA warehouse so they'll be ready when needed by volunteers and residents in affected areas. Make your check payable to First Presbyterian Church by Sunday, September 17 and write "Clean Up Bucket" in the memo line. Buckets will be assembled at FPC the weekend of September 23 and volunteers are needed. A full bucket costs about $75, but we'll accept partial gifts, too. Every little bit helps!
Other ways of helping our brothers and sisters who live in Harvey's path will be shared as soon as we are aware of them. Thank you in advance for your compassion and support!
Be a Part of the Haiti Mission Team
Anyone interested in being part of the next Haiti mission team is invited to gather in Room 3 of Fellowship Hall at 10:00 am on Sunday, September 10 to learn more about FPC's mission in Haiti and the trip itself. Even if 2018 is not the year for you to go to Haiti, come learn more of the details to see if you'd like to go in the future.
The 2018 trip will take place Saturday, January 13 through Saturday, January 20. The focus will be mobile medical clinics, maintenance of our water system and the Bognotte school. No particular skills are necessary but patience, flexibility and a good sense of humor are key! Join us on September 10 to find out more from those who have made this journey in the past and decide whether God is calling you to make this a part of your future.
Know Someone Seeking a Church Home?
A New Member class will be held Sunday, September 17 in Fellowship Hall from 3:00 pm-6:00 pm. If someone you know has been seeking a church home and would like to learn more about joining FPC, please contact the church office to let us know they will attend. Nursery care is available upon request.
Wednesdays Together 2017 is Coming!
FPC Has Talent
Wednesday, September 20
Time to show off your unique talents, people! This fall, Wednesdays Together will kick off with a church family talent show. On Sept. 20 at 5:45 pm (note modified time), we will have dinner together followed by performances at 6:15 from anyone who wishes to participate. Sing or play a song, tell a joke or two, juggle...all family friendly talents are welcome. Email Ann Kelly at to sign up your act!

An Important Sunday Parking Reminder

Bridge Properties, 1000 Tyler Avenue at 10th St., now tows all unauthorized vehicles on its parking lot, including Sundays. Please do not park on the Bridge Properties lot to attend worship or other church events!

Ride the Bus to Church!
Make plans now to park at the Blake and ride the bus to church each Sunday so that you won't have to worry about parking downtown. Time of departure from the Blake is weekly at 10:30 am. The bus returns immediately after 11:00 am worship. Thanks to all our volunteer drivers who make this service possible! 

Presbyterian Women Logo

Save the Date: PW will celebrate its Fall Gathering on Tuesday, September 12 at 6:00 pm in the Sanctuary. A reception will follow in Fellowship Hall.
PW Council 2017-2018
Moderator - Sharron Alexander -
Vice - Moderator - Mary Haskell -
Secretary - Julie Field -  
Treasurer - Margaret Fancher -
Historian - Karen Stockton -
Ex-Moderator - Becki Felts -

News from the Pews
VIPs: Mark Your Calendars
In September, the VIPs, FPC's 55 and older crowd, will return to their normal schedule, enjoying lunch on the first Tuesday at noon in Fellowship Hall as well as a Dutch treat dinner on the third Thursday of the month. On Tuesday, September 5, Rev. David Randolph will be the speaker so you can get to know more about our new Associate Pastor for Young Adults. Then, on Thursday, September 21, the group is invited for wine and cheese at the Blake at 4:30 pm, followed by dinner at Southern Craft Stove and Tap, a new restaurant owned by FPC's own Griffin Tanner.
Also, mark your calendars for October 10 and a trip to Bette and Jeff Butler's place at Pickwick for a fun day of fellowship. Everyone is asked to bring a dish to add to our potluck lunch.
VIP activities require reservations to insure appropriate amounts of food, enough seats at the table and room on the bus. Please call the church office to save your spot for any or all of these events!
We Extend Congratulations to:
Katie and Daniel Howie on the birth of their son, Rowan Robert Howie, born August 6, 2017 in Calgary, Alberta.
Laura and Charles Montgomery on the birth of their son, Baxter Vanhook Montgomery, born August 7, 2017 in Tupelo, MS.
Jessica and Matt Simpson on the birth of their son, Matthew Tate Simpson, born August 9, 2017 in Augusta, GA.
Ferriday and Charly McClatchy on the birth of their daughter, Jane Dubberly Mansel McClatchy, born August 16, 2017 in Memphis, TN.
We Extend Sympathy to :

The family of Anne Percy, who died August 22, 2017 in Oxford, MS. 
Memorials and Honoraria

~ With gratitude for contributions to First Presbyterian Church ~
In Honor Of:
J. David Randolph
Carol & Tom Sims
In Memory Of:
Clinette Conlee
Rosie & Robert Cooper
Eddie Crawford

Dorothy Lou & Mack Aldridge
Brown Insurance
Irma Buchanan
Bette & Jeff Butler
Rosie & Robert Cooper
Jean Dalton
Paul Dongieux, Jr.
John Gregory
Jane Henderson
J.J. Jones
Mr. & Mrs. Robert Krueger
Karen & Bill Lawhorn
Jerry Lee
Susan & Tom Meredith
Libby & Leon McCullouch
Gerry Nance
Emily & Don Newcomb
Rose Paris
Randy White
Mary Glynn Wright
Jean Crawford
Rosie & Robert Cooper
Kirby Crawford
Rosie & Robert Cooper
Myrna Cook
Constance Parham
    September Birthdays

1 - Tom Davis, Daniel Fudge
2 - Goodloe Lewis, Robert Gage
3 - Parker McPhail
5 - McCay Luster
6 - Mary Frances DeVoe, Isabella Moak
7 - Conner Eifling, Luke Wigginton
9 - Randel Gibson, Cooper McIntosh
10 - Scotty Jimenez, Gina Matthews, Harper Pace
11 - Kelli Brisco, Billy Wood
12 - Sarah-Elisabeth Davis
13 - Allie Rose Baquie, Michael Lewis, Elizabeth Owen, Moni Simpson
14 - Karen Stockton
15 - Ruby Jean Embry, Carole Haney
16 - Dick Hercules
17 - Mack Aldridge, Cary Lee Cluck
18 - Anne Ruth Kesler, Taylor McGra w
20 - Susan Shaw
21 - Ann Luckett Montgomery, Sam Morrison, Katie Ochs, Virginia Stricklin
22 - Pete Boone, Jack Bridgers, Catherine Rosser
23 - Sherry Styers, Dee Walker
24 - Steve Mullen
25 - Niles Lovelady, Mac Monteith
26 - Shelley Cribbs
27 - Grace Flowers, Lydia Moak
28 - Ray Hill, Mike Morrison
29 - Nolan Waller
30 - Patrick Bolen

September Anniversaries

8 -   Bette & Jeff Butler
12 - Leslie & Shae Orrell, Tricia Barrios & Marc Showalter
16 - Allisa Davis & Jeffrey Stricklin
20 - Sarah & Michael McLellan
21 - Ann & Lee Borden
24 - Ann & Danny Kelly
25 - Elizabeth & Mac Monteith, Amy & Slade Lewis
27 - Shelby & Lewis Smith
28 - Nancy & Bill Rogers
29 - Melissa & Brad Logan, Jenna & Tyler Lovelace
    First Dates

The Property Ministry Team will meet Tuesday, September 5 at 5:30 pm in Room 101.
Piecemakers meet each Thursday at 9:00 am and Saturday, September 16 at 9:30 am in Fellowship Hall.
The Finance Ministry Team will meet Monday, September 11 at 4:30 pm in Room 101.
The Session  will meet Monday, September 11 at 5:30 pm in Fellowship Hall.
The Children's Christian Education Ministry Team will meet Thursday, September 21 at 5:30 pm in Room 101.


 Reminder: The October deadline for submissions to First Press is

Friday, September 15.  

The Session
CLASS of 2017
Tom Meredith, David Shaw, Griffin Tanner,
Christina Torbert, Mary Glynn Wright (Clerk)
  CLASS of 2018
Darren Ashmore, Dorothy Lou Aldridge,
Jane Lyle Byars, Paul Chiniche, Kathryn Hill
  CLASS of 2019
Trey Cobb, Jon Crawford, Margie McLeod, 
Karen Stockton, Dana Williams

The Diaconate
CLASS of 2017
Kevin Christian, Catie Hester,
Laura Montgomery, Diane Scruggs, Cliff Smith

CLASS of 2018
Whitney Bolen, Julie Chadwick, James Day,
Teresa Flautt, JoAnne Oliver

CLASS of 2019
Lee Borden, Kristina Carlson, Dean Chow,
Lele Gillespie, Pick Scruggs

The Congregation

John M. Semmes
Ann H. Kelly
Interim Associate Pastor
J. David Randolph
Associate Pastor 22
Allison C. Wehrung
UKirk Pastor

Joseph W. Garrison
Director of Music/Organist
Terrell R. Hall

Director of Elementary Music

Joseph H. Kelly
Director of Youth
Frances Saralvarez
Office Administrator
Jessica M. McGee
Director of Communications
Wade Simpson
Property Manager

LaShaunda L. Sisk
Nursery Director