As a boy, my grandfather was taught to memorize the Westminster Shorter Catechism by my great-grandmother while she cooked on the wood stove in her kitchen. When my grandfather and grandmother, farmers outside of Greensboro, North Carolina, had their own children - including my mother, all eight of them had to recite either the Westminster Shorter Catechism or the Children’s Catechism before they could get their driver’s licenses. This tradition of memorizing the Catechism before one could receive their license skipped my generation (I am the oldest of fifteen grandchildren), but to some chagrin, it has been reintroduced to my own children – the oldest of whom in sixteen and a half. I’ll let you imagine the rest…
Although my early upbringing was malignantly Reformed, I would have never been picked out as a future pastor, or certainly a presbytery moderator. I can still remember that day in first grade Sunday School when, by myself, a Voice came to me and said,
“You’re going to be a preacher.”
My immediate response was “Oh no, I’m not!” I was a shy kid, and the prospect of getting up in front of a crowd and doing anything was more than my little nerves could handle. I actually stopped attending youth group in High School for fear that our youth leaders would ask me to participate in Youth Sunday.
When I applied to a small Bible school after I finished my undergraduate degree, a former Sunday School teacher wrote a reference letter for me. She added, “Brian is a really nice young man, but he is more of a follower than a leader.” She was totally right.
Now 3,200 member First Presbyterian Church in Greenville, I am regularly in front of hundreds, if not thousands, of people on a Sunday morning, speaking God’s Word, and leading His people in worship. I am also honored and humbled to be the first moderator of the East Central Presbytery. I could not have imagined any of this as a young person.
Does God have a sense of humor or what?
And speaking of humor, I never in my pastoral career would have ever thought I could use the words “presbytery” and “fun” in the same sentence. But what fun it is! It’s amazing to see how much a presbytery can accomplish when it's missionally flexible and on the same page theologically.
One of the things that continues to astound me about our presbytery, is the level of leadership and experience within our ranks. Securing leadership for our various presbytery teams has been a relatively easy task because everyone wants to be involved! I think there is a real desire among many, to positively contribute toward building something that will truly enhance the ministries of our constituent congregations. This desire to make a difference, combined with an atmosphere of high trust, created by an unwavering commitment to our Essential Tenets, has made our presbytery life, dare I say it, “fun.”
There is so much hope and excitement about the future! We have already organized two new church developments—Community West Church and The Christian Arabic Church both of which are in Richmond, VA. Other church plants are at various stages of development around the Southeast United States, including Christ the Word Church outside Raleigh, NC and Waypoint Community Church in Charlotte. We have grown so rapidly that we’ve found it necessary to vote to divide into two smaller presbyteries by the latter half of next year.
Our presbytery meetings feature business on the first night we gather, then a training event that follows the next day. In November, our presbytery training day will include separate tracks for suicide prevention and ministry, church planting, global missions, and a special track for the spouses of pastors. Future tracks may also be created for small church ministry, and youth and young adults. Our true desire as a presbytery is to serve and resource one another for more faithful ministry. Please continue to pray for all of us in the East Central Presbytery as we move into God’s future for us together.
Rev. Brian Stewart has served as the Evangelism & Missions Pastor at First Presbyterian Church, Greenville, SC since 2009. He resources the church’s visitor and new member ministries, as well as local, national, and international church missions. A native of North Carolina, Brian is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and John Wesley College, with master’s degrees from Duke Divinity School and Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, VA. He currently serves on the Board of the Outreach Foundation and as Director of the Montreat Wee Kirk Conference. For many years, he and his wife, Tracie, served on the Presbyterians for Renewal General Assembly team. Brian and Tracie have two teenage sons, Brian and William.