SteveBenz2“Oh the places you will go.”

What a wonderful couple of weeks I have had!  You have hired me for specific purposes as your transitional executive presbyter, and it is a joy to do the work that is required of us as the mid-council of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  It is also a joy and a privilege to have been designated as the pastor to the pastors of this council and I take that honor very seriously.  But it is also a joy to experience a lot of what might be termed “other” functions of the office on your behalf and this past week was an example of just how wonderful this work can be.

My various journeys actually began on January 9 when I greeted wonderful folks from around the country who were in Jacksonville for PDA training.  The Presbyterian Disaster Assistance network is one of the greatest things we Presbyterians do together and it is my great privilege to have participated on three trips thus far doing relief work in flood ravaged areas. I am absolutely in awe of the work these volunteers do around the globe and it is such a privilege to be invited to greet them, pray with and for their work and then share a meal with them.

My next adventure was on that next Sunday when I served on a commission to install the Rev. Amy Hunt to the pulpit at the Kirkwood church here in Jacksonville.  I have been working closely with the folks at Kirkwood and Nueva Esperanza over the last year on a variety of tasks related to the Nueva Esperanza congregation moving to share space with the Kirkwood congregation so they have become good friends over the last year and I know many names there.  While the sharing conversation was going on, the search committee at Kirkwood was also busily seeking the person God had called to that congregation.  I hope you all took a moment at the presbytery meeting on Saturday to welcome Amy to our common ministry.

And the fun continued the next week.  I worshipped at Memorial, a normal morning punctuated by the Kirkin’ O’ the Tartans at the 11:00 service which was such a joy.  I then hopped into my car and flew to Weirsdale where I served on the commission to install the Rev. Charlie Rumpel as their newest pastor.  Charlie has served in this presbytery in a number of capacities so we know him well but he is in a new place now and shared about that at the meeting on Saturday.

On Thursday of that week, things kicked into high gear.  Your stated clerk and I attended an ecumenical vesper service at the Cathedral Basilica in St. Augustine and represented the presbytery at the bishop’s reception before the service.   Sandra participated in the service itself, the only woman on the chancel with the leadership from the other denominational judicatories in northeast Florida.  The service was very well attended and the folks that Sandra and I met were delightful.  The neatest part for me was connecting with others in the body of Christ who have connections in their own faith traditions with whom I have worked in other presbyteries.  It is nice to have friends in common even as you make new friends.

On Friday I drove back to the southern part of the presbytery to attend the first ever “352 Friday Night” gathering at First Pres in Ocala.  Youth groups, high school and middle school alike, from all of the churches in the 352 area code came together under the leadership of Christian Antwi, Scott Stuart, Vicki Sumner and Brian Johnson, to share fun, food and fellowship in a connected way.  I spoke with some of the parents and leaders of the groups and noted that the kids were sitting in a variety of groupings around tables, not just with their own group from their home church. The activities were lively, the music and worship was good and the hope is that this effort will continue in 352 and perhaps inspire others to do the same.

On Saturday, I was back in St. Augustine early to attend the annual gathering of the Presbyterian Women of the Presbytery of St. Augustine, again at Memorial (which, for at least two weeks is presbytery central as we gathered there again on Saturday for our winter presbytery meeting.  They even awarded me an honorary parking pass.)  The PW gathering was lively as always and I saw so many of my new and dear friends there.  I brought greetings on your behalf but then they honored me with an Auggie award and I was touched.  The work they have done with the Little Dresses for Africa project is nothing short of astounding and I am a big fan of that project.  It was even featured on the presbytery’s page in the Mission Yearbook this year.  As it was last year, the PW gathering is one of the highlights of my service to the larger church and to you.

And on Sunday…..I rested.  There was, after all, a presbytery meeting to prepare for and I needed to restore my energy.  My soul had already been restored, thanks be to God.

Peace and grace,

Steve