New pastor is First Presbyterian's answer to prayer
Pastor Andy Kennaly and his family have been in La Grande for about seven months now.
And after the 18-month prayerful and sometimes painful search to find just the right guy, La Grande's First Presbyterian Church seems to have gotten just what it needed.
Kennaly is young, 37, but not too young though his youthful looks often deceive people into thinking he is much younger.
"I get that from my mother," he says.
He is also committed to Jesus Christ, the sovereignty of God and the Presbyterian Church.
"I joke that I'm sinfully Presbyterian. When I told people here that, one lady started saying she was congenitally Presbyterian," he laughs.
"I've just never learned much about other churches. I was raised Presbyterian and always been Presbyterian."
When describing his ministry style and the church body, he uses energy words like intentional and vital, though his personality style is casual and laid back.
"I am definitely not a type A personality," he laughs.
Last spring, church organist Mary Helen Garoutte praised his preaching, saying that everyone should come hear him on Sundays.
In an e-mail, church member Sondra Rosholt wrote, "He has been such a blessing to our church."
Though Kennaly enjoys knowing he is appreciated, he is quick to shift the spotlight back on his congregation.
"This is a great group of people. They really kept it together during those 18 months," he says, adding that is an average time period for a pastor search.
But God used that time, he adds, to further equip the church body to minister to themselves and others.
During the transition, some people moved on. Others, however, dug in and began to realize their own strengths and gifts for ministry.
"After all, isn't that what the body is? A laity? A priesthood of all believers?" Kennaly asks. "These people have vitality and depth of faith, much of it born out of the time they were without a pastor."
Church programs had been very staff driven, he says, and the church body had to come to the realization that the pastor can not, and should not, do it all. A philosophy Kennaly heartily embraces.
"I don't want to run the church. That's what the elders are for. I want to preach, teach and do pastoral care. Those are my gifts what I've been called to do," he says.
The call to pastoral care was one he actually did not receive until after he had finished seminary.
Kennaly grew up in Spokane, his wife, Shawna, grew up on Mercer Island, but the two Washington state natives did not meet until they went to Northland College in Wisconsin, a school specializing in outdoor education.
"I was thinking about a career in forestry when I went in, but when I came out I was thinking about some kind of outdoor ministry, church camp director, something like that. It seemed a good way to serve the church, enjoy the creation and acknowledge the Creator," he explains.
So, after college, the newlyweds headed to a Presbyterian seminary in Kentucky. After seminary, came four and a half years as an associate pastor in Clarkston, Wash. It was then Kennaly realized he not only enjoyed the pastoral life in a congregation, but that he had been gifted for it.
Next came seven years pastoring a church in Whitefish, Mont. before the Kennaly family was called to move on this time to La Grande.
Northeast Oregon has proven as good a fit for the family as Kennaly is for the church.
With three boys, Cole, 13, Grant, 10, and Mark, 9, the family is involved in a variety of outdoor recreation hunting, fishing, camping, backpacking, hiking, biking, skiing, snow shoeing and huckleberry picking.
"I like my huckleberries. As long as I can find huckleberries, I'll be all right." Kennaly admits to miserly rationing last year's stash from the freezer for the infrequent treat or pie for a special occasion.
They bought a house in November and it's beginning to feel like home.
Last week, Pastor Andy, as he calls himself, rode his bike out of town to make a call. He rode back in toward Riverside Park, taking in the new scenery. It seems the rural life may prove to be as good a fit for Kennaly as the pastoral life has proven to be.
"It is so nice here. It's such a neat thing to be in the middle of all this agriculture. That's something we've never been around much before," he says.
Though Kennaly hasn't made a lot of changes to the structure of things at the church, his subtle shift of focus to "ministries rather than meetings" for the intent of what is happening at First Presbyterian has not been lost on the congregation.
"I think what people have noticed most is the focus. There haven't been a lot of changes to what we do we still come together for meetings, but we call them ministry teams instead of committees," Kennaly says.
"Sometimes a thing as subtle as language can shift the focus and change the intent."