I remember when I first met Ralph Jackman. I was a new pastor at our sister church in Maple Hill. We met at a regional church meeting in Wichita. I was impressed with his leadership and assertiveness. Later, of course, I learned of his involvement with the Micronesia Ministries, the local evangelical clergy alliance, and the beginnings of the Emporia Christian School. He was a community fixture in Emporia for over a dozen years.
It was around that same time that I met Chad Poland at an NACCC training event in Boston. He was leading a small church in Maine through a turnaround. I had no idea that he would ever come to Kansas – and I was glad a few years later when he took the call to this church. We worked well together when the churches in our region co-hosted the 2005 NACCC annual meeting in Kansas City. And he also played big role in starting the Abundant Harvest feeding ministry that our church still assists with.
After I became an Emporia pastor I quickly learned about the other great pastors in this church’s history. I learned about Steve Williams, who served the longest tenure – going from the years of World War II up into my own lifetime. This included the church boom years of the 1950s when our present building was constructed. I felt a special connection with this history when I officiated the funeral for his son, the younger Steve Williams in 2009. It felt like the end of an era.
Another pastor who had known the Williamses personally was Mike Matheny, who served here from 1978 to 1986. I met him at the NACCC Ministers’ Convocation several years ago. He remembered watching Dukes of Hazzard episodes with Steve and Etta on Friday nights. He also led the church when the Baird Education Wing was added to our facility.
There were a number of others as well. There was Richard Cordley, who survived Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence in 1863, and led our church in erecting the previous building at 8th & Mechanic in 1880. He served here for six years in between two much longer pastorates in Lawrence.
Later there was Frank G. Ward, who collaborated with William Allen White in organizing community forums for local leaders and issues. He served for almost seven years around the turn of the 20th century – and went on to have a distinguished career as Dean of the Chicago Theological Seminary.
He was followed by John H.J. Rice, who pastored here for almost 21 years – and was also the local police judge. He was a community icon, and he had the distinction of baptizing Jack Atherton just before he retired.
And before all of them there was Grosvenor Morse, the founding pastor, who came here back in the days of bleeding Kansas. He died in 1870, but his wife Abigail survived and was a long-time Dean of Women at what is now ESU. There’s a dormitory on the ESU campus that’s named for her.
I feel honored to have joined this group – having accepted the call on Mothers’ Day of 2008. Throughout my pastorate the focus has been on our core practices of worship, learning, prayer, service, and witness. There have been positive developments in each area: from annual the study series (including the most recent one on forgiveness) to the Congregational Essentials Pantry, from the healing services in the chapel to the Monday evening services at the Lyon County Jail, from the All Hallows’ Eve outreach to the All Saints’ Day services, from the third Saturday meals to the pulpit swaps with our sister churches across Kansas, from the trips to Kenya to the many answered prayers. God has done great things; there is much to be thankful for.
Of course not everything went as we hoped for. I’ve made my share of mistakes along the way. I hope those who were upset will forgive me. Know that I always try to learn from these experiences, and that I leave as better pastor than I came in.
My tenure at First Congregational Church will end sometime in the spring of next year. This past Sunday a sister church in California voted to call me as their new pastor. Hillary and I have prayed about this, and we feel this is God’s doing – so we’ve decided to accept it.
I want to be clear that I’m not leaving because I’m mad at anybody. I’m very thankful for the time God has allowed me to serve here, for the friendships that have been made, and the ministries that have developed. You all have helped me become both a better pastor and (more importantly) a better Christian. The things I have learned here will continue with me into my future ministries – and hopefully that will help me give more to others along the way.
A church is so much more than just the pastor. I like the expression that says, “You don’t join a pastor; you join a church.”
With that, I’m excited for the future of First Congregational Church of Emporia. God has raised up good ministers in past, and He will raise up still more for the future. Meanwhile, we have some wonderful people in this congregation now. And we have solid, experienced leaders. God has a successor in mind, and He will guide our leaders as they go about discerning who that person is.
And of course I will continue to keep this church in my prayers. The One who began a good work in you will bring it on to completion (Philippians 1:6). I give God thanks for all that you have done for me and for the Lord.
Pastor – First Congregational Church of Emporia, Kansas
Pastor-Elect – Craig Memorial Congregational Church of Paradise, California
The blog of Andrew McHenry, Pastor of First Congregational Church of Emporia, Kansas.