For Rev. Dr. Rich Hendrickson, senior pastor of St. Paul’s UMC in Ocean Grove, NJ, the greatest joy of being a pastor is “without a doubt” watching people encounter, accept, grow and serve Christ. He has found throughout his years of ministry that there is “nothing better” than seeing people find their way, discover their gifts and put those gifts to work for Christ.
“Serving God means helping people encounter, accept, grow and serve Him. I am much more interested in discipleship than church membership,” he said. “I believe when people live fully into their relationship with Christ, the body of Christ will be alive and well and flourishing in the world.”
Hendrickson’s own roots are deeply embedded within the Methodist faith as he was born and raised in Ocean Grove where he grew up as an active member of St. Paul’s.
“I grew up in the church. I attended Sunday School, sang in the choir, and attended youth group. I served as youth pastor at St. Paul’s from 1987-1992 before going to seminary,” he added.
Hendrickson, who has a B.A. from Thomas Edison State College, a M.Div. from Bangor Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from Drew Theological Seminary, has been senior pastor at St. Paul’s for the past five years. His previous appointments include co-senior pastor of UMC of Summit; associate pastor of Central UMC and Howland UMC in Maine; and director of youth ministries of St. Paul’s. In addition, he was director of the Stewardship Foundation of GNJ.
Hendrickson has been happily married for the past 37 years to his wife, Rev. Dr. Gina Hendrickson, and they are parents of adult twin daughters–Krista who is married to Joe and Rebecca married to Ben who have a daughter, Abby.
“I met her at a covered dish supper at St. Paul’s UMC, and I guess you could say that you can’t get more Methodist than that!” he laughed.
The clergy couple, who often find ways to laugh and share that joy with others, have only served together when they both co-pastored the Summit UMC from 2001-2006. The two have recently been busy with a move to Moorestown, NJ, where Rev. Dr. Gina Hendrickson began her new position on July 1 as the senior pastor at First UMC of Moorestown. She was previously the district superintendent from 2014-2021 for the Northern Shore District.
“Gina is very excited to be moving back into ministry in the local church and can’t wait to be in ministry with the laity and staff of the Moorestown church,” he said. “She will be making the long commute from the back of the parsonage through the church parking lot to her office! I’ll have about an hour commute from Moorestown to Ocean Grove.”
Hendrickson said that this past year and a half has proved difficult at times for both he and Gina as pastors who were leading congregations through a global pandemic.
“Gina had the challenge of helping churches on her district navigate all the facets of dealing with a pandemic like moving from live to virtual worship, keeping ministry going while not being able to meet in the church building, and financial stress and struggles,” he said.
“I have had some of the same struggles at St. Paul’s. On the flip side we have grown and flourished even in the midst of the pandemic. Our staff and lay leadership have stepped up and helped us increase our online presence, restart in-person worship with safe protocols in place and maintain our presence in the community.”
Together, they always seem to find that silver lining and are often seen smiling or cheering on someone. At the Annual Conference session in May, Gina said, “We haven’t been able to grieve together, to hug each other,” said Hendrickson who cited many “dark valleys” she encountered over the past year. But she said, “The 23rd Psalm has been balm for my soul,” she said as she encouraged everyone to let it become their voice as it has for her and to “fear not!”
Another time when she was citing an excerpt from John Eldridge, Gina said, “It’s exhausting, and my soul just needs to lie on its back and put its paws in the air for a few minutes.”
In spite of these past 16 months of uncertainty, it has taught this clergy couple the true meaning of the word, “nimble.”
“The word we have committed to over this last year plus is ‘nimble.’ Gina and I personally, and in our pastoral work, have tried to remain nimble, responding to the changing needs with grace and calm,” he said.
And then there’s always their rambunctious Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Ruhe, who gives them another opportunity to laugh and tend to their souls.