2023 Annual Report

2023 Highlights


Worship is the heart of what we do as followers of Jesus. In 2023, we completed our nearly two-year walk through the Gospel of John, along with several other shorter sermon series. The average number of people joining us in person for worship each week was up more than 15 percent over the previous year.


We introduced several new seasonal Sunday-morning discipleship options. Between 75 and 95 Covenant Partners were involved in our various offerings, double the number of recent years.


The Grow initiative challenged us all to share Jesus with those who aren’t walking with Him. You identified 179 people you want to intentionally develop relationships with so that you can share Jesus. Others of you committed to praying to find that “One.” And you committed $1.5 million over the next three years to create space in our facility to reach others for Jesus. 

Children & Families

We are grateful that this year we hired Vanessa Manson as our director of children’s and family ministries. The team launched a new children’s Sunday school curriculum, hosted Summer JAM Camp and helped parents learn how to disciple their children at home.

Downtown Engagement

Our location in the heart of our community gives us many opportunities for engagement, including at events for college students and families. Hundreds of people interacted with our activities at downtown events that draw people to Court Square.

New Covenant Partners

We welcomed 25 new covenant partners and 11 Confirmation students into our family of faith in 2023. They are, in the words of one of our sermon series, “Being the Church.” We have loved watching them find their place in our church family.

2023 Financial Report



Team Reports

We asked all of our ministry teams and committees to tell us about 2023 and how they lived in to our mission of loving Jesus, boldly proclaiming truth, serving our neighbor and growing God’s kingdom.


If we were to sum up the year 2023 with one word, it would be “grow.”

First Pres spent seven weeks focusing on that word during Lent, and for good reason: We want to better carry out the Great Commission and grow God’s kingdom. The Grow initiative was about that goal.

During that initiative, we turned our gaze outward and considered the people in our lives who aren’t walking with Jesus. Week after week, we made the case that we all need to invest in those people’s lives to spark their curiosity and hopefully draw them into a relationship with Jesus.

You responded, committing to developing relationships with 179 people. Another 41 of you committed to praying to find that “One.”

Beyond the individual efforts, we also committed to fund three major priorities that we believe will help us corporately grow God’s kingdom. You committed to giving more than $1.5 million over the next three years to fund these major priorities: a church-planting incubator at 9 Court Square, a refreshed children’s wing, a more welcoming entrance to our facilities and access to the Courtyard from the current overflow seating area.

How to Pray

  • Pray for your “Ones” and the “Ones” of your fellow First Pres family. Pray that those relationships would deepen and that faith would be born through them.
  • As renovations begin, pray for safety for the workers and for progress to be on time or early.
  • Pray for the spaces and their purposes: For our children and families; for church planting that will happen from 9 Court Square; and for our welcome to be felt from the moment someone comes in the door.


Throughout 2023, we have gathered each Sunday for Christ-centered, Holy Spirit-inspired worship filled with biblical, expository preaching. We have seen growth in attendance in worship as we welcome new people and some who had not attended for several years.

We are excited by the growth potential and are praying about how to continue that in 2024. The Worship Committee looks forward to providing more opportunities to grow our congregation both numerically and spiritually.    

How You Can Pray

  • Pray for creativity in planning worship services that will also help grow God’s Kingdom.

Adult Discipleship

Discipleship is a priority at First Pres. Here are some ways we help Covenant Partners grow in their walk with Jesus:

  • We introduced several new seasonal Sunday-morning discipleship options. Between 75 and 95 Covenant Partners were involved in our various offerings, double the number of recent years.
  • The Women’s Bible study was relaunched. A huge thanks to Lila Gardner, who previously led this group for many years, and thanks to those who worked to relaunch the study.
  • With the help of Facilities, Wi-Fi capabilities were enhanced for classrooms.
  • Digital resources were upgraded or replaced to help classrooms and small groups better facilitate in-person and online gatherings.
  • The Library Resource Center on the second floor reopened at the end of 2023. Covenant Partners are welcome to visit, check out resources or just spend quiet time in the newly renovated and refreshed space. We have purchased many new resources, especially improving our offerings for discipleship, children and families. A big thank you to Margie Robison for the many years she’s lovingly devoted to upgrading the resources and the space.


Since our team’s mission is to help make disciples of Christ, we are hoping to build upon the success of the Fall 2023 classes so that more Covenant Partners have the opportunity to deepen their relationship with Christ. Our team will also be looking into finding or building a tool to help Covenant Partners identify how to take the next step in their faith journey. Stay tuned!       


How to Pray

  • That the Spirit will continue leading Covenant Partners to be part of Sunday-morning groups in order to deepen their relationship with Christ and others in the First Pres family.
  • That partners already attending classes will invite their “Ones” and others to classes, a worship service or other small groups.

College & Evangelism

The Courtyard provided us with a space for significant community engagement in 2023. We provided food, activities and giveaways during the annual Block Party in the Burg, when thousands of new JMU students come downtown for a block party. We also used the Courtyard for the live nativity, which drew in more people than in the past.

We hope to find other ways to use the Courtyard for outreach and community engagement and are thinking about how we can draw families in to something like a summer movie series.

We also provided lunch and finals care packages for college students who attend our college brunch each Sunday.        

We are excited about and celebrate baptisms that occurred this year.

Lastly, the committee is thinking about starting a program for skeptics or seekers to explore Christianity.

How to Pray

  • We would like to draw in more Covenant Partners who are interested in evangelism and community engagement
  • That we could draw in more college students
  • That we would see more professions of faith and baptisms

Children & Families

More than two-thirds of children who grow up in churches like ours will walk away from faith for a season, and many never return. This is not acceptable, so we are working hard on our ministries to children and families.

A major way we did that this year was the relaunch of the “Preparation for Worship” class, where children in grades three through five and their parents learned how to engage in worship, seeing that every detail of the order of worship reflects the Gospel story. The children saw that they are welcomed into worship, and they are called to participate. All children participated in worship through scripture and song.  

Here are some other highlights: 

  • An Easter Egg Hunt with wide outreach to the community, over 40 families staying to build a resurrection themed craft.  
  • New Gospel Project curriculum in Sunday school that provides Christ-centered lessons, helping children see how all of the Bible fits together to tell the story of the rescue and redemption we find in Jesus.  
  • Children made sure their “Bible Buddy” heard God’s word throughout the summer, as they completed Bible reading plans.  
  • We had 60 children attend Summer JAM (Jesus and Me), where they sang, played, created and heard the story of God’s STELLAR work in creation, and His great love for them.  
  • The Children’s Ministry Team sponsored events including a Pentecost Party where we celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit, and Craft Sunday and Gingerbread Sunday, where children and parents created treasures to enjoy and share.  

In 2024, the Children’s Ministry Team is excited about learning about Jesus and worshipping Him. We pray He is glorified in our homes and classrooms. We are so grateful for our teachers, and we hope and pray for more faithful servants to come alongside the children of the church and share the hope that we have.  

We are also looking forward to more multigenerational and family events, growing as disciples and providing a welcome to the greater community.  

How to Pray

  • Pray that children become life-long disciples, knowing Jesus as Lord, Savior and Friend.  
  • Pray that families will grow together in love for the Lord and service to their neighbors.  
  • Pray for our Children’s Ministry to be a blessing to the greater Harrisonburg community.  


A major highlight of 2023 was sending eight teens with three adult leaders to Kermit, West Virginia, in July to help that community through construction projects. That trip has led to a partnership for an annual Christmas drive by sending needed items to help teens in poverty have a Christmas.

Experiences like this help show our youth real-life situations and how God is working through them. We pray that our youth will see the hope that only Jesus brings to a fallen world.   

In addition to that experience, youth also were discipled through out-of-town retreats, weekly small groups during the school year, large group on Sunday nights and Sunday-morning discipleship time.

How to Pray

  • Continued connections between our youth and other Covenant Partners
  • Continued spiritual growth for youth and their leaders

Church Planting

The newest committee at First Pres, the Church Planting team seeks to obey the Great Commission by aiming to participate in planting a new church every five years. Here are some ways the team worked on that goal in 2023.

  • In January, Luke Parker, Director of Church Planting for ECO, visited First Pres to meet with the Church Planting Committee and elders, and preached and taught a Sunday School session on church planting. The meetings were well attended, and messages were equally well received.
  • A job description for a Church Planter was created that lays out the expectations for the position, the process and stages for church-planting at FPC.
  • Three individuals have expressed interest and were supported by FPC in pursuing the process for planting churches.
    • Wael Melek, who completed his M.Div. seminary studies at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond in 2023 and desired to pursue the possibility of planting an Arabic-speaking church in the Harrisonburg area. Wael went through the ECO Church Planter Assessment process, and it was discovered that church planting was not what he was best equipped for in ministry. He resides in Richmond with his family and is currently pursuing other ministry options.
    • Paul and Christine Seddon have expressed interest in becoming church planters and are currently completing the ECO assessment process.  Paul is also pursuing ordination as an ECO pastor, which would be required to be supported by the FPC Church Planting Committee.
    • Magdiel Gonzales has been pastoring a Spanish-speaking church, Esperanza De Vida in Harrisonburg and desired to partner with FPC and become part of ECO.  A Memorandum of Understanding was drafted by the Church Planting Committee and approved by the FPC Session to set forth a pathway for this to happen.  The leadership of Esperanza De Vida is choosing not to partner with FPC at this time, but Magdiel is going to pursue ordination in ECO and the ECO Church Planter Assessment process.
  • The Church Planting Committee has been exploring various models of church plants for the future.
  • There have been Prayer Walks done in the downtown area to start planting the seeds for a church plant at 9 Court Square after renovations are complete.
  • During the visit of Jimma, Ethiopia, elders, there were discussions with the Church Planting Committee about their experiences planting churches in their surrounding communities.

It has been exciting to see the growing interest in church planting with the leadership and Covenant Partners at First Pres during 2023. It is evident that God is at work as we have seen three very different potential church-planting situations arise in the last year.

In 2024, there will be opportunities for continued support for Paul and Christine Seddon as they pursue their interest in church planting and Paul’s ECO ordination. Magdiel Gonzales will need support to complete the church-planting assessment process through ECO.

Additionally, with the anticipated completed renovation of 9 Court Square in 2024, plans will need to be established on how best to use the facility as a church-planting incubator.

How to Pray

  • Pray that the Lord will continue to raise up those we are being called to serve on the Church Planting Committee and to lead or participate in reaching the lost through church planting.
  • Pray specifically for The Seddons as they continue to pursue a calling to church planting and for Paul to persevere through the process of ECO ordination.
  • Pray for guidance and support for Magdiel Gonzales as he seeks a call to church planting and pursue ECO ordination.
  • Pray for the Sunday School class that Paul Seddon will be teaching in the Spring and that it will be well attended by those who seek to further the Gospel in our community.

Global Missions

A highlight of 2023 was hosting Solomon and Chemeda, two elders from our sister church in Jimma, Ethiopia, who shared about God’s work there and how we can partner together in spreading the Good News of Jesus. Following their visit, the First Pres family responded to their needs by sending funds to purchase needed equipment and land for their ministries.

Also, because of your generosity, we: 

  • Helped three young women from JMU Cru reach the mission field in North Africa.
  • Assisted a local Afghan refugee family by providing material support and encouragement.
  • Supported a sports ministry/church planting initiative in Uzbekistan.
  • Helped a young woman return to ministry work with unreached people.
  • Assisted with training church leaders in Iran.
  • Provided a safe vehicle for our mission partners at Kerus in South Africa.
  • Supported over a dozen mission partners as they shared the Good News of Jesus around the world. 

In 2024, we are hoping to help our partners in Ethiopia by teaching English to high school students there. And we are excited to be hosting the Perspectives class from January-May, which will help disciple those who attend.

How to Pray

  • Wisdom in allocating financial resources to missionaries most effectively.
  • Guidance and creativity as we work to initiate more and better ways to engage the congregation with missionaries and work of Global Missions.
  • Physical and spiritual protection for all our missionaries including those working in particularly difficult places.

Local Missions

Our goal with local missions is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ by serving the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of our neighbors in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, and in special situations beyond those borders. The continued generosity of Covenant Partners made it possible to fund the planned budgeted community organizations and to respond to unexpected situations in a significant way using additional designated funds. Including the monthly local-missions recipients, more than 25 organizations received a total of $50,000 from the First Pres family.

Beyond funds, local missions efforts also included the weekly Soup Kitchen meal, which has been held at First Pres for 30 years. In January, we once again welcomed 40 guests through Open Doors, a rotating shelter for those experiencing homelessness. The local missions team also provided candy and WWJD bracelets for children participating in the downtown Skeleton Fest, when we sponsored a Trunk or Treat in our parking lot.

How to Pray

  • For creativity and ideas for a hands-on project for covenant partners in 2024
  • As unexpected needs and requests for financial assistance come to our attention, we desire wisdom in being good stewards of God’s blessings for FPC
  • Additional members of the local-missions committee


Many of us experience the First Pres facility on Sundays, but in 2023, our downtown church building hosted events multiple days throughout the week. In fact, more than 20 outside groups hosted events at the building at some point during the year, many of these for multiple times. Nine of those groups were hosted at First Pres for the first time.

Those who met in the First Pres building include Young Life ministries, local Christian schools and JMU campus ministries, as well as community groups, local police and even some day camps during the summer!

In that way, First Pres is a hub of our community. And that means keeping the facility in shape is important.

The biggest project for Facilities in 2023 was replacing the air conditioning unit that cools all parts of Showker Hall and the sanctuary. This involved taking out the old, two-part unit on top of Showker Hall and in the mechanical room, and then installing a one-part system located adjacent to the west exterior side of Showker Hall.

A second large undertaking for Facilities involved renovating Room 301 (the former youth room) on the third floor of the education wing. The room got a fresh coat of paint, new lighting, updated outlets/switches and new flooring. The final touches were put on this space with new curtains and comfortable chairs. The space will serve as an ideal venue for gatherings up to 40 people. It is being used on Sunday mornings for the high school class and is available at other times for various uses.

In 2024, the First Pres building will receive a $1.5 million renovation of the children’s wing, the old kitchen and fellowship hall (where the overflow space is) and the lobby and gathering areas near the sanctuary. This also includes a complete overhaul of the 9 Court Square property adjacent to the Courtyard to make space for future church plants.

The Facilities Team also has plans to continue renovating the third floor of the education building by updating the remaining classrooms on that floor and the men’s/women’s bathrooms and hallways.

How You Can Pray

  • Perseverance through the construction as folks and classrooms are possibly temporarily displaced and things are disrupted and generally a mess!
  • For additional team members for the Facilities Team.
  • For wisdom and vision relative to making the best use of our facilities when it comes to letting outside and internal groups schedule our various spaces.

Young Adults

Young Adult ministry had two main goals for 2023: awareness and connection.

First, we wanted to make Covenant Partners aware of current trends showing those age 20-35 no longer attending church after graduating from college or entering the work force. This led to “Growing Young,” in April, when Andy Jung of the Fuller Youth Institute presented “Stepping into Their Shoes” for First Pres to understand more about these challenges.

Second, we worked to connect young adults. Small groups were headed by three families so that young adults could connect with each other and others from First Pres. The “He Gets Us” campaign helped make connections to our community, even though most who responded were not young adults.

Our young-adult small group put together exam survival packs for First Pres’ out-of-town students for both Fall and Spring semesters.

The efforts have borne fruit. A GroupMe chat that started with eight young adults now has 26.

In 2024, we will work again on growing this ministry by continuing to focus on awareness and connection.

How You Can Pray

  • For more small-group leaders to host young adults
  • For service opportunities for young adults
  • To find creative ways to do evangelism with young adults in the community

Administration & Finance

The Administration and Finance Committee provides advice and assistance to church staff and committees in the day-to-day operations of the church, primarily in the areas of budget and finance.

This includes monitoring expenses and giving each month, working with Martin, Beachy & Arehart on an annual review of the church’s financial procedures, developing the annual budget, managing working funds, supporting the Investment Committee and Session and managing funds for the Grow initiative.