Last weekend, Cheryl, Michael & I drove to Morganton, North Carolina, where I was called to serve as Senior Pastor at Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church. It was a very emotional time for us, as it ended a three-year odyssey through a valley of suffering and disappointment. God had once again “lifted my head” as Psalm 3:3, the verse I had stood on for the past several years, affirmed. But that is not say that there were not some “lighter” moments this weekend as well …
Arriving at our hotel in Morganton on Friday night, Cheryl & I ordered a supreme pizza from a local establishment that had some good reviews, and which also delivered to the hotel. The woman on the phone asked what name she should put on the order. “Shawn Thomas”, I said.
“Shawn Thomas?” the voice replied. “The Shawn Thomas who is going to be the next pastor at Pleasant Ridge Baptist?”
I laughed out loud. I know very well there are no secrets in a small town! “Well, Lord willing, yes”, I said. “This is the same one. At least now you know what I like to eat!”
That night, the three of us were pretty hyped-up from the trip, and the anticipation of the activities of the next couple of days, so we watched some old classic movies that were playing on the tv. “Gone With The Wind” was coming on, and we realized that Michael had never seen it. We filled him in on what to expect from the movie many consider the greatest of all time, but I forgot exactly just how long it was. At one point in the early morning I fell asleep and woke up again, and commented that the movie was still going. Michael said, “Yeah, I think you missed like disks 6-8!”
Saturday morning, Cheryl had brunch with Children’s Director Amanda Burkhart, Church Secretary Jane Crisp, Pianist Margaret Smith, and Custodian Connie Grissom. She loved all of the ladies, and felt right at home with them. After the brunch, Amanda took Cheryl on a tour of Morganton. At one point, while they were driving, Amanda said, “Hmmm … I must have made a wrong turn …”. They weren’t “lost” for long, but Cheryl got a kick out of it!
The next evening included a pot luck dinner at the church, featuring some of the most incredible food we’ve ever been served, followed by a “Q & A” time with the church family. I was introduced by Ray Miller, the Search Committee Chairman, in a sweet North Carolina accent as “Brother Shown”, which is endearing to me. I served for a number of years with a staff member who grew up in nearby Statesville, NC, and who called me “Brother Shown” and I loved it. I wouldn’t change one of those accents for anything; I am looking forward to being called “Brother Shown” for many years to come!
At the fellowship, Jim Smith, the Minister of Music, apologized for having previously called Cheryl “Shirley.” He subsequently led in prayer to open the meeting, and prayed for “Shawn & Shirley … I mean Cheryl!” Laughter filled the fellowship hall, and I knew the church had a good sense of humor. But Jim has now taken to calling Cheryl “Cheryl-ly”!
Q & A
I gave a brief testimony to kick off the Question & Answer time, but as often happens in gatherings like this, sometimes the questions are slow to begin. After a few seconds of silence, someone’s cell phone rang. I said, “Hey, I’ll take phone-in questions!”
A few minutes later, someone asked me if I thought I would be accessible to children and others in the church. I said that I hoped I would indeed be accessible to staff, and all church members, as well as children. Just then, a couple of little ones looked like they were walking right up to me (they were actually on the way to the bathroom). I said, “See, they’re coming up to me right now!”
They had some place tags at the fellowship reserving some of the tables for the pastor’s family, the Pastor Search Committee, and the staff. Did I mention that PRBC has a fairly young staff? 😉
AFFIRMING THE CALL
Cheryl, Michael & I all felt like the Q&A session only re-affirmed our sense of call to Pleasant Ridge. We loved the spirit and friendliness of the people, and looked forward to the possibility of serving with them — and we hoped that the church felt the same way. The next morning I would preach, and the church would vote.
Sunday morning, we experienced one of the greatest music/worship services we have ever participated in. It was highlighted by a rousing choral rendition of “Thou O Lord”, selected by Jim Smith before he ever knew I was preaching on Psalm 3:3! Interestingly enough, Michael told us later that Student Minister Keith Burkhart had taught a Sunday School lesson which reinforced one of the points I would make in my sermon. It appears that God was already working to confirm the match. I subsequently preached, and the congregation voted to call us.
I love this picture that Jim took of our family as the church welcomed us after the vote. Our three faces are so different: I am thinking: “So this is what it feels like when God is ‘the lifter of my head'”; Cheryl is looking over to see how her baby is doing — and Michael is doing his best to remain as unobtrusive as possible while standing in the spotlight in front of hundreds of people!
Michael told us later that he can’t wait to be a part of Keith Burkhart’s youth ministry and Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church. I think that pretty much sums up the feelings of all three of us!