A Message from the Interim Senior Minister

Dear Old South community,

Whether you've been part of this beloved community for many years, or are as new to it as I am - perhaps you recognize the same poignant sense of homecoming that I've felt pulling me across the threshold of this remarkable building ever since the Church Council invited me to become your Interim Senior Minister. Though history is so present here, it's not the past so much as the earnest leaning forward into the future, full of hope and conviction, that I find so contagious about Old South. Jesus said, "I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly" - and arriving here, I think, stirs an irrepressible desire to come along.

I hope this letter can stand as a sort of verbal place-holder for a rising of heart, a kinship of spirit, a meeting of minds, that will begin when I meet you all this Sunday and then, I hope, meet each of you in days and weeks to come. Together we'll build on the luminous legacy of common purpose and shared faith that we've inherited from Nancy Taylor's heroic service as your pastor.

By now you've probably read my bio, so you know where I've studied, worked and lived. So let me tell you a little bit about what I love.

"Church" first landed, for me, in a certain lonely, disorienting time of my youth - and so I love it, first, for the enlivening, reassuring community - and to this day I can't imagine how anybody can get through life outside the embrace of a beloved community of some kind. And I love liturgy - my favorite of all the gifts the church has given us - because I find the unfathomable richness of the lively Word, spilled out as story, breathed out as song, held close in silence, sweeps me up into the nearness of God's love, especially as Jesus lived it. And, as my ministry took shape, I came also to love the confluence of stories, the collaborative pondering of the great Mystery and our journeys toward it, our biggest questions, struggles, joys. Many years ago Sam Keen wrote that "God made [humanity] because God loves stories" - and I think the stories are why I have so loved ministry.

One particular facet of my bio, I know, has attracted some attention among you - so maybe I should say a word about my denominational affiliation. I'm a life-long Presbyterian - a member, that is, of the Presbyterian Church, USA (not to be confused with several other denominations whose official names include the P-word - come to think of it, not unlike the words "Congregational" and "Church of Christ" on other branches of the family tree). During the early years of my career, the PC(USA) was at loggerheads with itself about the ecclesiastical citizenship of its LGBTQ+ children - a debate that finally concluded in 2010 when a more inclusive polity was adopted (and a number of more theologically/culturally conservative congregations departed). These days, the differences between the PC(USA) and the UCC are mostly organizational, not so much theological or ethical. I've had "Dual Standing" in the UCC for more than half of my ministry - so I'm no stranger to the denominational canopy under which I'll be privileged to live with you during this interim. And I'm a great admirer of your outspoken prophetic zeal for social justice, equity, accountability. The UCC likes to say that "God is still speaking;" as an admiring Presbyterian cousin, I look at the UCC and I say, "and so, thank God, is the church!"

And maybe it would be helpful for me to do a little unpacking of the word "interim," since I'll be wearing it wherever I go around Old South for the next year or so. I'm here to stand in a place between: in the little wedge of time between the 20th and 21st settled Senior Ministers of this venerable congregation - between the culmination of one abundantly fruitful season of ministry and the beginning of another. "Behold, I am doing a new thing," says the prophet Isaiah, speaking on behalf of God. "Now it springs forth! Do you not perceive it?" I think the work of this between-season is for us to prepare for, and cultivate imaginative openness to, the new thing that God is (always) preparing to do among us now. As your Interim Senior Minister, I think I'm a sort of harbinger of the new thing, a preparer of the way. The questions that will light my way in this work are - Who are you called to be, together, now? How does this calling relate to who you have been, and who you are? And whose voices, not yet heard, still need to be brought into continuing discernment of God's call to Old South Church?

"Behold, I make all things new," says the Christ who stands astride the stream of time on one of the Bible's final pages. It will be our joyful work together - and, sometimes, our difficult and diligent work - to discover how God is keeping that promise even now, in this between-time, as Old South gets ready to welcome its next settled Senior Minister (perhaps a year or so from now - God bless you, Search Committee!). I relish your company as we lean together toward the future, full of hope and conviction along the way - and it'll be one of the great privileges I've known to share the life of your splendid church for a little while.

Rick Spalding