When I met with the Rev. David Berube last week, I asked him to “start at the beginning.”
“Well, I started going to church about 10 days after I was born,” he said.
A sense of humor might come in handy in his line of work. Berube is the new pastor of the Federated Church in Edgartown.
“It was pretty standard,” he said. “We did Sunday school, youth group, all that stuff at a Baptist church in Connecticut when I was growing up.”
When he was around 18, though, he said he felt a call to ministry that upended plans to begin medical school. Instead, he went to Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, now Palmer Theological Seminary.
“My mother was thrilled,” Berube said. “My pastor at the time told me that he and my grandmother had a conversation about it before she died, and she was convinced it was going to happen; this was about two years before. Apparently other folks knew this ahead of me. I was fixated on doing other things to help people, but not this.”
Luckily for the Federated Church, his grandmother was right.
After serving at churches in Fall River and Hanson, he and his wife Ellen moved to the Vineyard so that she could take a teaching job at the Oak Bluffs School — that was in 1997.
“She had a job and I did not,” Berube said. “I did some church writing and consulting with churches. I did some packing boxes at Black Dog and piecing together a living, like you do on the Vineyard.”
He’s also been an Air National Guard chaplain for 19 years, completing monthly drills, and recently came back from a July trip to Louisiana, where the guard provided medical care to the underserved community. His deployments also included four months at the Air Force mortuary in Dover, Del.
“They called and asked if I would go, and it made sense,” Pastor Berube said. “It was the best, most difficult work I think I’ve ever done, working with the families obviously in crisis.”
He also served as chaplain for the Oak Bluffs Police Department, which led to his working as a patrolman for 14 years, something he did up until his most recent church assignment this summer.
For some time, he and his wife have attended the Federated Church, making them familiar with the congregation. When an opening came after the unexpected death of the previous pastor, the Rev. Amy Edwards, he was approached by a couple of members and asked to add his name to those being considered for the job as pastor. He said the timing seemed right.
“So we went through the process with the search and call committee, and that took about a year,” he said. “The idea is that the committee is representative of the congregation, and they screen all the profiles.”
It’s the committee’s job to come up with the people that they want to interview. Then they go to hear the candidate preach at a neutral pulpit. Next comes an opportunity to preach at the church seeking the pastor.
“I preached in May, which was unique for me because I’d preached here before, it wasn’t an unusual place for me,” he said. Nonetheless, he still went through a question-and-answer session after he preached, and excused himself so that the congregation could decide whether or not to extend a call to serve. “It’s a process,” Berube said.
A few things have changed since he served as a pastor some 20 years ago, but, he said, the fundamental processes for a church’s worship, discipleship, and outreach haven’t changed much.
“The culture has shifted a lot, though,” he said. “The good news is that it forces the church to have a clearer sense of why it exists. We can’t be the YMCA, and we shouldn’t be. We’re not the movie theater or the community center, in the same way.
“I do think that’s always the challenge: How do you speak the eternal truths of the faith to the culture in a way that’s relevant and faithful to those eternal truths?”
Pastor Berube said that he can’t change the message, but he does have to translate the message into language that makes sense for people today.
He said that the congregation at the Federated Church is always looking at “how they can reach out as God’s people in this community.” The church participates with the Houses of Grace homeless initiative, provides a Sunday lasagna lunch beginning in the fall, and coordinates with the food pantry.
As for keeping his own head and heart in his ministry, Berube said he tries to run three or four days a week to reduce stress and to provide a quiet time for prayer. He also has a dear friend who serves as a sounding board and prayer partner, whom he talks with at least every other week.
The Federated Church has experienced a lot of transition and loss over the past few years, Berube said: “We’re still figuring this out. Our hope and our prayer is for a period of stability where we can think and pray and plan and dream together, and build some momentum toward the future.”
On that note, the congregation invites the community to a reception to welcome the new minister and his wife this coming Sunday, Sept. 3, beginning at 10:30 am after the 9:30 am service.
And beginning Sunday, Sept. 10, the church will no longer have two Sunday services, but will offer one service at 10:30 am. The church is at 45 South Summer St. For more information, call 508-627-4421.