The Energy Between Us

by Scott Neely

In the fall of 2015, First Presbyterian Church-Woodruff took a risk.

Four months earlier, in May 2015, Landrum Presbyterian had ventured into a different model of pastoral leadership. Cognizant of the strain that a full-time pastor’s salary can place on a smaller congregation’s budget, the Session at Landrum decided to try something new. With the support of a small start-up grant from Foothills Presbytery and under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Gene Lassiter, Landrum developed a staffing scenario based on two very part-time team members: a stated-supply pastor charged with worship leadership, moderating the Session, and focused pastoral care; and a community minister, assigned to further pastoral care, building community connections, and teaching a Bible study. The limited scope of these duties communicated that any other work to be done in the church would have to come from congregation members.

The change that resulted was immediate. The congregation quickly found its financial footing and began building reserves. Member involvement and worship attendance shifted up, noticeably. Visitors began attending, then joined. But most importantly, the energy in the church had changed, and with it the congregation’s focus on outreach to the community. The church had stepped out of the stress of an uncertain future and into the power of an energized present.

First-Woodruff adopted this model in September 2015, again via a grant from Presbytery and led by the arrival of Rev. Steve Phillips in the very part-time but highly focused role of pastor. What had happened in Landrum kicked into gear in Woodruff—a burst of new energy, realigned personnel duties and finances, and an expansion of the already notable warmth of worship and outreach characteristic of the congregation.

But the physical plant of First-Woodruff was in need of attention. Repairs had been deferred under earlier budget constraints. With a strengthening financial position, the church began to prioritize renovations and interview contractors.

Then the Spirit moved with power. During Christmas 2015, a young adult in the church became engaged. After years of planning to have a destination wedding, she announced that she would be married in her home church. She loved what was unfolding in the congregation. She wanted to celebrate here. The wedding would be the coming November.

Energy surged in the congregation. Now renovations had a deadline. The first step was to repair the roof. As this began and next projects were readied, the pastor received a phone call. A men’s group at Westminster Presbyterian in Greenville, where he had served previously, wanted his guidance. Years before he had helped this group organize an annual local mission, using their love of construction to offer renovation and repair services to homeowners and service organizations.

“The place we were going to this year isn’t able to accommodate us as planned,” they explained. “Do you know of a place we could work?”

“You should come check out First-Woodruff,” said Steve. “This is a special place. And work is needed.”


The leader of Westminster-Greenville’s mission came to tour the church with Steve and a group of elders from Woodruff. They drew up a punch list. And over three weeks in the summer of 2016, teams from Westminster-Greenville renovated the Sanctuary, fellowship hall, kitchen and education building of First-Woodruff. Church members welcomed them enthusiastically, preparing lunch each day and supporting their work. In a matter of weeks, the facility was restored to its full beauty.

On November 12, 2016, the Sanctuary of First Presbyterian-Woodruff—renovated by the hands of brothers from Westminster-Greenville, fueled by the hospitality of First-Woodruff, with the support of pastoral staff from First-Spartanburg and Westminster-Greenville, aided by a grant from Presbytery, in a process inspired by an experiment at Landrum Presbyterian—filled with worshipers to celebrate the marriage of two young members.

The bride had just been ordained an elder in the Woodruff congregation.

With savings from the donated construction work and the church’s strengthened finances, First-Woodruff has begun a new local mission of funding classroom supplies for public school teachers.

See what energy moves between us.

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