The Rev. Lisa Ann Griffin, the new pastor of the St. John’s United Church of Christ, 501 E. Main Street, Evans City, PA 16033, sees her appointment as pastor as part of a long local tradition.
“I’m replacing another female pastor. They have been served by female pastors since the 1980s,” said Griffin who will be formally installed next month.
“They interviewed some men, it was just the way it worked out in the search process for me,” she said.
Griffin has been officiating services at the church since the first Sunday in December.
Her installation ceremony will be a 4:00 p.m. May 6 with officials of the Pittsburgh Association of the United Church of Christ in attendance and a reception in the church’s fellowship hall to follow.
She and her husband, Rich Griffin, live in Greentree and just celebrated their first wedding anniversary.
Griffin, who was born and raised in Punxsutawney, found the Evans City church opening on a United Church of Christ Website. It was a fortunate turn of events for her.
“I was looking to move back to this area,” said Griffin who was serving as pastor of a church in Hampton, Va.
She said after she expressed her interest in the Evans City pastorship, the church sent a group to Virginia to hear her preach.
“They decided they were interested in recalling me as their pastor,” she said. “I negotiated with the search committee. I preached here on the last Sunday in August and after the congregation voted to hire me.”
“It was hard for me to leave. The church had been through some difficult times and I was there to guide them through it, so it was difficult to leave,” Griffin said.
There were family reasons for the move and the fact that her husband, whom she met 30 years ago at a church camp, works as a retirement home housekeeper in Bridgeville.
Griffin said she is commuting to Evans City for now and is at the church every Sunday, Monday and Wednesday.
Griffin, who graduated from Slippery Rock University and the Lancaster Theological Seminary, said the United Church of Christ is a good fit for her.
“I guess it is a couple of things,” she said. “Every church is local and autonomous. The churches are joined together to work together in missions and justice.”
“There is a strong focus on that. As a denomination it is more liberal and certainly welcoming to the LGBTQ community,“ she said.
“Even though we are diverse many churches in Western Pennsylvania are together in their common belief in Jesus Christ,” she said.
“If you are searching your faith trying to figure out what God is all about, we are more a place for spiritual journeys than telling you what to think,” she said. “People can decide for themselves how the Scriptures speak to them personally.”
Griffin sees her most important duties as “preaching on Sunday morning a message that is relevant to people’s faith and challenges them to live it in the community.”
“I would say pastoral care and then helping the congregation reach out and make a difference in the community,” said Griffin of her other priorities.
Judy Smith of Butler, a lifelong member of the church and its search committee, said Griffin is replacing the Rev. Verna Call, who retired nearly two and a half years ago.
In the interim, the services were led by the Rev. Jane Duffield.
Smith said she was one of the congregation who traveled to Virginia to hear Griffin preach.
“We were very impressed by the whole church,” said Smith. “We did not talk to Pastor Lisa at the time, but we were obviously impressed with her and came back and recommended her.”
Smith said, “We love her. She is a very down-to-earth person.”
Don Princeler of Connoquenessing, who was church president during the search process, said, “We were pleased to get a person of her experience and abilities up here.
“The search committee and the church council are exceptionally pleased to have someone with her work ethic; she visits shut-ins and the sick in hospitals, planning more outreach efforts. She checks all the boxes,” Princeler said.
The Evans City church has nearly 100 members and on a typical Sunday draws 50 to the worship service.
Griffin said, “I think it is a great atmosphere to raise a family in. I think it is a great opportunity for children because it is a smaller congregation, so it’s like a big family with a support system here.
“And I think it is for people who want to do meaningful things with their lives. This is a wonderful group to do missions with,” she said.