Tallmadge -- The Rev. Dr. Matt Wooster, 40, accepted a call to join Wellesley Hills Congregational Church in Massachusetts. And while both church officials and church members are saddened at his leaving, they say they are happy for his new journey within the church. He gave his farewell sermon June 1 and thanked the congregation for its support.
"Matt brought a real sense of his calling as a servant in Christian ministry," said the Rev. Dr. John Schluep, senior minister at First Congregational Church of Tallmadge. "He brought a tremendous capacity to listen to people, and he has a gift in preaching. We worked very well together. We're very collegial and collaborated with one another. His preaching and teaching was excellent."
"It was emotional, certainly," Wooster said in regard to his last sermon. "It was a mix of having a lot to be thankful for and also being sad to be leaving people I had become very close to over 11 years. Essentially, I wanted to share that with them in my last sermon."
Wooster is originally from Columbus and now resides in Wellesley, Mass. With his wife and two sons. He earned his doctor of ministry degree from Chicago Theological Seminary, his master of divinity degree from the Methodist Theological School of Ohio and earned a bachelor's degree from Miami University.
After spending 11 years at First Congregational Church as associate minister, Wooster accepted an invitation from Wellesley Hills Congregational Church to serve as senior minister. The decision was a nine month process. Wellesley Hills elected a church committee to evaluate candidates and Wooster was recommended candidate.
"This is an opportunity for me to grow in my work by becoming a senior minister of a congregation that's a similar size to the First Congregational in Tallmadge," Wooster said. "I'm hoping to take all that I've learned in my great experience there and continue the really good work that Wellesley Congregational Church has been doing."
During his time as associate minister, Wooster focused on the educational and outreach ministries of the congregation. He led 11 week-long summer mission trips to Chicago, Atlanta and Kentucky, as well as educational trips to Boston to teach students about the Congregational Church history.
"Each of the kids were just changed people when they came back from each mission trip," Church member Ann Carter said. "He just really allowed them to grow and develop their own confidence, their own style, their own gifts. Being a parent, it far exceeded my expectations."
Carter said she was also impressed by Wooster's ability to embrace and accept everyone. She said he took the church in new directions that she did not think a church could grasp. He was open minded about people and issues.
During his time in Tallmadge, Wooster wrote a doctoral thesis that delved into the intersection of preaching and congregational discernment about affirming people who are gay and lesbian. He received his doctor of ministry degree from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2013.
Wooster described First Congregational Church as a sizable congregation which includes a diverse range of experience, opinions and views which adds to the richness of the church.
"When you have such diversity of thought and experience, there's certainly going to be subjects that will have disagreement and differences," Wooster said. "The danger there is that things become divisive and relationships go bad. But I think the other danger is that you just avoid those topics. And that's not healthy either. I wanted to study and try out a practice of how we could approach some of the things that we have different opinions on while still maintaining good relationships with each other, and we're working through that."
Currently, First Congregational Church members are taking on the pastoral care responsibilities in an attempt to fill the current gap; however, Schluep said he hopes to acquire an interim pastor to help with services of worship and any pastoral care needs including funerals and weddings.
Although he's uncertain just when a new associate minister will selected, Schluep said he hopes the successor will be a leader and someone who can function in the ministry with confidence and the "utmost integrity."
"You don't replace a Matt Wooster," Schluep said. "Matt leaves a footprint here and made a real positive impact on the ministry of this church, and the presence of this church, and not only the Tallmadge community but the region. We don't replace him ... we need to be open for the next pastor that will arrive here."
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