By Betsy Connelly
The First Presbyterian Church of Schoolcraft has welcomed a new pastor, Annamarie Groenenboom. After holding her first and only in-person service on Jan. 12, all services since have been broadcast via Facebook Live to maintain social distancing.
Although many from the congregation have not yet had the opportunity to get to know Pastor Annamarie, she has collaborated with the presbytery and the community to come up with some creative ways to worship. Congregants can attend bible studies on Wednesdays and vespers on Sunday evenings, both hosted by Pastor Annamarie on the church lawn. Her Facebook Live services have reached congregants who are homebound or otherwise unable to be physically present at Sunday services. She has also been able to meet from a safe distance with members in nursing homes.
Pastor Annamarie says she has lots of ideas to “enrich the lives of not only those inside the church walls but also those in the broader community.” She and the church’s Christian education director and elder have been working together to create outdoor activities for children, youth and families to participate in. These activities include recreating bible stories with sidewalk chalk on the church driveway, family movie night on the church lawn, and a socially distanced scavenger hunt throughout the town. She’s also reached out to pastors of other churches in the south county area in an effort to organize interdenominational community activities.
Originally from Grand Rapids, Pastor Annamarie is glad to be back in Michigan. After she and her husband, Mitch, met at Calvin College orientation, both attended the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned her master’s of divinity and he earned his Ph.D in chemical engineering. After graduate school, they moved to Maryland where Annamarie worked as the Stated Supply Pastor for Christian Formation at Lewinsville and Mitch worked as a research fellow at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Now back in Michigan and close to home again, Pastor Annamarie said, “West Michigan is just my people. Everyone here is so polite and nice to each other. You really get a sense of community that you don’t have in bigger cities. Plus, my family and friends are all in Michigan. It’s such a joy to be able to visit my parents for just one day. The family values are different in the Midwest and people focus more on the importance of religion in people’s lives.”
Though she’s only been in Schoolcraft a few months, she’s already felt the friendly warmth of the Schoolcraft community. “It’s nice to have people who notice that you’re present and will wave and be welcoming of a newcomer. In Maryland, we didn’t know a single person in our neighborhood and when you’d wave at someone, they’d look at you like ‘Is there something wrong with you?’ I also feel like Schoolcraft is a really safe community. I see a lot of children playing outside together.”
The youngest pastor First Presbyterian has ever had, Pastor Annamarie plans to use her fresh perspective and open-mindedness to address changing needs of the church. While assessing the needs of the church has been difficult without one-on-one contact with the members, one of the most prominent needs she’s observed is access to safe fellowship. “I’m a firm believer that the church should be a safe space for every person, no matter your age, race, gender or sexuality. My goal is to figure out how we create that safe space for every person to come in and feel welcomed.”
By Betsy Connelly