Even in 2020: Pastors Reveal What They’re Thankful For
By Carl Stagner
Though not often cast in hero’s light, pastors have served with grace, tremendous flexibility, and patient persistence amid the coronavirus crisis, political tension, and social unrest. Several of these pastors from across the country recently reported to Church of God Ministries what they’re especially thankful for this year. Their grateful hearts serve as a reminder that all of us have much to be thankful for—even in 2020.
The compounding of complications and challenges seemed to mark the majority of the past year. Consider the plight of those who lost homes and businesses to the barrage of tropical disturbances along the Gulf Coast late summer into early fall. Steve Nelson, state coordinator for the Louisiana Congregational Ministries of the Church of God and pastor of Hope Community Church of God in Shreveport, sees through the pain to the blessing. “I am so thankful for God’s faithfulness to me personally and to the church in Louisiana,” he explains. “Three hurricanes, COVID-19, and personal health problems, yet God walked with us through it all.”
Numerous pastors accepted new assignments in new locations from the Lord this year, and their transitions weren’t easy, either. Still, God provided. But for Mark Turner, it wasn’t just a new pastorate; it was his first! “As I start my ministry at age 53, I am thankful that God will still use me in amazing ways for his kingdom,” he observes. “I am extremely thankful that, with everything going on in the world, I have an amazing wife, great family, and a super church!” God bless you in the days, months, and years ahead, Rev. Turner and Granby First Church of God (Granby, Missouri)!
JR Stepp, from the Church of God in Alaska (and locally, Palmer Church of God), says he’s thankful this year for the chance to celebrate Thanksgiving with his great granddaughter. Congratulations, Great Grandpa! Pastor JR also can’t ignore the blessings the church has been to him through this turbulent year. He adds, “I am thankful for the connectivity of our church family in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Deb Winters sees the church family as vital connection, too. Deb pastors Transformation Community Church of God in Huntington, West Virginia, and first identifies her walk with Jesus and her family when asked what she’s thankful for this year. But she quickly points to the blessing of being part of a larger, spiritual family. “The people God has gathered into my life as followers of Jesus and disciple making disciples have so enriched my life, so stretched my faith and ministry that blessings continue to be abundantly clear,” she explains.
Though political leaders and government agencies have classified certain entities as essential and others as non-essential this year, Nick Wilson sees the Bride of Christ as absolutely essential. For this one glorious church of God that Jesus established, the pastor of First Church of God in Kittanning, Pennsylvania, is especially thankful. His rationale is compelling: “I am specifically thankful for God’s church. In the current uncertainty, God has provided a system of support and love for one another among his people. It is the relationship we have within the church that has, and will, sustain many as we continue on in this current environment.”
Quoting Psalm 90:2, Pastor Jessica Hall, of Beulah First Church of God in Eubank, Kentucky, expresses thanks for the unchanging nature of God. Having lived, like the rest of us, through days when things seemed to change on the hour, she has appreciated that which has remained constant. Besides the Lord and his church, she specifically brought to mind one ministry organization. “During the last nine months, when pastoring felt isolated and uncertain, I am thankful for Church of God Ministries reaching out time after time just to say, ‘We are here for you…we are praying for you…you are not alone!’”
Jeremy Dunn is also thankful for such constants. The pastor of Allison Gap First Church of God in Saltville, Virginia, quickly points to the Bible as that reliable source of encouragement through the craziness of this year. “I am thankful for the stable, solid rock truth of God’s Word,” he reflects. “This year has inspired much instability that it would have been easy, and understandable, to have been ‘tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind’ (Ephesians 4:15); to doubt and be ‘like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind’ (James 1:6). But through the challenges of 2020, I have found a refreshed appreciation and love for the truth, the Person of Truth, and the Word of Truth.”
Some things never change, but some things do. And some things should. When complacency sets it, when believers drift off mission, or when certain methods just aren’t working, change can be a very good thing. “2020 was not what we expected, but underneath all the turmoil and irregularity, I am thankful for the seismic shift that it jarred into existence,” Michael Guzman explains. The regional pastor for the Church of God in Central California continues, “It has exposed the heavy weight and high-maintenance modes of family and church life that we have operated by for decades. We would never have been able to experience the simplicity, authenticity, and beauty of light-weight and low-maintenance life with Jesus to the same degree without radical change.” Now that’s perspective!
With the Apostle Paul’s words to the church at Thessalonica regarding giving thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18), Gary Underwood (Eastside Community Church, Muskogee, Oklahoma) offers some concluding thoughts: “I am thankful for Jesus. I am thankful that Jesus saved me, continues to be patient with me as I strive to draw closer to him each day, and forgives me when I fail as a man, a pastor, a husband, a father, and a friend. I am thankful that even in the midst of this global pandemic, political unrest, and church uncertainties, that God is still on the throne and has promised to never leave us nor forsake us. I am thankful that no matter what this world can offer or afford to me that nothing will compare to my eternal home.”
So, what are you thankful for this year?
Learn more about the Church of God at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.
Feature (top) photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash.