Roy writes: I am currently in my fourteenth year serving as the pastor of Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Naples, Florida. In 1996 I graduated from Duke Divinity School and my wife Leslie, daughter Emily, two dogs, two cats, two horses and a fish all moved to Naples. Leslie is a full time horseback riding instructor and owns and manages Cornerstone Farm South. She spends her days training horses, teaching lessons and spending several weekends a month traveling the Hunter / Jumper riding circuit. My daughter Emily is a nationally ranked rider and will be graduating from Palmetto Ridge High School this year. In addition to my role as the pastor at Cornerstone I also enjoy playing in a rock band, promoting local independent music festivals and events and even host a local Indie Show on the radio.
Cornerstone was a part of the massive “new church” development program launched through the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. While most seminary graduates might be thrilled to have the opportunity to launch a “new church” I had my reservations. I struggled with the market driven agendas that pervaded most of the “new church” launch programs. I also knew that the underlying expectations from the conference were focused on numbers and finances. To put it bluntly, I was recruited to be a participant in the last hurrah of American Methodism.
While my reservations were correct in many ways, one of the blessings that came with launching a “new church”, was the freedom to seek wise counsel and live into the leading of the Holy Spirit. Much of that counsel came through brothers and sisters involved in the EP. Stanley Hauerwas was a central figure in the development of what is now Cornerstone. He wrote me a letter in response to my appointment (for which he had great concern) which encouraged and held me accountable to the language used in launching this community. Stanley said, “Never use the language ‘New Church’ but always refer to the work you are doing in Naples as ‘Becoming God’s Church’.” To this day Cornerstone draws heavily upon the language of “Becoming!”
Other brothers and sisters from EP also contributed greatly to the vision, mission and virtues that surround Cornerstone. Brent Laytham came down to visit Cornerstone in its first year and through his teaching and friendship provided great insight and direction in Cornerstone’s early years. Dan Bell’s friendship was also a helpful resource for a young pastor thrown into the toxicity of the “Church Growth” culture. All the voices of EP have found a place at Cornerstone and are far more then just another resource — they are a part of our community.
I became involved in the Ekklesia Project early on. The first official gathering I attended was held at a monastery somewhere near Chicago. I can’t remember the name of the place but I do remember a massive stuffed bear standing in the entry holding a mission box. I thought if I put a couple of dollars in the box the bear might dance for me but his dance had left a long time ago. I believe that might have actually been the first or second (editor’s note: it was the third, Roy, held at Techny Towers)Gathering. Since then I have only missed one event and every year I look forward to reconnecting with my EP brothers and sisters from all over the country. Bound together in God’s Story, EP is a refuge that offers strength and encouragement for the journey. I am glad to be along for the ride! (April 2010)