By Jake Hall

published in Family Matters, November 2013

During this season, we will celebrate a number of first things. On Sunday, October 27, I will preach the first sermon as your pastor. We’ll have many firsts in the Christian calendar: All Saints Day, Advent, and beyond. There will be baptisms, ordinations, and a number of opportunities for fellowship. Know that I am happy to have a place on the chancel and a seat at the table.

Thank you in advance for the grace you have extended to your new pastor. In my first attempts at trying to get things right the first time, there will also be a number of occasions when I will get it wrong. For example, I have already gotten it wrong by wondering out loud if Steve Brown may be related to Mary Brown, while wondering if Jeff Browne is somehow their distant cousin. I’ve had my first adventures getting lost, even though 1370 Briarcliff Road is the first address that I saved in my phone’s app. I have gone the wrong way while driving past Nu Way hotdogs, and stumbled upon several new spots in Macon. 

With all these firsts, there are some that are just too important to get wrong. I want us to focus together on keeping first things first in our communal faith. These first things form primary actions of any congregation: worship, hospitality, faith development, generosity, mission, and service. If you were to ask nearly any person in the pews of any congregation in Macon they might offer up just such a list. Robert Schnase authored a wonderful reminder for congregations when he encouraged them to focus, not on the nouns, but on the adjectives of these first, or primary, practices. What differentiates one congregation from another becomes the particular way that we live out these practices: how we open our doors, the ways we are generous. For Schnase, the important adjectives are passionate, radical, intentional, extravagant, and risk-taking. Hospitality must be radical if it is to express the love of God. Worship must be defined, not by style, but by passion. Faith development must go beyond annual programs and be marked by an intentional focus on discovering the sacred in our lives. Mission must be more than a check we write, but a risky reality check on where God is already at work in the world. Stewardship must be more than budget, and instead, the development of a culture of generosity that goes beyond the line item and comes off the page.

I look forward to discovering just how we express these first things together at Highland Hills. You may wonder about the first things I want to accomplish as your pastor. The first thing I want to do is get to know this congregation and the community in which we live. I want to know the story of Highland Hills and how this particular congregation has embodied the Good News. And I want you to get to know me.