For the first time in its more than 270-year history, Shelter Island Presbyterian Church prepares to welcome a minister not yet ordained. But not for long — Reverend Stephen Fearing will be ordained at the church on July 27.
He could have been ordained back home in Dalton, Georgia, but elected to wait and do it here, speculating that not many of his new parishioners have ever witnessed an ordination.
“It will be a very powerful thing for all of us,” Reverend Fearing said.
The week before his ordination, he’ll be giving his first sermon at the church.
The 26-year-old minister just graduated from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, after completing his undergraduate studies at Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina.
He’s been making the rounds to meet with church committees from various congregations in what he described as the Presbytery’s “version of Match.com.”
The young minister described his meetings with the various committees as “kind of poking each other and going on a couple first dates” aimed at determining whether there’s a comfort level likely to give rise to a successful relationship. What attracted him to Shelter Island Presbyterian Church was the interaction among board members that made him feel at home.
“I accepted this call because of the dynamics of the way the committee worked together,” he said.
He’s visited the Island four times, met the congregation on June 22, and will be moving here July 13 with his fiancée, Tricia Garrett. Ms. Garrett, who’s studying to be a licensed counselor or therapist, will be living at the home of one of the parishioners until the couple is married at the end of April 2015.
“There hasn’t been one minute here where I didn’t feel welcomed,” Pastor Fearing said. While he had to be the “stealth” minister before his appointment was publicly announced, during his last visit, he was able to lunch with the Father Peter DeSanctis of Our Lady of the Isle Roman Catholic Church and the Reverend Ronald Wickey of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.
Ecumenical relationships on the Island are “so important,” Pastor Fearing said.
Raised in Georgia, he describes his upbringing as “typical middle class” and “uneventful.” Music and religion were always important in his life and he plays the guitar and piano. He traces his first leadership role to being drum major of his high school marching band for two years.
One of Reverend Fearing’s favorite ways of getting to know new people is to ask them what they do. On Shelter Island, he has discovered, when you ask that question, you better have a chunk of time to listen.
He’s delighted to find that many on the Island have very accomplished backgrounds. At the same time, he’s pleased that despite past achievements, people here are very down to earth and not at all “snooty.”
Describing the Island to his family and friends back home, he tell them it’s “a gorgeous place” with much “potential for creativity.”
Embarking on his first full-time pastoral assignment, he said, “This community will help me grow into the pastor I was meant to be.”
To read sermons, liturgies and other general reflections by Reverend Fearing, visit his website atstephenmfearing.com.