We've landed in the friendly confines of Fort Valley, Georgia, having moved here a couple of weeks ago after bidding farewell to the wonderful folks of Providence United Methodist Church in Fayetteville, Georgia. As always for me, it's a little disorienting to suddenly be in new surroundings, trying to figure out the way around a strange house and exactly how to get to the church. And Sunday mornings can be a might confusing, what with a different layout in the sanctuary and trying to stay in line with an unfamiliar Order of Worship.
Yet, it's quickly come to feel like home. First, our home. I no longer bump into a wall that has seemingly been built overnight when I'm groping for the bathroom in the wee hours of the morning. The other day, I actually opened the right drawer to get a fork - ON THE FIRST TRY! I've figured out where most of the light switches are and I've fallen in love with sitting on the glass porch in the mornings and evenings, especially when it rains. We are fabulously blessed by the parsonage Fort Valley provides us.
Second, my new colleagues in ministry in the South Georgia Conference. I've been a North Georgia boy all my life - raised a half mile from Bethany Church, attended Candler School of Theology at Emory, served as the Youth Minister for Cannon Church, and then appointed to the great churches of Lanier, Jasper, Highland, Hanleiter, Thomaston, and Providence. I've attended Annual Conference every year since 1986 and my fellow North Georgia pastors have been more than colleagues - they've been my sisters and brothers and fellow travelers in this adventure of ministry.
Thus, stepping away from them has been tougher than I imagined. I know they're only a phone call or a text away, but somehow, crossing that line to a new Annual Conference feels very different. Yet, attending a day of Annual Conference in South Georgia and then participating in a Northwest District Preacher's Meeting has reminded me that I'm still among brothers and sisters. Steve Patton, my new District Superintendent, has been a rock star and the people in the Conference Office have been extremely kind and helpful. The other pastors have been gracious and welcoming to the new kid on the block and I look forward to getting to know them even better over time.
Third, the community. I ride around my new environs with my wide eyes soaking in the beauty of rural Middle Georgia. Peach and pecan orchards abound and I love the symmetry and order of the rows of cotton and soybeans. Sunflowers dot the landscape and stately pines stand straight and tall. More than once already, I've gotten caught behind a tractor and I couldn't help grinning at the delay. Fort Valley exudes small town charm and I'm enjoying learning the side streets and cut-throughs. Everybody I've met has offered a friendly smile and a warm greeting.
Last, our new church. The sanctuary is a kaleidoscope of stained glass windows, hues and shades changing as the sun rises and falls. I'm mesmerized by it, often pausing for a few minutes to sit on a back row and soak it up in stillness and silence. And the people are, well, they're out of this world. We've been treated to their genuine kindness and we've been blessed with their gifts and their friendship. We especially appreciate their prayers and their pledge to serve and to witness alongside us. We've touched down in friendly territory, that's for sure.
It reminds me of Jesus's promise at the end of Matthew, the one in which He states that He will be with us to the "ends of the earth." He's been with us every step of the journey so far and we've discovered that He's surely with us in Fort Valley. Count us blessed beyond compare!