Dear Highland family,
It is with a brutiful (brutal + beautiful) mix of deep sadness and God-shaped joy that I write to you today. As you read this, I am preparing to travel to Winston-Salem, North Carolina to preach this Sunday, March 22, at First Baptist Church of Winston-Salem in view of a call to be their next senior pastor. Should the church vote that day to welcome me as their 12th pastor, I will accept this new call in my life and ministry.
When First Baptist Winston-Salem contacted me early this fall to let me know that I had been recommended to their pastor search committee, I confessed to them that I was both honored and dumbfounded. After all, I am a 33 year-old progressive (and pregnant!) female who has never before been a senior pastor – not exactly the ‘pastor type’ that many churches are looking for! However in these past months of prayer and discernment, Josh and I have felt what can only be described as God’s relentless beckoning to ‘come and see.’
We have seen how this historic, downtown church is committed to serve their increasingly young and urban community and wants to live more fully into God’s dream for their city. We have heard how the people of First Baptist value compassionate love of one another and visionary leadership in the person that will serve as their next pastor. We have felt their bold calling to be a connecting force in Baptist life and their city’s culture, where their pastor can lead them from the steeple to the sidewalk in engaging people where they are with the One who transforms us in Love. And amidst this journey, I too have heard God’s call to take what I have learned and experienced at Highland and plant it amidst a new community of faith.
You, Highland, should know that were it not for how I see God so clearly at work in this calling, I simply could not leave our beloved community of faith. In nearly six years of our life together, you have taught me how to be a minister. You have loved me and our ministry staff as we have shared in the work of Love together in leadership, these moments becoming some of my best and most treasured at Highland. You watched me fall in love and celebrated with me as Josh entered my life and our church through our marriage. You held me through the deaths of three grandparents and shared with me the stories of how many of you learned from my grandfather over the years. You have journeyed with me through two pregnancies and have been the people who have taught Liam the stories of Jesus and songs of faith in his young life. You have joined me in trying all manner of things in our thriving ministry with young adults, to receive gladly those for whom so many churches overlook, to speak boldly for those on the margins in Shelby Park and elsewhere, and to oversee our church’s communications that allow our story to be told ever more broadly. Most importantly, you have welcomed me in love as we walk alongside one another in our shared journeys of life and faith. I have been and will forever be transformed because of my time with each of you at Highland, and I give thanks to God for this incredible gift of these years of being your minister.
In a day and time when information seems to travel faster than the speed of light, Highland’s ministry staff discerned together that the best way to communicate this information to you was through email and social media. Knowing that there simply was not a way to announce this to everyone in person with four worship services, two Bible study hours, and a growing network of how we practice community, our staff held high the value of transparency to the widest circle possible at the same time, which is why you’re reading this on your phones, tablets, and computers rather than hearing it from me in person. I gathered with many of our young adults earlier this evening to share this news with them, as they have been my primary community these last six years. I hope that you receive this note in the spirit of relational love in which it is offered and will join me in the coming weeks for personal conversations and life chats.
You might wonder now how all of this will time out with the impending birth of Baby Girl McGee. If First Baptist votes on Sunday to approve my recommendation as senior pastor, I will be working full-time until her birth (due April 20), and will officially end my work with the church when she is born. However, our family will remain in Louisville throughout my maternity leave in the six weeks that will follow. I hope fiercely that in those weeks of transition, both with a newborn and our changing life situation, we can remain in community with you whom we love so dearly through worshiping together on Sundays and sharing life together even amidst change. We will depart from Louisville in June, and after a few weeks of transition, including conference and vacation time, I will begin my work at First Baptist on July 6.
I ask now that you hold us all in your prayers – me and my family, our ministry staff at Highland, our church community, and the community of faith at First Baptist Winston-Salem. May we all be drawn ever closer to the One who was Love made flesh to ‘come and see’ God’s dream for each and every one of us.
With unending love for each of you,
Emily Hull McGee