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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Looking back generations to see the path forward


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

July 21, 2021

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

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 Oct. 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.

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.

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.

Tammy Warren, Communications Associate, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus: Pulpit Call

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Derrick Perkins, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)
Lisa Pesavento, Presbyterian Foundation

Let us pray

Creator God, thank you for the men, women and youth you have called to serve in this ministry. Bless the work that is done in your name. Amen.