The Science of Sensible Sidewalks

20130205-210156.jpg The picture above is of Douglas Hall at Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina (my alma mater). While it does not have the emotional nostalgia of the historic and beloved Neville Hall, it has been on my mind as of late.

If you look closely in this photo of Douglas Hall, you will notice that a dirt path diverges from the sidewalk to travel at an angle to an unseen destination. If you were to follow that path, you would end at the side entrance of Bailey Hall, the freshmen dormitory for us PC boys. One could continue on the sidewalk to make a left-hand turn in about 30 feet to then go up some steps to enter the building but this dirt path that, I'm sure, remains to this day is the road of choice for every student. Year after year, day after day, thousands of feet ignored the sidewalk and took a different route, creating a new and improvised path that...well...just made more sense.

One day, I was walking along the sidewalk with my good friend, Joseph Taber (you can read his blog here), and this improvised dirt path came up in our conversation. We stopped. He looked at it and then back at me and said, "you know, if the school had been smart and just waited to see where we would walk, they could've put a sidewalk here and it would have made more sense."

That conversation has slept dormant in my mind for the past six and a half years. But recently, it has found its way back to the surface.

The PC(USA) is in a time of transition (yes, you can call me Captain Obvious!). Many congregations differ radically from the communities they were even a few years ago. Some churches, such as my home church of First Presbyterian Church of Dalton and the one I currently serve at Silver Creek Presbyterian Church, are recovering from painful splits that have left them in a sense of disorientation and improvisation (which are not always necessarily "bad" places to be!). As is expected of communities in this situation, the temptation often is to "re-pave" the sidewalks where they previously were.

However, what if those paths no longer make sense? What if we are hastily paving sidewalks that will never be used?

I don't pretend to have the answers. I don't pretend to know exactly where the sidewalks need to go in this transitory time. But I do know that, as my good friend wisely suggested, it takes time to discern traffic patterns.

As I walk with churches that are enduring the harsh realities of this time of transition, I am reminded that the destination has not changed; we are still marching on to the day when Christ will return and tears and death will be no more. However, what has changed and what is changing even as you read these words are the paths that we are being called by God to use to get there!

Some paths nowadays just don't make sense. That isn't to say that they haven't served us well before or that they weren't meant to be used at that time.

But now isn't "that" time; it's this time. And this time calls for a new path.

But before we can get to the sensible (and faithful) path, we must first stop and see where God is directing the traffic.


Stephen Fearing

Stephen was born in 1988 in Cookeville, TN, where his parents met whilst attending Tennessee Tech. Shortly after, they moved to Dalton, Georgia where they put down roots and joined First Presbyterian Church, the faith family that taught Stephen that he was first and foremost a beloved child of God. It was this community that taught Stephen that it was OK to have questions and doubts and that nothing he could do could every possibly separate him from the love of God. In 1995, his sister, Sarah Kate, joined the family and Stephen began his journey as a life-long musician. Since then, he has found a love of music and has found this gift particularly fitting for his call to ministry. Among the instruments that he enjoys are piano, trumpet, guitar, and handbells. Stephen has always had a love of singing and congregation song. An avid member of the marching band, Stephen was the drum major of his high school's marching band. In 2006, Stephen began his tenure at Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC where he majored in Religion and minored in History. While attending PC, Stephen continued to explore his love of music by participating in the Wind Ensemble, Jazz Band, Jazz Combo, Jazz Trio, as well as playing in the PC Handbell ensemble and playing mandolin and banjo PC's very own bluegrass/rock group, Hosegrass, of which Stephen was a founding member (Hosegrass even released their own CD!). In 2010, Stephen moved from Clinton to Atlanta to attend Columbia Theological Seminary to pursue God's call on his life to be a pastor in the PC(USA). During this time, Stephen worked at Trinity Presbyterian Church, Silver Creek Presbyterian Church, Central Presbyterian Church, and Westminster Presbyterian Church. For three years, Stephen served as the Choir Director of Columbia Theological Seminary's choir and also served as the Interim Music Director at Westminster Presbyterian Church. In 2014, Stephen graduated from Columbia with a Masters of Divinity and a Masters of Arts in Practical Theology with an emphasis in liturgy, music, and worship. In July of 2014, Stephen was installed an ordained as Teaching Elder at Shelter Island Presbyterian Church in Shelter Island, NY. Later that year, Stephen married the love of his life, Tricia, and they share their home on Shelter Island with their Golden Doodle, Elsie, and their calico cat, Audrey. In addition to his work with the people who are Shelter Island Presbyterian Church, Stephen currently serves as a commission from Long Island Presbytery to the Synod of the Northeast and, beginning in January of 2016, will moderate the Synod's missions team.