Dr. Steve Sumerel began his tenure as an Associate Pastor of First Baptist Greensboro in April 2010. In our newsletter that month, Steve compared his beginning to the start of a “journey,” saying “I am looking forward to getting to know my fellow travelers.”
Steve admits that the “journey” is his chosen metaphor for life and faith, as well as for a career that has traveled through church ministry, seminary teaching, denominational leadership, advocacy and public witness, and the pastoral care and leadership that he brought to our church throughout his nine years with us.
In keeping with the theme, among the gifts our church shared with Steve at his retirement celebration was the gift of a desk compass, with the words “Fellow Pilgrim on the Road” etched on the outside. We chose these words from a favorite hymn, which says that all of Christian life is a journey. Named “The Servant Song”, the hymn says,
We are travelers on a journey, fellow pilgrims on the road.
We are here to help each other, walk the mile and bear the load.
Steve told our staff that he and Marie have placed the compass on a table in their home that they call “the map table,” given the numerous maps that are spread there to remind of travels past and chart paths forward.
We need both compasses and maps in our journeys as individuals and as a community of faith. In Steven Spielberg’s film, Lincoln, Daniel Day Lewis’ Abraham Lincoln makes an observation about compasses and maps:
A compass, I learnt when I was surveying, it’ll point you True North from where
you are standing, but it’s got no advice about the swamps and deserts andchasms you’ll encounter along the way. Ifin pursuit of your destination you plunge ahead, heedless of obstacles, and achieve nothing more than to sink in a swamp,what’s the use of knowing True North?”
Steve Sumerel has been a compass for many throughout his career, helping individuals and organizations find direction, pursue what is just and alter their orientation
when needed. He’s also been a map, analyzing the particular terrain and helping to navigate challenging paths. We’re grateful that he has shared this much of the road with us, and joyfully bless him and Marie as they travel from here.
As our church moves forward from this point, we need both compasses and maps, too. We have the commission of Christ to “make disciples” as we have the power of the Spirit to dream dreams, plus the constant guidance of our Creator God always moving us in the direction of love. But beyond these “True North” guides, we also need detailed plans for the challenges, needs, and opportunities ahead.
For instance, as we look to the next phase of our church’s journey, on the heels of such a significant retirement,
our Personnel Committee is seeking the most faithful plan for staffing. We believe that our best resource for charting such plans is our wider congregation, so the Personnel Committee and I hope you will join us for one of three Congregational Conversations, as we consider staffing needs following Dr. Sumerel’s retirement.
These are intended to be opportunities to share together our hopes and needs, listen for the guidance of the Spirit through it all, find some common themes, and be prepared to spread our maps out on the table and continue forward into a new church program year. Further details are enclosed on page 5 of this newsletter, and I hope you’ll plan to be a part.
I’m grateful for journeys past and paths ahead, and most of all to find that we travel together, “fellow pilgrims on the road.”