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First Thoughts Blog

Author: Barry Phillips, Ministry Executive

Memorial Garden Expansion

Several years ago my daughter, Molly, and I were driving down to the Purple Cow on Jones Creek Road. As we were about to pass Resthaven Cemetery, where both my mom and dad were buried, I suggested we turn in and visit their grave sites for a brief prayer time. To my disappointment (and frustration), it took us over 20 minutes to find them. We’d not been to Resthaven for almost nine years!
Becky and I have plans to be cremated and our remains placed in our church’s very own Memorial Garden. It’s becoming a “high demand” bit of real estate. It is a beautiful, quiet, even reverent place to visit. We first opened it ten years ago. The initial banks of niches (the holding place for the urns) is already almost filled with the urns of First Presbyterian family members. It is so easy to visit and spend quiet “remembrance” time. And it is less expensive than a traditional cemetery plot. It is intentionally accessible so that one can visit a loved one’s burial niche at any time.
Our session approved the addition of a second phase of niches which were completed a couple of months ago; a good thing since there is but one niche remaining available in the original site. So we have 80 “homes” in the original phase. We have 78 available now remaining in phase two. 
If you’ve not yet visited our Memorial Garden or considered this an option to traditional cemetery burial, you owe it to yourself to take a look. You’ll be impressed. For more information contact Sherry Tucker ( or 225.387.0617). She would love to send you a packet. 

Start with Your Income

In an article by Dave Ramsey (Financial Peace University) on family budgeting for Christians, the first step he notes is this: “Start with your income. Write down what you will get paid.” The second step is that “it’s our responsibility to prioritize tithing.” He goes on to talk about zero-based budgeting, saving, listing all expenses, etc.  I’ve gotta tell you, it sounds a lot like our church budgeting process. Although we’ve begun the process of identifying all our expenses by department and line item, writing down what our income will be begins on Dedication Sunday when we receive your pledges or estimates of giving. Ultimately, writing down “what we will get paid” determines our mission and ministry budget for the coming year. 
Until the pandemic, our income forecasting model worked well for us. That, coupled with your faithfulness, helped us build predictive, useful budgets. For the past three years however, our giving patterns have changed. Some of you no longer pledge but continue to give generously. Some of you have opted to give automatically on a monthly basis using credit cards and ACH’s. Still others wait until year-end to make your gift to the church. 
Just as Christian families build their budgets each year, our commitment to an accurate, responsible budget is resolute. Your participation in Dedication Sunday by giving us an estimate of giving, or even pledging, helps us build a more accurate budget because we are able to “write down what we will get paid.” Thank you in advance for your financial investment in God’s economy at First Presbyterian Church.
One last thing. We already know of several fixed operating expenses that are increasing quite a bit. I’d also tell you that our church staff, part- and full-time, have not had an increase in their base pay since the pandemic began. If you can increase your investment, the return will be great. God bless all of you.


Introduction to Psalm 25: 8-22

This second part of Psalm 25 is where we can put our roots down and get to know even better why Samuel and Paul both called David a man after God's own heart. It's also a place where we can press deeper into Christ and become men and women after God's own heart.


Psalm 25: 8-22

Good and upright is the LORD;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

For your name’s sake, O LORD,
pardon my guilt, for it is great.
Who is the man who fears the LORD?
Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.
His soul shall abide in well-being,
and his offspring shall inherit the land.
The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him,
and he makes known to them his covenant.
My eyes are ever toward the LORD,
for he will pluck my feet out of the net.

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
bring me out of my distresses.
Consider my affliction and my trouble,
and forgive all my sins.

Consider how many are my foes,
and with what violent hatred they hate me.
Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me!
Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
May integrity and uprightness preserve me,
for I wait for you.

Redeem Israel, O God,
out of all his troubles.


Our Columbarium's Five Year Anniversary

Eight years ago your session voted unanimously to create a space on our church campus for securing cremated remains of members of our church and their immediate families, as well as for past members. Almost to the month five years ago, we held our first memorial service in the Dunham Chapel with an inurnment service following in the beautiful garden courtyard between the Dunham Chapel and the Education Building. Since that first inurnment we have had an additional 23 memorial services. Each of them were intimate celebrations of life and life eternal through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Phase 1 of our columbarium includes eighty niches. Each niche can accommodate two urns. Sixty of the eighty niches have been purchased. With only twenty niches remaining, plans are now underway for Phase 2.
Funerals and memorial services continue as part of the life of our church even during this pandemic. Certainly, they are unique experiences and different from what we are used to doing. 
Consideration of a columbarium niche may be on your ‘to do’ list. They are an increasingly popular option for final arrangements for several reasons. First, the financial investment is substantially less than traditional cemetery funerals. Second, many are expressing an increased preference for a memorial service rather than a traditional funeral. This allows for an intimate family gathering for mourning the loss and a celebration of life following. Finally, the garden courtyard is a wonderful place to visit. And it is close and available for times of reflection and meditation throughout the day.
We do not publicize our columbarium and it sometimes goes unnoticed. Newer members of our fellowship may not even know about it. As Phase 2 begins, some of you may want to make this step for the first time or to complete this item that has been on your ‘to do’ list for a long time. For information about our columbarium please contact Sherry McKinley ( or 225.620.0224). 

What If the Unthinkable Happens Here?

Increasingly we are exposed to violent things that happen at schools and churches across our nation. We read about them in newspapers. We hear about them on our radios. We see reports about them on television where we often actually see footage of the event or the immediate aftermath. Most often our initial response is that these kinds of things are "unthinkable"’ and would never happen here.
Our church session has created a Security and Safety Committee that is tasked with the responsibility of enacting a plan to improve both procedures and facilities to better respond to emergencies related to weather, fire, civic unrest, and, yes, even violence on our campus and in our facilities. The committee is hard at work and has completed much of the plan. Now they’ve begun the really difficult task of asking hard questions about preventing and responding to those who would do us harm.
Part of that effort is to expose and educate as many of our church family as possible about this type of crime. And to ask how we might do everything we can to prevent such a thing from happening and, as remote as the possibility is, how we might best respond if it did. On Saturday, April 7, from 10 am until 2 pm, Dr. William Aprill will help us begin to address the unthinkable.
Dr. Aprill is a licensed mental health professional with almost 20 years' experience across the continuum of clinical care. He presently maintains a private practice and consultancy specializing in post-traumatic interventions and several other disciplines. He is a former Deputy Sheriff (New Orleans Parish Criminal Sherriff’s Office) and Special Deputy U.S. Marshal (Eastern District of Louisiana). He is one of the leading criminologists in the nation. His seminars cover such things as the decision making of violent criminals, defensive incident aftermath, mindset development and defensive preparedness. 
Being educated and having a heightened awareness are major steps toward increased security. It is the committee’s hope that many of you will join us on April 7. Lunch is only $5 and childcare will be provided. You must register for both. 

Baker’s Dozen: Things to Know About Your Church

1. ME stands for Ministry Executive.
2. 37% of our giving arrives in November & December. Our fiscal year ends December 31.
3. The average annual pledge is $6,657!
4. Almost 70 of us who pledged last year have not ‘yet’ pledged this year.
5. Our utility expense this year will exceed $108,000.
6. Our comprehensive insurance costs $81,500.
7. Our Missions budget is well over a half a million dollars.
8. We have secured our Mother’s Day Out/Childhood hallway and entrances with magnetic locks and card readers, significantly increasing our ability to protect our children.
9. We hired security consultants to assist us in developing a campus-wide security plan which the Session has approved in principle.
10. The Session also approved a Safety and Security Committee to continue our efforts to substantially improve our ability to respond to emergencies of all kinds.
11. We hired an architect to design portions of this plan as part of a Master Campus Plan.
12. We have increased the presence of Baton Rouge police officers on our campus during Sunday worship.
13. When you give to your church you are part of all of this and so much more.
If you connect the dots on this baker’s dozen, you’ll note that we have a lot going on. Balancing our budget is mandatory. Our challenges in doing that are significant. Security and safety are increasing in priority. Yet our mission to be a loving, caring congregation remains our vision. We continue to base our faith and life on the Scriptures. Our desire to help others become devoted followers of Christ through prayer, friendship, invitation and witness has not changed, in fact, it has deepened. 
God’s will for us is to be thankful in everything, to pray without ceasing and to rejoice evermore. All of this we can do in Christ Jesus. So in our planning, in our doing, in our giving and in our worship let’s pray and rejoice as we participate in God’s economy. In this way we demonstrate our gratitude to him for his great gift to us. 

Who Sets the Table?: The Silent Service of the Body of Christ

This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me . . . This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11). 

Our pastors speak these words or some variation each time they invite us to participate in communion. They are the very words of Christ to his disciples and Paul as he gave instruction to those who would partake of the body and blood of their Savior. What a privilege to receive this invitation to the Lord’s table. We approach the table with humility and wonder. In this simple, sensory, tangible act we participate in a spiritual reality that transcends our ability to truly comprehend. And yet, in the doing of it, we find the wonder and comfort of God’s grace, the love of his only Son and the presence of his Spirit who transforms this temporal but personal act into one of eternal substance and significance.

But who sets the table? Christmas Eve we had over 1,600 for supper. We will have as many or more come Easter. As our church calendar plays out over 2017 we will celebrate communion almost 100 times on our church campus and almost as many times throughout our city as our elders and deacons take ‘supper’ to those who are unable to join us on campus. We pass the trays of elements. We partake by ‘intinction,’ assembling in circles or moving steadily forward dipping the bread in the cup. We approach these communion Sundays with great anticipation. But who sets the table? Who prepares the elements, pours the wine, drapes the table, cuts the bread and prepares for this ‘meal’ that we so look forward to?





Mike Salassi, Beth and Joel McClain and Rosemary and Mike Dorman are your primary ‘hosts’ behind the scenes. They are the ones who come early to prepare for your arrival. They have been doing it for years. They require no reminder. They quietly, faithfully arrive, often long before you’ve awakened, and they assemble the elements in trays and baskets and chalices and cups. (Can you imagine pouring juice into all those little plastic cups?) They gladly serve us without fanfare or acclaim. They faithfully perform this role Sunday after Sunday, Christmas after Christmas, Easter after Easter, and they love doing it. They love serving you.

For those who don’t know, Mike Salassi’s “day job” is as a full professor at LSU. Joel’s is working for the La. Dept. of Social Services. Beth labors for the La. Dept. of Health and Hospitals. Rosemary and Mike are in the medical field. Whomever they serve in their ‘day jobs’ are blessed indeed. And the five of them bless us each communion Sunday.

The Apostle Paul instructs us on the nature of the Body of Christ of which we are all a part when he says, “ . . . we have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” He speaks of preaching and teaching and encouraging with our gifts and he says that “ . . . if your gift is serving, then serve.”

Truly Mike, Joel and Beth, and Rosemary and Mike have the spiritual gift of service. They are so faithful in their obedience to Scripture and to serving the Body of Christ in this gathering of believers we call First Presbyterian Church. The next time you see them, greet them in the name of Jesus with thanksgiving for their faithfulness. The next time you partake of Jesus’ body and blood at our communion table, remember Christ your Lord and Savior until he comes again . . . and remember who set the table.

Taking Care of Business

Our campus and facilities were provided through God’s benevolence and by the generosity and sacrificial giving of our members. They provide a place from which we do mission and ministry far beyond downtown Baton Rouge. Inevitably, they require not only tender love and care, but also renovation and restoration. God has provided for this as well. So that you know:
• After careful professional analysis, a much needed campus wide waterproofing project has begun. It includes the replacement of the windows in the Education Building. And it will repair damage that has occurred over many years, prevent future deterioration and stop invasive moisture from seeping in to begin new damage. 
• Our Bell Tower will benefit from a new control and sound system, giving us a purer sound and greater flexibility with songs and tunes. 
• Our Dunham Chapel will be up-fitted with new lights for the chancel and primary space, improvements to the sound and lighting control system and tailored pew cushions.
• You may have noticed the stained glass windows on the east and west sides of the Sanctuary are ‘missing.’ They’ve been taken out for refurbishment and cleaning but will return by the end of July.
• The screens and projectors in our Sanctuary will be replaced over the next few months. Existing equipment is aging and failing. Look for a ‘new look’ up front when this project is complete.
• The grassy area between the Sanctuary and the Chapel will become more usable as it is upgraded to match our terrace garden north of the Chapel. The turf affords an outdoor platform for creative programming throughout the year (even when it rains).
Finally, we’ve begun exploring a campus wide wireless communication system that will enable our greeting and ministry teams, staff and pastors and all security personnel to communicate in real time. Coupled with additions to our security and emergency response plans, this will provide our members and guests with greater protections and security for emergencies of all kinds.
All of this we hope to complete this year; and all of this because God has already provided the resources in the form of special funds, pledges and bequests. May we never take these many blessings for granted. May we be faithful in all things. May God be glorified in all that we have and all that we do.