Presbyterian church welcomes new community outreach pastor

Presbyterian church welcomes new community outreach pastor

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Ashely McFaul-Erwin is the new community outreach pastor for the Setauket Presbyterian Church. Photo provided by Ashley McFaul-Erwin

In its quest to connect more closely with the community, the Setauket Presbyterian Church has created a new position: community outreach pastor. 

Taking on the new role is Ashley McFaul-Erwin, a native of Northern Ireland who recently pastored in Nashville. Arriving this summer with her wife Erica, McFaul-Erwin has been busy working and getting to know the Three Village area.

Interim Pastor Kate Jones-Calone said creating the new position was part of the congregation’s mission planning study conducted a couple of years ago. What came out of that study was the goal to create a deeper connection with the community as well as serve it.

Part of McFaul-Erwin’s responsibility will be heading up the Open Door Exchange, the church’s outreach program in Port Jefferson created to collect gently used furniture to distribute to those in need. She also has been organizing programming to encourage conversations about gun violence in America and what to do about it.

McFaul-Erwin, a a native of Northern Ireland, has joined the Setauket church as community outreach pastor. Photo provided by Ashley McFaul-Erwin.

Jones-Calone said a search committee was formed to find candidates, and when they found McFaul-Erwin, they were thrilled. The interim pastor describes her new co-worker as a warm, open and authentic person.

“We knew pretty quickly that she was someone who brings not only significant experience working with community-based organizations but also this wonderful ability to connect with people which will be so important with her work within the congregation and for the ways she helps the congregation connect with the community around us,” Jones-Calone said.

McFaul-Erwin has an array of experience including work with the Presbyterian Church in Ireland in a low-income area of Belfast. In 2011, she traveled to Nashville, where she was ordained seven years later. In addition to pastoring services, she has worked with former gang members and women battling addiction in various outreach programs. 

The community outreach pastor said when learning about the congregation she was impressed with the community connection they have already established, especially with Open Door Exchange, which celebrates its fifth anniversary next year.

“I’m really impressed,” she said. “It feels like a church that isn’t just content to stay within four walls. They’re already out there doing some of the work.”

The pastor said the congregation is looking to see how they can serve those who have fallen through the cracks when it comes to receiving help, and she is currently trying to identify those needs.

“I feel like I’m doing a lot of listening right now with the people in the church and the community to find out what are some of the needs that folks need to have met,” McFaul-Erwin said.

“This role kind of felt like it was bringing my two worlds together in one position,” McFaul-Erwin said. 

Recently, residents were welcomed to the church to watch a documentary on gun violence and an upcoming event will feature a speaker discussing the importance of writing letters to elected officials about the issue. Pointing to recent mass shootings motivated by hate, the pastor said the issue is not just about access to guns but also how people care and think about each other, and she’s passionate about those with different views coming together and having conversations.

The pastor said when she first moved to the States, she was surprised how it was easier to access guns here than in her birth country, especially in Tennessee where many openly carry firearms. When it comes to the gun debate, the outreach pastor said she can sympathize due to past turmoil in Northern Ireland. She said being born in 1987, she only remembers the tail end of the Troubles, a violent ethno-nationalist conflict in her country, but she saw how long it took for both sides to heal.

“We all have to do the work of gun control but also the work of healing different communities and bringing folks together,” she said. “Nothing changed in Northern Ireland until people on different sides started to talk to each other.”

McFaul-Erwin is ready for her new role, and she said her strengths include bringing people together and listening to them.

“I kind of just see people for who they are and don’t let whatever labels around them be a barrier in that relationship,” she said.

 

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