11 under 35: new pastors at work

by Chicago Presbytery staff Laura Cathey and Jan Edmiston

Top Row, from L to R: Edwin Estevez (formerly from NJ; currently Pastoral Resident at Fourth, Chicago), Megan Cochran (formerly from MN; currently Associate Pastor at Lake View, Chicago); Victor Harris (formerly from TX via NJ; currently Pastor at Heritage, Carol Stream); Jana Blazek (formerly from IL via IA; currently Specialized Ministries with Presbyterian Outlook) Middle Row, from L to R: Alex Wirth (formerly from CA; currently Associate Pastor at Lakeview, Chicago), Lauren Cochran (formerly from OH via MA and WI; currently Associate Pastor of Community Pres in Clarendon Hills); Emily Heitzman* (formerly from IA; currently Specialized Ministries serving 3 ELCA churches in Chicago); Caroline Underwood (formerly from AL; currently Temporary Supply at Calvary United, Park Forest)  Bottom Row, from L to R: John Fawcett (formerly from NC; currently Associate Pastor First, Libertyville); Adam Walker Cleaveland (formerly from OR; currently Designated Associate Pastor, Winnetka); Alex Lang (formerly from PA; currently Pastor at First, Arlington Heights.)

Top Row, from L to R: Edwin Estevez (formerly from NJ; currently Pastoral Resident at Fourth, Chicago), Megan Cochran (formerly from MN; currently Associate Pastor at Lake View, Chicago); Victor Harris (formerly from TX via NJ; currently Pastor at Heritage, Carol Stream); Jana Blazek (formerly from IL via IA; currently Specialized Ministries with Presbyterian Outlook)
Middle Row, from L to R: Alex Wirth (formerly from CA; currently Associate Pastor at Lakeview, Chicago), Lauren Cochran (formerly from OH via MA and WI; currently Associate Pastor of Community Pres in Clarendon Hills); Emily Heitzman (formerly from IA; currently Specialized Ministries serving 3 ELCA churches in Chicago); Caroline Underwood (formerly from AL; currently Temporary Supply at Calvary United, Park Forest)
Bottom Row, from L to R: John Fawcett (formerly from NC; currently Associate Pastor First, Libertyville); Adam Walker Cleaveland (formerly from OR; currently Designated Associate Pastor, Winnetka); Alex Lang (formerly from PA; currently Pastor at First, Arlington Heights.)

In the last three months, Chicago Presbytery has welcomed 13 new teaching elders, and eleven of them are under the age of 35. They have a bright vision of faithful and healthy community, and also fresh eyes that all “new members” have at any church, presbytery, synod, or national level.

Rev. Jan Edmiston, Chicago Presbytery’s Interim Associate Executive Presbyter for Ministry, sat down with some of these young pastors to learn about their new calls. Many are finding that the people they are called to serve truly embody the spirit of Christian community.

They’ve found congregations authentically investing in youth and trying to find ways to reach the needs of multicultural people.

The relationships these pastors are forming with their worshiping communities are easing the transition, and one pastor said, “I feel so welcomed and I think the congregation is so happy that we’re there. I don’t need anything else. If you’re excited that I’m here with you, then [we can] get to work.”

Some are finding true validation of their call in the trenches of ministry, even in an afternoon spent with a nauseated child at Vacation Bible School.

They’ve noticed trouble spots, well embedded in their church cultures that will take deep healing, hard work, and mutual trust to resolve. Many mentioned the proverbial Social Justice Task Force in each church that has the power to burn out its members without making good use of their skills. An imbalance while doing for others without restoring ourselves is damaging some of our churches.

Some pastors have also noticed that children are shielded from vital gospel messages. In some cases, a watered down version of Bible stories leave children outside the knowledge of what Christians truly find meaningful. In other cases, children from member families are prevented from interacting with children served as part of outreach ministries, creating an insider-outsider barrier.

Though two out of the eleven are serving in specialized ministry outside of PCUSA churches, all these ministers are called to serve within the PCUSA and believe in what that stands for. They find voting empowering instead of tedious. They value committee work because it means groups make decisions together, not that a pastor or any single person is in charge.

When they hear people say, “We’re Presbyterian, so this is what we do,” they think that shouldn’t be a disparaging comment. They’re also committed to connectionalism, with one pastor saying,

“I think it’s going to be interesting to figure out ways to be bridge builders as leaders in this presbytery. I think that we have an interesting place we’re starting out in the presbytery, we’re not jaded yet and we don’t know all the stories. We don’t know why this church won’t partner with that church because of the thing that happened 20 years ago. I’m excited to be able to jump in the middle there and see what I can do until I get jaded or burned out, because you only really have one opportunity to do that when you move into a presbytery or just start out your ministry.”

The call to ministry has not been a light one – these pastors have answered it with some fear and trembling. One says, “The whole process of trusting God and trusting God’s people is the craziest thing [God has called me to do].” Yet another sees how God’s call may make life harder for family, especially economically, saying, “One of the scariest things is when I commit my life to ministry, I’m also committing the life of my daughter to ministry.”

These new pastors are flexible in their willingness to learn from the existing community and adapt to it. But they also have so much to teach. Get to know one of them at the next Presbytery Assembly meeting.

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