First Presbyterian Church, 1455 McIngvale Road in Hernando, has gone through a lot in recent years but church members now look forward to setting a new course and vision for one of the most established congregations in DeSoto County.
First, longtime Rev. Robert “Chip” Hatcher left the church after 25 years there to become the pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Hot Springs, Ark.
An interim pastor passed away while serving First Presbyterian as the Hernando church was in the process of calling its next pastor.
Then, about a year and a half ago, Rev. Rob White, a Hernando native, accepted the call to return home to lead the church that was founded in 1850.
The church has grown since White came back to Hernando, and while change has been painful for some, it is now time, he said, to start a visioning effort to look ahead to the future. That year-long effort is now underway, White said.
“We’ve grown so much in the last year and a half since I’ve been here,” White said. “Many of the members we see in the pews are different from when I first started, but this church went through a lot of grief when they lost members, lost a pastor and we’ve lost some staff members.”
In response to the staff losses, new persons have come on board with some extensive credentials.
“Our music director moved on and we’ve now hired a new music director (Jasper Hensley) who has a degree from The Juilliard School (of Music),” White noted. “Our Christian Education Director retired after 16 years and our new director has 15 years of experience in Christian Education. We’re at a point where we realized that we need to re-imagine and re-vision.”
To that end, White said the church will sit down and look ahead. “We appreciate where we’ve been, but the purpose for this visioning campaign is to help our members imagine what we are and what our members are investing in.”
One item that White said is important to him is in making the church be more diverse and welcoming to all segments of the community.
“We’re a church that celebrates our diversity,” White said. “We have people that has Democrats and Republicans sitting together. We’re theologically diverse, sociologically diverse and politically diverse. The Body of Christ is made up of many members.”
As part of this visioning for the future of what White called “a new church in an old building,” it is hoped that members will speak out.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is listen to individual voices,” White said. “Rather than seeing each person as an issue or somebody that fits a check mark or box.”
Church leaders hope to have a report and vision in the next year, which can give First Presbyterian a direction “for the next 5-10 years,” White said.
“I recognize that my denomination (Presbyterian Church of the USA) has been a dying denomination and in the last 20 years has been one in decline,” said White. “We’re now serving a post-exodus church. I’m ready to go from ‘survival to revival.’”
The 350-member congregation has taken on the theme of “Think First” in its campaign. In addition to determining what its first future makeup as a church will be, White wants to see how his congregation can integrate with the community.
“The Boy Scouts meet here and we’re also opening our doors to different parts of the community,” White explained. “We’re sitting on 10 acres and we’re open to ideas of how we can use these 10 acres, possibly a walking track or recreational area behind our buildings, trying to figure out how to use what God has given us to do great things.”
White expects the process will result in discovering how First Presbyterian can become a more welcoming church in the greater Hernando and DeSoto County area.
“As DeSoto County grows, my hope is the Gospel of Jesus Christ is one of inclusivity and diversity,” White said. “We don’t expect you to fit our mold but that we have an open table.”
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.