Looking back generations to see the path forward

Sixth-generation Presbyterian accepts pulpit call in Santa Cruz, California

by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Katheryn McGinnis leads the online Christmas Eve service at Trinity Presbyterian Church–Santa Cruz. (Screenshot)

LOUISVILLE — Accepting a first call to ministry and moving during a pandemic may not be ideal, but one thing is certain: the Rev. Katheryn McGinnis is following in the footsteps of a long line of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) pastors, including her grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great grandfather and great-great-great grandfather.

McGinnis, who was born and raised in western North Carolina, is the new full-time pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church-Santa Cruz, in California’s Presbytery of San Jose. She joined the staff October 11, succeeding the Rev. Larry Vilardo, who served as interim pastor for two years and described McGinnis’ arrival is “a partnership forged in heaven.” Vilardo said he’s asked himself why the church is both dynamic and kind, loving and hard working. He attributes these characteristics to the congregation’s commitment to mission — local, national and international.

McGinnis also has noticed the same attributes in her brief time at Trinity. “I have been blown away by the kindness, generosity and love made visible in our congregation,” she wrote on the church website. “Our congregation is one committed to serving our community, locally and globally, and doing our part in helping bring about the kingdom of God. At Trinity’s heart is a community that seeks to help and fight for the least of these and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ: a gospel of love, justice and overflowing grace.”

When people ask how they can pray for her, McGinnis suggests prayers for the grace to embrace humility and flexibility for trying to adapt to new approaches to ministry. She has been meeting people on an individual basis, as well as making “front porch visits,” but looks forward to meeting everyone face-to-face, once COVID restrictions have been lifted.

“If this was a time without COVID-19, I would have already met you all and had celebrations,” McGinnis said. “I am grieving that.” She added, “Even in our darkest days, the Lord always gives us hope. It is a strange and difficult time to begin a vocation, but all of you have made me feel so welcomed, and already loved. From all the Zoom calls, to the visits to my office, to the welcome banner at the manse when I first arrived — I am so grateful to be here and begin to get to know you all.”

Visit Trinity’s sermon archive to hear McGinnis preach.

McGinnis earned a bachelor’s degree in religious studies from Lenoir-Rhyne University and a Master of Divinity degree at Princeton Theological Seminary, where she received The George E. Sweazey Award for Excellence in Homiletics and was named Apollos Scholar through the Omaha Presbyterian Seminary Foundation. She is an avid hiker and backpacker.

Young Adult Volunteers in the Philippines (2016-17), left to right, Akilah Hyrams, Andrew Flanigan and Katheryn McGinnis, with Dessa Palm, YAV site coordinator (Photo provided)

Between college and seminary, McGinnis served as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) in the Philippines. “It was there, being part of church communities in the mountains of Luzon that I knew I wanted to pursue ordained ministry,” McGinnis said.

“We love Katheryn. She is an amazing human being who embraced the core tenets of the YAV program in a deep way,” said Dessa Palm, coordinator of the YAV site in the Philippines. “She lived and served alongside our partner church [United Church of Christ in the Philippines] working with the indigenous communities of the Cordillera mountains, and always had an open heart, a critical mind and a discerning spirit. Though she was quite remote from other serving YAVs that year, Katheryn continued to provide support for all and helped strengthen their intentional community. Her reflections were always insightful, and she brought in a lot of joy during our time together.”

McGinnis’ grandfather, the Rev. Dr. James T. Womak Jr., baptized her at First Presbyterian Church of Hickory, North Carolina, the same church where she was ordained and where her family are still members. Her great-grandparents bought a home in Montreat, North Carolina, in the early 1940s, which has been shared by extended family ever since. So, McGinnis said she was not only molded by family memories of spending summers in Montreat with her cousins, but also by hearing the history of her family in the PC(USA).

Although McGinnis’ grandfather died when she was very young, she said her earliest dreams were of following in his footsteps. Now when she looks up from the desk in her office, she sees her grandfather’s clergy robes, framed in a shadowbox as an ordination gift from her mother.

She said, “I have a reminder of hope that despite the perils of the world today, we can and do keep moving forward to accomplish that which we are called to do.”

The Rev. Dr. Jennifer “Jenni” Bales, pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church in San Jose and the communications director for the Presbytery of San Jose, contributed to this article.

The Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program is an ecumenical, faith-based service opportunity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) at sites throughout the U.S. and around the world. YAVs (ages 19-30) accompany local agencies working to address root causes of poverty and reconciliation. Alongside this work, volunteers explore the meaning of their Christian faith and accountability to their neighbors in the community with peers and mentors. The YAV year is August to August. Learn more and apply.

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