His laugh is infectious. To date, I don’t recall laughing so much during the course of an interview. For Blake Spencer, the newly installed interim pastor at Second Presbyterian Church Nashville, laughter is an important part of every day.
“Laughter is often the first encounter people have with me," Spencer said. "My grandmother is who nurtured it. I spent hours with her as a child…she was my best friend.”
Spencer grew up approximately 30 miles north of Houston in a small town called Conroe. Racism and classism were very much a part of the culture, but thankfully his parents fostered a bigger world view.
“I graduated from a seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and my first church position was in southern Arkansas,” noted Spencer.
After five years in Arkansas, Spencer returned to Texas where he served at a variety of churches.
“When I got the call to come to Second Presbyterian Nashville, I never even imagined I would have this opportunity," Spencer recalled. "I listened to the message on my cell phone while I was driving, so don’t tell Oprah! But I just couldn’t believe this enormous gift had been placed before me.”
Second Presbyterian Nashville has long been a focused church---a rarity in the denomination these days, says Spencer--- and has clear goals both theologically and politically. That strong sense of identity has garnered the church a reputation that reaches far beyond Nashville.
For Spencer, there were three definitive reasons why he was so excited to accept the invitation to Second Presbyterian. First, the church has a vital children’s program.
“Educators across the country know about Cathy Hoop, the Children’s Minister, and her commitment to exploring stories of faith through a variety of creative learning methods,” Spencer said.
Second, the young adult volunteer program draws participants from across the country. During their time with this program, individuals have the opportunity to work in a variety of ministries and gain valuable experience as they seek vocational direction.
The third reason Spencer is excited about coming to Second Presbyterian is their commitment to be a More Light Church. A More Light church is committed to the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people of faith in the life, ministry and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Not only is this church committed to the GLBT community, they are a church who truly wants to welcome everyone. Denominational differences often determine who is welcome and who isn’t to where Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week. According to Spencer, Second Presbyterian proves its inclusiveness by posting this message at every doorway: "We welcome you to join us in our journey of faith, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, economic or family status, ethnic background, and mental or physical abilities."
“We’ve all seen those roadside church signs announcing ‘Everyone welcome!’ but in truth, we know that often isn’t the case,” Spencer said. “All those differences never made a lot of sense to me…if you are going to welcome everyone, then do it!”
According to Spencer, this church publicly voices an invitation to the gay community. They have hosted two national More Light conferences and they hosted an evening with Jack Rogers, a nationally known Presbyterian Minister and author of Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality.
Spencer added, “For years we’ve known that the church has been hurtful to the GLBT community, and yet this church is one of the few living up to that welcome and holding to the fact that faith is indeed a journey.”
Since Second Presbyterian is so focused, it might seem daunting to step into such an active congregation. Churches often have members with a variety of gifts and abilities, and Spencer wants to collectively incorporate those gifts into the worship life of the church. There is one area in particular that he hopes to enhance.
“I want to help this congregation be as articulate with their worship as they are in other areas," Spencer said. "There are so many gifts here. So how do we bring all those abilities together so that people walk away from a worship service saying, ‘Wow! That is a church who not only knows who they are, but what God wants from them.’”
He added, “One of my favorite quotes comes from a Presbyterian confession, developed by English Scottish men who posed the question, ‘What is the purpose of humankind? To glorify and enjoy God.’ And I thought ‘Really? Presbyterians came up with that? We are known for being uptight intellectual people, and yet joy is at the very root of what we say we believe.”
By identifying joy as a foundational element of the Presbyterian faith, Spencer seems determined to not only infuse Second Presbyterians worship with joy, but the church as a whole.
“I was born into a denomination with pastors who are great theologians, yet God called me into ministry here," he said. "I told myself I wasn’t smart enough. I wasn’t serious enough. But after 23 years of ministry, I know that laughter and people’s ordinary stories play a big role in ministry.”