Old First has been offered a wonderful opportunity to extend its outreach into the broader church.
The Rev. Elsa Cook has a creative gift for writing liturgical materials. She began writing services and liturgies for a wider audience as a way to help overburdened pastors during the pandemic. She has developed somewhat of a following, colleagues who have been thankful for — and begun to look to — her helpful resources. She has been invited to lead worship workshops, and she has been asked to contribute materials to a liturgical collective. In the midst of all this, she has realized that writing and sharing these worship resources is a form of part-time ministry she feels called to for now.
Elsa is a member of Old First since 2015 when she and her husband Nigel moved to the area when he was stationed at Fort Dix. Before that, Elsa had served UCC congregations in South Portland, Maine and Olympia, Washington. While she was in the Philly area, she served as the Interim Minister at St. Peter’s UCC in Knauertown (so not many of us know her well, though Michael has known her since she was in high school youth group at the UCC congregation in Chappaqua, NY!)
When Nigel got transferred to a base Leavenworth, Kansas, Elsa decided to maintain her membership here at Old First (because they are so “on the move” for awhile0.) Since then, they have lived in Salgado and El Paso, Texas, and now are in Ulm, Germany.
Also as she was leaving the Philly area, Elsa took a leave of absence from ministry. By then, they had a young daughter and another one planned, Isabella and Eliza, now ages 3 and 2, and Elsa realized that her primary ministry for awhile is as a mom. And Nigel’s frequent career moves make serving a local church difficult.
Since the wider church considers Elsa’s creative activity writing liturgy as ministry, but technically, she’s not supposed to be doing ministry while on a leave of absence, she needs a call to ministry in order to come back to active service from her leave of absence. As her home congregation, we can call her to this work, then she will be able to return to active service as a fully authorized minister in the UCC, properly called to a specialized ministry, the service of creating worship resources.
The elders have responded favorably, as has the Committee on Ministry of the Philadelphia Association of the UCC. Elsa would become a pastor of Old First for this specialized role. She would not be in residence here. She has not asked for financial support for this ministry, only the blessing, spiritual support and some oversight from this congregation.
Her work might be better understood as a form of missionary service. Her ministry would not be directly to Old First, but extend the reach of Old First into the wider church. It seems a wonderful expression of what kind of church Old First is. On the recommendation of the elders, it will be up to the congregation to call Reverend Cook to this service of Old First.
Elsa will be our preacher and communion celebrant this week for the 11:30 online World Communion Service!