St. John United Church of Christ in Tiffin has a new pastor, the Rev. Pam Easterday, who began her duties March 1.
She officially is to be installed at 3 p.m. Aug. 7. During the past four months, she has found the congregation to be "warm and welcoming." Originally from the Columbus area, Easterday completed her first year of college at Ohio State University branch campuses. Counting motherhood, ministry is her third career.
"This is just my second church. I was a radio disc jockey. Then I stayed home with my children. When my husband left, I had three little kids, and I went back and started my college degree. ... God kept nagging. God gets pretty insistent. I tried to do other things and doors kept slamming. I finally said 'OK.' My tuition was paid and things just fell into place," Easterday said.
At the time, she was attending the United Church of Christ in Mount Vernon. She remembers numerous members of the church urging her to consider going into the ministry, which made her wonder if they had concocted "a little plot" to direct her life. Eventually, she accepted their encouragement as part of God's plan for her.
It was on to Methodist Theological School of Ohio in Delaware, where United Church of Christ is the second-largest denomination at the school. Easterday said she was drawn to UCC because of its work in the United States and around the world in the areas of mission and social justice.
"We work ecumenically across faiths, much more readily than most churches. Quite a bit of our overseas work is done through Church World Service. We work with 270 different partners around the world, because it doesn't really matter who gets the credit as long as we feed the hungry and help people in need. Because we have these connections, often times when there is a disaster, we can be there sooner than other people," Easterday said.
As an example, when the cyclone devastated Myanmar (Burma) in 2008, government troops were ordered to keep out foreign aid.
But, UCC had ties to agencies in neighboring countries who were allowed to enter the affected region and begin relief efforts.
Easterday said UCC does not try to convert anyone as an offshoot of assistance, so the church is able to work with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and those of Christian faith or no faith.
The pastor noted UCC's role in the voting rights movement in the 1950s and its tolerance of homosexuals. Easterday said an openly gay man was ordained a UCC minister in 1973. She said the church's open attitudes are especially attractive to younger people. In 2005, the General Synod asked its churches to consider studying the justice aspects of gay marriage. As a result, many congregations left UCC, but now more states are legalizing marriage between two people of the same gender. In addition, each church has a lot of freedom.
"Nobody above us tells us what to do or how to worship. Each congregation has autonomy," Easterday said.
Her first pastoral assignment was at a church in Geauga County, where Easterday spent four and a half years.
Because each church is relatively independent, there were factions in that church who questioned whether the congregation should be part of UCC or affiliated with a different denomination.
Easterday wanted to be more closely aligned with the guidelines of UCC General Synod.
"When we were interviewing, I wanted to make sure they were very UCC, and they wanted to make sure I was very UCC. It was funny because we kept challenging one another with questions," Easterday said. "I was searching, and this church just tugged at my heart. I had three churches considering me at the same time."
One of the churches had offered her a position, but she had not made a decision. The day Easterday first spoke by phone with St. John's was a Sunday. She already had been to church, led a Bible study and had taken two other interviews.
Although she was tired, she ended up talking for more than two hours with the committee from St. John's.
"There were so many things we were thinking alike. ... It was hard to turn away an offered job, but I told my husband, 'There's something about that Tiffin church that's pulling at me,' and I still feel that way," Easterday said. "Even when I first came over and we did our first in-person interview, they were showing me around the church, and I just felt like they were showing me my office, my church. ... I guess that's what you call leading with your heart."