Letter from Founding Pastor, Paul Harris
March 18, 2021
Dear Victory Church:
On March 7, I shared with you corporately that I accepted a position at The Pennsylvania State University, and that our family will be moving to State College, PA. I will teach in the Counselor Education program and conduct research on the college and career readiness of underrepresented students; the identity development of Black male student athletes; and the empowerment of anti-racist school counselors. Taylor will be teaching non-fiction creative writing part-time in the English department.
For the past 10 years, I have served in a faculty role at the University of Virginia, bearing the image of God as best I can in the marketplace, while serving the Charlottesville community in various capacities. For the past 5 years, I have also lived and breathed a vision of seeing people in the city of Charlottesville reconciled to God and to each other through Victory Church of Charlottesville. The privilege of establishing and pursuing this vision at no cost to you (I Corinthians 9:18) will forever be one of the greatest honors and joys of my life. We embody the Church to our community in ways I’d always envisioned it should be – together. We are a team-based, pastor-led church where my eyes-on didn’t have to mean hands-on because we built together (Nehemiah 2:18).
Honestly, I almost missed this transition point for our family and church because I was so focused on what I thought our plan in Charlottesville would be. No matter the job challenges (e.g., public tenure case) or the hate mail and subsequent security measures my family was advised by local authorities to take, or various health situations we overcame with God’s strength, we were committed to serving Victory Church and this community through it all until God compelled us otherwise. Thank God for His loving patience with us, as we resisted the first few nudges from Him to prayerfully consider what divine surprises God had for us. When we submitted, we realized that God was clearly present in this transition. This would not just be another job offer that I would leverage to garner more from my current institution, something common in academia. This would be an opportunity for Victory to build on the foundation laid in ways I never could and for our family to heal in the ways we need to heal as well as to put our hands to the plow in another vineyard (Luke 9:62). Just to be clear, this transition is not due to any disqualifying sin or otherwise immoral behavior unbecoming of a pastor. Thank God.
Similar to when we moved to Northern VA in 2016 to prepare to plant Victory Church in 2018, there is supernatural peace, both about our family’s move from Charlottesville and the future of Victory Church. Clarity, though, does not preclude the emotions our family experiences at the thought of not being in physical proximity to you. I am both incredibly grateful and sad.
I am grateful because the Lord allowed us – Who are we that He would be mindful of us? (Psalm 8:4) – to steward this vision for a time, establishing a faith community. I am grateful for the humility and relentless pursuit of Jesus and authentic community you embody, and the collective fruit we’ve been able to bear in the time we’ve had together. I am grateful because we are a community less concerned about our own comfort and more about that of our neighbor, and particularly neighbors who society has repeatedly told are not valued. I am grateful because I witnessed the declaration, from every occupational and neighborhood pulpit you occupy, that Jesus values all, and especially the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40) in Charlottesville. We make Jesus recognizable in ways that decrease the historical stumbling blocks related to race, in particular, that have made it difficult for many to find Jesus.
And I am sad because I am going to miss being around you. Hugging you. Checking in on you. Making jokes with you. Enjoying meals with you. Praying with you. Crying with you. Caring with and for you. Opening up the Word with you. These opportunities have filled me and our family in ways that seem far beyond what we may have given to you over these years. Our kids already miss you, and there are no words for how the dynamic of this pandemic only exacerbates our grief. Never did I envision leaving. And I certainly didn’t envision leaving you in the middle of a pandemic…over Zoom. We love our church. We love you. We always will.
But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 15:57). Jesus still reigns and his capacity to comfort, guide, empower, and sustain has not changed. The same God who gave us the vision and allowed us the privilege of starting something that did not previously exist, is the same God who is able to add to that foundation. Our church and hope are built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. So I have hope. I am confident that even greater is ahead for Victory Church. That the same way God provided what could not be seen with the natural eye before, will again provide what is needed, not only to sustain, but to catapult Victory into greater purpose and impact.
Over the next few months, we will continue hosting our regular 9:30am zoom meetings, providing updates and answering questions between 10 and 10:30am, and having a sermonic moment on FB live at 10:30am on Sundays. Our Victory groups and ministry teams will continue to connect and serve. I will also be convening a group of 5-8 individuals to serve on a transition team to work with me (and Pastor Brett Fuller, our sending pastor). With the leadership we have at Victory and the pastoral support we have, I am confident that you will be led well beyond my July 1 departure.