Today marks the end of a chapter and the beginning of a brand new one. Five years ago this month, a gathering of people in Ocala, Florida, was birthed, and lovingly became known as Church of Hope.
Since day one, Church of Hope has been my family. I can remember like it was yesterday our very first gathering on Thanksgiving weekend in 2008: it was a rainy Sunday afternoon at Camper’s Village filled with organic anticipation for what God was going to do next. The beautiful part was that none of us knew what that next would look like. We just had to trust God to show up.
That December we had our very first Christmas Eve at the Farm—perhaps my favorite annual gathering at Church of Hope. Sitting under the stars, surrounded by a group of people I call family and friends, sharing an experience that
would have been similar to that first Christmas in Bethlehem.
We’ve met outside, in a high school, and now in a shopping center. We’ve partnered with countless organizations, built a well in Haiti and Ethiopia, hosted five 3G Sundays choosing for one Sunday out of the year to go be the church rather than just do church, built over 4 homes with Habitat for Humanity, travelled through the season of Lent with a fresh perspective, launched incredible family experiences bringing the church and the family together, given over $1 million away to local and global mission partners, seen over 130 people go public with their faith in water baptism, launched a CityWide gathering for students across Marion County to worship God together, seen people discover Hope & healing in Celebrate Recovery….and those are just a few things that stand out!
What do I love the most about Church of Hope? That’s a good question. I have both personal and professional aspects that I love and cherish. But above all, I love Hope’s mission of partnering with people to discover in Christ we have Hope! That is my anchor, my foundation, and without that Hope, I have nothing, I am nothing.
Today, I’m reflecting. I’m celebrating a place that really let me grow into who I am today. A place that empowered me to spread my wings, try new things, and gave me the gift of discovering a fresh love for communications. For that, Church of Hope, I am forever grateful.
I am also humbled by the leadership I have been blessed to serve under. Not everyone has the same privilege of serving on their Dad’s team, but I have. I can remember back in elementary and middle school going to the church with my Dad in the summer to help with projects. Every Sunday morning I would get up early with him, head to the church, make coffee and pray over the building. I’ve always dreamt of being on his team and Church of Hope made that a reality. Some may take this as a biased opinion, but I mean this genuinely: it has been a privilege to serve on my Dad’s team. He is one of the most gifted leaders I have ever encountered—and I’ve been exceptionally blessed to learn from him in multiple environments ranging from the home, professionally, and as my pastor. Daddy, thank you for believing in me. Thank you for being my biggest cheerleader, asking lots of questions, always being willing to risk the hard conversations with me, and helping me become the woman God created me to be. I wouldn’t be the same Emily I am today if it wasn’t for your leadership and presence in my life.
There are so many names, so many faces, and so many stories that are coming to the forefront of my mind today. Sitting here, reminiscing, I can’t help but type with tears streaming down my face. As Winnie the Pooh so wisely put it: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” As I put a period on this chapter and turn the page, I remain so very grateful. Church of Hope, thank you for pouring so much love into me. I’m truly excited to continue our mission of partnering with people to discover in Christ we have Hope. You are and forever will be a part of my story. I love you!