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Our lead pastor, Kate Heinzel, has been with us since 2018, when she moved from Lancaster after serving as staff chaplain at Lancaster General Health. 

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Kate is an ordained minister in Mennonite Church USA. She was raised Catholic and chose Anabaptism in her early 20s. “I felt I had found a good fit—to have a space for my gifts and to focus on peace, justice, and the community of believers,” she says.

Kate has four adult children and enjoys all things outdoors–gardening, hiking, backpacking, and biking.

Here, she reflects on the joys, challenges, and calls to service that continue to inform her journey with UMC.

When I began serving as lead pastor at UMC, I intended to focus on three components: preaching, pastoral care, and gift discernment. These are not as separate in my mind as when I first arrived. While preparing to preach takes much time, I’ve come to see the sermon as one way of providing pastoral care, especially in this year of COVID.  

Finding ways to connect, which may only happen via Zoom on a Sunday morning, has been essential.  Belonging is crucial to our well-being, and it’s been a challenge to foster that sense of belonging as the pandemic forces us to be physically distant. Using sermons to help the listener remember that they belong–to God, and to one another, through community–is a theological statement for me. Our task as a faith body is to remind one another of our intrinsic value in God’s eyes and to the community. It’s not what we do, but who we are, broken and Beloved, that connects us.

COVID has been a time of incredible challenge, but also of unexpected gifts. Remaining a community who worships together, supports one another, and engages in the world around us has meant we need to continually be open to new ways of doing things. I have mostly loved the challenges and have been surprised at the ways connections happen–through Zoom one-on-one conversations, taking walks, gathering around the fire pit. God continues to provide ways to show up and be present with one another.

Our task as a faith body is to remind one another of our intrinsic value in God’s eyes and to the community. It’s not what we do, but who we are, broken and Beloved, that connects us.

Welcoming others literally from around the world is another unexpected blessing of COVID. Recently I met on Zoom with a person in South Africa to plan worship. He has never been in our sanctuary. We have never shaken hands, and yet there’s a connection and a desire to lead together that binds us. This brings me joy. And it makes me wonder, what will church look like after COVID?

That’s a question all of us need to be asking. What’s the role of the church? In the midst of an awakening of white folks, myself included, to the systemic racism and white privilege in our community, to remain relevant and living into the call of Christ to love our neighbor, we have much work to do. This work involves not only educating ourselves, but also challenging one another to do the soul-stretching work of leaning into the pain in our communities and larger society. 

This work, too, is part of what it means to challenge the congregation in gift discernment. In my time at UMC I have become more and more engaged with community concerns. I see this as one way of living into the Anabaptist belief that we are a community of believers, and when one suffers, all suffer. Learning to listen deeply, learning what the needs of the community are through the eyes of those who are often marginalized, is becoming more and more of a journey of faith and a way to serve.

Broadening connections within our divided community is another way that I hope to encourage others to live into the gifts God gives. The political and religious divide in this country is seen right here in Centre County. As a leader, I see this as another way to share in the reconciling work of Christ. Can we, can I, listen, learn and love, without needing to fix or change another? This was one of the many gifts Christ offered those around him, and I believe it’s a way for us to faithfully serve today.

What will the church look like in the future? At times I am fearful, but more often excited at the possibility of new growth coming forth from the darkness. Resurrection is our story. New life coming out of the tomb: What a story to guide us as we continue to live into the unknown future. I hold onto the promise of Our Lord, that we do not walk this journey alone. I hope and pray for the courage, strength, vision, and resilience needed to walk together, continuing the work of Christ, here and now, in State College and around the world.