The First Pres Nominating Committee has presented a slate of leaders to begin three-year terms of service in January 2023. Here are the nominees the congregation will elect at an Aug. 28, 2022, congregational meeting.
Raised in the Lutheran Church, Lyle began to seriously devote his life to Christ while he was in college. After graduation, he trained with Wycliffe Bible Translators where he met and, in 1988, married Teri. The Jacobsens have five adult children. When they joined First Presbyterian in 2019, they found a gracious attitude among the leadership and members. They also appreciated the way the church navigated the pandemic with both flexibility and consideration for multiple needs and points of view. An avid reader, Lyle recently completed John Bunyan’s The Work of Jesus Christ as an Advocate. His hope for the church is that our individual faiths continue to grow, especially considering the social and civil unrest expanding in our culture.
Being raised in the Beckley Presbyterian Church (WV) was a great gift, Robin says. “The second great Lord’s gift was Alice,” whom he wed in 1971. A couple of setbacks in their early 20s reinforced to Robin that the Lord God was in charge. From then on, across eight communities, 13 addresses, nine congregations and three Sessions, the Lord guided their paths. When Robin and Alice retired to Staunton in 2016 after his 32-year career as an Army civilian in research and development, they found at First Pres a church uniquely loyal to Scripture and covenant partners with extraordinary depths of Biblical knowledge, brought to life through diverse careers and accomplishments. Robin is a fan of William Barclay’s writing and other, peer-reviewed, conservative, reformed commentaries. His vision for our church is that the talents and resources of the congregation would be fully engaged as in Ps. 116:9: “Let us walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living!”
Rachel Lemn first stepped into First Presbyterian Church on Easter Sunday in 2009 and felt the call of Christ. She kept coming back and joined a Bible study. “I love First Presbyterian Church because it is where I met Jesus,” she says. Since then, the Lord has worked in her life through corporate worship, time in the Word, Bible studies, quiet times, devotionals, and people who God has brought into her life. As she looks back over the past years, she realizes how God has provided for her needs both physically and spiritually over the years. “I see God working in my life through my interactions with my husband, my children, others in my life, and people I encounter,” she says. Rachel’s greatest hope for the church is for Christ to be in the center of all decisions and actions and for us to help develop lifelong disciples, both children and adults, who know the truths of the Bible and love the Lord and others well. Rachel and her husband, Scott, are raising four young children.
Phil Saunders began attending First Presbyterian’s 6:33 service in 2007 while he was a student at JMU. He graduated with a degree from the School of Media Arts and Design and stayed in the area. Originally from Halifax, Virginia, Phil’s talents include graphic design, computer hardware management, and marketing. He also has a passion for art and theater, which he has shared with local students at Harrisonburg High School. At First Pres, you’ll often see Phil using his own talent as a singer with Sunday morning’s Praise Band. Phil appreciates how our church is intentional about serving the city’s diverse population. He recognizes how God has blessed our church with rich gifts and talents and he is excited about using these to advance the kingdom. Phil and his wife, Heidi, who grew up at First Pres have three young children.
Jeff Stapel, currently a member of Session, believes that First Presbyterian is at a turning point, which is why, in part, he agreed to serve a second three-year term. Since joining the church with his wife, Valerie, in 2017, Jeff has seen growing enthusiasm around the possibilities God is presenting our church and finds it exciting to be a part of this ministry. As part of the long-range planning initiative, Jeff is working with the church planting team. First drawn by the church’s welcoming spirit and the firm Biblical foundation, he has experienced growth as God stripped away idols and shifted his dependence more and more onto Christ. “God has shown me the last several years through loss and suffering,” Jeff says, “that my identity needs to be in Christ alone.” Along those lines, he recommends Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinner and Sufferers” by Dane Orland. Jeff and Valerie, parents of four adult children, live in Belmont.
Amy Birdsong is a native of Greater Richmond, having spent almost her entire life there. Amy was raised in a strong Christian household in which both of her parents served in various roles based on their gifts during her childhood. She met Steve when she was a freshman in high school and the high-school sweethearts tied the knot almost eight years later. They have been married for 21 years and have two very funny, active boys, ages 15 and 11. Steve and Amy found their first church home together at a Presbyterian church in Hanover County, where they first met Billy Craig. Billy baptized Jack and Finn as babies, and now, through God’s wonderful plan, have the joy of interacting with Billy as their youth pastor here in Harrisonburg. Amy is in her sixth year as a professor in the School of Music at JMU, after enjoying 16 years being a high-school band director outside of Richmond. Amy enjoys making music, running and, most importantly, spending time with her family and friends.
Cheryl Cassel loves the hospitable spirit she has found at First Presbyterian, a light that she hopes will shine on Court Square and beyond—especially, she says, as we reach out to the community and address the difficult issues of our time. There are many hurting people in the world, and Cheryl knows that Jesus is the answer to all pain. Recently, she read Hurting Yet Whole by Liuan Huska, a book that was helpful to her. As a deacon, Cheryl will be well positioned to put her experience into action. She and her husband, Tim, who is part of the church’s facilities team, have a son and a daughter. Both Cheryl and Tim who live in Harrisonburg are originally from Pennsylvania.
A member of First Presbyterian for more than 30 years, Anne loves the fellowship of the family of believers and is regularly inspired by our praise team. She is also grateful for the online ministry that serves those are unable to worship in person. Having grown up in a family of believers, Anne has seen God’s handiwork in her life, especially over the past two years as she experienced health challenges following Covid. She is encouraged daily by God’s promise in Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you where you go.” With a heart for service, Anne, who has three adult children, and lives in Harrisonburg with her husband J.C., hopes to grow in servant leadership as we pursue our mission. She believes that caring for our community shows love and builds hope.
After 12 moves, 13 houses, and five children, Nita Lord and her husband, Tom, moved from the Thousand Islands on the St. Lawrence River 20 years ago to settle in Bridgewater. Shortly after arriving, they found First Presbyterian and jumped right in. “What a blessing that was for us,” Nita says. “The pastors and leaders of this church have helped me understand and deepen my faith in Jesus Christ, not only through their sermons, but through Lila Gardner’s Ladies Bible Study, Jon’s challenge to read the Bible in one summer, and the intercessory prayer group.” Nita has served on Session and with the worship committee, congregational care committee, Kerus Quilters, and soup kitchen. She sees the importance of spreading God’s word through missionary work and planting churches. “The fact that we, as a church, are working to do this makes me love this church even more.”
God has always been a part of Sarah’s life, and she has always been a part of First Presbyterian. She grew up in the church, joining some 20 years ago, and later serving 10 years as a youth leader. Sarah relies on God for guidance in making many life decisions and is a firm believer in the power of prayer. She is excited about serving First Pres as a deacon and looks forward to enriching her relationships with other covenant partners and to contributing to building His Kingdom. Her greatest hope for our church is that we continue to be a vibrant church, attracting people of all ages and diversities and that we expand our outreach and engagement to the surrounding community—where Sarah went to school (JMU) and today is a professional woman working in property management with Riner Rentals.