Presbytery of St. Augustine

Sermon from 2017 Winter Presbytery Meeting

Friends in the Presbytery of St. Augustine:

The Rev. Bruce Seaman from our Fairfield church preached the sermon at our 2017 Winter Stated Presbytery Meeting.  

Click here to view/listen to “The Meddlin’ Measure” –  Isaiah 58:1-12 and Matthew 5:13-20.

God bless the reading and preaching of the God’s word!

Highlights of Fall Stated Meeting

Highlights of 2016 Fall Stated Presbytery Meeting

By: Alexandra (Sandra) Hedrick, Presbytery Stated Clerk

Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.  Jeremiah 18:6.

The God who “remakes us, remolds us, and reshapes us” called us together on October 4, 2016, at Montgomery Presbyterian Conference Center (MPCC).  Approximately 150 were in attendance.  The morning offering for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) was about $1,320.  One of our presenters was Kathy Broyard from Florida Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Network, who provided an update on the approaching Hurricane Matthew and encouraged our preparedness in coordination with one another.

The morning message – “God Does Not Give Up on Flawed People” (Jeremiah 18:1-10; Romans 8:28)  – was brought by the Rev. Dr. Joe Rigsby of the Woodlawn Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, Florida.  Dr. Rigsby shared that God is constantly remaking us, remolding us, and reshaping us. Even when we are flawed and in a mess, and God’s reshaping feels painful, we are assured that the invisible hand of the Heavenly Father is making a beautiful vessel.  God’s best work takes place when we are available, empty and yielding.  We are called to start over, to let God make this a new presbytery, starting with us this very day!

Highlights of the presentations and actions during the meeting led by our Moderator Ralph Moulder included: 

  • We welcomed six teaching elder members: Matthew Benz-Whittington (Baptist Health); Ken Goodrich (Pastor, First Lake City); John Harris (Honorably Retired); Jessi Higginbotham (Interim Associate Pastor, Community); Jennie Thomas (Baptist Health); and Bill Weimer (Honorably Retired). Two other new members could not be present and will be introduced at the next meeting: Heong-Seok Cho (Pastor, Korean Presbyterian Church of Jacksonville) and Jack Swann (Honorably Retired).
  • We recognized with gratitude the teaching elders who serve the church in validated ministries outside the congregation, such as teaching, chaplaincy and leading non-profit entities.  It was also reported that four individuals have been enrolled as Inquirers for Ministry under the care of our presbytery: CJ Dates (Palms), Fred Lundy (First Gainesville), Forrest Foxworth (First Fernandina Beach), and Kevin Wright (Woodlawn).
  • David Lee presented a heartfelt memorial resolution for Don Harris, who last served as Vice President of Foundation Services with Westminster Communities of Florida before his death on April 28.  We approved several teaching elder retirements: Doug Ganyo (Associate Pastor, First Fernandina Beach); Peyton Hopkins (Associate Pastor, Community); Troy Lewis (Pastor, St. Giles); and Terry Lucarelli (Pastor, Lakewood). Lou Lothman, who is retiring as Executive Director of Pastoral Counseling Services, will continue as a part-time consultant in clinical services. 
  • Recognizing four years of dedicated work by Transitional Executive Presbyter Steve Benz, the Presbytery Council reported that his contract would not be renewed at its expiration on December 31. A motion to rescind the Council’s action was made, but the motion failed. 
  • The Presbytery Council also provided an update on the Discernment and Design process and presented the 2017 Asking Budget.  We approved increasing the cap on our transition consultant’s contract by an additional $10,000, plus any amount received as anonymous designated donations.  
  • The MPCC Executive Director (Terry Patterson) and an Executive Operating Board member (Don Mossa) provided updates on the visioning process that has taken place.  At the request of Trustee Murray Beard, the presbytery approved a plan to identify and elect new board members promptly due to the resignations that have occurred.
  • Upon the recommendation of the Committee on Ministry, we voted to increase the effective salary portion of the minimum terms of call for full-time installed pastors form $42,000 to $43,000. 
  • The presbytery approved the sale of the property of the Fleming Island Presbyterian Church and gave the Administrative Commission for the church additional authority which includes the ability to cease operations and dissolve the congregation. 
  • We heard reports from two of the leaders of our Presbyterian Youth Triennium contingent and from the commissioners and young adult advisory delegate who attended the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Portland, Oregon in 2016.  Our Synod of South Atlantic commissioners provided written reports of the September 2016 meeting. Moderator Carol Graff brought us news from Presbyterian Women, and upcoming events for the Jamaica Ecumenical Mutual Mission were described by Co-Moderator Bob Bell.  The Florida representative of the Thornwell Home for Children shared news about new ministries.
  • We approved the Nominating Committee and Presbytery Council’s slate of nominations for service on presbytery committees and commissions.  Written reports were provided by other committees and commissions. 
  • We thank Montgomery Presbyterian Conference Center for the meal provided on the grounds. We were treated to roast beef, Italian chicken breast, cheesy squash, baked potatoes, cheddar garlic biscuits, salad with mandarin oranges, and two kinds of trifle. 

The Winter Stated Meeting of the Presbytery of St. Augustine will be held at Fort King Presbyterian Church in Ocala, Florida on Saturday, February 4, 2017, beginning at 9:00 a.m. 

A workshop for the session clerks of our congregations and others interested in polity (including an update on the proposed amendments to the Book of Order) will be held at First Starke on Saturday, November 5.  Please contact Sandra Hedrick for more information – sandra@staugpres.org.

It will be my pleasure to answer any questions you may have about these brief highlights or to provide you or your congregation/session with more information.  In addition, if you attended the meeting, I would love to hear your comments and suggestions.  I can be reached at sandra@staugpres.org or on my cell phone: 904-612-9766.  Transitional Executive Presbyter Steve Benz also welcomes your input and can be reached at steve@staugpres.org or 904-733-8277, ext. 125.

Rev. Alexandra (Sandra) Hedrick, Presbytery Stated Clerk
sandra@staugpres.org – 904-612-9766 (cell)

Ordination of Bethany-Benz Whittington

Bethany Benz Whittington_Ord 1

Bethany’s Ordination Commission and Guests

By: Sandra Hedrick, Stated Clerk

We welcome Bethany Benz-Whittington as our newest member of the Presbytery of St. Augustine. Her ordination took place on April 24, 2016, at Peace Presbyterian Church, where she is serving as stated supply pastor. The service was well-attended by church members, family and friends, and friends from around the presbytery. It was followed by a joyous reception with an abundance of delicious food and a beautiful cake.

Bethany’s mother Cindy Benz preached the sermon – “And God said, GO” – to which the congregation responded with the moving hymn, “Lord, You Give The Great Commission.” The choir sang the anthem “Here I Am, Lord” (arrangement by Craig Courtney). Guy Hawker (Minister of Music) accompanied the choir and provided other sacred music to mark the occasion.

The Ordination Commission consisted of Cindy Benz (TE – First, Lake City), Kelsey Gulick (RE – Hodges Boulevard), Mary Mickel (RE – Woodlawn), Cynthia Montgomery (TE – At-Large, Moderator of Presbytery Council), Ralph Moulder (RE – Starke, Moderator of the Presbytery), Joe Rigsby (TE – Woodlawn), Sheldon Steen (TE – At-Large), and Charlene Willis (RE – Peace). There were also many guests of the commission who participated in the service and the celebration that followed. The guests included one of Bethany’s professors and an associate dean from Columbia Theological Seminary, where Bethany received her Master of Divinity in 2015.

Bethany Benz Whittington_Ord 2

Fellowship at a reception following the service

Bethany Benz-Whittington

Bethany Benz-Whittington

   

Message from Steve Benz

Steve Benz

Dear friends in ministry,

Greetings to all who labor in the vineyard that we call the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the head of the Church!

The greeting above is important because one of the very foundations of our Presbyterian heritage, indeed of all of Christendom, is that Jesus Christ is head of the Church. Each of us who are ruling elders, deacons and teaching elders in the church promise to know and even internalize that in every aspect of our ministry as we serve God and each other.

In one week, we will take that understanding with us to Portland, Oregon, for the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church and I trust that you will all be watching how we live together into our call to be disciples.

 

I should note right now that I love attending the General Assembly on your behalf. It is equal parts worship, work and family reunion, with a good dose of information gathering and networking thrown in. It is a celebration of what it means to be Presbyterian in this time and place, and we are at our best when we gather as a national body like this. Oh sure, there are disagreements and hard discussions, but then I think that is what makes us the church that God has asked us to be. If we don’t talk about the difficult things that exist in God’s creation, we cannot work to restore that creation. But those folks who have attended General Assemblies on your behalf will come home and tell you that they felt the Holy Spirit present in their deliberations, and that is why we gather.

Your commissioners this year are ruling elders Rick Kirby from Orange Park and Patti Phillips from Branford, teaching elders Laurie Furr-Vancini from Palms and Gabe Goodman from Community – Atlantic Beach, and young adult advisory delegate Lexi Green from Westminster in Gainesville. Sandra and I will be there with them (Sandra is serving as a parliamentarian for a committee and will work the floor during plenary sessions) to love and support their work, and we know of several folks from the presbytery who will also be in attendance as visitors. I solicit your prayers for them as they do this important work, guided by the Holy Spirit in all that they do.

And finally, I will be communicating with you regularly during the assembly to keep you posted on things that may be important to us here in the Presbytery of St. Augustine. Oftentimes, the national media do not fully understand or fully communicate what Presbyterians are doing at an assembly and my job will be to interpret for you. (An aside, the Presbyterian Outlook does a pretty fair job of telling the story and the Presbyterian News Service also gets it right.) I will tell you what our folks are up to, what work they are doing for God and you, and try to give you a sense of the work of the PC(USA). This will be my 10th GA and I am just as excited about this one as the first nine. Stay tuned……

Peace and grace,

Steve

 

Transitions and Passages

Changes and transitions are always happening in our presbytery! Here are some of the most recent ones:

Bethany Benz-Whittington, ordained on April 24, is now the stated supply pastor of the Peace Presbyterian Church.

We also welcome new minister member Jennie Thomas, who was received in April and is the lead chaplain and a clinical pastoral education supervisor at Baptist Health – South in Jacksonville.

Ruth Elswood began serving as the interim pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Jasper on April 24. She is also a chaplain with Palm Garden Health Care and Rehabilitation.

Memorial Presbyterian Church is glad to have Craig Davies as its interim pastor beginning on May 10. He is serving alongside associate pastor Hunter Camp and parish associate Amy Camp.

The Highlands Presbyterian Church (Gainesville) held a worship service in connection with its closing on May 15. It recognizes and gives thanks for the leadership of Sandy Faison (member of the Presbytery of Alaska), who served as its last stated supply pastor through its closing date.

Larry Hadrava, ruling elder member of the Kirkwood Presbyterian Church, completed his service to the San Mateo Presbyterian Church (as commissioned ruling elder) on May 15.

Matthew Benz-Whittington was examined in April and approved for ordination. The ordination will take place this coming Sunday (June 12) at his home church in Tennessee. Matthew is a clinical pastoral education resident at Baptist Health.

July 10 is Ken Goodrich’s first Sunday as the new installed pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Lake City. Ken is transferring his membership from the Presbytery of Lackawanna, where he serves a church in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The Lake City church, which just celebrated its 160th anniversary, thanks Cindy Benz for serving as its interim pastor.

Cindy Benz will begin her work as interim pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Ocala, Florida on June 20.

Some anniversaries to celebrate are: Amy Camp (ordained 15 years), Larry Green (ordained 15 years), and Cindy Benz (ordained 10 years).

Transitions are always a perfect time to pray for one another. Please keep each individual and community mentioned above in your prayers.

We also welcome receiving information as to new events and changes that should be included in our newsletter and news posts. Thank you!

Meet Your General Assembly Commissioners and Young Adult Advisory Delegate

The 222nd General Assembly (GA) (2016) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is about to be underway from June 18 – 25, in Portland, Oregon.

Commissioners and advisory delegates from all 171 PC(USA) presbyteries, along with other participants and observers from around the world, will gather for worship, fellowship and the business of the church. The theme is: “The Hope in Our Calling,” from Ephesians 1:18.

As the 222nd GA approaches, the Presbytery of St. Augustine’s commissioners and young adult advisory delegate (YAAD) elected at the Fall 2015 Stated Presbytery Meeting are imagining their roles at this important event in the life of the church.

Laurie Furr-Vancini (TE – Palms) will be focusing on Middle East Issues within her committee. She is most looking forward to “seeing the highest body of our church at work” and “learning more about our church alive throughout our country and God’s world.” Patti Phillips (RE – Branford), was recently called in as an alternate. Patti states, “I look forward to worshiping and serving, with fellow Christians, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” She will serve on the Mission Coordination Committee.

YAAD Lexi Green’s (Westminster) committee will focus on Theological Issues. “What I am looking forward to most about the 222nd GA is the opportunity to represent a group that I feel is often misrepresented as well as being able to make connections and just feel the power of the Holy Spirit that I am sure will be very present within that place,” said Lexi.

Gabe Goodman (TE – Community) is excited to serve on his committee, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations. “I’m looking forward to addressing controversial issues and helping the church find resolutions,” said Gabe.

Rick Kirby’s (RE – Orange Park) committee’s focus will cover several areas: the Board of Pensions, the Presbyterian Foundation, and two other agencies. “I hope to grow in my own faith by what I see, hear and feel and I certainly hope to be blessed by interacting with other Christians that I don’t know,” said Rick. “It may seem strange, but what I am looking forward to the most right now is seeing the PCUSA polity in action. I am also looking forward the overall experience.”

Once our commissioners and YAAD complete their particular committee work, they will participate in the “plenary” sessions where the committees present their recommendations and the entire assembly takes action. We look forward to hearing about their experiences when they return home to us!  Please keep each and every one of them in your prayers as they follow God’s call to Portland and back.

 

Our Newest Doctors of Ministry

May 2016 has been a significant graduation month for several of our teaching elders who have been awarded the degree of Doctor of Ministry. Congratulations go out to The Rev. Drs. Dawn Conti (Kanapaha), Kathryn McLean (At-Large) and Darren Bess (First, Ocala). Dawn and Kathy travelled to Chicago to receive their degrees from McCormick Theological Seminary, and Darren was near Philadelphia to receive his degree from Westminster Theological Seminary.

Dawn Conti graduated May 7 with her Doctor of Ministry degree in Preaching from McCormick Theological Seminary. Her Master of Divinity is from Louisville Theological Seminary where she graduated in 2003. She was ordained and installed as pastor of the Kanapaha Presbyterian Church that same year. Dawn has been a member of the Presbytery of St. Augustine since 1995.

Kathryn McLean was ordained in 1998 by this presbytery, after graduating from Columbia Theological Seminary, and she has served in various roles as pastor, chaplain, spiritual director and labyrinth facilitator. Most recently she was the chaplain at Westminster Woods on Julington Creek and pastor of our Lake Shore church in Jacksonville. Her Doctor of Ministry degree is from McCormick Theological Seminary, in the Building Beloved Community tract.

Darren Bess is the associate pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Ocala, where he has served since his graduation from Dubuque Theological Seminary in 2006. His doctorate is in pastoral counseling.

Please join us in congratulating this newest group of folks who have answered God’s call to ministry in so many wonderful ways, and in completing this next step on their faith journey.

Remembering with Gratitude: Highlands Presbyterian Church

By: Sandra Hedrick, Stated Clerk

The Highlands Presbyterian Church in Gainesville, Florida, held its closing service on Pentecost Sunday, May 15, 2016.  Many guests from around the presbytery joined the congregation for the occasion of celebrating the rich heritage of the 63-year old congregation and to mourn its ending. The statement of purpose, led by Presbytery Moderator Ralph Moulder, began:

Highlands_Crop“As we gather for worship,
let us acknowledge with solemn joy,
God’s gift of this place,
remembering with gratitude,
all who have worshipped here,
the faith professed at this font,
the gospel proclaimed from this pulpit,
the assurance received at this table.”

 

The gathered worshippers were greeted by Sandy Faison, the church’s last stated supply pastor.  After Glenn Dickson (TE – Faith) shared a history of the church, Ruth Elswood (TE – Jasper) read a letter from Jack Donovan, the commissioned ruling elder who served the church for many years.

The service included scripture reading (including Ecclesiastes 3:1-18 and 2 Timothy 4:6-13), many prayers, times for contemplation and proclaiming the word, an affirmation of faith, and a litany of praise.  The morning message recognized that other Christians have suffered loss, and others have celebrated the memories of God’s grace shown among a people and in a place.   Following a recessional out of the sanctuary led by the ringing of handbells, the blessing and charge were pronounced in the Bashaw Memorial Garden, as the congregation was surrounded by the caring support of the friends who had come to share this tender time.

Highlands_1

 

Those who attended will also remember the music and the time of sharing (food, fellowship and memories) that followed the service.  Long-time Highlands’ pianist Andy Hughes gifted those gathered with his talent and inspirational music. The band (Alyson Bonner, RD Bonner, Kathy Broyard, Karen Evans and Crystal Miles) that played two pieces of special music for the gathering is a group of voluntary musicians who have played together at Highlands for the past three years.  According to one of the band members, Kathy Broyard, the pieces that they played – The Byrds “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)” and “Trust” by Sixpence None the Richer – “really spoke us as fitting for the final gathering as Highlands.”

 

Over the years the Highlands church nurtured the faith of many and served the Gainesville community in important ways.  In his history, Glenn Dickson named many of servant leaders of the church, including the first pastor, Norman McDowell, who served when the church was located at the NE corner of NE 9th Street and NE 10th Avenue. (The current building on NE 16th Avenue was dedicated in 1964.) 

In the fall of 1964, a National Walkway – consisting of stones from all 50 states and Canada – was created and dedicated.  The Bashaw Memorial Biblical Garden was dedicated in memory of Z. T. Bashaw in the summer of 1967, and for many years Easter Sunrise services were held there. 

A number of non-profit and outreach groups have used the building over the years.  For example, “the church provided leadership for the Action Network when that network began its ministry in Gainesville.  Often the Action Network Board met in the dining hall here and it has helped make Gainesville a much better city.”

In his sermon, Glenn Dickson shared that, “Numerous people have been baptized here.  Many couples have said their wedding vows in this sanctuary.  And many memorial services have been held here.  People have met strangers and become great friends and those friendships would not have developed had this church not been here.  People with doubts and questions have been helped to work through those doubts and achieve a stronger faith because of the ministry of this church.  It is impossible to put into words what this church has meant to so many during the past 60 plus years.”

“It will be strange to drive by this place in the years ahead and to note that this building will no longer house a Presbyterian congregation.” But also, we will carry with us “what [we] have learned and experienced here… and it has enriched and strengthened [our] faith.” 

The community of the Presbytery of St. Augustine continues to pray for God’s blessing on the people who have loved and served the church over its many years.  We know that the light of Christ that has shined in and from the church will continue to be a blessing in ways that we will never know but that God will use for God’s glory and God’s peace.

Message from Steve Benz

Steve BenzI was in worship recently at Marion Oaks where we did one of my most favorite things in the life of any church. We ordained and installed elders, we laid our hands on children of God and set them apart for ordered ministry in the Church. I have done that work many, many times with both ruling and teaching elders and it never ceases to be such a thrill.

But Marion Oaks was different. A class of new elders being installed indicates that a class of current elders will be rotating off of the session for a season. That too is a time for celebration of the gifts and skills that someone has shared with brothers and sisters in Christ while serving on the session. At Marion Oaks, the Rev. Cheryl Gans asked the children to come forward for a time of special worship for them (as many of our churches do each Sunday) and then she asked the three elders rotating off of the session to come and stand in front of the children.

Now, we had about a dozen children that morning, of every age and gender, and they have all been a part of the life of the Marion Oaks church through their young lives.

It was apparent also that the session members knew these children well and that the children knew the elders of the church. Cheryl asked each of the children to say a word to the session members rotating off, and handed the microphone to the first child. Each child shared a memory of some way in which one of the elders had touched his or her life, and it was such a touching moment that I confess to wiping a tear or two, both of happiness and laughter at their obvious love for each other.

That is what I want to happen when I rotate off of whatever position I am in. I want the children to stand before me and tell me that I have impacted their lives in some positive way, and by that I mean the children of God. I think every ruling elder, teaching elder, deacon, Sunday School teacher or candlestick maker can learn from these children at Marion Oaks.

So whenever you have a congregation of elders laying their hands on you in ordination or installation, remember the children whom you have been called to serve, even as you remember the God that has called you. Our unity is in Christ, the head of the Church.

Peace and grace

Steve

Transitions and Passages

The presbytery continues to mark transitions and passages in its community life.

Bethany Benz-Whittington

Bethany Benz-Whittington, Stated Supply Pastor at Peace Presbyterian Church

The Peace Presbyterian Church welcomes Bethany Benz-Whittington as its stated supply pastor beginning on April 17.   The church thanks Don Mossa for his faithful service to the church as its temporary supply pastor since early 2015. 

We also think of other churches and pastors in transition and add our prayers: Raymond Guterman’s last Sunday in the pulpit at First Presbyterian Church of Ocala was April 10.  Jim Weldon, the organizing pastor of Fleming Island Presbyterian Church, shared his last sermon message with the congregation on April 3.  

We celebrate anniversaries as well: in March, Barbara Hamilton (stated supply – Mayport) and Hunter Camp (associate pastor – Memorial) celebrated 15 and 20 years of ordained ministry (respectively). 

We rejoice with Sheryl Sumlin-Barclay (now Sheryl Sumlin-Walker), in her recent marriage. 


As a presbytery we come together in prayer and extend well-wishes for our friends and colleagues in their times of celebrations and transitions!

Please send us information as to all events that you would like us to publish in our newsletter and news posts. Thank you!

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