pastor prepares to leave Smithville First Christian Church | Community life
SMITHVILLE — The Smithville First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregation will bid farewell to their pastor this weekend, but not before they offer another sermon.
Reverend Lara Blackwood Pickrel said her final sermon will be titled “Let Your Light Shine” and it will be backed by Scripture in Matthew 5:13-16.
“We’re really going to focus on encouraging the church to be the church right now,” she explained. “During the interim and no matter how long it takes for the church to find a new pastor, they can still do a great ministry.”
Pickrel calls the decision to take over the Hillcrest Christian Church on Quivira Road in Overland Park, Kansas “bittersweet.”
“In many ways, I’m sad,” she said. “However, I am also thrilled with the move and the decision for the whole family. My husband is already splitting his time at two churches in this area, St. Andrew Christian and Overland Park Christian Church. The bittersweet part is that I love these people so much. They are the best of people.
Pickrel praises the congregation.
“This congregation has personally stood by me when I have been through some of the worst and best times,” she said. “They supported us when my father passed away and then helped us raise money for our adoption. They know how to love their pastor well because they know how to love themselves.
Pickrel celebrated his eighth birthday in Smithville on January 2. His journey to pastoral leadership began around the year 2000. However, like many pastors, the call came early.
“I was about 14 and going to church camp,” she explained. “I spent many years negotiating with God to be something other than a pastor. I was thinking maybe a professor of religious studies. However, I love my calling now.
She attended Texas Christian University, majoring in religious studies, then continued her seminary studies at Brite Divinity School and Phillips Theological Seminary. She earned her doctorate in ministry at Phillips in 2019. Her official ordination was in 2009.
Her time in Northland began in 2009 at Hilllside Christian Church on Vivion Road, where she served until December 2013.
“I’m really proud of the relationships, especially with the community in Chacraseca, Nicaragua,” she said. “The women of our church paid for a nursing student to go to college and return to serve her community.”
Pickrel also praises the children and young families who are shaping the next generation of the church.
“I’m really proud of how the churches handled a major gift and created policies,” she said. “We received this gift with joy and added to our community action and helped to create the Stephen Ministry, which is a means of training lay people in one-on-one peer relationships. The training is fantastic, but an investment.
Under Pickrel’s pastoral direction, the church purchased new equipment for online worship.
“Although the past two years have not been easy, we have all stuck together,” she said of the impact of the pandemic.
One of the elders, Cheryl Merideth, praised Pickrel’s ingenuity in keeping the church running during the pandemic.
“It really proved how good our minister was at keeping us connected,” she said. “Lara has taken Zoom classes and board meetings as well as Bible studies. She embraced technology. I am so grateful to have had her to guide us. She is a gift.
Merideth said the elders had learned to appreciate the text group where messages could be shared about who needed visits or prayers.
“Lara is very prayerful and inspiring,” she said. “Her messages give me hope and she makes me feel like there is hope in any situation. Hillcrest has a great minister.
Pickrel said she would leave details of how to embrace the congregation to the next pastor.
“They are capable and called people,” she said. “They are passionate about their church and their community. Find out what they have to offer. With a 178 year old church, the roots are deep and definitely intertwined. Follow these roots and see the connections. It can also be fun.
“What a privilege it has been for the past eight years to pastor and serve them and be a part of their lives,” she said. “I’m so excited for whoever takes this church because they get a church gem.”