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Finding Carla

In the fall of 2006, GPPC’s Pastor Nominating Committee set up a conference call with a candidate who sounded promising: one Carla Pratt Keyes, an associate in a church on the outskirts of Atlanta. In hindsight, we wish we’d set up a video-chat, but then again, some might say God meant for our first conversation with Carla to be audio-only…

The interview was going well, as we recall. Good questions and thoughtful answers flowing in both directions, both parties searching for a fit, listening for a Call. Carla was talking from her home office and we were huddled around a speakerphone in Richmond. It was early evening.

Then we heard background noises. A mini-ruckus. Something going on at Carla’s end, and we couldn’t see what. Carla laughed. Then she apologized. Then came the sound of a door closing, and again she said, “I’m so sorry,” but her voice didn’t sound sorry. She was clearly trying to muffle some giggles. She explained that her young son had run from the bathtub straight into her office, naked, and her husband had chased him with a towel, eventually catching him and carrying him out.

In that moment, everyone on the PNC wanted to meet this Carla face to face.

Before that, we’d listened to recordings of her sermons. We’d heard a fresh, new approach to preaching. We knew her C.V. and had read articles she’d written. But it was the phone call that brought her to life and into our hearts. She was so genuine. So honest. So down to earth. And her husband bathed the children? We loved it!

We arranged for Carla to visit Richmond, and as is the custom, the prospective candidate preaches in a church other than the one considering her. Southminster Presbyterian agreed to host Carla, and we drove down to meet her. Now, truth be told, although the PNC’s stated mission is to listen for a Call, some among us admitted to a practical, perhaps skeptical, attitude: GPPC had a job opening and the PNC’s task was to fill it. But Carla changed us. That winter morning, she delivered a message that was clear and concise, and also quite challenging. Somehow she captured the very essence of Christianity, and her words brought us to tears. No longer did GPPC’s opening feel like a job. It felt like a Call. God was guiding us. And afterward, Isabel Rogers summed up the sermon by declaring, “I would say that was an A+.”

New members at GPPC won’t remember Izzy Rogers, as she died in 2007, but getting an A+ from her meant a lot. She’d been a professor at what was formerly the Presbyterian School of Christian Education, and she had a spirit and intellect that would light a room. Between Izzy and Carla, there was a wonderful chemistry—a palpable sense of joy and excitement. Izzy had been excluded from a career in the pastorate because of her gender, and now, here was Carla, about to live out a call that Izzy would have cherished.

When we brought Carla to visit GPPC, she didn’t ask to see the office. She wanted to spend time alone in the sanctuary. She noticed our welcoming statement and was eager to hear how we lived it. She talked about setting out one empty chair at Session meetings at her church—a chair in honor and support of an openly gay congregant whose sexual orientation precluded him from service as an elder. We learned how much she valued the process of trying to reconcile with church members who disagreed with her or with each other.

Soon after her visit, we extended a Call to Carla in writing and scheduled a conference call as a follow-up. We offered to give her a week to think it over, but Carla said no, she didn’t need a week. She’d also felt a Call, and she accepted on the spot. She would begin at GPPC in May of 2007. The PNC was elated! The jubilation we shared truly felt like a gift from God.

This month GPPC celebrates ten years with Carla as our pastor. We don’t take for granted her inspirational sermons, her way of bringing the varied elements of worship into a unified whole, her excitement about new approaches to ministry (think NEXT Church), her calm presence, her faithful witness to Christ, her ability to listen… we could go on and on. Ten years. How we’ve grown in our understanding of God’s Call to our church and to us individually!

Ten years of ministry here. Thank you, Carla Pratt Keyes. Thank you!

GPPC’s 2005-06 Pastor Nominating Committee

Edward Dail, Randy Hallman, Lisa Harr, Sterling Lloyd, Anne Westrick, Eleanor Workman, and in absentiaSteven Dalle Mura, Ellen Goodpasture, and Isabel Rogers

Telling Our Stories is grateful for Carla’s ongoing ministry, and for the PNC’s willingness to knit together  recollections of their work and discernment all those years ago. We will celebrate Carla’s GPPC anniversary with fellowship and refreshments after Sunday worship on June 4, but you needn’t wait till then to share some words of appreciation with her!

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