A friend recently showed me the Gazette-Mail advertisement about the Speaker Series at our own University of Charleston (@UCWV). Since last night’s subject matter was on liberty, civil rights, and religious freedom, I felt compelled to go and am very glad I did.

Upon arriving early, it was nice to take a relaxing walk on the lawn behind Riggleman Hall. Memories of my wife’s own UC graduation in 2010 came flooding back. I recalled the pretty dress she wore that afternoon and the dresses worn by our daughters who had come to see their mommy graduate.  The trees are still there that my daughters tried to climb before and after the ceremony, but they were five years taller and stronger, just like our girls.

Last night’s venue was held upstairs in the Erma Byrd Gallery, a beautiful oval-shaped space that makes me glad to be West Virginian. The more than 150 paintings, all created by West Virginia artists, infuse the space with vision and creative spirit. The capitol building confidently shouts through the window from across the river, “West Virginia is a good place to live.” The title of my upcoming May sermon series, “Jesus Loves Charleston,” also loitered on the front porch of my mind.

Nearly 200 people filled the small space. The atmosphere was electrifying as people continued to stream in and more chairs had to be placed. Thankfully, the evening breeze kept the space quite cool.

I was surprisingly greeted by old and new friends. The faculty member who had navigated my wife’s entrance into UC’s school of nursing (in 2008) was there, along with other religious and government leaders. I even met a guy with whom I’ve been playing Monday night men’s basketball at Bible Center, whose wife works at UC. He found it humorous to tease me about nearly spraining my ankle in a game the the night before, the details of which I hope to forever conceal.

Dr. Ed Welch (@DrWelchUC) enthusiastically introduced our speaker for the evening, Rev. Frank G. Kirkpatrick, of Trinity College. Dr. Kirkpatrick was a 1960 Charleston High School graduate and captivated us by describing his involvement in the first two integrated classes in West Virginia at the height of the civil rights movement.

Dr. Kirkpatrick presented a delightful talk on the transformative role of the Christian community in culture. He compassionately argued against an attitude that rejects culture, or even one that tries to transcendently ignore culture. He reminded us that God invites us to influence our communities for good with faith and values.

I appreciated his honesty about the decline of religion in America. He expressed concern over the religious “Nones” in his classrooms–those who would indicate None when asked about their religious affiliation. However, he believes the tide can be turned with a revival of humble Christian presence in culture. If combined with the hopeful message of the gospel, I wholeheartedly concur with Kirkpatrick. His assessment about spiritual interest being on the rise was encouraging.

Dr. Kirkpatrick heightened my attentiveness by quoting evangelical stalwarts like John Winthrop, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Cotton Mather. I walked away from the evening reminded that Christians have an enduring history of strong community presence.

As I exited into the night through one of the small rotunda doors onto the back patio, I felt the Spirit’s invitation to pray for our city. God is at work in Charleston. May His work continue for decades to come!

For the city,

Pastor Matt Friend


Posted on Encouragement: For the City. For the Church.