By DEBORAH ANN TRIPOLDI
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St. Mark’s United Methodist Church recently said goodbye to its senior pastor, the Rev. Jevon Caldwell-Gross, and welcomed the Rev. Leslie Houseworth-Fields, the first woman to lead the congregation.
Bishop John Schol of the New Jersey Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church appointed Houseworth-Fields and she started her first week at St. Mark’s on Sunday, July 1.
She and her husband, Corey Fields, moved to Montclair on June 28 with their two children Chloe, 6, and Corey Jonathan, 5. Though the family is still settling in, Montclair was not a foreign town for Houseworth-Fields. She made many visits to Montclair as she is friends with the former pastor’s wife, the , through their mutual work with Emerging Sister Circle.
Houseworth-Fields is excited to be preaching at the church her friend once called home.
“It was a big surprise when I found out I was coming here. I never imagined some day I would be coming here as well,” she said.
On a visit with Caldwell-Gross, she had left her résumé for another position, but never thought anything of it. Then she got the call about coming to Montclair.
Houseworth-Fields is from Atlanta, Ga., where she received her master of divinity degree from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. She also has a master of education degree from South Carolina’s Clemson University. For the last eight years, she has called New York home, serving as an associate minister at Christ Church NYC United Methodist.
She underestimated how different Montclair was from New York City. Going from city life to a more suburban area has been a bit of an adjustment for her two young children.
“I thought I’d be moving to the same place. Montclair is its own place. It’s a new experience. [The kids] don’t know suburban life,” she said.
She has been very welcomed by the congregation.
“The first few days were overwhelming. People have been very excited. Snacks and toys were sent to the house for the kids, to make sure they felt welcomed. All our stuff is still in boxes,” she said.
Houseworth-Fields comes from a Baptist background and is ordained in the American Baptist Church.
“With a bishop appointing a minister in the Baptist church; traditionally a church would appoint from their denomination. It speaks a great commitment to identify clergy even if they don’t come from the Methodist church is a step forward,” she said.
The two Christian faiths are very similar, but do have their differences, with the major distinctions being baptism and Communion, said Houseworth-Fields. Baptists only baptize adults and Communion is not open to all who wish to partake. The Methodist faith offers an open Communion.
For Houseworth-Fields church is a hub for community life. She sees St. Mark’s as making a difference in the Montclair community and the world.
“There is so much good work in the ministry already. I want to take the congregation forward and attract more young families,” she said.
St. Mark’s United Methodist Church
51 Elm St., Montclair
Worship Celebration Sundays at 10 a.m. in the main sanctuary
Youth WOW (Worship Our Way): Drop off starts 9:45 a.m. on Sundays downstairs in the Fellowship Hall.
Congregation size: 250 members
Average Sunday attendance: 109
Approximately 50 children