As I reflect on my ten years as pastor of Eastern Heights there is one common theme. Change. Having the same pastor for ten years is a great stabilizer yet I’ve witnessed so much change in our church. I was watching the recording of my first Easter service which just magnified this for me. I was in a suit and tie. We had a choir. The stage had plenty of artificial flowers and trees. The main instrument was the piano. Very few faces of those in the congregation are still around.
The change in faces has been significant. In 2012, amid mass early retirements, we saw many long-time church members leave town. They left a huge hole in leadership that caused many to get out of their comfort zone and step up to fill the vacuum. Over a six-month period, we lost $6000 a month in giving. It could have been a very difficult time. Yet, God continued to bless us. The next summer we saw seven seminary degrees leave our church leaving a new hole. Yet again, people stepped out in faith and God continued to bless. God taught us over and over that even during change He continues to work and calls out his saints to do the work of the ministry.
A part of these changes has been in ministry staff. William Harrison had a long interim as worship leader before he was replaced by Stephen Kelley. After Stephen we saw many lead us in worship, including our own Mechelle Stafford, before we called Ryan Forrest. Jaimie Blankenship was our youth pastor when I came. When he resigned Stephen Kelley became the interim and eventually took on the role of both youth and worship. Steven Davis took the interim after Stephen until we called Lucas Smith. And I must not forget the paid positions of children and education that we had for awhile held by Tara Vallandingham and Lonnie Hoelscher. Why do I share this history lesson? Because change happens and God is always faithful to rise up the necessary leadership to carry on His mission.
I can’t talk about change over the last ten years without talking about my family. My perfect little family of four came to Eastern Heights with a clear picture of eight more years before empty nest. Then God led us to foster care and adoption. After eleven foster kids coming through our home and adopting four of them, we learned that perfection can be added upon. Our family leaves changed. Jordan and Jonathan are great young adults and positively shaped by their years of being discipled here. We could not have done it without your support. Your love for our foster children has been beyond our wildest dreams. When asked how we were able to do it, Eastern Heights is always in the answer. These kids are your kids. Thank you!
The hardest part of change has been learning to live without those who left this life and passed into their eternal reward. Each church member who passed changed us. As far as my ministry at Eastern Heights, not one changed us more than Carole Robbins. The day she died in the car accident rocked our world. God has provided great ladies to replace her in the office, but I still see that desk as hers. The loss of my mentor and friend, Paul Koonce, affected us. I lost my biggest cheerleader and encourager. We lost some young like Sean Harrison and we lost those after years of exemplary perseverance like Larry Beard. We lost the life of the party when Al Roethlisberger died. Each one changed us. Yet God continues to provide.
Change is the only constant. Eastern Heights is now going through a pastoral change for the first time in ten years. It will change you as has all these changes listed above. But God will once again prove to be faithful. He will provide new leadership and the mission of Eastern Heights will continue. I am greatly honored to have been a part of the legacy of this great church.