A pastor’s life doesn’t always come with guarantees, so it was good news when the Rev. Bob Barnett, pastor of Faith Community Church in Edgartown, learned in January 2017 that his congregation called him to be its full-time pastor with no end-of-contract stipulation. It was a vote of confidence in his already established ministry there. He had served as pastor on a contractual basis since July 2013.
Bob Barnett and his wife Theresa began their journey in ministry many years ago; they’ve been partners in marriage for nearly 40 years. They met at college at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, where Theresa was studying building and construction and Bob was pursuing a bachelor of arts degree in history before graduating and heading into the Army. Theresa had earned a band scholarship; she plays the tenor saxophone. Bob was a logistics officer and paratrooper in the Army, serving in Virginia, North Carolina, and Germany from 1978 to 1986. From 1987 to 1994, he was part of Navigators, a religious organization that brings the Gospel message to those on college campuses, military bases, and other areas through a sort of mentorship program.
It wasn’t until 1994 that the couple moved to Hamilton, so that Bob could attend Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Theresa had spent the early part of their marriage homeschooling their two eldest daughters, but reentered the workforce to help support their family while Bob studied. He thought he’d graduate from seminary and then teach. That’s not exactly how it happened.
Bob worked at the seminary at the Mockler Center for Faith and Ethics in the Workplace from 2000 to 2004. He had mentors within the seminary and outside who helped him decide which path suited him best.
“One of my professors was my mentor, and I questioned him about my abilities. He said he thought I was better suited for pastoral ministry,”
Bob told me when I sat down with him and Theresa last Sunday. “My interests were not in the area of academics but in pastoral ministry.”
After working with a board of elders for at least a year, they agreed that he was called to ministry, and he and Theresa made their first move for ministry to Alexandria, Va., where Bob served at an evangelical Presbyterian church for several years. He was ordained in 2006, and also served for a brief time at a church in Baltimore before applying for the opening on Martha’s Vineyard.
Throughout our conversation, however, it was easy to see that Bob does have an affinity for academics. He has earned both master of divinity and master of theology degrees, and is currently working on a doctoral degree in ministry in biblical counseling, with a dissertation on the psychological and theological aspects of shame. He hopes to finish in May 2018. Before he gives a sermon, he studies the scripture he’ll focus on in both Hebrew and Greek.
“I want to learn what it says as thoroughly as I can, and think of how it relates to my life and the people in my congregation,” the Rev. Barnett said. “I’m looking at verb tenses, the context.
“My messages are always expository,” he said. “I preach what the text says and try to understand what it means.”
“He doesn’t come up with something catchy to say,” Theresa explained. “He studies the scriptures and brings it to the people. It’s God’s word, not some catchy thing Bob Barnett comes up with.”
Faith Community Church has affirmed Bob’s ministry for the long term, and the couple are involved in the Island community. Theresa plays sax in the Vineyard Haven Band, and Bob is active in the Island Clergy Group and is chaplain for American Legion Post 257, as well as a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Homelessness Advisory Committee.
They describe their congregation as “small but loving,” and there are many who come to the church seasonally.
After working in the construction trade for years, Theresa has found a real calling working alongside her husband.
“She’s worked for years, and could have made that a very profitable career,” Bob said of Theresa. “But after working here, she decided God’s calling her to be a full-time pastor’s wife.”
“I was a bit of a rebel,” Theresa said. “I didn’t want to take home ec., so I took drafting.”
She said she knew early on that Bob had a calling. “It was never enough for him to just go to church on Sunday,” she said.
In her own life, she said she’s tried to listen to where God is calling her to go since she was in her early teens, and that still holds true today.
“I’ve sensed God’s call in my life,” Theresa said. “I could have been a missionary or garbage collector, wherever His call leads me.”
For right now, it’s working with her husband, supporting his ministry and providing a music ministry for the congregation. They also have three daughters and three grandchildren to keep them busy.
Faith Community Church offers Bible study for women on Tuesdays at 10 am, and then the pastor’s Bible study is held that same evening at 7, both at the lower level of the parsonage at 539 County Road in Oak Bluffs. Adult Sunday school begins at 8:30 am, and the worship service begins at 10 am. Visit faithmvchurch.org or call 508-627-8918 to find out more about this nondenominational church.
The Neighborhood Convention meets on Tuesday, May 2, at 11 am at Good Shepherd Parish Center, 55 School Street, in Oak Bluffs. Guest presenter is Lia Kahler, with the topic “From Church to Stage — My Path as an Opera Singer.” All are welcome; bring a sack lunch. For more information, call 508-696-8589.
The First Congregational Church of West Tisbury is offering a workshop, “Forgiveness as a Spiritual Practice,” with Sue Regen on May 5 from 6 to 8 pm, and May 6, from 9 am to 5 pm. Sue is a member of the Rochester Friends Meeting (Quakers), and I met her a few years ago. She’s a wonderful person who will undoubtedly bring her understanding to this workshop. In the past she has presented programs on forgiveness at Attica Prison, at many Friends’ conventions, and at retreat centers. Cost for the workshop is just $40, and includes lunch, snacks, and all materials. Call the church to register, 508-693-2842.
Arman Hanjian, who is stepping down after many years as coordinator for the Food Pantry in Vineyard Haven, hosts a thank-you dinner for pantry volunteers on Tuesday, May 9, at the Hebrew Center at 6 pm.