Dear South Elkhorn
Dear South Elkhorn,
Where do I even begin? No letter, sermon, or goodbye speech could ever fully encompass what you all as a church have done for me. Your hospitality, friendship, compassion, and grace has made a lasting impact on my soul that will not be forgotten. Below is a recounting of my experience here. I hope you enjoy looking back as much as I have.
I hate “church hunting.” For my first year of seminary I had grown so tired of not being able to find a church home that I just quit. I would attend the mega churches in Chicago simply because I knew I could walk in and out without being talked to. I had completely forgotten what it meant to be part of a true church community.
When I pulled into South Elkhorn’s parking lot Labor Day weekend of 2017, I didn’t know what to expect. I had found SECC online, the staff didn’t seem to hate each other in the pictures and so I thought you all would be the first Disciples church I visited of about five that I had on a list.
I sat in my car for a few minutes because I was early and figured if I went in too soon, I would stand out like a sore thumb. And I know how pastors work, they have eyes for those people. I wanted to fly under the radar. So around 10:25 I considered driving back to school and not going in. But I turned my car off, got out, and walked into the church building for the very first time a church building I would soon call home.
I sat towards the back, again hoping to go unnoticed. It was then a woman sat down next to me. Oh brother, here we go. I thought to myself.
“You must be new here.” The woman said.
“Yes ma’am,” I replied, knowing that I should probably say ma’am because I have moved to the south after all…
“Well, welcome! My name is Velda Staggs.” Now I definitely knew I was in the south because I had never heard a name like that while growing up in Wisconsin.
Not long after this interaction with Velda, I saw the senior minister. Please don’t see me, please don’t see me. He was staring right at me…
After Michael introduced himself it felt as if I had known him before. I hadn’t, but he just seemed to have that kind of personality. I liked that about him.
Worship began and for the first time in years I sat in a church service with no judgmental thoughts. The order of worship went smoothly, the music was phenomenal, the children’s sermon was unlike anything I had ever seen before and they practiced communion weekly! Everyone was so friendly. In fact, when they did the meet and greet time the church seemed to erupt. What is this place?
I remember going home and thinking it was too good to be true. I thought I’d give it one more week because surely, they’d have some type of flaw that would force me to look elsewhere. I went back that next Sunday only to see Bob Stewart and Jack McAllister wearing too-toos during the children’s sermon. I threw my list of Disciples churches away… this was my new home.
I was welcomed with open arms everywhere I went. Sunday school, praise team, and explore South Elkhorn. I was also embraced by the staff. When I approached Michael about doing my internships here, I was nervous. I didn’t want them to think I was just using them for an academic requirement. He didn’t even hesitate to find me a spot.
I remember the first time I preached here. I was so nervous the week before I could hardly stand it. I was rusty and out of practice. But not in your eyes. I remember the words of Timothea after the service:
“If there’s anyone on the path to doing what they’re supposed to be doing, it’s you.” The encouragement and words of affirmation from everyone was almost overwhelming. It reignited my passion and desire to preach the Gospel… what a gift you have given me in this area of my life, South Elkhorn.
Fast forward to the summer. Holly’s on sabbatical, Michael’s on vacation and the air conditioning in the Historic Sanctuary decides it doesn’t have a need to work in July. You all became the church in that moment as I scrambled to move a funeral from the historic sanctuary to the worship center. Jerry Shepherd checked in on me throughout the day. Jane Estepp brought me a sandwich. Music Minister Chris Weiss left dinner with friends to show me how to turn on the sound board. And all of you who showed up to Del’s funeral greeted me with a smile, a hug, and many words of encouragement. It was a hard summer. One that stretched and pushed me in ways I never imagined possible, but you all showed up and constantly reminded me what it means to be part of the body of Christ.
There are so many more memories I could mention like, me and Mary Louis backing into each other in the parking lot, mentoring Kate Kilpatrick, meeting the esteemed Paul Sears, and lets not forget those chili cook offs! In this last year of seminary as I have prepared to get married, get ordained, and move away form Lexington, you all have continued to love and support me. You have welcomed me into your homes as one of your own and shared your lives with me. What an honor and privilege that has been. My heart hurts thinking of the day I will no longer be the Student Minister at South Elkhorn Christian Church. It has been my favorite job title thus far. I am the pastor I am, not because of my own doing, but because of the unconditional love of God that spills over here at South Elkhorn.
South Elkhorn, you are equipped to do what you have done for me for so many others. There are seminary students and aspiring pastors who long for the kind of experience you have given me. Never lose this ability, never let it off your radar. This is what the church does! It builds up disciples and leaders and sends them out into the world to preach and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. I will grieve this goodbye and if you need to, I encourage you to do so as well. But do not grieve for long, for there is work to be done, disciples to be built up, and pastors to be sent out!
So, thank you South Elkhorn… thank you. It has been the greatest joy of my life to serve here.
With all my love,
Student Minister, January 2018-May 2019