Interim pastor injects new enthusiasm

Ed Dawkins

FRONT ROYAL – Front Royal Presbyterian Church could begin worshipping in different ways in the near future under the guidance of its new interim pastor, the Rev. Edward Dawkins.

Dawkins gave his first sermon at the church last Sunday, and interim pastor search committee Chairman John Warburton said his high energy level was particularly infectious, speaking from a position near the congregation as opposed to in the pulpit and not using any notes.

“It was really a breath of fresh air for us and we had a lot of people there on Sunday, more than we usually do,” he said “People were excited…there were so many smiles at the end.”

On Dawkins’ first Sunday, he had prepared a table full of colorful glass fish made from scraps of stained glass – which is a longtime hobby of his. Warburton said he charged churchgoers to go “fishing for people” by keeping one fish for themselves and giving another to someone they bring to church with them.

Before leading service in the sanctuary, Dawkins said he traveled around and acquainted himself with about two thirds of the congregation. With community outreach programs like the Community Table weekly meal program and Backpack Buddies for students already in place, he said he didn’t particularly feel like he needed to bring anything new to the church.

“I’m just going to help augment the programs that they’re already doing because they’re attractive, and anyone who wants to help people, who wants to grow in their faith and who wants to know God a little bit better…they can do it here.”

His primary mission in service of the church is to help it grow “spiritually and numerically.” Thus far, the increase in last Sunday’s worship attendance has been encouraging on the numerical end. Looking forward, he said more communication and cooperation with other parts of the community could enhance outreach.

Dawkins has started planning to bring back contemporary services that will complement Front Royal Presbyterian’s more traditional existing services.

Warburton – an elder for the church – said that addition would help attract younger families, but Dawkins said both younger and older parishioners’ preference of one type of service over the other can sometimes be unexpected. Contemporary services had been held in the past, but Warburton said the leadership had left and the environment wasn’t quite right at the time.

“What I want to do is invest equally both in our traditional worship – and just continue to bring more and more faith and quality to that – and the same thing with the contemporary style,” Dawkins said. “We’re going to do excellent worship and make sure that it’s faithful, that it’s quality, that it’s accessible to all people. I think that’s going to make a difference.”

Before moving to Winchester, Dawkins served for around seven years as a senior pastor and head of staff at Trinity Presbyterian Church and then seven years as a parish associate at Vienna Presbyterian Church.

The Rev. Tom Rhyne, Front Royal Presbyterian’s previous pastor, announced his retirement in June 2015 after serving the parish for 25 years. Warburton said the church formed the search committee around July in preparation for when he left in September.

Despite no lack of candidates for interim pastor, Warburton said the committee was specifically on the lookout for people who wouldn’t simply serve as “caretakers” of the church.

“We wanted to hire somebody who would not only be a caretaker…but somebody who would move us in a new direction,” he said.

According to Warburton, the church could decide to hire Dawkins as pastor, but Dawkins said he could see himself seeking out another head of staff or senior pastor position. For his time at Front Royal Presbyterian, he said he’s working with members of the congregation and their “spiritual gifts” to increase the impact and visibility of their work with the community.

“Everybody has got a part in this church and in this community, but we have to give them voice,” he said.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com