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  • Writer's pictureRev. Joel L. Tolbert

One Year Later

On the weekend of the Sunday after Christmas, 2019, Jill and I flew up from Atlanta to Baltimore, drove across the bridge, and checked into the White Swan. On that Sunday morning, I would be preaching from the chancel and pulpit of the Presbyterian Church of Chestertown for the first time. Right after worship, Jill and I were excused into the Fellowship Hall and the Congregation voted to call me as one of your pastors.

Life was about to change.

I spent January saying goodbye to my former congregation, preparing the house to be listed for sale, and preparing myself for the move. Jill would remain behind through the end of the school year. I would be here without her from February through May. We have never been that far apart for that long since we met one another over 30 years ago.

Life was about to change.

I arrived in Chestertown at almost midnight on the last weekend of January. A family of the church had made a little cabin behind their home available to me for a few months. I drove down the gravel and dirt road and opened the car door to crisp, cold air that smelled like farm and sea. My cell phone did not work. I could see my breath. I could see the stars.

Life was about to change.

I preached and led worship with you on the first Sunday of February. I was flooded with new faces and names. There was a buzz of energy and excitement in the congregation. We had a little emergency mid worship, then we enjoyed Communion. That night, I read the Annual Report from the previous weekend cover to cover. Ovet the coming weeks, I moderated a few Session meetings. I sat with every staff member. I huddled up the PNC (Pastor Nominating Committee) and asked them to stay beside me for a whole year. I listened, met, asked, preached, planned, and listened some more. After six weeks, I needed to move out of the first little cabin, so another family offered a guest house to me, and I moved again. It was also time to go back to Georgia for a visit with family, and for an Atlanta United game.

Life was about to change.

The day I landed in Atlanta, the NBA canceled every game due to COVID concerns. I got some work done on the house, but not much, and got our taxes filed. I flew back to Maryland, praying for my own safety, while Caitlan led the last worship service we would do in person for over four months. By the next Sunday, we were prerecording worship and posting it online through our brand new YouTube channel.

Life was about to change.

Would you believe, that's just to March? Since March, there've been plenty of other changes too.

As we turn toward 2021, life is about to change again, and I'm ready. I'm ready for the vaccine, and widespread immunity. I'm ready for a few of the promised Chestertown festivals. I'm ready for some hardcore house remodeling. I'm ready for kids to be in worship again, and youth to go to camps again, and friends to go out to dinner again. I'm ready to start a Pub Theology discussion group at a dive bar. I'm ready to drive to DC for a museum, or Philadelphia for an Atlanta United away game, or New York City for a Broadway show.

As you pray today, consider how much has changed, and peek ahead at the new year. Look forward and anticipate some of the changes we will enjoy or even get to make in 2021. We cannot undo some of what 2020 has done, but we can leap into 2021 with a passionate desire to make change happen in better and more beautiful ways!

Blessing, Laughter, and Loving be yours,

Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

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