Rev. Hugenot will leave for NY post
MARK E. RONDEAU
County News Editor
BENNINGTON -- After seven years filled with accomplishment, the Rev. Jerrod Hugenot will be leaving the First Baptist Church of Bennington for an administrative post in his denomination.
His new post, beginning in June, will be Associate Executive Minister for the American Baptist Churches of New York State. Hugenot and his wife, Kerry Shermer, will live in Albany, N.Y.
"Regional ministry is a vital part of the American Baptist tradition," he said. "Such work is fundamentally about equipping the saints in local congregations, providing support and encouragement to pastors and lay leaders and working together to navigate changing contexts for our ministry and mission."
Hugenot, 38, will serve American Baptist congregations in all of New York state except New York City and its boroughs and the Rochester and Genesee area. In all, his new territory includes more than 300 church communities.
Jim Kelsey, executive minister of ABC/NYS, said of Hugenot, "He brings a deep appreciation and knowledge of our Baptist distinctives and history and belief. His expertise will help our churches sharpen their sense of identity and clarify their place and purpose in their communities."
Hugenot is a native of Kansas, with the accent to prove it. A graduate of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas, he was ordained in 2004. Bennington First Baptist, which he served from 2006 to present, was his first full time parish post.
During his tenure, First Baptist made its mostly unused Nichols Christian Education Building into a welcoming home for several nonprofit social services program, including the Bennington Free Clinic (GBICS), a program of Bennington Interfaith Community Services Inc. Hugenot has been an very active support of both GBICS and its parent, the Greater Bennington Interfaith Council, which he currently co-chairs.
The administrative region Hugenot will serve in his new post, one of 36 in the ABC/USA, is actually based in Syracuse, but the region wants Hugenot to be deployed rather than in the home office, he said,
His duties will entail visiting churches in his region three out of every four Sundays. That could be in multiple formats. "It could be just meet at the Sunday morning service to bring greetings or to preach the sermon. I hope it might be the latter since I like it so," he said. "And I'm sure some clergy will welcome that."
The placement of pastors will be a very important part of his new post. "Baptists call their pastors," he said. "It's not appointment by bishop. We have no bishops.
"Regional ministers and region staff provide support to congregations, so if somebody's in between pastors, we help with sourcing good interims ... and supply pastors," he said, "as well as provide helpful materials as the congregation discerns the woman or man who is called to be their new minister."
Among American Baptists, "the local church is the fundamental unit of mission," he said. "In other words, the local church is at the top of an upside-down pyramid. Many many local churches are the most important part of our denomination -- regional and then below that is national."
Given the large geographical region he will be covering, Hugenot sees some driving in the new position.
"Fundamentally I think the success of the position is on being relational." "I will be meeting with folks, maybe in the same week from Buffalo to Watertown ... to the mid-Hudson and then maybe over to the Finger Lakes," he said. "So I will be getting to know New York state very well, and hopefully not the good people of the New York State Police, which shouldn't be a problem -- I drive very cautiously."
He's also interested in developing more educational opportunities for clergy and for lay leaders "to grow in skills as well as learn how to be adaptive to the always-changing context of local church ministry," he said. "Some of my work with missional church efforts will become very helpful in that they've just started doing some work in that area with some of the congregations."
Unlike a great majority of local clergy leaders of Christian houses of worship, Hugenot never took the title "pastor" but instead had the title "coordinating minister" in Bennington.
The reasons for this title are both practical and theological. He was first called in 2006 as an intentional minister for three years. "That was set up before I even candidated here, because the congregation realized they had to spend the next good season of time resetting their sense of future and their sense of purpose and they did that in spades," he said.
"When it came time for that contract to come to its end, I had asked about six months beforehand would they retain me beyond, and they voted affirmatively to keep working with me, so many good things were in flux in a positive way. I suggested that because of our Baptist heritage, the idea of the minister or pastor being senior seems a bit ostentatious for my tastes."
The best model for Baptist ministry "is that certainly you ordain people to work in the fields if you will," he said. "Yet you also need that person to not be doing the work herself or himself, you need someone there who can coordinate, direct traffic. I have a high preference for that, because really First Baptist is not just understood as any one person's contributions. It's everyone working together."
He added, "There are times I've spoken at other gatherings for non-profits or churches, and the question I get often in church gatherings of other congregations, other denominations is ‘Well, when you started all of this change, how many people did you lose?' And I astonish them by saying, ‘None.' Well, because we've said everyone matters, everyone's valued equally, everyone has something to contribute, and so we're trying to be very methodic that it's a mutually owned, corporately owned, communally owned way of being church together."
Judging by both tenants in the education building and foot traffic, Hugenot and First Baptist's idea of being a missional church has been quite successful.
"We now have on a good weekday easily 100 people coming through the building for something. And I think that's remarkable. The idea's that the church is more than just the Sunday morning experience," he said. "And I think the best thing is that by focusing on basic human needs issues -- these are common ground issues folks can get behind and also because of our community's needs -- they all check the boxes of what our deep needs are. My joke has always been if Jesus came in with a clipboard for annual review I think we'd pass."
Contact Mark Rondeau at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Banner_Religion
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.