By Rich Place
The Springville First United Methodist Church welcomed a new pastor this week, as Rev. Matthew French preached his first sermon at the church on Sunday.
French, who most recently served as senior pastor at Bergen United Methodist Church about 20 miles west of Rochester, replaces Pastor Kevin Costner, who was moved by the district to churches in Chautauqua County.
French comes to Springville with his wife, Angie, and two children, Eli and Abby.
“We are coming in with a lot of anticipation not just for the church but for the community,” he said during an interview last week before his arrival in Springville. “Where our kids are and where we are as a family, I think it will be a good fit and I’m looking forward to just ‘doing life’ in Springville.”
French got his full-time start in ministry working in the youth ministry and started studying in seminary in Kentucky before he jumped back into ministry again in the Rochester area.
At Rush United Methodist Church south of Rochester he served as youth pastor, a position he said transitioned into more of an associate pastor role. It was there he decided to pursue the process of ordination in the United Methodist Church.
While he was taking time off from a full-time ministry position, he worked at Starbucks and said he learned a lot in conversations with people when he didn’t have the “pastor” title as part of his identity.
“People will talk to you differently when your title isn’t ‘pastor,’” he said. There, he interacted with people outside the church, something he said was “really valuable.”
Just down the road from Rush United Methodist Church, French ended up spending six years at Honeoye Falls United Methodist Church before getting the call for Bergen, where he had been for five years.
And after that period of time, the potential of moving to another congregation continued to grow.
“We’ve kind of sensed for about a year-and-a-half or two years that God was preparing us for a next step,” French said. “We just had a sense God was building us up for the next thing that was really going to be a fit for our gifts in some unique ways and be a unique landing place.”
That landing place is the Springville First United Methodist Church, which French said is about the same size as Bergen United Methodist Church.
He admitted that in a position such as a pastor it sometimes creates anxiety early on, as the title comes with more than just the written responsibilities and should include relationships with church attendees. Obviously, less than a week into his new role, he’s nowhere near that point yet.
“I walk in with the title of pastor and yet I know that’s so much more than just the authority that comes with a title,” he said. “It becomes a relationship and so the pastoral heart of me kind of cringes a little bit at the idea — I walk in with a title and I don’t know everyone’s name.
“There is all this excitement about knowing this is where God has led us,” he continued, “but a little bit of fear or anxiety over the fact I’m not the pastor yet. I have the title, but we have to be walking with each other, getting to know each other.”
French explained that one of the primary roles as pastor is to listen to those in the church’s congregation and be attentive to God as well. God is leading not only the church within the walls but the people there as well, he said.
He noted Springville First United Methodist Church has been around for a long time — it celebrated its 200th anniversary as a congregation in 2014 — and he’s mindful of that while also giving an ear to ideas and figuring out what God has planned for the future.
“It’s not just building relationships and getting to know names but what are people’s hopes and dreams for the church,” French said. “It really is about listening about what God wants to do in this Springville church and the greater community.”
The Springville First United Methodist Church, located at 474 East Main St., holds a contemporary service at 8:30 a.m. and a traditional service at 11 a.m. For more information, visit s1umc.org.