When I went into surgery, Kimberly and I walked up to the hospital with our arms around one another’s waists. I told her that I had a strong sense that this was not my time, that I would survive surgery, survive this whole incident, that it wasn’t time for me to go. I had been hesitant to tell her that because, of course, I could have been wrong! To my surprise Kimberly said the same thing to me. As a matter of fact, we had a stronger sense that this was not my time than when I was diagnosed with cancer in 2008. Of course, we confessed that we didn’t know the future and that, if this were my time, God would be doing what was good and right. Nevertheless that sense remained.
I think I can tell you why, humanly speaking, the Spirit had given us this sense. It is becoming increasingly likely that the Lord is preparing to uproot my family from Heritage and plant us in another congregation. We sensed that this was not the time because we believe God still has glory to get from our little lives.
This whole process started over a year ago when I had lunch with Mark Dever in D.C. He told me about this church, and that got the ball rolling. After securing Danny’s permission last March, I began to correspond with the search committee. That led to a first visit for Kimberly and me back in September, then a second in November and a third in January. Later this morning, the church will have a congregational meeting during which they will announce their intention to call for a vote re: my candidacy. It looks like our whole family will make one last trip (the first for the girls) on the weekend of April 25. Then the church will vote May 16. As you can tell, this is not a “done deal” yet, but we thought it wise to announce this today with the other church.
Let me tell you a little bit about the church where I am candidating. It is the First Baptist Church of New York City. It is one of the oldest congregations in the country, actually a bit older than our country at almost 250 years old. The first pastor served during the American War for Independence as George Washington’s chaplain. The church’s building is located in Manhattan on the Upper West Side at the corner of 79th and Broadway, two blocks from the American Museum of Natural History, three blocks from Central Park, and about twenty blocks from the Lincoln Center, Columbus Circle, and the Met. There is a subway stop literally at the front steps of the building. The building itself has a capacity roughly equivalent to our sanctuary, but there are currently only about 120 members of the church. God has graciously preserved this congregation’s fidelity to Scriptures and desire to see Christ honored. We view it as an awesome opportunity to revitalize an urban ministry
The most unusual thing about this process has been the potential for a double transition, with both Eric and me moving on. Neither of us planned this. Frankly, the process with NYC has moved very deliberately, so much so that the elders have been preparing for this announcement this since the Elder Retreat in September. We all thought that today would have come a while back. (Of course, given my health issues, we can see why God kept the process moving slowly.) We can really say nothing more than that the timing was the Lord’s. Christ is the head of the Church, and it appears that he intends for Heritage to endure two pastoral transitions at once.
[Note: This actually points to an uncommon work of grace in our church, namely, the relatively long pastoral tenures that God has blessed us with. Danny has been here 18 years, Sandy for 13, and Warren forever. That is unusual—a gift from the Lord. Some churches always have a pastoral opening, but that (thankfully!) hasn’t been the case here.]
The most difficult thing about this has been the prospect of moving on from Heritage. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been here almost a decade now. And even though we’re not leaving yet, it appears that by the end of the summer God will have repositioned us. Over the past year Kimberly and I have shared many tears at the thought of leaving Heritage. You have welcomed us into your lives. You have borne with me as I learned to serve as a pastor, first as Pastor of YYAD, then as PMV. And most significantly you cared for me and my family through the darkest moments of our relatively brief lives. Heritage is much more to us than a building or an order of worship or great preaching. Heritage has been our home; you have been our family. We love you.