---Grace Notes

 
One of my main tasks as the Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Moorestown is assuming the role of a spy. As I stand beside our people in worship and service I am constantly watching for signs of God’s grace at work here. In this sense, I’m a spy for grace. Very often, we’re the last ones to see what God has done in us. We can’t always see the change or notice the growth, though others can. I deeply believe that God is at work in faithful and loving ways in our lives. I’m looking for and pointing out every sign I see. Grace Notes is a public record of sorts. It’s a weekly field report that I write to celebrate all that God is doing here in this great congregation.
 
– Pastor Stuart Spencer –
 
 
 
 

“You’re Sent, Now Go” Linda Vandergrift

WAY #21   You’re Sent, Now Go
SEND and GO is an exchange between two individuals. God sends us, and we respond in love and obedience by going. We often do not understand why we are sent, but His purpose unfolds as we go!
 
Moses was sent by God to Pharaoh, asking him to let the Israelites go from Egypt. After a series of plagues, Pharaoh told them to go from Egypt. God sent them into the wilderness. As they demonstrated their willingness to go, they were ultimately led to the Promised Land.
 
Jonah was sent to preach repentance to the city of Ninevah, but he refused to go! After various adventures on the Mediterranean Sea, he obeyed God, and decided to go. An entire city was saved.
 
In John 10, Jesus tells us that he was sent by the Father, and He willingly agreed to go to earth, and then to the cross, for the salvation of humankind. He later told us, “As the Father has sent me, I send you. Go and make disciples of all nations.”
 
As we are open to the leading of the Spirit, we may be called to go as we visit a neighbor, offer a prayer to those we encounter, make a phone call, deliver a meal, or be a friend to those in need.
 
We currently find ourselves in a situation where we may not be able to physically go and meet the needs of others. We are blessed to live in a time that has given us many ways to send the Gospel around the world. We can go behind closed doors with TV, radio, and Zoom! We are able to send missionaries and supplies to the uttermost parts of the earth. We are given new opportunities to GO in unique ways, delivering the good news, that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God. He enables us to support the work of those who are able to go on our behalf.
 
As we are willing to GO, God will have the last word, and it will be good!
Linda Vandergrift
 
 

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“Finding Strength in Belonging” Stuart Spencer

“One reason that avoiding conflict is such a problem is precisely because it worsens with negligence. It doesn’t just go away. But another reason is that it cuts us off from the most significant opportunities for grace. This is the way God does his deepest work in a world like ours. Not when things are peachy keen, not when all seems right with the world, not when times are easy. It’s the toughest times, the hardest conversations, the most painful relational tensions, when the light of his grace shines brightest, and transforms us most into his Son’s likeness.” David Mathis, Executive Editor DesiringGod.org
desiringgod.org/articles/conflict-is-an-opportunity-for-grace
 
SOME YEARS AGO, I offered some counsel to a married couple who were working together on a few issues. While their marriage wasn’t in danger of ending, they were in a difficult place as they faced some conflicts they were having. I had a chance to speak to their marriage therapist. She told me that she hoped this couple could resolve their conflicts not just for the sake of resolution but also because it’s really good for a marriage when a husband and wife can work together on something hard. The bonds of love and fidelity grow stronger through the strain of stress.
 
I think the same hope holds for church members when we have to navigate through hurt, disappoint and differences of all kinds. The easiest thing to do is to close your Bible and go home. It’s harder to go to the one who is upset. Yet love takes us there. For real love, biblical love, is patient and kind, not easily offended while never giving up. It’s so much easier to write those words than to live them. However, as we turn into the thing we don’t want to do, most times we’ll be surprised how the grace of God is awaiting us. You can be certain that God wants to heal broken relationships far more than you do.
 
FPC Moorestown: Receive God’s grace to find strength in belonging to one another. Stuart Spencer, Pastor
 
 

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“Accept and Don’t Cast Stones” Paul Booker

WAY #19  ACCEPT AND DON’T CAST STONES
 
LAST SEPTEMBER, Marsha and I had the opportunity to see the Broadway production of To Kill a Mockingbird. The play was a rendition of Harper Lee’s book that many, as I did, read in high school. As you may recall, the plot takes place in a small Alabama town that is suffering through the Great Depression. The main character, Atticus, is a prominent attorney who is widowed and has two children. Atticus defends an African American man who is falsely accused of sexually assaulting a young Caucasian woman. He confronts the racism and prejudice that is exemplified and threaded into the fabric of his community.
 
Atticus is characterized with absolute consistency. He is a person of high ethical standards and integrity. In spite of the rejection and threats that both he and his children face, he is committed to seeing that justice is served.
In spite of how horribly he is treated, he works to teach his children to seek out what is good in people, not to judge, and to forgive what is bad. He upheld a commitment to principled truth even when he and his children were rejected and ostracized.
 
The Bible tells us that God accepts us and welcomes us in spite of our sinful nature. When Jesus walked the earth, he was a perfect example of accepting and loving others. Jesus, to the dismay of the Scribes and Pharisees showed overwhelming love and mercy to the underserved and judged. He accepted and loved even his persecutors.
 
Atticus did not reject those that worked to harm him. He worked to maintain an unconditional acceptance of them while not relinquishing his principles. Jesus told us to welcome and show love to all in spite of our differences, and in humility share the riches of God’s Grace while proclaiming the truth of the Gospel.
 
Our church is to be a place where the love of Jesus is proclaimed and where all are welcomed. 
 
Elder Paul Booker

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“Ask For Help” Mindy Holman

WAY #18 ASK FOR HELP   An Ever-Present Help in Trouble
 
IN EARLY MARCH, Frank and I went to Florida, thinking we would be there for ten days. Shortly after arriving, COVID-19 changed the world, and suddenly all the plans we had for extensive business travel for the rest of the month were scrapped, and all our in-person meetings were moved to Zoom. Instead of being here for ten days, we are going on seven weeks! While I have felt conflicted about being here much of the time, there have been some definite perks of sheltering in Florida; number one on my list has been the opportunity to work much of the time while sitting outside. We have a patio with a roof over it which shields us from the sun but not the breezes.
 
During our second week here, we noticed that two small blackbirds seemed to be building a nest inside one of the columns that holds up the roof to our patio. The columns are apparently hollow, and there is space between the roof and the top of the column small enough for the birds to slip into. Somewhere around week five, we heard animated chirping from inside the column and realized that not only had they laid eggs, but that the eggs had hatched. For days we watched as one or the other of the birds would leave the column, fly back with a worm, and dive headfirst back inside to a chorus of “Cheep! Cheep! Cheep!” They did this continually from sun up to sun down.
 
Last Wednesday, I noticed that the birds had stopped coming and going. I paid close attention, and there was no activity around the column. I googled how long birds usually stay in the nest and determined that it was too early for the babies to leave and that they likely had not survived for whatever reason. This made me incredibly sad, as their birth was a reminder that life goes on, and that there was still some normalcy in the world.
 
The next morning, I brought my laptop outside to do something I was dreading; we were about to have a second round of furloughs at work, and I needed to review this final list. I have worked in my family’s business for 34 years, and we had never furloughed anyone. To make sure that we have a strong company to which our folks could return however, it was a necessary action in these unprecedented times. I sat reviewing this list and a feeling of heaviness washed over me like I had never felt before. I closed my laptop and just prayed. I told God I needed help and I needed strength. Then, as if on cue, one of the blackbirds flew to the top of the column, launched headfirst in there, to a greeting of lively cheeps. Tears of relief came to my eyes. I felt that God was reminding me that he was with me, and the heaviness lifted. This was still going to be hard, but I, along with our people, am in God’s hands, “…our refuge and strength, and ever-present help in trouble.” God will see us through.
 
Mindy Holman

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“Show Who You Really Are” Kelly LePenske

Way #17 Show Who You Really Are
 
I WAS NINETEEN YEARS YOUNG when I moved into my first apartment in east Los Angeles. I was proud to be out of my college’s dorms and in a place of my own. Living with three friends, we strategized how we could turn our bare apartment into a home. We’d throw some rugs over the dingy, beige carpet in the living room to hide the previous tenant’s stains. We’d go to Goodwill and find a dining room table with matching chairs so we could have dinner parties. And l suggested we paint the walls. Our outdated apartment may have been a bit worse for the wear, but some color would brighten things up.
 
After a trip to Walmart, my roommate and I had a blast painting our walls yellow, warm and friendly like the California sun. We cranked up the music, went to town, and stood back to admire our work at the end of the day. Well done, we thought.
A few days later, our landlady Kara stopped by with a plate of chocolate chip cookies. We invited her in, touched by the kind gesture, which is when she laid eyes on our yellow walls. “What do you think?”, I excitedly asked. Kara was speechless. “It is kinda bright”, I admitted. After scanning the room, she finally spoke: “I’m guessing you didn’t read the fine print”. And that was the moment I learned our lease had a “no painting any surface whatsoever” clause.
 
On the first day we met, Kara saw who I really was – someone eager for a fresh start and still bound to mess up. Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves, and he sees our costly mistakes all the time, yet he doesn’t walk away. Ever. Jesus reminds us “that while we were still sinners, he died for us” (Romans 5:6). This means that we can bring our whole selves to him, every fear, shame, and yellow wall, and he’ll offer us a better ending to our messy story.
 
The next day, Kara returned. She said she needed to hire painters to fix the walls, a project I couldn’t afford. I was apologetic and totally embarrassed. I volunteered to do all the work myself, but she didn’t let me finish my sentence. “Don’t worry,” she winked. “This one’s on me.” Kara didn’t just meet me in my time of need; she went above and beyond. She accepted me as I was, flawed and broke, and I’ll never forget it. This is how Jesus accepts us every day, and this is how redemption begins: by showing who you really are.
 
Kelly LePenske
 
 

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“Give Cheerfully” Lissa Herman

WAY #16  GIVE CHEERFULLY
“Give Generously” A MILESTONE in my family’s corporate spiritual life occurred early in my college years. My parents were struggling to pay my college fees, even selling family heirlooms, and had cut back from giving a full 10% tithe. But after study and prayer, the couples in their small group all decided to give a full tithe to the Lord, and trust Him to provide their needs. The next day my dad’s boss called Dad into his office, and gave him a raise, a bonus, and a company car. For the rest of his life my mother, herself a generous woman, sometimes had to restrain him, because 10% was never again enough for Dad.
That’s a great story, and Scripture may back it up. In Luke 6:38 Jesus says, ‘Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’ God definitely makes this promise.
 
The context of Jesus’ words is not just about material gifts. Verses 37 and 38 instruct us not to judge or condemn, or we court condemnation; to forgive, so that we may be forgiven. In vss. 27-37 Jesus calls us to do purposeful good to those who dislike and berate us; to give love and help to people whom we know will not be able to re-pay us; to be kind to ungrateful people; and to bestow the mercy we have received from God on others.
 
What a time this is to comfort others with the comfort we have received in Christ! Yes, by all means, give generously to the church, so that we may continue to worship together, support our missionaries and supply the needy in our community; give generously to ministries such as Urban Promise, whose staff daily helps the people of Camden. How better to spend our material wealth? But also give generously of comfort to those who are alone; of forgiveness to those who are on the stressful front lines and may not always have time for pleasantries. Grab the initiative; reach out and communicate.
 
We have an opportunity. C S Lewis wrote that ‘the cross comes before the crown’; and ‘a cleft has opened in the pitiless walls of the world, and we are invited to follow our great Captain inside.’ ‘There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.’ Each person we encounter—whether across the street, on the phone, or by Zoom—is moving closer or farther away from God. We may assist or deter them. The kindness, generosity, and forgiveness we express must be real, and may be costly, but life in Christ is inexhaustible.
 
Lissa Herman

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“Welcome Change” Dr. Richard Herman

WAY #15 WELCOME CHANGE
I get it. Faithful Christian discipleship demands change—for us as individuals and as a church. But, frankly, this is a really hard one for me; I like the comfort of a well-ordered rhythm. Oh, I do enjoy solving problems. I just wish that once they were solved, they would stay solved. Yet that’s not the way real life, and real discipleship, works.
Sometimes we choose to change; we decide to try a new food or learn a new skill. In fact, learning always involves change. To learn is to change how we think or act and feel. I don’t mind politicians who “flip-flop;” it only means they can be taught. Some choices, such as a college, marriage or job, result in dramatic changes which alter our life’s landscape but at least we chose them. However, sometimes a change chooses us, regardless of our wants or wishes; like a loved one’s death, a tornado ripping through town, or a rapidly spreading pandemic. These drastically change life as we know it.
 
All change brings grief, even change we choose, for along with change comes loss. Newlyweds lose their independence. New parents lose sleep and a tidy home. New jobs bring the loss of old colleagues and friends. A new town means leaving behind familiar haunts and comfortable relationships. It’s not change that we most fear or find hard, it’s the losses that come with it.
 
When change chooses us, the full spectrum of emotion crashes in on us, like right now. We blame others whom we think should have done something differently. We flail around trying to learn new skills and ways of living—like how to be “together apart” with technology. We become afraid; fearing what’s beyond our ability to anticipate, control or understand. We even come to fear people because anyone could be a potential virus carrier. How quickly people, not the coronavirus, become the enemy we fear and fight. Those reactions, though almost instinctual, are not necessarily godly or faithful for us as Jesus’ disciples.
 
But even when change chooses us, we do have choices we can make. We are able to choose how we will respond.
We can choose to love—to love one another, to love those trying to make the best possible decisions for the church, to love those who are doing their level best to “do what needs to be done” as a result. We can love those we usually overlook. We can choose to love the unlovable.
 
We can choose to learn—let the change give us a new view of what God’s Spirit is doing in the world. We discover better ways to do the work of Christ in the world as it is now, not how it once was or how we wish it were. Hey, I’m even learning how to use Zoom these days. Amazing!
 
We can choose to laugh—to seek joy in the journey, to notice and enjoy how God reveals His glory along life’s road; like being with our children and grandchildren as they homeschool or building Legos together, and laughing together over a Pixar film.
 
We can choose to last—to endure, persevere, to never give up or give in to the temptation to quit—to quit following Jesus or to quit on the fellowship of others trying to follow Him faithfully. We choose to stick it out together.
 
Change is a challenge, especially when it’s imposed on us suddenly and without our approval. Yet, God is still sovereign. Jesus is still on the throne of the universe. And the Spirit is not unaware. The choice we always have is how we will respond.
 
May we make faithful choices to love, to learn, to laugh and to last together in times of change.
 
Rev. Dr. Richard Herman

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“Grow Faith” Rev. Stuart Spencer

WAY #14 GROW FAITH “Someone who knew what he was talking about once remarked that pain was the touchstone of all spiritual progress.” – Bill Wilson, The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
 
WOULDN’T IT BE WONDERFUL if our faith in Christ grew best when we are at our best? What if faith grew strongest when we had it all together: when we loved the way we looked and felt like a million bucks, when everything was just right in our families, our marriages, our jobs and the world? You know the answer. If everything had to be aligned perfectly a) you probably wouldn’t be thinking about God and b) perfect never comes.
 
Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, discovered the truth about how faith grows. As most plants require dirt to grow, so faith requires pain to grow. I might learn a lot from a Bible study or by reading a great book on theology but nothing has helped my dependence on God deepen like a crisis or a challenge. Ten years ago, my wife Leslie was diagnosed with an early form of breast cancer. Her doctors told her it was aggressive and she would need to undergo surgery and chemotherapy. Soon one surgery became three surgeries, and radiation therapy followed chemotherapy. Our boys were young then. I was, to be honest, overwhelmed with concern for my wife and our family.
 
One day, about four or five months into her treatments, I was talking with a man at my former church named Ron Cronise. Ron was a cancer survivor. He said to me, “This experience you’re going through is going to strengthen your marriage and deepen your faith in God.” OK, I thought, that’s a good thing to remember. That same evening, I drove to a meeting here at FPC Moorestown. Bill Walker was there and his wife, Debbie is a breast cancer survivor. Bill looked at me and said, “This experience you’re going through is going to strengthen your marriage and deepen your faith in God.” Bill Walker and Ron Cronise don’t know each other, though they said the identical thing I needed to hear. God used those two men to speak a word from God to me as clear as any I’ve heard. Bill and Ron were right. Leslie and I grew much closer and my faith went deeper than it had before.
 
Why is pain a necessary ingredient for spiritual growth? I think it’s because pain drives me to my knees. Pain forces me to ask for support from my closest friends. Pain breaks any illusion that I can manage my life apart from God. God is the user of pain.
 
We’re in painful times right now as a nation and world; and the pain could linger for a long me to come. Could these days be rich spiritual growth days for us? I pray that will be the case. This Way encourages you to take advantage of every opportunity you can find to Grow Faith. Don’t forget that pain is the touchstone.
 
Stuart Spencer, Pastor

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“Open Doors for Others to Lead” Dave Fauvell

WAY #13  “Open Doors for Others to Lead”
THINGS HAVE BEEN FLIPPED upside down with COVID-19 precautions and during change we tend to hold onto things so that we can feel some semblance of control. Well, that’s not the way of someone who follows Christ. We are not called to a life of comfort, we are called to a full life.
 
I was recently talking with some people about how capable (or arrogant, if you prefer) I am and how I manage to get everything done that I need to, and it tends to get done well. Now I don’t feel like I’m alone in the way I view myself. If we are honest, our church is full of extremely capable people living very efficient, successful lives, but again, that is not the way of a Christ follower. In the beginning we see the most capable and successful person ever (God) divvy up responsibilities and giving other people (who fail) a chance to be part of something great. Here is the terrifying part. That is the model we are supposed to follow. Those who feel capable and best suited for every task (here’s my ego again) need to hand over the reigns. We need to share our responsibilities with others because of a two-fold blessing. We share responsibilities then our work load gets lighter, and secondly others get the joy of being part of something. It is time to pass the torch.
 
Now don’t be like me and hold onto things because you think someone would fail. That doesn’t matter. God doesn’t care about failure so neither should we. God gives opportunities for success, so should we. If you’ve been doing something for awhile, hand over the reigns, but don’t walk away. Offer advice when it’s asked for. Be patient as people grow into new opportunities. Be ok with failure. One person’s screw up isn’t going to derail God’s plan.
Here’s some practical thoughts considering our current COVID-19 condition. Small group leaders: start a group chat and let everyone chime in, don’t lead, facilitate. Parents: allow your child to take ownership of their learning, do not micromanage or snowplow, but do encourage. Bosses/Managers: ask the people under you to tackle those projects that you just never get around to and let them do their thing. Those can all be pretty terrifying things to do because we have to let go of control and be ok with failure, but hey, who should we trust more, ourselves or God? And if you are not at that point in your faith, no shame, but look at it this way. Everyone is in uncharted waters so you might as well try something new.
 
Dave Fauvell, Interim Youth Director

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“Own Our Church” Ginny Weber

WAY # 12  OWN OUR CHURCH
THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES, along with many staff members, has been working over the past couple of years to begin to claim ownership of the facility and grounds. Through many generous bequests and donations, the Trustees, with Session approvals, have begun these upgrades. In deciding the priorities, the safety of the congregation and staff was first and foremost. The total replacement of the parking lot last summer was a major project, and many thanks go out to the congregation for weathering the longer than proposed disruption. Upgrades to the security systems, including cameras in the children’s wing and common areas will attract younger families. All locks in the building were changed and a new key distribution system was implemented. Change is difficult, but we are thankful for such a caring and understanding congregation and staff.
 
The Sanctuary and narthex, as well as many other parts of the building, have been painted. The Sanctuary was last painted over 30 years ago and the stairway to the choir loft has not been painted in at least 50 years. New carpeting was installed in the Miller Commons lobby and will soon be replaced in the narthex and church halls. How many remember the black and white tile in the narthex, or the wood stairs leading to the choir loft that one might have raced up and down as a child? A new sound system was installed in the Sanctuary and speakers are being added to the choir loft. Most of you probably never noticed the conduit that is now all hidden in the narthex and church. Also, the leak in steeple has been finally been fixed to protect the organ and choir loft. The annual Trustee work day, in coordination with “The Church Has Left the Building,” planted hundreds of tulips and daffodils and spruced up the flower beds around the church and cemetery. The Wong Garden was completely redone with a waterfall constructed by someone wanting to give back. Trees in the cemetery were trimmed, dead trees on the property removed, and additional work is still to come.
 
All the graves in the cemetery were lifted and leveled by an anonymous donor; take a stroll after church some Sunday and see the newly constructed garden around the Cross. There are still additional items on the to do list; new windows in the Christian Education building, exterior painting of the building and steeple, bathroom upgrades in the Christian Education wing and all knob and tube wiring to be removed in the house.
 
These are just a few of the many projects that the Trustees and staff have undertaken over the past couple of years to reclaim ownership of our property. The church has been enriched by those that have gone before us and donors, at a critical time in our history. We have truly been blessed by God.
 
Ginny Weber – President, Board of Trustees

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“Make Others at Home Here’ Pete Honeyford

WAY #11 MAKE OTHERS AT HOME HERE   An observation of hospitality and more: As my father neared to depart for his glorious voyage, he was hindered by 98 years of wear and the struggle to stem its effects. Dad’s stamina was weakened, his mental acuity more limited, he often drifted between awake and asleep. Greatly evident though was the near miraculous energizing effect when he would greet people.
 
This was at home and especially at church. Dozens were encouraged by his presence there and the light that seemed to radiate from his countenance when engaging people. That Dad was energized by greeting people was very evident and I believe he received great joy from it. I don’t know if this gift is so obvious or even evident for all of us. But the apparent essence of Jesus’ love is that He chose us over Himself. Going out of our way to greet those we know, but especially those we do not know, seems a very modest, but essential first step in being loving; choosing someone else’s needs over our own even if for a very brief moment.
 
I know I need to be in prayer for those that will come to visit. To pray for peace. Pray for awareness to be able to recognize what is before me. Pray for the motivation to step forward into action. Pray for those that would come along side. To pray for receptive hearts.
I think I’m going further than just greeting the newcomer at church in this, but in all things, as Ed Gross recently instructed, follow the instruction of Luke 10 and especially verse 2: … “Pray earnestly…” This is the first instruction Jesus gave to the 72 disciples that He sent out ahead of Himself. They accomplished amazing things in His name.
 
As with most things Spiritual, the unexpected joy that we receive is typically greater than that which we give.
 
Elder Pete Honeyford
 

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“Join Hands” Rev. Stuart Spencer

WAY #10 Join Hands
You’re on a basketball court. You look to the other end of the court and there stands the starting five players of a professional basketball team. Let’s make the team the Milwaukee Bucks. The five men facing you stand 6’ 11”, 6’ 11”, 6’ 7”, 6’ 3” and 6’. These five and the next four men off the bench are considered the finest defensive team in the NBA. Here’s your assignment: try to score a basket against this team. Oh, by the way, you’re on your own against the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s one against five. Good luck!
 
Our Way of the Week for this week provides us with the secret to overcoming impossible odds. Join hands. Work as a team. That’s what collaboration means. Teamwork lightens the load and gives you a way better shot at success. With every person who walks on the court with you, the better your chances of scoring against the Bucks. Alone, you have no shot.
 
Most of us are facing NBA-sized challenges in our lives: an addiction, marital stress, discouragement, and fear are all 6’11” or taller. Together, as a church, we’re facing some big tasks too. Concerning questions like, how can we become a congregation of disciples or how can we grow young, are all tall tests too. We’d better find hands to join.
 
To help us, Session endorsed three statements at its January 2020 meeting. These statements set forth our important game plan and why we’re in the game in the first place. I encourage you to join hands around these crucial statements. They are:
 
  • VISION STATEMENT We aspire to be beacons of God’s love and truth, growing together in faith and relationship with Jesus Christ.
  • MISSION STATEMENT Our mission is to: · Worship God faithfully · Connect Spiritually · Serve Christ locally and globally.
  • WHY STATEMENT We follow the Great Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind … [and] you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37, 39 NRSV)
 
FPC Moorestown: Join hands!
Stuart Spencer, Pastor

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