Author: AJ Langston

More on Interim Ministry

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In last month’s newsletter I explained in some detail what interim ministers do. If you haven’t read it, I hope you’ll look at now. It’s on our website.

An interim obviously is an in-between time. In between the time when a former pastor leaves and a new pastor is called. Interim time can be much more important than just marking time. It can be one of the most valuable periods in a church’s history.

There are three questions a church must deal with in its interim time. “Where have we been?” “Where are we going?” “What skills and gifts should we seek in our next pastor so that we can get where we want to go?”

There’s an old saying you may have heard, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” That’s why we should be deliberate and thoughtful in laying out FPC’s road map for the future.

We have already begun the process of “Where have we been?” and “Where are we going?” Over the past few months I have met with many of you in home desserts. We’ve had over 50 people attend. When the summer is over we will try to hold a few more desserts to offer those who were away this summer a chance to weigh in on these two questions.

So far here’s what I’ve learned. Most of all you value the sense of community you find at FPC. I’ve learned that if someone in the church has the flu, the word spreads in a few hours. You care for one another in palpable ways.

You value our traditional worship style. You don’t want screens or a rock band up front. You like the informality of the service, yet value the dignity of Reformed liturgy. (And you are really good listeners to my sermons. Thank you!)

You really love the beauty of our historic sanctuary, one of the 12 oldest structures in all of Phoenix. So many of you (and our guests) say, “It reminds me of the little church I attended back in the mid-west. And let me just say that we have not yet leveraged the historicity of our sanctuary to become more widely known in our area. More on this down the road.

You worry about our church getting older. When I asked one member if she had a magic wand and could change the church, what would she do? She said, “I would make us all a lot younger.” This is the number one concern I heard in the desserts. We have to find a way to grow, to attract new members.

You worry about finances. The church has been under financial stress for some years now. Last year the Session had to dip into the manse fund ($17,000) to balance the budget. I am 2/3 time with 2/3 salary of the former pastor. Perhaps the biggest question we have to deal with is this: “Can we afford a full-time permanent pastor? Generally you get what you pay for in this world. Can we find a way, with the resources available to us to call a full-time pastor, full of spit and vinegar! A pastor who can lead the congregation to a day of growth and renewal. I have some ideas on this, too! More to follow.

That’s enough for now. I’ll follow some of these thoughts up in future columns.

Let me close by saying a great big thanks for the warm and wonderful welcome you have extended to me. I love being here. I love my ministry with and among you.

Categories: Newsletter

A trip to the Gila River Indian reservation

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About once a year, the Presbytery Records Review Committee examines the Session minute book and the register (roll book). The minute book contains minutes of the Session meetings including decisions that keep the church operating, when members join, die, baptisms, weddings, and information for members that transfer to another church.

Recently, the review was held at the Vah Ki Presbyterian Church on the Pima Indian Reservation near the village of Bapchule of Vah Ki. They are about 20 miles south of Chandler. You take I-10 to Casa Blanca road, turn west going toward Maricopa and maybe 20 miles north of Casa Grande. In Spanish the adjective follows the noun so Casa is house and Grande is large. Blanca is white, for a white house, but I do not remember seeing a white house set aside for the road to be named Casa Blanca.

About five miles from I-10 on the south side of Casa Blanca, something caught my eye. It was an Indian cemetery. The graves are mounded up with dirt about a foot or two, high. I do not know if there is a hole dug or if the body is placed on top of the ground and covered with loose dirt. Think about it; it is easier to bring in loose dirt than to dig a hole six feet deep. The down side of the project is if a summer monsoon flood comes into the cemetery, the loose dirt “goes with the flow” and so do “them dry bones”. I heard this happened in Sacaton east of I-10. This might be spooky if one is driving home at night near the rushing water. No telling what one might see. So, I stepped on the gas to get away in case of a flash flood.

On down the road, I see an old but well kept small church with natural desert landscaping with a sign saying U.P.C.A. (United Presbyterian Church America) and pointing north to the church, which was a couple hundred yards. I pulled into the huge dirt desert parking lot. My first thought was these people get their shoes muddy when it rains, but they attend church to worship God and not their shoes. To the south of the traditional church building was an open, on three sides, tin roof shed with pews that would sear maybe 200 people. The Presbytery worship service and meeting was held there as the sanctuary would not hold the crowd that day. This open meeting place is just fine in good weather, but cold on a winter day and dusty when the wind blows as there is no grass to hold the dirt down.

There were more Indian church people helping with the meeting arrangements than the Peoria church has in worship, sometimes. They were so helpful. I asked a young lady where the water fountain was and she brought me a bottle of water. In the kitchen, there were several people, all kinds of fresh fruit, pastries and etc. What a treat they provided. Outside, people were stationed to tell you where the restroom was and etc. They probably had their own water well as there were o towns or water companies around. In other words, they were great hostesses and hosts.

Now, for the sad news. There is a problem with alcohol and drugs, especially with the youth. There is not much for the youngsters to do except I did see a basketball hoop made from a bicycle wheel with the spokes removed and the rim fastened on a pole. There are all dirt ball fields, but sometimes we need something else to do when night time falls.

I was told the Pima Tribe were farmers in earlier years raising grain to sell to the U.S. Army Cavalry to feed the horses. They had water for irrigation from the Gila River that originates in New Mexico. Sometime back, maybe a hundred years ago, white men dealt the Pima people a dirty deal by building Coolidge Dam several miles to the east on the Gila. This left the Gila River dry, going through the Pima Reservation. However, the white man has the water to irrigation fields in the Coolidge and Casa Grande area and the native Americans have dried up farms gone back to desert vegetation instead of fields of wheat to sell to the US Army Cavalry.

I came home with thoughts going through my mind; we worry or complain if the sanctuary is not cool enough or the lawn needs cutting while the Pima’s at Vah Ki and similar places of worship, are thankful for what they have with the dirt blowing through worship on a windy day on the reservation as they worship the same God as we do.

Categories: Newsletter

The 911 call

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Several years ago, there was a phone in the room where the choir assembles, before the start of worship. I am not sure why the phone was removed, but I am guessing it was to save money on the monthly bill. In one way, it was a benefit that it was removed. It would ring during worship and someone sitting close to it, would answer it. The rest of the people sat there wondering if their house might be on fire or some other emergency.

Choir practice has been on Wednesday night for more years than I can count. I am being careful not to reveal any identity of the main characters of the “sermon”. One of the choir members brought a child, maybe under the age of 10. While we practiced, the child disappeared, which I would have also, if I would have been in the child’s shoes.
Practice was well along when a Peoria Policeman came in the back door and interrupted it, asking “What is wrong here?” “Nothing”, was the choir’s response. The policeman said, “We got a 911 call.”

The parent of the child called the child’s name, “———-, come in here!” “Did you call 911?” I do not remember the answer, but the child was the guilty one. Not much happened at the time, but I am sure there was a lecture on the way home and maybe it continued in the house., after the arrival at home. Needless to say, it did not happen again and shortly afterward, the phone was removed. The real reason was probably to cut expenses.

Categories: Newsletter

125th Anniversary

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As we approach the church’s 125th Anniversary, I thought it might be appropriate to look at the ministers/pastors who have led this congregation through all these years.  As I researched, I found we have had several interim pastors,. As you look at the dates, you will notice several pastors within one year.  If you are really interested in the history of Peoria First Presbyterian Church, please see me. We have several copies of the history in the office. I would be glad to get a copy for your reading pleasure.  By the way, this church turns 125 years of fellowship and service to Peoria on April 10, 2017. 

Larry Cary

Peoria Presbyterian Church Ministers

Henry A. Thompson1893-1897
J. McS. Gardiner1897-1898
Richard T. Bell 1898-1899
John W. Quay 1900-1901/td>
Herman B. Mayo 1901-1902
Duncan Brown 1902-1902
Robert Ballough 1906-1909
W. A. Posey 1909-1910
C. L. Corwin 1910-1913
Elmer S. Chaffee 1913-1916
Cornelius Dugger 1917-1925
A. Harry Severson 1925-1929
J. Coad 1929-1931
D. L. Moffatt 1931-1931
Raymond L. Edie 1931-1935
George W. Thomas 1935-1936
Benjamin H. Freye 1936-1941
William C. Isett Jr 1941-1943
Anthony K. Locker 1943-1944
Earl M. Ward 1945-1946
Stewert R. Sheriff 1946-1947
Lucian T. Knotter 1947-1947
Leonard A. Marquardt 1947-1951
George Walker 1951-1952
Benjamin E. Bollman 1951-1957
Claude L. Morton 1957-1958
Thomas Schellingerhout 1958-1963
Harold M. Heath Jr 1964-1968
Marshall S. Pinkerton 1968-1968
Robert Lippincott 1969-1980
Christie Swain 1980-1981
Richard E. Penaluna 1981-1982
Samuel S. Logan 1982-1988
Jack H. Prichard 1989-1989
Paul Kohler 1989-2000
Harold Borhauer 2000-2000
Paul Soderquist 2000-2002
Helmi Fulton 2002-2002
Patricia A. Young 2002-2016
Categories: Newsletter

Happy Birthday Lester

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For the past year, Lester has been saying he hopes to make it to maturity on July 23, 2016. Well, he made it on his walker and worn out eyes, but with a good sound mind that outshines the sun. In the worship service on July 24th, we had special music dedicated to Lester and his late wife, Sybil. The church was full and Pastor Terry preached on staying active. Do not just sit idle, but use the life given to us for the glory of God. That is what Lester has done and continues to do.

On Sunday, July 17th and again on the 23rd, Lester played the piano before and during the worship service. He cannot read the fine print of the music, but he played be ear. The sanctuary was full. We need to have a “LESTER DAY” every Sunday. Following worship, we had a birthday party. The ladies hosting the party did not want to burn the place down, so instead of 100 candles on the cake, they had one “100”, candle on the cake. The tables had beautiful decorations that added to the occasion.

We heard about the Dray’s first Sunday at P.P.C. Unbeknown to the Drays, it was HAT DAY with the congregation wearing a “special” hat, some fancy and some old and ragged. Lester and Sybil wondered what is going on here as they entered the sanctuary, but they came back and joined in 1994. Both being ordained Elders from Houston, they have been good for P.P.C. Sybil has been gone a few years, but Lester still expresses concern about our financial situation and what we need to do. He is unable to drive or pull weeds at a work “party”, but he does his share of praying, planning and calling.

He served his country during WW II and in the Army for 16 years, and the Army Reserves. Upon his discharge, he worked for Shell Chemical. Shell retired him at age 60. The next day, he was hired as a professor at a college in Houston, then retired at age 75.

What a blessing to have Lester and Sybil in the P.P.C. family. Like the chorus goes, “GOD IS SO GOOD”. LESTER, WE LOVE YOU!

Your church family,

Ken Johnson

Categories: Newsletter

HART Pantry

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HART PANTRY needs your help to get 100 at-risk teens ready to return to or begin High School on August 10th. We will be serving Peoria High School, Raymond Kellis HS, FLEX Academy, Centennial HS, Ironwood HS; Peoria Accelerated HS and Wickenburg HS. Backpacks will be packed and delivered by August 5, 2016.

Following is a list of the supplies needed by each student entering classes in these schools. HART PANTRY through the donations of our sponsors will try and equip each homeless and at-risk teen with the tools that all of their peers will have.

We are providing drop-off boxes in the social hall and the church office for your convenience. Anyone wishing receipts for their donations, please ask Dick Langford; HART PANTRY is a 501(c) 3 charitable organization and therefore your donations are tax deductible.

Thank you for helping us help our kids.  



  • BACKPACKS suitable for high school students
  • FILLER PAPER AND DIVIDERS   college rule
  • PENS
  • COMBINATION LOCKS suitable for lockers
  • MEN’S ANKLE SOCKS medium, large, extended sizes
  • WOMEN’S SOCKS   shoe sizes up to 10

Thank you for your support.   

Questions?   Call Lois Cary or Kathy Calderon

Categories: Newsletter

New Elders

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We are pleased to inform you of First Presbyterian Church of Peoria’s newly appointed Elders; Mr. Seth O’Kelly and Mrs. Shannon Langston.   Please read each of their biographies below and on the following page.  We look forward to and welcome their dedication and commitments as our Elders. 

Seth O’Kelly

Seth O’Kelly was born in Dallas and grew up in McAllen, Texas. There he became very active at First Presbyterian Church. He attended camps at Mo Ranch near Kerrville, and Summer Place in Port Aransas for several years and has many fond memories of his time at camp. In high school he was honored to be a Youth Advisory Delegate to the General Assembly in 1993.

He graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in Industrial Distribution. He moved to Glendale in 1999 to begin working for Cameron Ashley Building Products which later was acquired by ABC Supply Co, an exterior building products distributor. He is an Outside Salesperson.

Seth and Lisa O’Kelly have been married since 2000. They have two children, Megan and Parker and they keep him very busy. In his spare time, Seth enjoys watching sports, especially college football and his beloved Texas Aggies. He also likes to experiment with foods on his smoker, which he bought for his birthday last year.

Shannon Langston

For those of you who may not already know me, my name is Shannon Langston.  This summer AJ & I will have been married 16 years. We have two great kids; Lizzie (almost 11), and Tommy (9 ½).  Family is important to me.  I’ve always felt that taking care of my family is my number one job.  God comes first of course, then family… Church, work, etc. comes next.

Because of some medical issues I don’t hold a full time job.  This allowed me to be with my kids and to help the church more!  I was baptized and raised Lutheran, but left the church in my late teens. AJ grew up coming here with Alan & Cathy on and off. When Alan had some of his surgeries about 13 years ago, I was introduced to First Presbyterian Church of Peoria. It was amazing to see how the people here had such an outpour of love and concern over him and his family.  At some point I felt God drawing me toward the church. The community and friendship here, is like nowhere I had seen.

I was asked to help with Sunday school as soon as they heard I had some teaching experience.  In 2006/2007, I became the Sunday School Superintendent. This allowed me to help choose and implement the children’s curriculum with the guidance and assistance of the Pastor. I had also agreed to direct VBS that year. Six years ago I sat with Pat and the chair of Christian Ed, and agreed to coordinate all the education, from youth to adults for the church and was given the title of Christian Education Coordinator. I now research, choose, train on and implement the kids Sunday school and youth group programs. Continue directing VBS, and work with the Pastor on choosing and teaching adult Bible & book studies, as well as adult Sunday school.

Being part of the education of this church and the community here as a whole has had a profound effect on who I am and what I want to be when I grow up; it is my passion!  In January 2015, I began taking classes for a Certificate in Ministry from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, TX online. Each class is 10 weeks long & I must have 7-8 classes to complete it. Once I am done, my goal is to eventually become a Commissioned Ruling Elder (used to be called a Commissioned Lay Pastor). This process can take a long time, and I am hoping to be done in about 2 years. This education and process really aligns with my passions.

I am also involved at the Presbytery level.  In August 2015, I was asked to sit on the Congregational Resources Team Committee for our Presbytery.  In short, this team helps to review grant applications, review recommendations for possible new worshipping communities (aka: new churches or outreach worshipping), leadership training in the Presbytery, and others.

My dream with all of this is to further assist in the life and growth of our church, the life and growth of the Presbytery and to spread the message of God by doing so.

Thank you for taking your time to learn more about me and your ongoing prayers and support!

God Bless, 

Shannon Langston

Categories: Newsletter

Preschool News

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sand-summer-outside-playingWe are starting our 6th week of summer camp.  The children are really enjoying all the water days, movie days, science and art days. 

When the weather cools off just a little more we will start walking to the library for story time and picking out books.

All of the staff is getting excited about school starting August 1st.  We had to say our goodbye’s to Ms. Joy, who decided to stay at home for a while.  We  welcome Ms. Sally as our 3 year olds new teacher.   We are starting lesson planning for the fall and will have an orientation day for all family members to attend.  We want everyone to have all the information to help make a successful school year for everyone.

We have a couple of families that could use a little help with tuition this year.  If you find it in your heart and budget to donate a little , it would be greatly beneficial to these children.

We currently have 15 children committed for the fall enrollment, with a capacity of 25.  I think this is a very good start.  If you know of any family who is looking for a preschool home, we would love for you to direct them our way. 

Thank you for all your prayers, donations and helping hands through-out last year and during the summer.

God bless.

Categories: Newsletter

Newsletter Correction

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New Members

June’s Newsletter announced our newest church members.  However, Cathy Calderon was not mentioned.  This error was of course, unintentional.  Cathy, please accept my personal apology and Welcome to First Presbyterian Church! We are so happy you’re here!

Categories: Newsletter

PW News

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The sewing Circle has made 40 book bags for Agua Fria School kids.  We need to fill them, as we do every year.  We already have all the scissors, crayon and pencils.

The following is a list of items we do need;

Glue Sticks, Spiral Notebooks – Wide Rule

Pocket Folders, Pencil Holders, Erasers, Pencil Sharpeners, Colored Pencil

School Supplies go on sale right after the 4th of July.  The School Bags will be given out to the children, near the end of July.

Your support is greatly appreciated

Categories: Newsletter