Amy Newell is a part-time pastor with a full-time ministry that models the blessings and relational opportunities of a bi-vocational call.
It’s not uncommon for someone to move across the street from a church and become its pastor. But usually these events happen simultaneously, not three decades apart.
PTS alumna and member of the Board of Directors Amy Newell grew up as the only person in her family interested in religion. But in high school, after a tragic death close to her family led to a less than compassionate response from her church, she stopped going. After college, while working as an accountant for Giant Eagle, she found herself living across the street from Hoboken Presbyterian Church in Blawnox, Pa. Before long Amy was not only attending but also serving in many volunteer roles: church treasurer, Sunday school and Bible study teacher, and other behind-the-scenes service.
Sensing the Call to Ministry
When the pastor of Hoboken PC left six years ago, the small congregation scrambled to find reliable pulpit supply until they could call a new pastor. Then the scheduled preacher for Christmas Eve got sick and Amy boldly offered to step in. “I had often thought that being the pastor of the church was my dream job,” she says without a hint of reservation. The role fit her perfectly from the beginning. She quickly grew in her ability to preach and lead worship as she soon became the interim pastor until they could find a more permanent solution.
Not long after that, the church received an information packet in the mail from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, which had just restructured its curriculum as part of a move from trimesters to semesters. The Seminary sent the packet to many Presbyterian churches in the region. But Amy thought someone arranged for it to be sent specifically for her. Immediately, she was convinced that a seminary degree was the next step in her journey. So she enrolled in early 2019 and began with two classes, while still working full time. And after graduating in May 2022, Amy continued as the pastor of Hoboken PC.
Meeting People Where They Are
Amy began seminary not knowing how long it would take nor what the experience would be like. She continued to work while parenting her 12-year-old daughter, Mercy.
“It had been many years since I went to college, and I don’t remember my college professors being as interested in supporting you as a person,” she says. “I was pleasantly surprised by the faculty at PTS. They really want you to do well; they really want you to learn. They’re so knowledgeable, but they have the humility to continue to learn along with you.”
Amy is also quick to note that everyone at PTS—faculty, staff, and students—was so welcoming and accepting from the beginning. “No one cared that I was divorced, that I had to go to work after class, that I was older, that I had a child at home to take care of,” she says. “The community here helped me become more comfortable with who I am, without excuses. PTS meets you where you are.”
Shopping with the Pastor
Amy should know. She’s also naturally able to meet people where they are. Pastoring Hoboken PC is a part-time role, but Amy lives a bi-vocational, full-time ministry.
For 24 years Amy has worked for Bath & Body Works, and is currently a retail sales manager in addition to serving as Hoboken’s pastor. As a young adult a few years into an accounting career, Amy realized that an office job wasn’t for her. She loved the work but not the lack of interaction with people. The social and relational culture of retail fits her much better. Amy says:
“I love the relationships I form with co-workers and with customers. My co-workers are my community that I can share joys and challenges of life with. As for the customers, you never know who’s going to walk in that door. But I’ve always felt that people are so interesting! I like to say I’ve never been a good salesperson but I’m really good at being social with customers.”
Some of her customers, she says, are parishioners from the church. Because it’s such a small church and she is the only person on staff, she doesn’t hold office hours. But people know that they’ll find her at Bath & Body Works if they ever need to talk. And whether she’s meeting parishioners there, interacting with customers, or cultivating community with the employees, Amy sees everything she does at Bath & Body Works as ministry.
“I have trouble leaving places.”
A few months after she graduated from Pittsburgh Seminary, Amy joined the Seminary’s Board of Directors. “I have trouble leaving places,” Amy explains. “I like to add things to my life but don’t always do a good job of leaving other things behind. So I’m excited that I can continue to be connected and supportive of the Seminary.”
She admits that serving on the Board was intimidating at first. But the Board has exhibited the same level of welcome and support as Amy found in the classroom. And Mercy, who is now 16, appreciates that she too is welcomed to Board dinners and other Seminary events.
Ministry in a Post-Pandemic World
The pandemic challenged all churches, including Hoboken PC. But they’re recovering well. Amy has helped the congregation focus on re-establishing relationships and starting new ones by facilitating fellowship with sharing food and telling stories. The return of the children and children’s ministry has enlivened the congregation. And in the fall, Amy plans to start a weekly Bible study that will focus on the Scripture passages used in that Sunday’s worship.
“It’s been such a wonderful experience to serve God in this way,” Amy says. The Hoboken congregation, and the Bath & Body works employees and customers, would agree. After all, Amy excels at meeting people where they are, to offer them God’s love and grace.