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Ronceverte pastor elected moderator

Chip Ellis
Stephen Baldwin, the pastor of Ronceverte Presbyterian Church, has recently been elected moderator of the Presbytery of West Virginia.

RONCEVERTE, W.Va. -- A pastor in the small town of Ronceverte, Stephen Baldwin was surprised to learn he'd been nominated to a high position of leadership within the Presbytery of West Virginia.

At 29 years old and with four-and-a-half years of experience at the pulpit, Baldwin is the youngest person to serve as moderator in the Presbytery of West Virginia. He's also the first Greenbrier County minister to be elected to the position.

"[It] was a shock to me," Baldwin said, recalling the phone call he received in December. He was later elected moderator.

As moderator, Baldwin will preside over the denomination's business meetings, which bring together Presbyterians from across the state. The Presbytery of West Virginia comprises 140 congregations and more than 11,000 people.

Rev. Frank Mansell, a retired Charleston-area Presbyterian minister, said when choosing a moderator, the denomination takes a candidate's ability and talents into consideration more than his or her age. Baldwin will do a great job as moderator, he said.

"I'm delighted to see these young ministers come and assume roles of leadership," said Mansell, who's known Baldwin over the past several years. "I think it's terrific."

Other denominations, and not just the Presbyterian Church, will benefit from the involvement of the younger generation, Mansell said. 

A native of Greenbrier County, Baldwin preached his first sermon at age 15. He said he's always felt a "slow and steady" call from God into the ministry.

As a young man, Baldwin's minister helped him explore that call, and let him tag along to visit people and also preach and lead worship.

"I found that I did enjoy it and I did like it," Baldwin said of ministry. "So I moved in that direction."

Baldwin, whose boyish looks make him appear a little younger than his 29 years, said he's sure age is sometimes an issue among some of the older church members. He recalled a time recently when a movie theater employee asked to see his ID before he watched an R-rated movie.

 "If I get carded at an 'R' movie, I'm sure people are thinking, who's this kid?" he said. "I just do my job. I think when they see me doing my job and my responsibilities, then the questions seem to fade."

With four years of experience as a preacher under his belt, Baldwin said he loves his job and especially enjoys getting to help people.

"There's a Scripture, worded differently in different gospels, which essentially says that Jesus came not to be served, but to serve," Baldwin said. "He sets that example for the Christian community, and it was handed down to me by my family and my community here in southern West Virginia. And as simplistic as it sounds, I love serving others."

Baldwin and his colleagues are leading the church through a difficult time in its history. The denomination last year decided to let local churches decide if gays and lesbians should serve in their pulpits. It was a decision that has caused disagreements among congregants, some of whom oppose it.

"There are churches in the state that are leaving because of that," Baldwin said. "They think it's wrong. They think it's a sin and they're leaving. So yeah, it's a struggle."

As moderator, Baldwin hopes to bring some changes to the church's business meetings. He and others on a committee called the Jeremiah 29.11 mission group wrote their recommendations about what the church should look like in the future. Baldwin co-chaired the committee, along with Todd Wright of Charleston and Tina Vial of Elkins.

"We decided we don't need to do so much business," Baldwin said. "We don't need to go and sit in a church all day and talk to each other."

So plans are that on meeting days, members will spend half the day working on a community service project, or training or education and use the other half for church business.

Baldwin isn't exactly sure how it will look just yet.

"That's probably one of the reasons why they asked me to do this," he said. "Because I proposed this plan and it passed, so they said, 'Well you proposed this plan, you make it happen.'"

 At a time when people are not as involved in churches as they were in the past, Baldwin said he agrees with some of the millennial generation's criticisms of the church. Churches can be hypocritical, judgmental and out of touch with peoples' lives, he said.

"The church isn't for saints," Baldwin said. "It's for sinners and broken people like me who need God and need each other.

"I go to church because I need all the help I can get. If we can be that kind of church, the kind that is honest and genuine, concerned about helping others because of our faith, then we'll be on the right track."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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