Westminster Presbyterian active in community

Sun News correspondentOctober 24, 2012 

WARNER ROBINS -- Westminster Presbyterian Church moved into its first building on Mary Lane -- right across from Shirley Hills Elementary School -- in 1966, just about a year after it began as a mission of the United Presbyterian Church.

In its earliest days, the congregation first met in the Chapel of Flowers at McCullough Funeral Home, which was then at the corner of Watson Boulevard and North Pleasant Hill Road.

After land was purchased in the new Shirley Hills subdivision, the church made a quick shift to meeting in its original pastor’s basement while the new facility was finished.

“Back then, there were two main Presbyterian denominations,” said the Rev. Glenn Gilstrap, pastor of the church for the past 15 years. “There was the United Presbyterian Church, mainly in the North, and the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. located mainly in the South. In 1983, the two denominations united but dropped ‘united’ from the name. They became The Presbyterian Church (USA).”

Gilstrap said the church built a larger sanctuary on Mary Lane in 1994.

He said he is Westminster’s sixth pastor.

“One of the first things I noticed in coming here was how involved Westminster was in the community, and I’m glad that involvement has continued,” Gilstrap said. “Women from our church were heavily involved in Church Women United, and one of their first projects was to create Warner Robins Day Care Center, or as it’s now known, Cherished Children’s Education Center. The church has continually opened its doors to community groups needing a place to meet, from Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to Narcotics Anonymous and anorexia nervosa related support groups.”

Gilstrap said the church and its members have recently become involved in helping establish Bare Bulb Coffee, both a coffee shop and an exploration in modern outreach and church planting possibilities under Westminster’s regional governing presbytery, the Flint River Presbytery.

“I’m also really proud and humbled how our church sponsors youth missions,” Gilstrap said. “Our middle and high school students get so much out of these and are affected almost as much as those they’re in contact with. The value is more than just the job getting done. It builds bonds of friendship that last through college and into their careers. It also helps expose them to cultures and situations other than what they’re used to and opens their eyes to the way the world is and how it can be.”

Gilstrap said projects have included helping clear and rebuild a missionary training center off the coast of Florida, constructing buildings at a children’s home for moderately to severely developmentally disabled near St. Simons Island and renovating homes for the elderly in a low-income Hispanic community in north Georgia.

Within the church, there are two annual services that stand out to Gilstrap.

“On Nov. 4, we will have our annual Scottish service wherein we celebrate our Scottish heritage,” he said. “It’s called Kirkin’ O’ the Tartans, and people contact us each year to find out when it will be. It’s basically a blessing of families and patriotism and goes back to a time of oppression in Scotland. We also have a very moving Veteran’s Day service, which this year falls on Nov. 11. It honors members who served and remembers some who gave their lives for our country.”

Gilstrap, a native of Greenville, S.C., and his wife, Kathy, have two sons. He is a graduate of Furman University in Greenville, where he received a degree in computer programming and business computing, Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur ,where he received a master of divinity degree, and Erskine Theological Seminary, where he received a doctor of ministry degree.

While Westminster is involved in various volunteer projects in area schools, Gilstrap said he personally is especially fond of tutoring cursive writing in elementary schools, a skill he appreciates partly due to his love for writing with a fountain pen.

Gilstrap said what the future holds for Westminster is related to a new project undertaken presbytery-wide called the Reformation Project. He said it is an intensive period of study and prayer among congregations to look at what the Holy Spirit may be doing in their churches and in the culture.

What does he expect to find?

“I believe we will find God is still here at work and that he has a purpose and a plan for this church,” Gilstrap said. “This church can still bring God joy. In the chaos and confusion of our post-modern life, it’s easy to forget that. It’s easier to see what Satan is doing at times. I want to remind people of what God is doing.”

Contact Michael W. Pannell at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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