I had a great visit last week with the new minister of the Federated Church in Edgartown, the Rev. Mark Winters. It was a dreary day outdoors, but that was in contrast to our upbeat conversation.
The Federated Church, he explained, was formed when the United Church of Christ combined with the American Baptist back in 1925. Winters told me he is from the UCC background, but a new minister could have come from either church. “The congregation has the choice of who they think is being called … and they could also ask me to go,” he laughed. “It’s sort of a grassroots democratic system.”
Before landing here with his wife and three children, Winters was minister at a church in Naperville, Ill. He graduated with a master’s of divinity from the Chicago Theological Seminary in 2009; before that he earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Boston College. He was a New England transplant back then too, having grown up outside of Spokane, Wash., and Winters even worked at Fenway Park for four years selling pizza under the stands behind third base.
Winters also did volunteer work with young people in East Belfast, Ireland, through a program sponsored by the Presbyterian Church.
“I worked with youth and kids and ran a homework club in a working class neighborhood,” Winters said. “We had a cafe where we provided that for folks. It was a community gathering place and that’s where we did the club and a young mens’ group. I really loved it.”
It was through that experience that he met his future wife, who was doing the same volunteer work that he was only in England. After that experience, he worked with juvenile offenders in the Seattle area, all while the seminary was looming.
“I was in college when I first discerned God was calling me into ministry, but I came from a church family so I resisted it because I knew it wasn’t easy,” Winters explained. “But, if God is calling you to do something, he will catch up to you even if he has to run.”
Finally, Winters said he figured he’d go ahead and go to seminary and then teach. “Let me go to seminary and maybe I’ll get a degree and teach and then God will get off my back,” he said. We saw how that turned out. We laughed.
He is currently working on his Doctor of Ministry degree from the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Winters is a writer as well, having written a children’s book and is continuing a writing practice as part of his studies — and because he enjoys it.
We talked about spirituality and church in general as well, and Winters said that “this is a fascinating time to be in this line of work.” Admittedly, he said, church data doesn’t look great for dollars or people.
“What hasn’t changed though is that there is a hunger of connecting with something bigger than yourself,” he said. “You’ve got your home, your work, and then there’s a third place that anchors your rhythm of life.” He said being part of a faith community is invaluable.
When he was in Ireland, Winters said he spoke with a lot of church folks, including nuns and priests. This was just after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and Winters said that the people in the communities in Ireland relied on each other to get them through the devastating effects of The Troubles. “You had a whole community around you and accompanying you on that grief journey,” Winters explained.
He said you have to have a faith community made up of different voices and experiences in the room and “that’s what church ought to provide.”
Winters and his family just arrived and his first service at the Federated Church was Feb. 19. He said they’re already enjoying their time here, hiking at Menemsha Hills and looking forward to their first summer. Winters said he wanted his children to experience a different kind of life, one where things were not necessarily so readily available like they might be in the suburbs.
The Federated Church has an Island history that goes back to 1642, Winters said, and it can be a little intimidating to see that long line of predecessors.
“This is a really special place and there are a lot of opportunities,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the possibilities of the church community and what you can do in this community space to bring meaning and value and relationship for folks.”
Sunday worship at the Federated Church starts at 10 am, live and online. Let’s take the opportunity to welcome Reverend Winters and his family some weekend soon.