Dear First Pres,

   Do you know who Socorro Pelayo is? Socorro is a bus driver for Fresno Area Express who was noted in a Fresno Bee article for her help in protecting a young woman who was under attack. The Lord put her in the right situation at the right time while she wisely kept the young woman's attacker from getting on the bus. She quickly called the Fresno Police and the attacker was apprehended. I join the victim's mom in saying about Socorro, "I thank God for her."

   But I'm not only grateful for the way Socorro responded in the moment of need. I'm grateful for the way that she approaches her work in our city. According to the Fresno Bee article, Socorro prays in the car on the way to work. "Then, as her bus starts to rumble to life, just before her route starts at 5:45 a.m., she walks down the aisle and prays over each seat. "I touch every seat and say, 'God cover all these people and help them. Bless them' ... I tell God, 'You drive this bus. I'm not driving this bus'" (Mays, 2/13/2018). Later in the article, she confesses her love for the city of Fresno, the people who get on the bus, and her work. She says, "I love being a bus driver. I'm a bus driver at heart."

   I love that. I love the way that Socorro Pelayo approaches her work as a bus driver. It's inspiring. I don't know the ins and outs of her faith, but think about how different our city would be if every person had this same passion about their work. Can you imagine how that would change (or would have changed) your workplace? It might seem unattainable, yet, I believe, it's exactly what the Lord desires. God is using Socorro Pelayo's work to give Him glory. She is providing a much needed public service of getting people up and down Palm Avenue; she is a blessing (and protecting) her customers with her warm smile (shown beautifully in the article), attentive spirit, and preemptive prayers. And she is dedicating it daily to the Lord. It's the perfect example of treating our work as worship unto the Lord.

   Next Friday we're hosting a simulcast conference called "Work as Worship." Yes, I know, you might have to take a vacation day or a personal day or development day to attend, but I think it'll be worth it. At FPC we believe the Gospel impacts every part of our lives, including (maybe especially) our work. In the same way that God is using Socorro Pelayo, God can use your work (whatever it might be) for His glory as well. So, I hope you'll consider joining us for this day of learning about approaching our work as worship.

   The conference starts Friday morning, February 23, at 7:30am and ends at 2:30pm. Please register online here. 

   Please join me in praying that the Lord uses it to help more people experience work as worship like Socorro does for the advancement of His Kingdom.


P.S. I wrote this letter on Wednesday as news was unfolding in Parkland, Florida about the horrible and evil massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Like all of you, I am appalled at what happened there. Please join me in praying for the families and friends who are grieving in shock, today, the loss of their loved ones. And, please join me in praying  that God gives us wisdom to address the surface level issues and the deeper (below the surface) issues that this kind of attack makes apparent in our country.

Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor
Margie Nunez
   Recently Brian Dolan, Lisa Popadich, David Parker, and I journeyed to Sugar Pine Camp to be counselors and spend time with 33 of our children from FPC. We joined 242 other children and their counselors from various Central Valley churches. It was a beautiful time of learning, fun, and serious cabin talks. God is good!  He was at work among us and growing our children’s relationship with Him. Thank you to all who prayed before and during our weekend with these fabulous children I get to be in ministry with. Enjoy these testimonies from two of our superb volunteer counselors.
Lisa Popadich
    The Bible tells us in Luke 15 that “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” and I’m telling you there must have been a party this weekend! I was so excited when Margie asked me to be one of the counselors for winter camp this year and I knew it was where God wanted me. Leading up to the weekend, I prayed that God would touch each of the campers in a tangible way and that he would guide me as I ministered to them. Over the weekend, I saw the girls of my cabin seek God in worship, during cabin times, and even during free time. They listened to the speaker as she told them about God’s love for them and how He is always with us, no matter what. He is our Good, Good Father. On Saturday, an invitation was offered to any of the campers who had not yet given their lives to Christ, and one of my campers found me and asked to pray with me. Wow, what an honor! I knew that God was moving in her heart and I loved watching the other girls of our cabin stand beside her as she prayed with me. At the end of the weekend, when we asked the campers what their favorite part of camp was, her hand bolted up and she said, “When I gave my life to Jesus!” Wow! Praise the Lord for his work in her life! I pray that she continues to grow in her faith and that she truly is a “new creation” in Christ. 
David Parker
   Winter Camp was an awesome time for our church kids! They were challenged by the story of Joseph and his journey through faith. The boys in my cabin made fresh commitments to follow the example Joseph set forth, to do what is right even when things aren’t going so well. We took a close look at Romans 8:15, “So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him 'Abba Father'.” This was a powerful message for our kids to realize that their “daddy” in heaven has a great plan for their lives. There were many kids who made first time decisions, but I felt that our church kids left with a deeper understanding of God’s daddy heart for his children.
Reflecting on the recent Jr. High Winter Camp centered around the theme of courage
by Meagan Bergem
   A rambunctious group of nineteen youth, four Youth Leaders and several parents gather in The Habit parking lot packing up cars while eating french fries and anxiously awaiting car assignments. Taking a moment we begin to pray for travel mercies, health, sleep and for God to show up in tangible ways during the weekend. Students line up to pull a number that will determine with whom they will travel up the mountain to Sugar Pine Christian Camp. Mixed reviews occur as students hop into vehicles. Then in a moment of vulnerability that IGNITEs our groups attitudes towards one another took place in a simple but powerful gesture. One student overcome with anxiety was not excited to hop in a car, and as God would have it, another student who has dealt with similar anxieties was assigned to the same vehicle. She puts her arm around her friend saying, “You can sit with me, it’s going to be okay. I know how you feel.” An action of care, compassion, and courage by meeting someone where they are demonstrated God’s love in a tangible way. 
   The Winter Camp talks were centered around the story of Gideon and specifically living as a Mighty Warrior. Judges 6:12, “When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” Courage was the theme of Jr. High Winter Camp. The students demonstrated courage by befriending one another in new ways, worshipping God through a new musical style, and sharing vulnerably with one another during cabin time. We have two brand new Youth Leaders who led our girls discussion time with grace and truth. Students shared for the first time with one another their struggles with faith in the midst of hardship and loss, depression, parental divorce or experiences of bullying. They responded to one another with tears, hugs, prayers and affirmations that they were not alone. They practiced courage by being open and honest in a way that drew us closer to God and one another. I was reminded why I love my job as these students ministered to me with their stories and courageous acts of compassion and vulnerability. Community was built among us and although there are a variety of personalities in our group, we have come to a place of love and respect for how we each reflect God’s image uniquely. 
Quotes from our Jr. High students
God is with you in the hard times so you can push through.” Shaya Schultz
“I experienced God this weekend when all the youth group bonded.” Elliot Fortmeyer 
“I want to remember that God will fight my battles and that he has a plan for my life.” Holden Murray
“God is calling me to invite friends to events or youth group and to be kinder to my sister.” Laura Crantz
“I have seen that God doesn’t just call the brave, but will make the called brave.” Rileigh Armstrong
I want to remember growing closer with friends, being able to be emotional and not be ashamed, and how to apply God’s word to my everyday life.” Claire Predmore 
“God is saying to me that I need to stay positive toward people I don’t like or bother me.” Andrew Vaccaro 
“God is with me in the most hard and sad days of life and God will always help me through it.” Nadia Waggoner
“I’ve experienced God this weekend during cabin time, because my family is going through a rough time and sharing how I felt made me feel closer to God and to my friends.” Alex Meadors 
“I experienced God during cabin time while we talked about the questions and prayed.” Kade Beal 
“I experienced God by just looking up at the universe & knowing that God made it and it is infinite.” Jesse Ellis 
“God will always be by your side now matter what.” Adrianna Rodriguez

Dear First Pres,
   First of all, thanks so much for a great Annual Meeting. If you missed it, you missed a wonderful time of celebrating what God has done and sharing about what is coming in 2018. Congratulations to this year's Outstanding Service award honorees: Rodney Kellenberger, Karon Chambers, and the Lees (Dick, Kim, & Scott). They have demonstrated above and beyond a commitment to the mission and ministry of First Presbyterian Church, so it was a privilege to celebrate them on Sunday.
   We also had the opportunity to explain the 2018 budget. This year's budget reflects a step of courage on the part of Session toward the vision God has given us for FPC. We increased our budget from 2017 by $165K, which means an increase of $176K over 2017 giving. Some of the big-ticket items in that increase are these: the launch of a college ministry partnership with the CCO; a $.50 per hour raise to the staff; and transferring the summer staff program into the budget as the previously used endowment is now spent. To cover the budget expenses with congregational giving, we will need to see a significant increase in giving from 2017 to 2018. If that increase does not come, we have the cash to cover the gap for 2018. However, we would have to make significant cuts in the 2019 budget. My prayer is that the Lord will work in your heart and mine to increase our giving to our church. If each of us is obedient to the Lord in this, I'm confident our needs will be met. So, may God expand His ministries through FPC, taking our loaves and fishes to fund future Kingdom endeavors.
   Finally, we had the privilege of sharing two additional large projects that we plan to embark upon in the coming year using the resources that have been stored up over the past many years. First, we are making plans to install solar panels in our parking lot. The solar panels will create enough energy to cover our monthly electricity bill. So, we expect that the project will have paid for itself within ten years of installation. It will also provide some wonderful shade in our parking lot and create a fantastic venue for outdoor events. Second, we are making plans to expand and bring to code the Fellowship Hall bathrooms. To do this will impact our kitchen, so there will also be a few changes there. A total kitchen remodel will be a future endeavor (hopefully not the too distant future). Improving our bathrooms will help us to be more hospitable as a place to convene community gatherings and events.
   If you have any questions about our Annual Meeting, please feel free to ask any of our Session members. We had them up front so that you could see who they are. But if you need reminding, please check out our list of officers on our webpage.
   What a privilege it is to be part of what God is doing in and through FPC. Thank you so much for your partnership in the Gospel. Nothing is more important.


P.S. This Sunday we'll launch a new sermon series called Lord, Teach Us to Pray. My prayer is that the Lord will use it to increase our prayer as a congregation. 

Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor
Dear First Pres,
   This Sunday we have a slightly changed schedule to accommodate for our own Super Sunday. It's time for our annual congregational meeting. So, the first service starts normally at 8:30, but will end near 9:15. Then we'll have our meeting from 9:30 - 11:00. The second service will start at 11:15, and end by 12:15. Everyone is invited to our annual meeting - members and non-members. However, when it comes to the few things on our agenda where a vote is required, only the church members are allowed to vote.
   Now, I know there are some of you who shudder when you hear about a congregational meeting. But I want to encourage you to change your mind. Here's what's happening at this Sunday's meeting: we're honoring some extraordinary volunteers; we're sharing stories of thanksgiving; we're giving testimony of lives changed and God at work in and through us; we're electing our church elders, deacons, and nominating committee; we're electing our corporate officers; we're explaining our 2018 budget and the bold initiatives it includes; and we're inviting everyone to join more deeply in the vision that God has given our leaders for First Presbyterian Church.
   It's going to be a great meeting. So, church, I really encourage you to make it a priority to be present for this year's meeting. In my view, this is one of the most important moments of the year for gathering us together around the purpose that God has given us. Some of you would be there, even if I didn't write this letter. I'm grateful for that. But, I know there are others of you who were not planning to come; will you change your mind? I hope so.
P.S. This Sunday is the final sermon of our series called "It's Time: A Study of Haggai." The next sermon is called "Lord, Teach Us to Pray." Please keep your ears open for some extras we hope to do together during the upcoming series.
Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor