To him, pastoring is personal
- Published: September 3, 2015
“You have to think and pray outside of the box,” said Pastor Rick Jones, the new pastor at Yellow Springs United Methodist Church. He prefers to operate outside the box because he knows all parishioners are not the same, and his pastoral MO is to serve people on a more personal basis.
“What’s most important is getting to know people’s lives,” he said. “It’s a privilege to create relationships, to meet people where they are and help them move forward.” Jones was installed after Pastor Sherri Blackwell was transferred to a church in Bradford, Ohio. Pastors in the UMC are often moved around according to the needs of the church. The church in Yellow Springs was looking for a part-time pastor after Blackwell departed and got in touch with Jones, who had recently let UMC know he was interested in getting back into church work.
Faith Skidmore, the church’s organist, explained that sometimes the transition to a new church can be tough for a pastor because it takes time to get to know a congregation, and vice versa. But despite the abruptness of the change, Jones said these sorts of moves can be good for everyone.
“A new person stirs you up to analyze your own beliefs,” he said, noting that the benefits of introspection apply to his own beliefs as well.
During a recent interview, Jones sat at a table near his office in the church, thinking deeply about his new assignment in Yellow Springs and how he can best serve the village. It’s not just a new location for him but a deep spiritual commitment.
Starting at a new church can be like a start-up business, Jones said. And like starting a business, taking a chance can prove to be a rewarding decision. Jones’ assignment in Yellow Springs was rewarding for a couple of reasons. He didn’t have to relocate because he and his family have lived in Fairborn since 1996. He grew up in Tremont City and knows the area and its people. The Yellow Springs church places a lot of emphasis on service to the community, which Jones finds essential as well. Ellen Hoover, co-treasurer of the Yellow Springs UMC, said hosting the food pantry and Home, Inc. are longstanding practices of the church. “The focus is on helping people in need, and it’s important to have a pastor that carries on that tradition,” she said.
Jones indeed supports that tradition. His position as pastor follows a storied career in social service. A few years after receiving his Masters of Divinity degree, he took a job with Goodwill Enterprises where he led an empowerment class for disabled veterans. The work spoke to him, so he contracted with the VA to continue working with veterans after he left Goodwill. An especially resonant moment was the morning of the 9/11 attacks. A number of his clients were suffering from PTSD and relied on Jones to guide them through that terrifying ordeal.
Jones also works full time at CareSource doing spiritually similar work advocating for clients’ basic necessities such as food and shelter, even before a job coach helps them find employment. “I’ve got the best of both worlds right now. I get to do social service work and I get to do church work — I get to do it all, and I’m loving it,” he said.
Both Hoover and Skidmore mentioned that the accessibility of a pastor for the church and its families is an important quality, especially because the church has a diverse membership. The breadth of Jones’ work also benefits the church because it has allowed him to encounter all kinds of people facing all kinds of situations.
“UMC is a melting pot, it’s very eclectic, and that’s one thing that’s always attracted me to United Methodism,” Jones said. “You’re able to serve the people from where you all are. You’re able to do what you’re called to do with them. I don’t want all chocolate or vanilla ice cream — I respect the ‘Neapolitan theology’ United Methodism can bring.”
Pastors in the UMC undergo a mentorship program after proclaiming they are called to the position. The mentor helps the candidate develop the skills necessary to lead a church and hone in on what the prospective pastor’s strengths are. Jones is a committed conversationalist and said the gift of gab is something required of pastors. He spends about 10 hours a week crafting his sermon because working with language is something he enjoys, but he also likes to keep his sermons under 15 minutes so the message stays fresh. One of his goals is to try to make scripture pertinent to today. His approach so far has been successful.
“He has energy and his sermons have been good,” said Hoover. “He incorporates humor, which I like. He knows what he’s doing in the pulpit, and that’s nice to see.”
“And,” she added with a laugh, “he’s good at remembering names. For someone like me who’s challenged in that department, that’s a good quality to have.”
Being a pastor no doubt brings challenges in many departments, but it is work Jones has felt called to do since he was young. It is a vocation that he knows helps people, and his position in Yellow Springs is a way for him to help meet the needs of a new community. “We’ll see where we’re called to go,” he said.
No matter the adjustments that accompany a change in venue, Jones’s approach is a universally applicable message of optimism.
“It’s important to remind people they are loved,” he said. “I want them to embrace the ability to look forward as a gift.”