Letter to First Presbyterian Church, Rocky Mount

Dear Friends,
It is with a mixture of sadness and joy that I write to tell you of a change that is coming. After much prayer and discernment, I have accepted a new call to the First Presbyterian Church of Concord, North Carolina. This morning, that church held a congregational meeting and unanimously elected me as their new Senior Minister. I will begin my ministry with them on August 1, 2014. My last Sunday in Rocky Mount will be June 29, 2014.
When I came to Rocky Mount in 2009, I was convinced that this was where the Lord wanted me to be. For reasons known only to God, your pastor nominating committee, which was prayerfully and capably led by Verna Gessaman and John Turnage, was willing to take a chance on an older seminary graduate who, despite his gray hair and worldly experience, was pretty green in ministry. I have always been very grateful that, after my leap of faith into a second career in the church, the grace of God allowed me to land here in this wonderful place with you. For the past five years, you have allowed me to be a part of your lives, sharing joys and sorrows, baptisms and weddings, tears and laughter. Some of the most precious memories I will take from this place will come from the funerals and memorial services of amazing men and women of faith. Remembering and celebrating those faithful disciples who raised you, loved you and showed you the way has been one of the great honors of my life. So, as I prepare to leave you for a new call, I am very aware that I will be leaving some amazing blessings behind.
Fortunately, there is also reason to celebrate. Despite economic strain and regional difficulty, this congregation has managed to thrive and even grow. You have just completed a successful campaign to renovate our physical plant and provide new opportunities for local mission. You have a dedicated, talented and faithful group of elders and deacons, shining lights in the community, who are ready and willing to lead. You are also blessed with a truly wonderful and gifted staff that will continue to minister to you and your families after I am gone. I thank God for allowing me the joy and privilege of working alongside such amazing, thoughtful and conscientious people of faith, and I leave with the peace of knowing that you are in very capable and caring hands.
Just as I felt God’s guiding hand leading me to Rocky Mount, I have felt it again in my call to Concord. When that church first contacted me, we were in the middle of our capital campaign renovations. The time was not right for me to leave, and I told them so. Their pastor nominating committee, however, was persistent and undeterred. Over time, I came to share their conviction that I am indeed the pastor God is calling to lead their church into a new chapter. As difficult as it will be for me and my family to say goodbye to the people of this church who have loved us well, I am convinced that the future is bright for the First Presbyterian Church of Rocky Mount. I say this because God has willed it to be so: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord… plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Really, in the end, all I can do is thank you. Thank you for taking a chance on me as your pastor. Thank you for allowing me to share your lives in good times and bad. Thank you for encouraging me, forgiving me, supporting me and being patient with me. But most importantly, thank you for sharing the walk of discipleship with me. I know that I am a better pastor, and a better person, for having known you and loved you.
Please know that, in the coming months, I will continue to pray for your “future with hope.” I ask that you do the same for me, Stephanie, Molly and Kate. And, as I have said to you so many times before, “May the Lord bless you and keep you.”

In Christian hope and joy,
Rev. Peter Bynum, Senior Pastor

Dents and Discipleship

The car I drive now has three dents in it.  There are three places — one on the left side, one on the right side, and one on the back bumper — where another car has, let’s just say, come into contact with mine.  Now, I know full well that everyone says (and generally believes) that he or she is a good driver.  Behind the wheel, most of us are automotive Pharisees — we look around at all the other pathetic drivers who are texting, reading and shaving, and we confidently mutter to ourselves “Thank you, God, that I am not like them.”  Still, like Rain Man, I continue to tell myself that “I’m an excellent driver.”  This is why I am a bit perplexed that, within the last year and a half, my vehicle and I have had three “encounters” that each left a lasting impression upon us.  The impressions endure not only because they are written in metal and paint, but also because they have taught me two durable lessons about life in the church.

The first relates to safety.  Many of us expect the church to be a literal sanctuary — a place where we are protected from the perils and pitfalls of life in the world.  The dents in my car, however, remind me that there are limits to this expectation.  You see, all three of the dings on my car were received at the church.  The first two occurred in our church parking lot.  The third happened while we, as a church, were at the site of a local mission project.  Considering all the worldly places my car has been (states, cities, interstates, gas stations, hospitals and shopping malls), it is ironic that the only physical scars it bears have been inflicted not out in “the world,” but at church.  My dents bear witness to the fact that, even in the most loving congregation, humans can still hurt others and be hurt by others.

The second lesson, which is greater than the first, concerns grace.  “Fault” is such a loaded and pejorative term, but if pushed I might say that the first dent might have been my fault.  I’ll put it this way: when the contact occurred, I was driving my vehicle and the car making contact with mine was driverless and parked.  These are the uncontested facts; draw whatever conclusions you must.  The second two dings, however, were certainly not my fault.  In those instances, my vehicle was the one that was parked.  In those instances, I could have demanded justice, enforced my rights and collected on my debts.  Except that I couldn’t.  I couldn’t, because when I had been the debtor, I had received grace.  When I had been the one behind the wheel, I had been forgiven.  When I had left a bruise on someone else, she sent me away in love and peace.  Each week, we pray this prayer to God: “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”   Perhaps, my dents seem to say, we ought to mean it.  Perhaps we should be dispensing grace to others as if we have received bounteous grace ourselves.  Perhaps, especially in the church, we should be forgiving in the same way we hope to be forgiven.

In all of this, I am reminded of the lovable tow-truck “Mater” from the Pixar movie “Cars.”  Mater is rusty and unrefined, but he is also fiercely loyal and loving.  Nothing is more important to him than his friends.  As the plot of the second “Cars” movie unfolds, it becomes clear that Mater must be an unlikely hero.  He, and he alone, can go undercover, as a spy, to save his friends.  As he is being cleaned, prepped and suited up for his dangerous mission, agents begin to fix the dents in his frame.  “No thank you,” he says. “I don’t get them dents buffed, pulled, filled or painted by nobody.  They’re way too valuable.”  Mater’s dings didn’t remind him of pain or injury.  Those marks reminded him of grace — the grace of friendship, the grace of forgiveness, the grace of mercy, the grace of brotherly love.  So, when Mater says, “I don’t fix these… I wanna remember these dents forever,” I know just how he feels.  Just don’t tell my State Farm agent.