LYNN — Heather Ardrey traveled through nine time zones to get to Lynn from her former home, but she said her timing was perfect in becoming one of the city’s newest church leaders.
“My church is a beautiful facility. I love the new murals downtown and I love that I can walk my kids to schools,” Ardrey said.
Ardrey and her husband, Dave, and their children ages 9 and 6 ½ moved from the Marshall Islands smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Ocean to East Lynn on August 1. She is the new pastor of First Church of the Nazarene (Iglesia Hermosa del Nazareno) on Eastern Avenue and her change in locales has, to put it mildly, been intense.
“My kids are more familiar with stingrays than squirrels,” she said.
Ardrey will preach her first sermon in the nearly 90-year-old wooden church Sunday morning and then get a chance to greet and meet some of the 60 congregation members. She said First Church’s diverse congregation made up of people from many backgrounds is exactly what she was looking for when she was offered a new pastoral assignment by Nazarene district leaders after her husband completed a four-year stint working as an electrical engineer in the Marshalls.
“We want our kids exposed to people who are different from them. I grew up in a very diverse community,” Ardrey said.
Ardrey spent her childhood in a rural New York state community in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains. Many of her neighbors were poor and they included people who heard Ardrey’s father preach on Sundays and were familiar with her mother’s father’s work as a minister.
Ardrey did not initially want to follow in their footsteps. Her grandfather reminded her more than once that a pastor’s life can mean long hours that “can exact a toll on a person.”
“He said, ‘If you can be anything else, be it.’ I got to the point where I didn’t feel I could do anything else. I wanted to see lives transformed,” she said.
She attended Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy and continued advanced studies at Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas, graduating in 2006. Her first ministries took her to college campuses where she worked as a chaplain building faith communities in New York and Massachusetts and juggling parental responsibilities.
Ordained in 2011, she didn’t expect to stand before a congregation when her family relocated to the Marshalls Islands. When the resident pastor left the local church, Ardrey turned down calls to take on the pastoral work, but accepted an offer to be interim pastor.
She balanced faith work with romps on the beach and ocean dips with her family.
“It was like living in Paradise,” she said.
When it came time to pick a new assignment, Ardrey’s New England choices were a New Hampshire church and First Church in Lynn. She saw the city as a place where she could act on her core beliefs.
“Faith has potential to be more compelling if we give it the opportunity to be so: It has the potential to create communities of people who are very different,” she said.
She said First Church’s diversity needs to be strengthened by bringing more youth into the church. First Church holds services on Sundays at 11 a.m. and Spanish-language services are held on Sundays at 4 p.m. with Pastor Edwin Alvarez leading.
On offshoot of Methodism, the Nazarene faith balances the philosophy of the congregation and worshippers directing the church with, Ardrey said, a hierarchical structure that is not as rigid as some other faith’s. The goal, she said, is active engagement between worshippers and their faith.
Her initial meetings with First Church leaders will grow into conversations with her congregation that she hopes will lead to formulating plans to grow a church that first set roots down in Lynn more than a century ago.
Before she embarks on that work, Ardrey plans to replace the weathered sign in front of the church even as she gets to know Lynn and prepares to send her son and daughter to Ingalls School.
“It’s been a huge change but we’re happy to be here,” she said.