"On one level I told people that there is no one more surprised at this than I am — though at the same time it has been a very profound sense of call," said the Rev. Roger Dermody, the new deputy executive director for mission of the General Assembly Mission Council.
"I was at a stage where I had been at the same place for 25 years. We were starting some satellite campuses, I had taken a sabbatical, my wife, Megan, and I had adopted three children, moved into a new house — things were pretty stable, pretty settled," recounted Dermody.
There were 'vocational' knocks on the door, but Dermody ignored them. He was excited about the ministry of Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, where he had been on staff as director of College Ministries and Mission before taking on his role as executive pastor in 2001. He wasn't looking for anything else.
But then something began to shift. After a time of significant transition at Bel Air, the questions — 'Do I want to be here for the next stage? Do I fit here?' — began to unfold, and Dermody paid attention to some of the ‘knocks’ he had been ignoring.
Once Dermody finally took a look at the job description, he was amazed.
"It felt as though I was looking in a mirror of how the Lord has gifted me and lead me up to this point," he said.
He was also surprised to see the level and diversity of the significant impact the GAMC was having in the church and in the world.
"After seeing all of that I had to at least throw my hat in the ring," Dermody said.
Throw it in he did, and some five months later he and his family are set to move from Los Angeles to Louisville.
Dermody is excited about the move, both because of the bike path around the city (he is a fan of pretty much any athletic activity) but also because of the chance to be part of what the denomination is doing. He looks forward to helping share that news with local churches, churches such as Bel Air.
Dermody acknowledged that the General Assembly often gets a bad rap among the more evangelical churches in the denomination. Unfortunately, often all folks know is "that's the convention that happens every two years where we make a lot of decisions and then fight about them," he said.
"But they have no idea that we have over 200 mission workers in seminaries and countries around the world, or that we have a UN office or an office in Washington D.C., or that we are speaking up for the rights of children — this is some of the really cool stuff that both sides of the aisle can applaud and get behind and cheer on," Dermody said.
During the interview process, Dermody came across a brochure on growing the church deep and wide. He had heard the reference in passing, but that was it. In 2008, the 218th General Assembly adopted "Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide," a churchwide emphasis to help congregations grow through discipleship, diversity, evangelism and servanthood.
"When I saw this brochure it told about all of the mission work the denomination is involved in, based on the Great Commission and the Greatest Command," Dermody said.
He thought the initiative was fantastic — an idea that everyone can agree on and celebrate. But he wondered why, as the executive pastor of one of the largest churches in the nation, he'd never seen it before.
"What is the blockage that is hindering us from helping those in the pew understand what is going on in the wider church?" Dermody asked. "Louisville has got to begun to be seen less as this command-and-control rules enforcement center and seen more as the source for collaboration, networking and a partner in ministry to strengthen the churches to do the work."
Louisville doesn't need to do the churches' work for them, but it needs to strengthen them to do the work that Christ has called for.
Dermody hopes that he can help be a catalyst for such partnership.
"Take Bel Air. We have the resources to do some incredible things — why not use the denomination to help with distribution to make them available to other churches that are trying to start something similar?" he said. "I get fired up on connecting some of these churches and their best practices that are going on with one another — being an ambassador in the denomination and helping to do things more effectively."
Dermody has said he's excited to build on the work that many have done to move the denomination forward.
"I've used this phrase before, but I really feel that I’m not coming to just turn around the steady stream of membership loss in the PC(USA)," Dermody said. "I guess my big dream is that I’d like the PC(USA) to become known as the turnaround denomination."
Dermody wants to do more than just stem the trend of membership loss — he also wants to figure out the causes and help other denominations going through some of the same 'mid-life crises.'
Dermody is a self-identified evangelical, and he acknowledged that some might see this as a threat.
"Somehow, walking in the midst of that tension and being in dialogue has been a constant sense of place and call in my life," said Dermody, who has experience in college ministry and on presbytery committees and GA task forces. "I think people would say that I'm fair, open-minded and try to truly understand and not to bully.
"Of course I have strong convictions — I hope we all do," Dermody said. "But my goal is not to convert people to my convictions but to help us all understand that we have a strong call that comes directly from the Son of God to reach a broken and lost world."
The Rev. Erin Dunigan is a freelance writer and photographer in Newport Beach, Calif.