Rev. Kyle Delhagen
One of the things you learn growing up as the son of a minister, is that a pastor’s family is as much called to a congregation and place as the pastor themself. My wife, Elena, and our two children,
Jumah - 15, and Atticus - 4, not only keep me grounded and remind me of God’s love and joy every day, but they deepen my ministry in profound ways. As a husband, a biological father, and a father of an adopted daughter, my understanding of our relationship with God has been stretched, challenged, and changed in amazing ways.
My life of faith has been profoundly shaped by many people and in many places. As a young person, I found my spiritual life being influenced by the church family and friends I was always around. My church youth group provided many opportunities to study God’s Word, talk about what it means to be a Christian, and also to put our faith into action. Some of the most formational moments in my spiritual development were on service trips during school breaks to Staten Island to work with the homeless, hungry, and those suffering from HIV/AIDS. All of this set me on a very early path to ministry.
Throughout college, I struggled with my call to be a pastor. Having grown up as a pastor’s kid, I tried to avoid where I sensed God was pulling me, but when God has a desire for your life, it is hard to ignore! I spent six summers during and after college working at Camp Fowler in the Adirondacks, and then two years working in youth ministry before going to seminary at New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Jersey. Following graduation from Seminary, I spent a year working as a Resident Chaplain at a Philadelphia Hospital, which taught me a lot about being a pastoral presence in times of grief and trauma.
In the few years following, I turned to teaching at a private Christian school in center city Philadelphia, where I taught tenth and twelfth grade English. During that time I was a part-time pastor of a small Reformed Church outside of Philadelphia. In that experience, I found myself drawn more and more to full time parish ministry. Since October of 2016, I have served as Pastor of Western Presbyterian Church in Palmyra, where I have continued to be challenged and stretched, finding fullness in this particular time and place of God’s family.
HAMILTON UNION PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
Who are we?
As a Christian congregation and a member church of the PCUSA, we are disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ and strive to live out the “Great Ends of the Church”: Proclamation of the Gospel; Providing for the Shelter, Nurture, and Spiritual Fellowship of God’s Children; Maintenance of Divine Worship; Preservation of Truth; Promotion of Social Righteousness; and the Exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the World. We are a caring and a compassionate Church, committed to Christian fellowship; we enjoy the company of each other, are friends to one another, and care for one another’s welfare. We are an open and welcoming congregation. Our congregation cares about divine worship, hearing/studying God’s Word in scripture, preaching, and study. Our Church is aware of and concerned with current national/world issues, and we value social justice. Mission is important to us and we support a number of missions locally, denominationally, and beyond.
What are some things that we currently do?
- We have two worship services each week, one a contemporary service and one more traditional. We are open to considering new and different worship experiences consistent with essential elements of Presbyterian worship. We provide a faith-based lesson for young people during worship.
- We have a rich music program with choir and special music led by a talented Music Director.
- We support a number of local missions, and we support the missions of the Presbytery of Albany and the PCUSA. Among the missions we support is a college campus-based student ministry, local rescue missions, local food pantry, an elementary school tutoring program, and a couple of missions in Malawi. In the past we have supported mission-based trips by our Congregation to Malawi and the US-Mexico border.
- We have an active Deacon’s Ministry. Our deacons provide for our members and alert other members of the congregation to the needs of those who are ill or home-bound. They provide meals, visit, call, and send cards to the sick and shut-ins. They coordinate receptions for memorial services. They prepare the table for Communion and oversee the communion ministry for those unable to attend Worship. We do struggle, however, to fully resource the Deacon’s Ministry as our congregation has aged and become smaller.
- Our church has a Peer Group Ministry, which meets regularly to offer support to one another as single folks who have experienced loss of spouse or significant other(s) in their life.
- Our church has an active Presbyterian Women organization committed to mission, Bible Study, and fellowship
- Our church is very active in the Presbytery of Albany with service on a number of Presbytery committees and the Trustees. One of our members was an elected delegate to the 2018 General Assembly of the PCUSA.
- We have an active Congregational Life Committee providing many opportunities for Christian fellowship during the year. They include special event outings, fellowship meals both in and out of church, holiday church decorating, congregational meetings with meals, etc.
- We have a weekly lay-led adult lectionary-based Bible Study.
- We are mindful of our role and responsibility to the local community and beyond, and we sponsor events that include and/or are directed to supporting the community.
What do we see as we look to the future?
- We accept the fact that the Christian Church is no longer that which we experienced for most of our lives. There is no point trying to recover that which is no more. We prefer to spend our time and energy discerning what Christ is calling us to be in 2020 and beyond and then working at being that. We are hopeful that if we keep the focus there, the church will prosper with God’s guidance.
- We’ve been told recently by a guest preacher that mission and caring is the new “front door” of the Church. That said, we intend to review our commitment to mission and to community and evaluate where and how to expand on our commitment. We recently engaged the congregation in a discussion of “Who is Our Neighbor?” That exercise provided food for thought about how the church engages with and reaches out to the community. Possibilities for the future include sponsoring community-wide events and inviting/promoting attendance by the community. One example might be speakers or panel discussions on various topics consistent with our mission and values. We also might consider opening our facility more to community use and purpose.
- As our congregation has aged, we have a number of home-bound and nursing-home residents among our congregants. We have identified the need to evaluate our ongoing ministry and connectedness to this important segment of our church congregation.
- We have had an historic commitment to Christian Education. We recently conducted a Christian Education Survey of the congregation. The survey was designed to identify the most appreciated components of the current program, desired items that we could easily add to the current program, important desired initiatives that would be more challenging, and volunteer opportunities within Christian Education that we would personally support. We believe there is a need to re-commit ourselves to Christian Education with an increased focus.
- As is true for many churches, our membership has been decreasing due to both aging and lack of new members. There are several consequences of this trend.
(1) Recently our pledge and other revenue has not been sufficient to support the annual budget. Fortunately, so far we have been able to cover the deficit by withdrawals from Church savings/investments.
(2) As a result of the smaller and aging membership, people are feeling burned out with increasing work falling on fewer individuals. We might therefore look at the current work load and evaluate what is essential work and let go of what may not be essential.
(3) As our members age, they require more care, such as rides to church, visitation, etc., and there are fewer members able to provide these services.
- We believe we would benefit from spiritual renewal. We would consider a spiritual retreat, renewal of baptismal vows and ordination vows, and programs on spiritual practices and disciplines.
- We need to evaluate our current ministry to young families and to other groups in our congregation, and evaluate the benefit of outreach/evangelism to such groups.
What are some specific areas of concern that we want to work on?
- We need to evaluate and make a decision on the ongoing need/value, or lack thereof, of two worship services given the current congregational size and mix. This should be evaluated in the context of the earlier comment on ministry to young families.
- In numerous ways, we’ve identified that communication is a challenge for us. We have some catch-up to do engaging social media. We need an organized and reliable communication program with leadership that consistently informs and promotes our church and its events well in advance within the congregation and the larger community. We are currently working with a website developer for a new state-of-the-art website. We might need to look at our signage, and our communication with the community more broadly, including advertising/marketing in local news.
- Community Outreach. For the future, we’ve identified a need to focus on community outreach, not necessarily or specifically to promote church growth, but more importantly to be good neighbors. As noted previously, we might sponsor lecture series, inviting the community to attend, on topics that are consistent with our Christian mission and values. We might expand the availability of our church facility to various community purposes/events and be willing to participate in such events.
- We sponsor fundraisers each year to support our operating budget. These events serve as community events as well as fellowship opportunities for the congregation. Given the workload and the lack of identified leadership for the 2020 garage sale event, it might be time to re-evaluate that event and explore alternative fundraising opportunities.
- We need to enhance our stewardship program through education and communication, identifying and emphasizing additional options for stewardship, including wills, estates, and trusts, that might be more attractive and effective given the demographics of our congregation.
- We need more people in the congregation willing to step up and assume leadership responsibility as elders and deacons for a term or two. We need succession planning and leadership development in the church. We are also mindful of the need for workers in the church who are willing to serve in supporting roles on committee(s) and do other project work and tasks essential to the ministry of the church.
- We are a smaller congregation with just under 100 members and even fewer in Sunday worship. As noted previously, this has implications and consequences for the Church that need to be addressed.
What do we seek in a Pastor?
At this point in our journey, we are seeking a pastor who is a caring individual with passion and energy for Christ’s work in the church. We need someone with administrative, visionary, and strategic leadership abilities to guide, motivate, encourage, and shepherd us through the important work of the church in this time of change for the Christian Church, and for Hamilton Union specifically. This will involve a respect for tradition while at the same time being able to see and adapt to the big picture future of the Christian Church. The pastor also should have strong communication skills and the ability to collaborate with others and encourage leadership in others.
Importantly, our vision for a new pastor will be someone committed and excited by worship and preaching, pastoral care, and Christian education, with the understanding that the session, deacons, and other church leaders will need to share in this responsibility.
Draft Approved by the Session (January 7, 2020) and the Congregation (January 26, 2020)
Sources: Interim Process Mission Information Form; Minutes From Small Group Gatherings on “Who is Our Neighbor”, discussion at a number of Session meetings, and the Annual Congregational Meeting.
Addendum to Hamilton Union Presbyterian Church Mission Study
In preparation for developing the Hamilton Union Presbyterian Church (HUPC) Mission Study, the Session discussed the topic at length at a number of Session meetings. The Session then held small group gatherings of the congregation hosted by individual Session members specifically on the topic of “who is our neighbor?”, and “what is the church’s responsibility to neighbor and community?”. Discussion was not limited only to these questions, and often was expanded to include discussion of the Church’s values, strengths, weaknesses, and vision for the future. These gatherings encompassed a majority of the congregation. The Mission Study was drafted using information from the Mission Information Form (MIF) from the Interim Pastor Nominating Committee and the reports of the small group gatherings referenced above. The draft was reviewed and edited by the Session and was approved to be sent to the Congregation for discussion at the annual congregational meeting in January, 2020. The document was then edited based on congregation input and approved to be sent to COMAC for approval and the calling of a PNC.
Regarding the community, HUPC is located on the main thoroughfare, US Route 20, in the Town and the hamlet of Guilderland. The Town covers 58 square miles in Albany County, west of the City of Albany, the Capital of New York State, between the cities of Albany and Schenectady. Two interstate highways, I-90 and I-87, pass through the Town. The population is approximately 36,000 with a median age of 40. The Town has experienced minimal population growth of 0.3% annually over the past 15 years. In the last census, 2010, 24% of the population was under age 18, and 13% was over age 65. About 30% of the population is employed in government service, with the remainder in private enterprise or self employed. According to the US Census Bureau the median household income of the town is $81,835 (2018). The Town has a centralized (Guilderland) school district with approximately 4,700 students. The Town population is 86% White (2010 Census), 3% African American, 8% Asian, and 3% other, including multi racial.
Hamilton Union’s history dates back to its beginning in 1797, six years prior to the Town of Guilderland being incorporated in 1803. The current church sanctuary was built in 1886 which was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The church has for all these years and continues to this day to be integral to the Guilderland community. For over 40 years the church housed the Guilderland Food Pantry, and sponsored a cooperative nursery school for as many years. The food pantry recently relocated to a more handicapped accessible facility, however we continue to support the pantry with food and related items, gifts at Christmastime, and our members continue to volunteer their time to the pantry. The nursery school recently closed due to low enrollment, however we now lease space to a private and thriving nursery school in the building. The church has sponsored a number of fund raisers each year open to the community, including an annual grand garage and two chicken barbecues. The decision was made recently to discontinue the garage sale due to the significant workload and leadership required. The Session is exploring alternative fund raiser(s) to replace the garage sale. Church members have volunteered over the years with the Guilderland Fire Department, both as firefighters and the auxiliary. The church supports a number of local agencies including homeless/rescue shelters in both Albany and Schenectady and a campus ministry program at the nearby University of Albany. The church has been active in the Guilderland Interfaith Council and participates in the annual Interfaith Advent Service. And the church has sponsored concerts over the years with free will collections supporting various local missions. The church’s space is open, free of charge, to various community groups, including various boys and girls scout troops, support groups, etc. The Church is a member of the Capital Area Council of Churches.
HUPC currently has 97 members, offers two Sunday worship services with attendance of 40-50. Like many churches, particularly in the Northeast, our numbers have gotten smaller and aged in recent years. The Church’s congregation is 98% White and 2% African American. Most of its members are over 50 years of age, with many over the age of 70. While we do have a small number of families with children, we don’t currently have sufficient numbers to support a formal church school program for children. As we look to the future, the Church has identified more direct involvement with neighbor and community as a priority, not merely as a strategy for growth, but as an imperative of Christian discipleship. More details about the Church today and its vision and priorities for the future follows in the Mission Study.
Session of Hamilton Union Presbyterian Church