From the Pastor
Dear Members and Friends of First Church,
I trust that, as the summer works its way to a conclusion, you are well and are experiencing God’s blessings. I’ve had the privilege of hearing from a number of you by email this summer—and I thank you for sharing with me both your joys and sorrows. Truly life is always a mixture of some of each! The Bible tells us as Christians to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep”—in other words, to share the highs and lows of human experience with one another in the Church.
Here is a brief update of what is happening in our church and community, along with a personal update.
A group of 150 people from First Church had a wonderful “reunion” at the spectacular Billy Graham Association conference center called “The Cove” near Asheville, NC in early August. About a third of the group traveled to Asheville from their summer homes (I think we had people there from about a dozen states!), while two-thirds of us traveled north from southwest Florida. We spent four days intensively learning about God’s Word, watching and discussing some Christian films, singing some great music (led by Jeff Faux), taking in the beauty and scenery, and enjoying terrific meals and hospitality. We plan to do this “Summer Reunion” every other year. (By the way, we are also making long-range plans to take a large group from our church to the Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany in 2020 when it is next performed.)
Pastor Paul Fahnestock preached his last sermon as Associate Pastor on August 16. He and his wife Linda are “retiring” officially, but are certainly not moving into a life of leisure! They will be joining the staff of Wycliffe Associates and doing Bible translation around the world (they have a two-month stint starting September 2 in India and Zambia). Paul and Linda will be with us again for a week or more in November, so those who didn’t have a chance to see them in August can talk with them then.
Other staff news: We have a new Preschool Director, Nancy Bolognese; she comes to us with a great deal of experience in leading preschools and with a deep spiritual commitment. Starting September 1, we will also have a Pastoral Intern: Christian Faux, who graduated from a Christian college in May, will be spending the year preparing for possible seminary training and a career in pastoral ministry. Christian’s father Jeff is facing rotator cuff repair in September (which I underwent a year ago), so we will see him in a sling for a few weeks as he recovers from that.
Program news: The big development for this fall is the launch of our new weekly Saturday night worship service, beginning October 24. We have a new contemporary music leader, Brent Taylor, who is a wonderful singer and musician. The same preacher who presents on Sunday mornings will give the identical message on Saturday nights. Please consider coming to our Saturday night service to see what it is like (5:30-6:30 PM). Another development this fall will be the election of an Associate Pastor Nominating Committee to begin the process of seeking a replacement for Paul. It requires a lot of time and work to do this task effectively. The committee will be elected at a special congregational meeting on October 18. My hope is that the search will be concluded and a new pastor on our staff by next June.
Facility news: The Sanctuary roof and air conditioning units have been replaced, and the steeple repaired.
The weather has been hot, and so has the residential real estate market. We have received plenty of rain, but to date no tropical storms. Lakes are full and everything is very green.The month of September is the historic peak for tropical action, so we continue to watch and pray that no hurricanes come near us.
The City of Fort Myers just fired their police chief, after a scandal (and botched cover-up) regarding the false arrest of an NFL football player who is from the area. The crime rate is actually down in our counties, but of course one high-profile case of police misconduct gets all the media attention.
Bonita Springs is planning a major two-year project to remake its “downtown” area. Traffic will be a mess there for a while along Old 41, as two stoplights (Pennsylvania Ave. and Terry Street) will be replaced with traffic circles. The town council wants to try to remake the downtown into an upscale shopping, restaurant and housing area instead of the run-down strip it is now. It looks like the widening of Bonita Beach Road (which will greatly impact our church) is on hold for at least a few more years. When you return to our area the campaign for mayor and city council in Bonita Springs will be picking up.
Meanwhile, the new Village of Estero is struggling through all the issues that come with inventing a new government from scratch. The big Hertz national headquarters at US 41 and Williams Road should be opening soon, a big coup for Estero.
On the national scene, it certainly has not been a quiet summer for news. The Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage poses a threat to our First Amendment rights, and Christians nationwide are talking and praying about what this will mean for our churches. I’m not sure who you like and don’t like in presidential politics; I continue to be impressed by Dr. Carson (who seems to have all the fresh thinking of Mr. Trump without the blatant ego), and alarmed by the seemingly-cavalier approach to the law by Mrs. Clinton. This week all of us who are invested in the stock market are anxiously watching to see if a replay of the crash of 7 years ago will recur.
I attended the annual national meeting of the Presbyterian Fellowship in San Diego a week ago. It was most heartening to network with pastors and lay leaders of many churches like ours who are committed to the scriptures and to theological fidelity to the historic teachings of our faith.
While at “The Cove” I picked up a copy of Billy Graham’s last book, “Nearing Home.” Billy is now 97 and living in seclusion and diminished health in North Carolina. He has written with honesty and insight about the challenges of growing old and dealing with the final chapters of life. I recommend it to all. Not all of us will be granted the privilege of a long life, but if we are we need to be prepared for it.
Jeanne and I just celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary, and will be taking a special trip in early September (a train trip through the Canadian Rockies from Vancouver to Calgary). How blessed we’ve been, not only to share these four decades together but to have been called by God to serve this awesome congregation!
As always, I would be honored to hear from you and get an update on your summer and your family. And I look forward to seeing you on your return to southwest Florida. Please feel free to send any personal updates you would like to share. You can contact me at any time at the church 239-992-3233 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Doug Pratt