Sunday, August 12, 2018

One Texan hands the mantle to another Texan

How do you replace or succeed a pastor who’s been at the helm for 38 years and practically founded the church all those years ago in Johnson City, Tenn.?

You don’t.

But you help to continue that well respected house of worship—Grace Fellowship Church—along its journey. A church whose slogan is: "Everybody's welcome. Nobody's perfect. Anything can happen."

Matt Murphy, recently named the new pastor of GFC, finds himself in that “to be continued” voyage.

He’s the successor to the irreplaceable Tom Oyler, who 38 years ago began leading GFC. (I’m not even sure it had that name 38 years ago, but Tom, now an emeritus pastor, has had a big hand in shaping and growing the church over that time span.)

This Sunday morning was Matt’s ordination. At least that’s what I’ll call it.

There he was up on the stage with his family, as Tom, along with seven elders flanked him and gave him his charge.

Leading this church is not a job, as Tom noted, but more a solemn responsibility.

As a packed, solemn, quiet sanctuary looked on, one tall Texan—Tom Oyler—passed the baton (rather the “spirited sword”) of church leadership to another Texan, Matt Murphy.

Elders laid their hands on Matt’s white shirt-clad shoulders and prayed.

Then came hugs, handshakes, backpats and a loud applause from the congregation.

Tom Oyler, truly a beloved legend in the Christian ministry in Johnson City, stepped aside, and then it was all about Matt as he preached a sermon about the church’s mission of “building a community” and serving the broken and reaching those who don’t know Christ.

He made a good point about East Tennessee being one of the most densely churched regions in the U.S., with perhaps a thousand churches in the Tricities area. And yet though we live in the Bible Belt (I would call it the “Buckle of the Bible Belt”) too many folks still don’t know Jesus.

One more point about Tom Oyler.

He’s one of the best and most profound speakers I’ve ever listened to, and I’ve been attending GFC for a few years. My iPhone is full of notes from his sermons, and some of what he’s said may have even found its way into a few of my novels.

I bumped into him in the lobby of GFC a few weeks ago and congratulated him on being named “emeritus pastor.” I shared with him that I’m an “emeritus associate professor.”

“Doesn’t mean a thing, does it?” he said with a laugh.

Back to Matt Murphy.

He will do well. He, too, is a gifted speaker. Good sense of humor. Knowledgeable about the Bible. Has something to say and says it well. (Maybe that’s a Texas thing?)

Congratulations, Matt Murphy.

And to Tom Oyler: You are definitely not done. I ‘spect the church and Matt and other key figures at GFC will be leaning on you aplenty for guidance in the coming months and years.

Note: That’s a picture of Matt Murphy in the plaid shirt with this blog post. The bespectacled guy in the blue shirt is Tom Oyler. Pictures came from website of Grace Fellowship Church.