Jill and Rick Edens shared leadership of the small church on Cameron Avenue when Betsy and I joined the congregation in 1988. They had met in seminary, students at Yale Divinity School, she from Parma, near Cleveland, Ohio, and he from rural North Carolina. Barely two years after graduating, they found themselves co pastors of United Church of Chapel Hill.
Betsy and I had been searching for the right church home since we arrived in Chapel Hill in January 1977. We appreciated the strong youth and music programs and preaching at two of the community’s largest, but something was missing. We found it in the Edenses’ welcoming congregation that worshiped in a tiny building, built by its members just a block from the University of North Carolina campus. Never before had we experienced a more spiritually nourishing church. We loved this congregation and its shared commitment of love and support of one another and the wider community, but eventually congregational growth and a deteriorating physical structure led the congregation to buy a slice of land north of town and build a new place to worship, starting on Easter Sunday 2000.
Today, more than 900 members worship at United Church of Chapel Hill and serve the wider community in various ways with relationships across multiple racial and ethnic lines, and embracing faith partners in Germany, but earlier this year, an important change took place. The Revs. Richard and Jill Edens, having served this church for 38 years, announced their retirement.
So the search was on for a new senior pastor to lead this vibrant congregation. After months of prayerful, careful work, the pastoral search committee recommended to the congregation the nomination of Rev. Cameron Barr, a youthful and energetic pastor currently serving a small church in Grinnell, Iowa. After meeting informally with Rev. Barr for two days and hearing him preach, United Church’s congregation yesterday afternoon joyfully voted overwhelmingly to call him as its new senior pastor.
Rev. Cameron Barr is young. So were Rick and Jill Edens when they first stood behind the pulpit at United Church. His maturity is undeniable. Here are some of his thoughts expressed recently on life in the Trump era
“These days, many of us are struggling with the consequences of the November election. As Trump fitfully reveals the kind of leader he will be, people of faith are contemplating what it means to love God and neighbor. Many Christians are wrestling with a great question: ‘How do I resist?’
“In a world that seems more tumultuous every day, I am the keeper of a space where we stand on a firm foundation.
“People look to the pastor for answers precisely because they’ve been searching within themselves. Good preaching has a way of drawing out the inner strength that people of faith already have.
“Since the election, I, like many others, have been organizing and marching. But for me, Christian resistance also means investing more fully in my vocation. These days I’m not preaching just about politics, though that’s on everyone’s mind. I’m preaching about the gospel, in order to sharpen our focus on our values. I trust that the way of Jesus is deeply subversive.
“As it happens, my parishioners don’t need me to tell them how to express their faith. They are doing it well without detailed instructions from me.”
Such remarks are likely to resonate with members of this self-aware congregation, and he understands that this new ministry in Chapel Hill will be a collaborative journey with his new flock. Writing about serving as pastor of another church, he said, “The power of our church does not lie in my expertise as pastor. It’s in the wisdom of Christ revealed through the faithful discernment of the whole body. I am an instrument God uses to bring the body together. That’s not what I thought I was being prepared for back in seminary, but it is a high and holy calling.”
Yes, it is.