It was a monumental Session meeting this month.  We culminated what has been about a three year process.  It started with a small task force that was commissioned to develop a first draft of our church's core values and purpose statement. Core values describe the best of an existing culture for a particular organization.  They help define how the group does what it does.  The purpose statement describes why the particular organization exists in a way that inspires and guides its work.

     The task force came back to the Session with some superb work, but it got sidelined because of some other more pressing matters in the church. In the beginning of 2013 we dusted off their work and began thinking about a process for the Session to grapple with it. In May of 2013 we (Session) moved that work to the top of our agenda.  We spent hours deliberating about who we've been, and who we are, and who we want to be. We dove deeply into important words like gospel, leadership, mission, community, membership, redemption, transformation, unity, legacy, and vision. In January, at the congregational meeting, we asked for your input on core values that you have experienced.  Your feedback was wonderfully helpful. Since then we've been refining how we would describe our core values so that they could be accurate and easy to remember.  They also needed to be connected with a prayerfully discerned, biblically based, and inspiring purpose statement. This was the primary work of our recent Session retreat.  Finally, at our May 2014 Session meeting, we voted to approve our purpose statement and core values.

     I couldn't have been more grateful to the Lord for His work through this leadership community of Session members.  This wasn't a quick process of finding some new words for the web-site that we'll soon forget about; this was a painstaking work of discerning together God's will for these defining statements.  I believe wholeheartedly that God will use this work and these words to guide us into His future.  And it's already happening.  The Community Building Initiative, which you've been hearing about for the past several weeks, is deeply connected with our core values and purpose statement.

     So, now what?  This Sunday, during the education hour, please join us for the First Pres Forum in the Fellowship Hall.  We'll begin to lay out the core values and first phase of the Community Building Initiative.  Next week (June  8) I'll talk about the purpose statement.

     I know that some of you are serving during that hour (thanks so much for serving Christ in His church).  So, we're working on a way to record it, and make it available to those who can't be there. Plus, I'll continue to address these matters during worship on Sunday mornings.

     Here's what you can do to prepare for that conversation. First, pray.  Ask God to have His way with FPC Fresno. Thank God for His work through our Session and His call on our lives together.  Surrender yourself afresh to Him.  Second, spend a few minutes thinking about these questions: Why does FPC Fresno exist?  What results are we after for God's Kingdom?  What does the Bible say about the mission or purpose of the local church? How might we best structure ourselves to be effective for that purpose?  

     Beloved, these are exciting times. God is doing a work of healing and renewal in our church. I am so grateful to Him and to you for calling me to serve with you in this particular season of First Pres Fresno.  Let us trust in God together for His will to be done in us.


Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

Dear First Pres,

     First, this Sunday during the education hour I'm starting a new thing called Leadership Matters.  Leadership Matters will be an intermittent class during the education hour that focuses on various aspects of one of my favorite topics: Christian leadership.  Remember, leadership is something that we all do together; it happens in our church, in your homes, and in your workplaces.  Thus, I believe it is a relevant topic for everyone.

     Second, I'm very excited about the Community Building Initiative that a group of Session, staff, and lay leaders are developing.  Here's a reminder of what we've told you so far: we're going to a one service schedule this summer (starts June 15, worship at 9:30), and there is an all church event on the evening of June 15 called Pie in the Park (at Woodward Park). The next bit of information is that we want you to plan on sticking around after worship during the summer for some very important (and fun) community building gatherings. We'll be talking more specifically about these gatherings in the weeks to come.

     Third, I'll be spending some more time talking about our summer plans on June 1 and 8 during the education hour.  On those Sundays I'll be facilitating another new intermittent experience called First Pres Forum.  The Forum will be an opportunity for church leaders to connect with the congregation about the life of the church.  This first iteration (on June 1 & 8) will be a chance for the congregation to hear and interact with the work Session has done on our Core Values and the Community Building Initiative.

     Church, I'm encouraged by all that Christ is doing in our midst.  Engaging together in His work is the most important thing we can do.  Each of these 'important things' I've mentioned is designed to help us do that work in one accord.  May it be so among us.

Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

     There's a new face smiling at First Presbyterian Church, and that face is mine!  Hello!  My name is Ataloa Woodin.  On May 1st, I officially came on staff with your church as the new "Administrative Assistant to Pastoral Staff," which means: I am here to give much needed support to your Senior and Associate pastors, Jeremy Vaccaro and Lana Roberts.  I must say, I cannot imagine finding two more steady, mature, and fun people to come alongside.  You have wonderful pastors!  On top of that, these two have obviously been working very, very diligently on your behalf.  I can attest to that - because since I've been here, I've been working hard trying to keep up with the work on both of their plates!  

     I'm so very glad that you have listened to your staff, and put legs to your words of support.  You have provided hope for them that they actually can get the job completed well.  You have provided encouragement that there really will be some time for their families and for their own refreshment.  You have given them space and time to finish important projects, like a doctoral dissertation, for instance!  Thank you.  Your active caring makes a difference. 

     A little bit about my background...Like you, in the course of my life, I've worn quite a few hats.  I am the 3rd and last child of my missionary, pastoring, educating, and farming parents.   I have worn the bridal veil of marriage now for 32+ years alongside my most entertaining, faithful, and wonderful husband, Nevin.  Together, we have been the most blessed parents of two lovely young women: Alana Woodin and Debra Wirth.  I have been a college student with a psychology major, and a seminary student with a pastoral care major, receiving a Master of Divinity.  Professionally, I served as a caseworker for over 3 years with a Big Brother/Big Sister program in Arizona.  I've done per diem hospital chaplaincy, administrative assistant work, customer service management, and-the largest part of my career-I've served in a Fresno church as Pastor of Adult Ministries for over 7 years, and then as Senior Pastor for 10 years.  I love the Lord and His people.  He and you are my greatest passion!

      Having served in the pastorate, I know how very important good administrative support is, along with a heart that loves God and loves His people.   Caring and competent, faithful and friendly, honest and honoring, following through and following up-all are important! 

     Personally, I enjoy music, keyboards, extended family, playing board games with friends, animals, God's beautiful nature in mountains and seascapes.  I enjoy the spontaneous, and love to plan for times to be spontaneous!  I can be serious, and I can be among the corniest.  Fun, laughter, and joy are things I do.  Hopefully, we'll do those together.  I am a passionate lover of life!

     It is my goal to serve our Lord well by serving your pastors, your Session, and your Deacons- scheduling meetings , setting up for meetings,  taking calls, and taking care of those things I can to make things work smoothly at FPC and for your pastors.  If you call for Pastor Jeremy, you might just hear my voice smiling on the other end of the line.  Please introduce yourself and tell me a little about you!!  I am looking forward to meeting you and serving the Lord with you.  As a previous pastor myself, I will do all I can to listen to what you need, help with that, and relieve your pastoral staff of any "extras" that I possibly can!  If you find something I have missed at some point, please let me know.  Your grace in my humanness will be so appreciated, as will your honesty, since we're all on the same team.

     As a community of faith, we can serve one another, serve the Lord, and serve our pastors.  I am looking forward to this with you! 


Thank you for welcoming me to FPC.  Our God is good!








Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

Dear First Pres,

This last week I preached on the way the first church was called to be a witnessing community for Christ.  The passage was Acts 1:1-11 in which Jesus says, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  This was their primary calling as a community; it was the way they were to offer their lives up to the Lord as living sacrifices of praise.  And, it turns out, it is also our primary calling at First Presbyterian Church, Fresno – as it is for every Christian community.  To do that effectively, we need to make sure that we are also a worshipping community.  It’s our worship that keeps us grounded in the truth of the Gospel, namely that God has come to us in Christ for the redemption of all the effects of sin and brokenness.  When we stay grounded in the good news of Christ’s redemption we are changed and compelled to be witnesses of that good news to others.  Yet, our tendency is often to lean so much into being a worshipping community that we stop short of living that primary call as a witnessing community.

The question I didn’t much address in Sunday’s sermon is this: how do we act as a witnessing community?  How does it look?  Pastor Timothy Keller put together a great study – one that everyone in the church should go through at some point – called Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything.  In Session 5 he talks about this call to be a witnessing community.  I’m borrowing these next three points from that session.

First, we act as a witnessing community by speaking about the Gospel.  In other words, we witness by talking to others about Jesus and the good news of his work in life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  Every one of us who has surrendered our lives to Jesus took those first steps of faith because someone told us about Jesus.  We are called to continue to talk about Jesus to others. You don’t have to have all the answers. Witnesses are those who talk about what they have seen, heard, and experienced.  What have you seen, heard, and experienced with Jesus that you could share with others?

Second, we act as a witnessing community by loving our neighbors.  It was such a privilege to join the Meadors family a few weeks ago to serve their neighbors.  It gave me the opportunity to see the way that the Meadors have loved their neighbors so well.  I was inspired.  The work that we came to help Floyd and Molly do around their house was one of many acts of God’s loving kindness that they have experienced through the Meadors.  One of the ways we act as witnesses of the Gospel is to embrace our neighbors with God’s love.

Third, we act as a witnessing community by living out the transformation of the Gospel in our own lives.  Tim Keller says, “There is a credibility that comes if you are consistent in your behavior; there is a credibility that comes if people see the gospel transforming you.”  How is it that Christ is changing you?  Do others experience that?

But here’s the bottom line about each of these three ways we act as witnesses of the Gospel: they are most effective in community.  In fact, they are dependent on community.  Sometimes, I think, we frame Christian community in a perspective that it exists primarily for the building up of Christians.  Of course, it does exist to build Christians up in their faith.  But let us not forget that its primary call is to be a witness to the world of God’s incredible redemption through Christ.

God has given you the Holy Spirit to empower you to be His witnesses. I pray that these three descriptions of how it happens will help you live into that empowerment today.

Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

     I’m trying not to overstate it, but I think last Sunday’s message was one of the more important messages I’ve preached at First Pres.  I tried to help us understand again why Christ instituted His Church.  It wasn’t as if Jesus had to come up with a plan for His followers once he realized that He was going to ascend to Heaven. It wasn’t as if Jesus thought, “Well, now that I have started this new Christian Community, I guess I should figure out what its purpose will be.”  Rather, Jesus came to live out the mission of God.  That mission – a mission of redemption and reconciliation – continues now through the Holy Spirit empowered Church.  The mission has a church; that mission is the reason the church exists. The Church’s part of that mission is to disciple-ize.  We do that by being disciples and developing disciples who are living out the whole Gospel.

     Why is this such a big deal?  It’s a big deal because it reminds us why First Presbyterian Church of Fresno exists and what it is that we’re supposed to be doing.  Reminders are important. They help us to stay on task; they help us to stay on mission; they help us to stay dependent on the Holy Spirit.  This reminder helps us to guard against allowing our church to become solely a community of care.  Caring for each other is important, but it’s not most important.  Imagine if those first disciples, that first church, would have made caring for each other their primary aim; they probably would have remained a tiny, well-loved church.  This reminder helps us to guard against simply hoping that others will come join us.  Imagine if those first disciples, that first church, would have simply started holding worship services with their fingers crossed that non-believers would come to find out about Jesus; the book of Acts would have been much less exciting.  But that first church didn’t do that.  They took on Christ’s mission, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and began to turn the world upside down.  They didn’t stay in a holy huddle hoping that others would find their way in; they split up and moved out to live and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus. 

     Has the call or commission for the Church changed?  Was that Great Commission of Jesus simply for that first generation of disciples? No.  Church researcher, Thom Rainer says, “Thriving churches have the Great Commission as the centerpiece of their vision”.  If First Presbyterian Church of Fresno is going to thrive, we must be a church on mission.  That’s what this sermon series, “First Church,” is all about.  In the midst of this sermon series, I’ll be unveiling an important initiative for the summer that we’re praying and expecting will help us to take the next step in living out God’s mission.

     Church, God is at work among us; He is shaping us for His mission.  What a privilege it is to participate in His awesome work!  I’m so grateful that He has called me to be part of this First Church.


P.S. Thought you might want to see again one of the quotes I used on Sunday.  “We must change our ideas of what it means to develop a disciple, shifting the emphasis from studying Jesus and all things spiritual in an environment protected from the world, to following Jesus into the world to join him in his redemptive mission” (Reggie McNeal).

Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor