Raised as a United Methodist Church member since birth, Rev. Jill Hubbard-Smith of Atlantic Highlands Navesink UMC values and treasures the essential role that mission has played throughout her life and during her decades-long years of service to the community. She continues to carry close to her heart what she learned as a young child and that is “missions change the lives of individuals and church communities.”
“It builds communities and moves our hearts. Missions were very important to my family. Since I was eight-years-old, my family started participating in the Red Bird mission in Kentucky. I can also remember distributing Christmas presents out of the back of my parents’ red station wagon with my brother dressed as Santa throughout communities in Georgia with kids running after the car, so excited thinking it was Santa’s car,” she said. “My greatest joy as a pastor has been to see how missions move the heart and faith of participants. To see how people grow in faith and grow in leadership to share that faith and also to see community build within and far beyond the walls of the church.”
Hubbard-Smith’s family was raised in Fairfax, VA, with her mother centering the family in daily devotions and church life. They moved often as Hubbard-Smith said that her father, who she called “a Corp Gypsy,” was transferred for his job every four years or so, from Virginia to New Jersey to Georgia and to New Jersey again.
“Every time my parents found the church they wanted us to attend, we would pick our home in a community nearby. While in Georgia, my mom took classes in religion at Wesleyan College. We were very active in every church…especially in Macon, GA, and then at Mendham and Bridgewater UMC when my mother started working there,” she added.
Hubbard-Smith graduated from Mendham High School and attended West Virginia Wesleyan College. However, she didn’t graduate, coming home after one semester to work at Tiffany and launching her own catering business called Hubbard’s Cupboard. She later attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York for interior design. And, while active with her church community, she volunteered to lead youth fellowship at Bridgewater UMC and went on mission trips within the United States and to Haiti. It was while leading youth at the National Youth Gathering that she decided she had been called to youth ministry and seminary. However, she added that there was one small issue.
“I needed an undergraduate degree. So within a week I was accepted to Centenary College and sold my townhouse,” she said.
She later graduated from Centenary College in Hackettstown, NJ, receiving a B.A. in Psychology and Business and chose Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, MO, where she would receive a MDiv. specializing in pastoral care.
Hubbard-Smith is now the pastor of Atlantic Highlands Navesink UMC, which she said is “a blend of two churches” coming to fruition in October 2016 when Navesink UMC and AHUMC voted at a church conference to become one united church community with two sites. In addition to serving this community, Hubbard-Smith has also served at West Belmar UMC, Chatham UMC and Lebanon UMC (now Round Valley UMC) .
Hubbard-Smith said that her church community is very mission-minded. They do a yearly mission trip, community soup lunch, blood drives, Family Promise and backpacks to the community, to list only a few.
“Our community has a lot of fellowship and is very caring. Last week we had 58 people come to our thrift shop and over 20 people gathered around to work at our Open Door Craft group. It is wonderful to have such a sense of togetherness,” she added.
Hubbard-Smith’s own family has a deep connection to the Methodist community as her mother, Rev. Virginia Stein Hubbard is a retired Elder, having served at various churches throughout New Jersey and her brother, Rev. Dr. Joel Hubbard III is an elder who is currently pastor at Essex Center UMC in Essex, VT.
Hubbard-Smith, who has three children – Adam Smith, Hannah Hubbard and Lydia Smith with her husband, Garry, has found the past 18 months to be challenging due to the pandemic but has witnessed how loving God while loving our neighbors has provided comfort during these trying times.
“It has been difficult to not be an in-person community. It has also been hard to learn technology, which takes more time than the spiritual care, which is what I believe is the ministry that I feel called to…to preside over services for many pillars of our church. But I believe that the love of God and of the community has been abundantly clear throughout my life with my family and my church families,” she said. “Loving God while loving our neighbor, in ways that speak and show love, care and respect, are so very important, and this is what we have all learned during this past year and a half.”
Atlantic Highlands Navesink UMC is located at 96 3rd Avenue in Atlantic Highlands. Their phone number is 732-291-0485.