First Presbyterian Church to conduct innovative speaker/creativity series on Sunday mornings

Published 12:23 pm Thursday, June 22, 2023

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First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton during the summer months will have services at the regular time on Sundays at 11 a.m., but the content will be experimental during July and August, confirms Rev. Dr. Brian Wyatt, the church’s pastor.
“We’ll definitely be moving ‘outside the box’ in terms of church protocol,” notes Wyatt. “Many people are still struggling following the pandemic, there’s unrest in the political arena, and world peace is currently in question. So we’re deliberately choosing to bring in diverse views to explore new ways and formats for addressing issues. It won’t be church as usual.”
Each Sunday during July and August, the church will feature a different speaker or will explore a new way of experiencing spiritual growth and renewal. Topics to be explored fall under two themes: “Living Your Faith in a Complex World” during July and “Seeking God through Creativity and Nature” during August.
Featured speakers under “Living Your Faith” include Rev. Dr. Martin Dotterweich, a history professor at King University who also directs the school’s prestigious Institute for Faith and Culture. Founded in 2007, the institute is nationally recognized and brings many notable speakers, musicians, scholars, and philosophers to the Tri-Cities annually.
Other July speakers include Gary Mongillo and the Rev. Karen Russell. Mongillo is an ordained Episcopal deacon and Anglican Franciscan who also belongs to a Western Buddhist Sangha. Rev. Russell is currently Interim Executive Presbyter of Holston Presbytery and manages the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Company of New Pastors. A former Southern Baptist, she worked previously with the Seamen’s Church Institute where she ministered to riverboat crews and their families.
Another July service will be conducted in the Taizé religious tradition, which incorporates mantra songs, prayerful silence, and short readings for guiding prayers in a candle-lit environment. Dr. Rebecca Nunley and noted musicians Jim and Cheri Miller will be participating, as well as other local musicians and performers.
Laura Hicks Hardy will be the final speaker in July. She previously taught writing and literature at King University and is currently program coordinator for Emmanuel Christian Seminary at Milligan University. As part of her graduate studies at UT, Hardy focused on the life and writings of noted author Wendell Berry, whose works celebrate the holiness of everyday life. She completed her master of divinity degree at Emmanuel last year.
“I and our worship committee have sought out speakers interested in new and innovative ways of looking at and exploring the Christian faith,” noted Rev. Wyatt, who plans to take sabbatical leave during the summer. “Our worship committee decided to make my absence into a learning opportunity by finding the most innovative and interesting speakers possible.”
The August services, focusing on “Seeking God through Creativity and Nature,” will feature a professional storyteller, musical presentations, and a look at how reverence for the great outdoors inspires spiritual growth. The speakers will include Dr. Delanna Reed and the Rev. Melissa Tidwell. Reed is a noted professional storyteller and currently assistant professor of storytelling at East Tennessee State University. Tidwell worked formerly as a writer and marketing professional in religious publishing, serving five years as editor of Alive Now magazine. She completed a master of divinity degree at Columbia Theological Seminary in 2015 and has since served as pastor for churches in Ohio and California.
Dr. Myra Elder, psychologist training director at Mountain Home Veterans Affairs, and Dr. Bill Kirkwood, associate vice president for Student Life and Enrollment at ETSU, round out the lineup for the August “Seeking God” theme. Both are longtime members at First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton.

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