Tuesday, September 27, 2011

An Ongoing Story of Hope

We are a constant work in progress
Today is another "concentrate on the church history project" day. By church history, I mean the 50-year story of fpcBrandon (First Presbyterian Church of Brandon), the congregation Rebekah has now served for 15 years.

But it is certainly interesting to think of our 50-year story in the context of the greater (2,000-year) narrative of The Church. The Church has spent 20 centuries struggling with its role in the world. It was at its worst, by all accounts, when it was the most powerful politically; and it has been at its best when it simply seeks to serve, without regard to any agenda other than love.

Our particular congregation was started, back in 1961, when a small group of people felt the need for a Presbyterian church in Brandon. It took 15-20 years for fpcBrandon to find its unique personality (and, like all of us, it is still a work in progress). During the first decade the church grew significantly, but then lost half its active membership when a group of leaders realized they could not dictate the direction of the church without regard to Presbyterian polity. This group included the majority of those with financial means. Those that left, in a non sequitur of monumental irony, named their new church "Independent Presbyterian."

We are a unique and passionate witness to grace and love
However, like many events that are catastrophic at the time, the 1971 split did a lot to pave the way for who this congregation eventually became. Those who stayed were, by definition, committed to a more inclusive witness to Brandon; were, because of the experience, more inclined to value their identity as Presbyterians in the context of a diverse denomination; and were, by virtue of their sudden financial stress, more reliant on one-another and not just the purse-strings of a few.

Consequently, the church that established such a strong presence in the Brandon community during the 1980's was an entirely unique community of faith. First Presbyterian of Brandon was - and still is - a one-of-a-kind congregation in the middle of a suburbia dominated by literally hundreds of versions of the same church.
First Presbyterian of Brandon was - and still is - a one-of-a-kind congregation in the middle of a suburbia dominated by literally hundreds of versions of the same church.
The first few years of the 1990's were another tough time for First Brandon, but the core identity of the church was rooted in the right soil. This church may have experienced some hardship and disappointments, but at the heart of themselves the people knew who they were and they understood how vital their witness was to the Brandon community.

Vibrant and unique witness
What has been remarkable, in the 15 years since Rebekah and I arrived in 1996, has been exactly how this faith community has matured into a vibrant witness not only to Brandon, but to other churches in the Presbytery of Tampa Bay, and beyond.
We're not another one of those churches with diminishing attendance, a predictable order of worship, a conservative budget, a struggle to stay afloat and the goal of maintaining the status quo... We are a transformational community of faith, and a center for discipleship where Jesus followers gather for worship, grow together, and are equipped for service and mission.
I'm having a great time telling this story. But it's hard because this is an open-ended narrative. First Presbyterian of Brandon is an ongoing story of redemption and love.
Peace, and every blessing - DEREK

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