On one day, one South Nashville congregation celebrated both the ministry of its departing pastor and the new life of faith of many of its children during one single worship service. June 12, 2011, is recognized on the Western Christian calendar as the day of Pentecost, and it was also the last Sunday for Hillcrest United Methodist Church's pastor Paul Purdue before he leaves for his new appointment as pastor of First UMC in Tullahoma.
Bishops in the United Methodist Church appoint pastors to the various congregations in a region. This year, Bishop Richard Wills of the Tennessee Conference decided to move Purdue to Tullahoma after six years in service to Hillcrest UMC, located just off of Tusculum and Nolensville roads. A new senior pastor, Rev. James Cole, will begin at Hillcrest July 11.
The day of Pentecost is recognized in Christianity as the day the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples as tongues of fire and the disciples began to speak in a way that travelers heard the words in their own languages. It is considered by many to be the birthday of the Christian church.
This Sunday, Hillcrest UMC displayed at the front of the sanctuary strips of red cloth moving in the breeze as if they were flames dancing before the people. Purdue also told a story of some campers who wanted to make a fire, but they were without fuel. In his last sermon as pastor of Hillcrest, Purdue challenged the congregation to find its fuel in the Holy Spirit: "Each one of you has something to say to the people of God." Purdue pointed out that sharing God's word does not have be done in such a way as to sound or look the same as every other Christian's sharing. The story of Pentecost was the story of God's word understood by many cultures hearing it in their own language. Today, many cultures live in Nashville, and they may hear about God in many different ways. "God invites you to stop acting like a Christian and become one," Purdue said.
Four people from three diverse families joined Hillcrest on Sunday, three children were baptized and one adult transferred his membership. Each person and family has already found a home at Hillcrest. David Bass, the adult who joined, has been active in the technology ministry of the congregation and in supporting the congregation's ministry with the homeless and Room in the Inn. The three children participated this past week in the congregation's Vacation Bible School.
After the baptism, the children were joined by others from the VBS program to share a couple songs they learned during the week. The congregation rejoiced in how God's spirit moves through people of all ages.
The 10:15 a.m. worship service was the first at that time for Hillcrest, whereas the congregation recently decided to merge its two services into one so that all members may worship together. Sunday school for all ages is now held at 9 a.m. each Sunday. After the June 12 service, congregation members, friends and families partook of a meal and further time of celebrating the ministry of Purdue and his family. Many tears were shed both during worship service as well as at the celebration meal. Individual families shared various gifts with the Purdues.
Note: The writer of this story is a deacon in the United Methodist Church whose secondary appointment is to Hillcrest UMC. He volunteered during last week's VBS program.