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Traveling Extravaganza and the End of Advent: A Long Due Update
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”-Augustine
When I wrote my last update on August 1st, 2022, I marveled at the moving symphony of creation. We explored the Pacific Northwest, where we vacationed for 17 days. There was a week-long conference in-between, but the whole shebang felt like a blessed experiment in goodness.
As I pick up the keyboard where I left off, we are days from Christmas, and the current Pensacola weather is somewhere between miserable and Portland. Rumors are we are expecting snow early next week. The rainy-dreary combo adds more drama in these final days of Advent. Time keeps moving. And speaking of time, I ended my speaking ventures last night with an interview for a radio station in Tennessee about the Church and time, a topic that has consumed much of my writing and speaking these previous two years. Time is a many-splendored thing. It moves with little conservatism toward the next thing.
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I should note that this Perspectivalist should have gone out long ago, but I kept delaying it because there was always something else ahead. So, I kept saying, “When this is over, I will sit down and ponder anew what the almighty did do.” But alas, here we are at the precipice of Christmas Eve, and this little light of mine is tardy to shine.
One of the unexpected events in my busy itinerary was the offer to pray at the National Conservatism Conference in Miami, Fl. The whole thing came by the invitation of Dr. Clifford Humphrey and Dr. Yoram Hazony. My role was simple: to invoke on the conference's last day. I wrote about the event here. But the most striking element of the gathering was the numerous friendships I formed in the space of three days that had and are having repercussions in some of my more public work. Little did I know that those few days would stir so much controversy, especially as it pertained to Stephen Wolfe’s book, “The Case for Christian Nationalism.” There is a lot to digest in this ongoing discussion, but should the opportunity open for me to pray again next year, representing a distinctly Reformed Protestant vision, I’d take it with honor.
20th Anniversary Festivities
My return from Miami was quickly poured into celebrating our 20th anniversary as a church. We had planned this whole thing down to an art, and the dance and Psalm-singing on Friday, the banquet on Saturday, and the worship on Sunday were among my life's three most significant days. We tested the capacity of our building as we put almost 380 people inside during worship, but the joy was so astounding that folks overlooked minor logistical sins.
Pastor Douglas Wilson came from Moscow with his dear wife, Nancy, and they brought benedictions in word and deed to the saints at Providence. It’s difficult to minimize the glories of that celebration. When the last pieces of the event ended on Sunday, September 18th, the session members looked at each other, and satisfaction prevailed on our faces. God was supremely kind!
43rd Year of Life
The church celebration led to a flurry of emotional moments as I turned 43. Thoughtful gifts and some hearty singing surrounded that joyful day. Still, there was also a sense of soberness that I kept surpassing my dear father in years of life and pastoral ministry. The entire 43rd was transitioned most eloquently by a dear friend who noted that of the youngest pastors in my denomination, I am the oldest—cheers for 43rd birthdays and longevity in pastoral ministry.
Those events, plus baptisms, weddings, and some interviews, were the prequel to the insanity of traveling that occurred between October 10th to December 15th. Let me offer a summary of my doings during this period.
In mid-October, we traveled to Greenville, SC, where we gathered with the hospitable saints of Christ the King Church. We were overwhelmed by their sweetness. Our family felt that domestic tranquility even though we were far removed from the comfort of our habits. The purpose of the trip was to address men and their sons at the Hall of Men conference in Sakanaga, SC. The gathering was robust with singing, food, festivities, and many late nights of theological discourse and fatherly wisdom. I hope to return sometime in the future to enjoy that brotherhood.
The conference ended on Saturday evening, and Sunday morning, we joined as men for a commissioning of sons to godliness and fruitfulness. From there, we hurried back to town for morning worship, where I expanded my liturgical vocabulary fairly quickly in baptism, sermon, and anointing of oil—all in one day’s worth. I was immensely grateful for the work of God in Greenville in that growing and energetic congregation.
When Sunday waned with whiskey and song, we woke up early to travel to Nashville, TN, for the most anticipated presbytery meeting in my 14 years as a pastor. I traveled with some of the men of Christ the King in some stunning scenery. Driving long-distance with dudes is a thing to behold. The fellowship and even the stops were full of surprises and camaraderie.
The reason for the anticipation of presbytery was that this was the first time in the history of the CREC that four men were examined for ordination, and another was being examined as a transfer to our presbytery. I was re-elected for a three-year term as Presiding Minister, which meant I could appoint examining committees for all candidates and lead the agenda for the day.
In God’s kindness, all the candidates did exceptionally well and were unanimously approved for ordination. And to make things even cheerier, we ended in good timing, and everyone could get on the road or fly back to their destination. I was honored to participate in this display of piety and theological soberness. These servants have all been duly ordained and are serving their congregations well. Our presbytery now has over 15 congregations and a few others seeking membership or mission status.
For me, personally, there was one examination that was quite meaningful. It was the examination of now Rev. Evandro de Rosa. Evandro was a young man whom I had poured much encouragement many years ago, and seeing the fruits of his labor in the examination was an experience I will not forget.
My congregation planted this body of believers in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2015. We had hopes that we would establish the first CREC congregation in South America. Yet, we needed a qualified man to take this small body through word and sacrament each Lord’s Day. Evandro’s study paid off, and he was eloquent and theologically stimulating in his answers. I am certain he left an aroma of confidence on that presbytery floor, even though he was working via Zoom. I pray he will bear many years of ministry in South Brazil.
That happy exhaustion was followed by a quick trip back home to Pensacola, only to pack up again and head to South America for the ordination of Evandro. The flight to Brazil was tiresome, but the arrival offered plenty of reasons to boost strength. We had prayed for this day for a long time, and each bite of steak and every drop of beer was a reminder that God was for us.
The Sunday of ordination was one of those moments for the history books. The hotel conference room where the saints meet was completely full with two additional guests from the United States, including my old partner in crime, Joffre Swait. The ceremony was sublime, and watching Evandro’s mother cry as she greeted him after ordination was a dream fulfilled; in fact, a dream she had since he was a young boy.
Like good Brazilians, the ordination party was saturated with fine meat and drinks. If I told you we ate from midday to 10 pm, would you think I am exaggerating? No, sir! We sampled and sampled, and then we sampled and sampled with ample and ample. The evening ended with one of my renditions of Frank Sinatra’s My Way, which rocked the house composed of weary and gastrologically comatose attendees.
My time was still not done in the land of churrascarias.
A few of us traveled the next day to visit a candidate church looking into the CREC in Santa Catarina. It was that trip that gave me a distinct understanding of what Americans mean when they say van and what Brazilians mean. Americans mean something large and spacious, where legs can be stretched and chiropractors are not needed. Brazilians mean minuscule instruments of pain. So, we packed six of us on this trip, and the rest is history; a history of lower back pain, but more importantly, humorous stories to last a decade.
I hope to lay out more information on this church plant in the future.
Alaska’s Christmas Before Christmas
The trip back to the U.S. convinced me that nutritional sanity is crucial in these marathon traveling experiments. I maintained a reasonably impeccable eating plan while away, and the concern of any sickness vanished. I knew this consistency would be significant because the 70-80 Fahrenheit temperatures in Brazil would be radicalized on my next trip.
My arrival back to North America consisted of greeting the saints of Providence with a spectacular worship service and the commissioning of a church plant and then bidding the saints adieu to leave with my wife to Anchorage, Alaska. A few nights on my bed and then to the purified land north of the Pacific Ocean.
When we arrived in Anchorage, the snow season had officially dawned. It was the first snow of the season, and the land was slowly but surely saturated by white powder from the sky. I have described it as “heaven’s decoration.” What were once obtuse bushes were now snow cones of beauty for everyone to witness.
When we arrived at the hotel, we opened the curtains only to reveal this sublime snowfall amid the darkness of the evening. It was a fairy tale, and we just wandered our eyes into the snowy background like eucharistic beings.
The history conference is the child of Rev. Jack Phelps, an iconic leader in the CREC, who has been pastoring for close to half a century and has more stories than the combination of ten humans. Jack is a fascinating figure, and when he invited me to come and speak, I would have been a fool to decline.
My talks on Bonhoeffer, Augustine of Hippo, and Augustine of Canterbury were well received. These talks were distillations of my doctoral dissertation. It was encouraging to use five years of work for a general audience.
Of course, the darkness lasts quite a bit longer, and I confess it was strange to deliver a lecture at 9 am in absolute darkness. Nevertheless, the inhabitants of that fair land were accustomed to it. Their sweet hospitality to my wife and me was a thing of beauty. This is especially kind since when I travel for conferences, they generally put me to work, but in this case, we had plenty of downtimes to explore and enjoy the stunning beauty of the North Pole.
Local Churchiness and World Cup
My wife will tell you that before I leave for any trip, I am already longing to be back in Pensacola. The older I get, the more local I get, but I really think that my attachment to my flock keeps getting more paternal as the days go by, and I can’t wait to be alongside them singing and behind a pulpit preaching. Nevertheless, my wife will also tell you that when I arrive in a new place, I get a sociological high. Meeting new people and engaging in their stories is enough to energize me for days. My time in Alaska was divine, but returning to Pensacola meant a host of local responsibilities, including more weddings and baptisms and that little event that transpired every four years watched by a meager 5/8th of the entire planet.
Yes, the World Cup: the place where dreams go to die. The last time my beloved Brazil won was in 2002, and I was in Chicago watching the game at 3 am. This time, I was under the distinct impression that Greek gods are immortal, but then Croatia came along and knocked the giants down just to prove Neymar and company could bleed. And man, the bleeding was profound. Listening to social commentary in Portuguese moments after our historic defeat was like listening to a requiem in E minor. It was like the Queen of England had died. No. It was like Pele had died. No. It was like samba died in the streets and steakhouses. That is far more devastating. Another pitiful World Cup, and I will be nearing my 50th in another four years when North America hosts the greatest sport on planet earth. The picture below is the height of my joy in the World Cup, which, as you can tell, was the single moment when my heart rate was stable.
If I said my children and wife cried after our defeat, I would be telling the absolute truth. I took it like a man and waited to cry on my way to a counseling session cause that’s what men do—they cry in their cars, alone.
To California: the land of Newsom and Theocratic Remnants
But before the crying, my wife and I got on the plane in early December for another long trip to San Francisco. This is our second year there, and they have not failed to provide the best—space, food, friendship, lectures, and intellectual stimulation.
The Center for Cultural Leadership, led by the indefatigable P. Andrew Sandlin has become a headquarters for crucial and timely wisdom. This year we had the largest gathering in its history. The symposium style allows for talks and a friendly exchange of questions and ideas. The thing is timed perfectly, and the result is a well-crafted feast.
Being in the same room with David Bahnsen, Jeff Ventrella, Brian Mattson, Sandlin, and others is to experience a movement of goodness. These men have a holy endeavor to shape conversations and influence culture. They may not have the power of some, but the long-lasting impact of CCL is something the left needs to consider as an immediate threat. And I am honored to be a Senior Fellow of such a prestigious group of thinkers.
Additionally, it is a joy to meet people whose writings have shaped me and who have been shaped in some small way by my labors. I am always humbled to see how far my work goes in this social media age.
Our trip still was not over. We traveled to Sacramento, where we enjoyed worship with the saints of the Church of the King pastored by the delightful Rev. Paul Liberati, whose work is bearing good fruit and whose congregation is an absolute joy. We made some wonderful new friends and hope our paths meet again, perhaps in Florida this time.
One last hurrah…
Now by this time, you may think that I have reached the apex of travel miles. By my count, I think I had slept in 10-15 different beds. The good news is that when we returned to the South, I finally had a few weeks to content myself with normalcy. Further, the flying extravaganza had ended, and rumors are that a few missed me. I planted my feet down in Florida, on the rainy ground, and went to work.
But the normal gives way to a little more traveling—this time to see my dear friends in Monroe, LA. Also referred to as a home away from home. Those folks have seen enough of me these last 14 years to want their money back. Nevertheless, their kindness is too deep to let me go.
I was invited to do a talk to the high school class of the Geneva Academy, whose students I have the privilege of teaching during the Summer months at the Jubilate Music Camp. But this was the first time I addressed them in their natural abode. I did a talk on Bonhoeffer and friendship, and the Q&A was insightful. Such a fine group! Kudos to Mr. Lang and company!
In the evening, I delivered a talk at their Donor Banquet. I raised the provocative question, “What kind of enemies do you want for your children when they leave the Geneva Academy?” I hope their collection of enemies increases and the donors see the cause as one of those true causes of worthy repute in our day. This is the time to support distinctly biblical institutions, and Geneva is one of those rare places that catechize in courage.
The special blessing was to spend time with my dear friend, Rev. Steve Wilkins, whose voice has shaped me in so many ways. He needs our prayers these days as he fights cursed cancer. We pray that his life would extend for ages and his southern smile would be prolonged on this earth.
I am now back in my homeland to rehearse my body with the finishing touches of Advent. In this last week, we have Vespers, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. Three sermons/homilies to deliver and a host of ecclesial activities surrounding these things.
As you can tell, I took too long to write, and now I have the dreadful task of encouraging you to reach these final words. What’re 3,000 words among friends, anyway?!
What I hope to do in the new year is to keep these updates to every month. It will help keep the perspectivalist reasonable in word count and more active for the 100 new subscribers in the last three weeks. I don’t know how I have compiled so many readers, but your readership is a beautiful kindness. I hope to make it worth your time.
Things to Come
If you have read thus far, I want to put on your radar my upcoming speaking engagement at the Christendom Lectures in early January. I will be doing one talk and participating in the Q&A on January 10th. I have always looked forward to one day being a part of what once was the Auburn Avenue Pastor’s Conference, also known as Federal Vision territory.
My talk on Ecclesial Conservatism is part of a series of theses I offered Theopolis some time ago and hope to develop, especially in light of the recent brouhaha over Christian Nationalism. I will seek to offer a new update in early 2023.
If you have come this far, please ask for a free pint. It’s on me!
Merry Christmas to you all!
Uriesou T. Brito
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