Yesterday, Facebook reminded us it was the 6th anniversary of the installation of our two associate pastors. Long-time pastor, Rev. Bruce Backensto, was planning to retire the following May, and we had also begun the candidating process for our next full-time pastor.
Back in December of 2013 when we installed two associate pastors before calling our next full-time pastor, it seemed unorthodox. As in all things, the Lord knew just what we needed.
These associate pastors provided stability as we had to call a pastor twice in three years, and now look toward calling again.
In May of 2014, we installed Pastor Steven F. Miller. He came on just after Pastor Bruce Backensto retired. The following February, Pastor Miller began to notice a loss of sensation in his legs. In May he was diagnosed with ALS. For the next year, he continued to minister to us in every way he could, eventually preaching from a wheelchair in front of the pulpit. He was determined to use his gifts for the Lord as long as he could. In April 2015, he resigned his position as pastor. He and his wife, Jane, returned to their farm in Volant, Pa.
We learned a lot during this time. Our church banded together and raised over $60,000 to renovate the manse to make it handicap accessible. This included a large addition, first-floor bathroom and bedroom, and a ramp. Unfortunately, time was not on our side and the Millers did not get to enjoy the addition. Through everything, we learned how to minister to a pastor.
(Pastor Miller entered his eternal rest in July of 2018. His wife, Jane, plans to continue work on the book he had begun before his passing.)
That fall (2015), we began the canidating process again. In December 2016, we called Pastor Lucas Hanna to be our pastor. His family had been considering serving full-time on the mission field in South Sudan. After an exploratory trip, they realized it wasn’t yet a good fit for the entire family, but South Sudan was still on their hearts. Pastor Hanna committed to spending 4-6 weeks at least twice a year on the mission field training indigenous pastors and helping in any other way possible.
For most churches, this would be a less-than-ideal situation, but First RPC already had two associate pastors! With that in mind, he was called to pastor our church with the understanding that for at least two months out of the year, he would be on the mission field. He was installed in July 2017 after returning from his second solo trip to Africa.
In January 2018, Associate Pastor Matt Filbert began in a half-time role, filling in for Pastor Hanna during the majority of his trips. Pastor Tim McClain continues to be a tent-maker while preaching at the Reformed Presbyterian Home twice a month and leading Bible studies out of his home.
Without us realizing it, the Lord had placed us in the perfect symbiosis between ministering to the church at home and the church worldwide.
In October 2019, the Global Missions Board of the RPCNA issued a call to the Hanna family to return to the field in South Sudan full-time. After much prayer and consideration, they decided to accept the call.
In 2020, for the third time in 6 years, we will hopefully be calling another pastor. As in all things, the Lord will provide, and we are thankful for His provision.