Letter from Joe

Dear Highland,

It is with deep peace and gratitude that I announce my retirement as Highland’s senior pastor effective January 21, 2018.

Twenty-one Januarys ago you called me to serve Highland. Together we have witnessed God’s abundance as embodied in Jesus the Christ. We learned and grew together both in ordinary times and in many extraordinary times. We planted, and we watered, but as Paul reminds: it was God who made the seed grow.

Over the past year, there has been a shift in my energy. I remain passionate about God’s gospel and the vital work of Highland. But after 42 years of serving churches my energy for leading as a senior pastor is exhausted, and so it is time to pass on this sacred role to the pastors of the future.

The very good news is that Highland has strong lay and pastoral leaders who are fresh, courageous, wise, and committed to this work of Love. They represent you— a dynamic, nimble, faith community dispersed over four worship services and all around the city, but united by God’s transforming love and a generous love for each other. Vision 20/20—Highland’s mission, vision, and values— sets the groundwork for moving forward.

In short, the time is right.

A well-timed retirement does not reduce the pain of altering relationships forged in mountaintop moments as well as dark seasons in the valley of sorrow. It has all been enormously fulfilling and, frankly, fun—which is why, though we will travel to Florida and Texas, we will remain at Emerson Ave. Louisville, Kentucky. You have become our home.

So let us end this form of worship, to begin again the worship that is our very lives.

Joe Phelps, Pastor

Dear Church,

On behalf of the Deacons, Ministry Council, Personnel Ministry Group, and Finance Ministry Group, we want to acknowledge that we are all experiencing a sort of seismic shift as we absorb the news of Joe’s retirement. Highland has not experienced the retirement of a pastor, ever, and it has been 20+ years since we’ve needed to think about finding a new senior pastor. We will be relying on by-laws, personnel policies and procedures, a wealth of relevant experience, and our strong staff as we go through this process. But it’s a new one for many of us, and Highland today is a different church than it was 20 years ago.

We will need to have many conversations with one another and show one another grace, as we discern the needs and hopes of the church and the leading of the Spirit. No doubt we all have immediate questions, and as we begin to have some answers, more questions will emerge. We commit ourselves to asking and listening and sharing information and ideas and feelings.

Each of us has come to be part of Highland Baptist for our own reasons — reasons as diverse as we are. Undoubtedly, the leadership of our pastor, his vision and courage, has been a major factor for many. And we will grieve over his leaving. But we belong to one another as a community of faith, and we have a strong sense of who we are as Highland. And so, in the wise words of our youth: “No matter the road, we walk it together.”


Vicki Runnion, Chair of Deacons
Kim Shippey, Vice-Chair of Deacons
Ryan Davis, Chair of Ministry Council
Becki Streif, Vice-Chair of Ministry Council
Stacey Huse, Chair of Personnel Ministry Group
Dana Connor-Israel, Vice-Chair of Personnel Ministry Group
Tony Carney, Chair of Finance Ministry Group


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