Category Archives: Russell’s Blog – Glad Tidings

I’m Thankful

thankful_14857c* For the vocation of Pastor and those who claim it as calling; seeking to proclaim to the people the presence of and the living in God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
* For faithful people I know who seek to follow Jesus and minister to those in need of God’s love, mercy and grace.
* For our part of the Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and its diversity across the nation and the world which sometimes seem to divide us, but, in reality, unites us in following Jesus Christ as Lord, in ministry that no single congregation, session, presbytery, or synod could accomplish alone, to the Glory of God.
* For five grown children and their families. I am so proud of them
* For nine wonderful grandchildren from 21 to 13 years who are growing up, faster than I would like, but are all doing good things.
* For Kathy who tolerates my busy schedule, loves me still after 38 years, and keeps me grounded in my life and vocation.
*For a house full of animals, three dogs and four cats. Among them is my Chocolate Lab, Mack, who is man’s best friend and certainly my close companion. Also there is among our rescue cats, Tripod, who we found almost dead but who, after a leg was amputated, decided he wanted to live. He exudes gratitude more than many people and will come when I call him.
* For my home with a wildlife refuge for a neighborhood and wonderful sunrises over the marshlands.
* For the sounds, sights, smells and tastes of of God’s creation and the various touches of love from friends and family.
* For our country with all its splendor and its faults. I am fortunate to have been born here for I did not decide it. Even in the midst of the divisions I try to remember that we have the freedom to choose our leaders. That makes us special in contrast to so much of the world. It also reminds me that we are called not to put too much emphasis on who is in power because we are all dust. Our trust is in God’s power and who is calling us to be a people who live through the resurrection of Jesus until we complete the promise of our baptism on this earth.


Grace and Peace,


Report of the General Presbyter

The Story: New Life at Swainsboro, The Birth of Iglesia Latina

Sometimes in our wisdom we attempt to plan everything out in great detail. This is not always a bad thing and sometimes it even works, for a while. I would submit that the institutional church is an example of this planning. In my office there is a magnet on a file cabinet that says, We Plan, God Laughs.

In the spring of 2010 the session at the Swainsboro Church contacted the Presbytery to begin conversation about the future of the Swainsboro Presbyterian Church. As they met with then General Presbyter Ken McKenzie, it was evident that the session, primarily composed of three women, was thinking is this the time to close this church? How could this be accomplished, the congregation was down to six or eight people and they were all worn down, even though there was great love for this church. They were looking for a plan to dissolve the charter and dismiss the members to other congregations.

Chapter One:
In that same time, Ken happened to meet a Catholic priest in Swainsboro who had a large contingent of Hispanic immigrants in his parish. He was aware that there were a lesser number of these folks, who come to work in the fields harvesting the crops, who were protestant and had no church affiliation. There was no plan in place, no budget, no committees met, Presbyterian Polity was not invoked. It was a highly irregular, decent, but not at all in order, opportunity for new life in the Swainsboro Presbyterian Church. If we had planned it in the traditional way we do things, I am convinced that this ministry would not be celebrating it sixth anniversary in June, 2016. Ken talked about the possibility of this ministry with the session, called his former colleague from Cherokee Presbytery, Rev. Ozeas Silva and with the agreement of these folks, Iglesia Latina was born.

There are lots of you here, too many to mention and we would leave some out if we tried, that have made significant contributions in those early days of infancy in this ministry. Ozeas made us aware of an international language, soccer, that could draw the Hispanic/Latina peoples to this place. Through that they would be exposed to the loving good news of the gospel of our Lord Jesus, The Christ. So we built a soccer field, and they came! A food ministry was born, Bibles in Spanish were furnished, building repairs were made, English classes were started. Iglesia Latina became part of the 1001 New Worshipping Communities and grants from PC (U.S.A.) were obtained.
The congregation grew and will have forty to fifty in worship here on most Sundays. While there is a core of the membership who remain here year round, the congregation changes as some go back to their countries and are not able to return. However, others do come to work, but because of this unstable population, and our immigration laws, the sustainability of the congregation is slower in terms of membership growth.
We in our own congregations might learn a lesson from these faithful Latina Christians. At the first anniversary of Iglesia Latina on a Saturday afternoon, I was sitting beside Mary Lee Zimmerman, one of the Ruling Elders from Swainsboro Presbyterian Church. We were watching a soccer tournament, the parking lot was full, several teams were competing for a trophy. Families had come to watch. There was a bouncy castle with a large number of small children screaming for joy as the jumped and played together. As we took it all in, all of the sounds and sights of people being together for fiesta, for celebration, Mary Lee turned to me and said, “Look the children are back!”
My friends, what I believe Mary Lee’s words really meant to me was that, “The Church is alive, the church is vital again. Thanks be to God!

There are many other chapters in this Iglesia Latina story that will be written by perhaps others. But I want to jump to a little bit of years 5 and 6, and future chapters to be written more completely as we continue this story. Recently, Ozeas began talking to me about a Baptist church that wanted to help with this ministry. Having been raised Baptist and later as a Deacon, chairing the Diaconate in a large church in Decatur, I remembered how independent and territorial some Baptists can be. So I agreed to meet with Ozeas and Pastor Hal Wilson to see what was going on with this. Rick Douyliez and I met at the church shortly thereafter with them. We found out that Hal’s congregation had been journeying to Alabama to help a Hispanic ministry there. When they found Iglesia Latina in their own town it was a great joy to be able to serve this congregation. As we talked, to my great satisfaction, I heard nothing in our conversation but a love for all God’s children and a desire to help Iglesia Latina with both financial and human resources. The renovations and repairs underway at the church property are part of the financial aid. Additionally, members of the Baptist congregation have volunteers working in the English as a second language classes.
As I listened I heard Hal Wilson speak of the joy and vitality of his congregation as they worked outside of the walls of their church building to share their love with others who are quite different in many ways, but are children of God who return that love to these that serve. Both groups are seeing the face of Jesus as they work together building God’s kingdom.
My friends, we have spent the last couple of years working in the area of discipling as Jesus has called us to be and do. We have explored what that means as it relates to church renewal and transformation. I still hear so much worry about our membership numbers, our smaller budgets and how there is not enough. The Church discusses it as the theology of scarcity instead of God’s abundance. I hope you can take away from today a feeling of what a vital church can do if it will look outside of its walls for a world that needs God’s love. The question is about looking inward, or looking outward and trusting God for the resources that are abundant when we work together in God’s plan.
I challenge you all to look outside the walls for the vitality you are not finding inside. I challenge the congregations in this District 2 to look at this ministry in your back yard. Find out what you can do to help and in the process find the new life, the vitality, that your church has needed. I challenge our other two districts find opportunities for being vital outside of your walls. There are ministries all around if we have eyes to see; Crosswalk, a new worshiping community in Brunswick, sister congregations in need, ministries to the homeless, for children, for battered women, or those incarcerated; for the least of these. Be God’s blessing in the world and find your own blessing in the process.
Grace and Peace,

Gladding, Russel_informal

A 2016 Journey Through Holy Week

Holy WeekToday, as I pondered this Holy Week, my thoughts found their way back to before I was Presbyterian.  As most of you know I was raised Baptist.  For the most part the kind of Baptist Church I grew up in was pretty conservative Southern Baptist.  However, my family was not.  My grandfather was a Baptist minister in the 1920s, 30, and early 40s.  He was very progressive, especially in the area of race relations, and it caused him some difficulty as he pastored in Virginia and the Carolinas.

But even as the Gladding family was on a more progressive side, Baptists did not follow the liturgical calendar and Holy Week was not observed.  Instead we had Palm Sunday followed by Spring Revival and then Easter Sunday.  For me this meant two really good Sundays with joyful singing and preaching about the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and then the Resurrection.  The week between the two Sundays was full of guilt, getting saved, rededicating your life, and plenty of hymns about the blood on Calvary, including endless verses of “Just As I Am” each night.  Going to church whenever the doors were open was what we did.  So I sat on the back row and held on to the pew with all my might during these hymns.  I never walked the aisle to the chagrin of my pastor who served for 25 years.  Thankfully, the Southern Baptists left me 37 years ago and I found a home in the reformed faith of Presbyterianism.

A central part of my faith is found in this important week we are now in the midst of.  On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday the throngs of followers began to disappear from following Jesus as the authorities of the church were antagonized by Jesus actions and plotted against him, leading to Judas’ betrayal.  There are community services in many areas observing the particular happenings during the Holy Week of 33AD.  Although these may not always be well attended, it is my hope and belief that there are those who do faithfully follow our lectionary readings as they prepare for Easter.

So here we are at Thursday in Holy Week 2016.  Tonight we will have services across our Savannah Presbytery and across Christendom observing Maundy Thursday. We will see Jesus betrayed, arrested, denied, and abandoned by even those closest to him. We will see him beaten, mocked, tried, and unjustly convicted. We are lead to think that we are also complicit in his sentence of crucifixion, as were those in the crowd that day who yelled for this sentence.

Tomorrow, Jesus will die again.  In the darkness of Good Friday he will breathe his last as he says “Forgive them.” His dead body will be placed in a tomb and sealed. Saturday will be spent in grief and wondering what will the future hold.

So why do we put ourselves through this?  What is different about this way of looking at Jesus than the Spring Revival of my boyhood where we were pressured to unburden ourselves by coming to Jesus? My friends, I believe the difference is this. During Holy Week we observe the fully human Jesus, who had “set his face toward Jerusalem.”  He knew why he was here in this world and what his mission was.  He wished it might not be so, but he was “obedient unto death – even death on a cross.” We did not come to Jesus, Jesus came to us!  Jesus unburdened us and so Sunday, Easter morning we will celebrate the Resurrection and the new life we are given. Thanks be to God for this amazing grace.

So as we continue this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of Holy Week 2016 let us stay with these events, as if we do not know the outcome.  For without these days there would be no Resurrection!

He Came Back

An Easter Message from the General Presbyter, Russell Gladding

Will Willimon, Methodist minister, Bishop and author tells this story in a sermon I watched recently online. He says while he was the Bishop of Alabama he was faced with a wayward Church that had run off their pastor. They had been in such conflict that he went to visit the small rural church in the southern farm country part of the state. On a Wednesday evening he met with the farmers who comprised the majority of the membership. Willimon says he gave it to them, telling them the way they had acted toward their former pastor had put them in a position that not a single preacher in the state would be will to come to be their pastor. Then, he said, an older farmer spoke up and said, “Well Bishop, if what you say is true, it is a strange coincidence that just about every Sunday Jesus Christ seems to show up. Willimon says, “He was right.”

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