Tasha Hicks assumed when she finished seminary in 2011 that she’d go on to be part of a large, multistaff church, which many graduates aspire to do. She found herself instead as the part-time solo pastor of Mount View Presbyterian Church, a 50-member church in White Center, an unincorporated area of Seattle.
When she first saw the job, Hicks admits there were many things that attracted her to it but also one big thing that made her hesitate.
“My passion has always been to be in a diverse setting and group, working with folks that are on the margins of society,” Hicks says. “Actually, when I saw this position, everything about it was exciting to me, but I saw ‘solo, part-time’ and I said no way. I just didn’t think that was my strength, to be a solo pastor preaching pretty much every week.”
Two of Hicks’s mentors who had worked with her for the last five years also saw the job description and encouraged her to apply for it.
“They read the job description and saw the church and said, ‘You have to apply. This job is perfect for you. Everything that you’ve been talking about, all your passions, your experience, your background for the past five years,’” she says.
Hicks decided to take more time to consider the call, thinking it over and praying about it before deciding that they were right. There was still one more challenge presented by the job; namely, that it was only part-time, a difficult situation for someone just out of school with education debts coming due.
“I accepted it even knowing that it would be tight, but I feel like I’ve spent a lot of my life where things have been tight and you just have to trust that God will provide,” says Hicks. She just figured since it was part-time, she’d find a second job to help out. “I didn’t know what kind of assistance would be available, but I believed God called me here and that God would provide.”
Ultimately, assistance found her. Hicks was a recipient of the Presbyterian Study Grant in seminary, and through that program she was invited by Laura Bryan, associate for Financial Aid for Studies in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s office of Vocation, to be one of the readers for scholarship applicants in 2011. Bryan heard about her call and directed her to the Transformational Leadership Debt Assistance Program (TLDA).
The TLDA program is designed to assist seminary graduates who serve in temporary or part-time pastoral positions in churches of 150 members or less or in emerging worshiping communities. The program provides forgivable loans that can be applied to their education debt. After completion of an 18-month period of service, the loan is forgiven.
“She said they were ‘directing this program, and I think you’d be a good fit for it,’” Hicks explains. “This program is amazing.
“The school debt keeps you looking in the rearview mirror in some ways, so having the assistance helps me to have a more forward-looking perspective of where God is leading me and also the church.
“How do we be a light in this community, how do we love our neighbors, how do we invest in the children and youth and families in this community?” she asks. “How are we being a church that nurtures and helps people to grow in their faith?”
Hicks is happy with her decision to accept the call to serve as pastor for Mount View Presbyterian Church. She has a small but enthusiastic congregation that has a history of serving the children and families in the neighborhood.
“One of the ways that a member describes it is that it’s a home church that meets in a building,” she says.
God continues to provide for Hicks, including by way of that second job she needed to make ends meet. Hicks was hired to be the head coach for girls basketball at Evergreen High School, one block away from the church. Several of the youth attend the high school, and other members of the church also work on the coaching staff for various sports.
Hicks looks at it as another opportunity to engage with the community. “It is definitely bivocational ministry, and I am excited for the opportunity to be more fully invested in the lives of the youth and families in our community.”
As today’s seminary graduates answer God’s call to serve in small towns, inner city neighborhoods, and a host of diverse settings, a tentmaking ministry may be their model of choice. “The TLDA Program provides financial assistance for those who offer themselves for such part-time service, taking bold risks such as Tasha has to begin new bridge-building ministries through which they will lead congregations and serve their communities in some other employment,” says the Rev. Dr. Marcia Clark Myers, director of the office of Vocation.
White Center is a neighborhood that is becoming home to a more diverse population. While urban neighborhoods present many challenges, Hicks thinks there is also amazing opportunity for the church to learn and grow.
“Mount View hopes to be a church that embraces this learning and grows in reflecting the surrounding community,” she says.
Despite facing the plight of limited resources, common to many small urban churches, Hicks has been encouraged that Mount View has just welcomed six new members and celebrated four baptisms.
In thinking about the future of Mount View, Hicks says, “We believe that God is able to ‘accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,’ and it is to him that we pray, ‘be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations for ever and ever.’”
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Toni Montgomery is a freelance writer in Statesville, N.C., where she is also secretary for First Presbyterian Church.