New First Presbyterian pastor has 'heart for mission and outreach'

Cary Ashby • Sep 15, 2018 at 4:00 PM

God works in mysterious ways, as it’s been said. That interesting path is what led to the Rev. James Hodsden being the new pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Norwalk.

“Interestingly enough, it was my wife who first discovered the church and she said, ‘I really think you are a good match for this church,’” he said.

After Hodsden’s son recently went to college, that left he and his wife considering the possibilities of the next phase of their life.

“We were in a different stage of life, looking at what might be the next step for us,” he said.

His wife thought the First Presbyterian ministry, church activities and “outlook of the congregation was a match for me and I said, ‘no,’” Hodsden added. “So then, six months later, she said, ‘you know that church I told you about? — they’re still looking for a pastor and I think it would be really important for you to reach out to them.’”

Being a good husband, Hodsden started doing some research on First Presbyterian and talking to people about the church.

“It really did seem like a match; God was very much calling me here,” said Hodsden, who started his ministry in Norwalk in late August. “There were some really important things about the church that attracted us. One was the community we’re in; there seemed like a strong sense of community. We loved the … strength of the mission programs here and we thought the church had a strong sense of its own identity.” 

The Rev. Adrian Doll had been the pastor at First Presbyterian since 2005. He left in Janurary 2017 to be the senior pastor at Green Valley Presbyterian Church in Henderson, Nev. The Norwalk church had an interim minister, the Rev. Dave Comstock, for nearly 17 months while the pastoral nominating committee performed its search.

Committee chairman Greg Graves said church members were impressed with how personable Hodsden is, his “sound theology” and “heart for mission and outreach.”

“We felt very comfortable with him,” Graves added. “He’s very genuine; that’s a word that kept coming up.”

Hodsden, who was born in Mansfield, grew up in Texas. He attended the University of Houston, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. 

“I taught school through the Teach for America program back in the 1990s when it was just starting out,” the pastor said. “I taught school a total of three years and through Teach for America, two years.” 

Hodsden’s life experiences have taken him across the country. He did his student-teaching in Los Angeles and taught at a small school in Arkansas.

“Teach for America is often in inner city (and) rural schools that are struggling. They are communties that need some help,” he said. “Reflecting on that (Arkansas) experience, I realized I was more of a pastor to those students  than I was a teacher.”

Looking back, Hodsden said he realized that ministry “is what God is leading me to do.”

He attended Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian Church (USA)-affiliated school. 

“My first church was back in Texas in a town in Vernon, Texas,” said Hodsden, who was the pastor while his wife, also an ordained minister, served as the director of Christian education. “Then eventually after that we went to Philadelphia.”

Hodsden served at the Philadelphia-area church for nearly 10 years before being called to Norwalk.

“She is continuing on with her church right now, which she has in the Philadelphia area,” he said. “She has a love for small, little churches that are struggling and we’re told by the folks in the presbytery there are some of those around (here). Most likely, that is what she’ll do.”

Hodsden shared a little bit of his perspective on mission work. 

Having been involved in several cross-cultural mission trips, the pastor said “that’s the more glitzy side of mission” while the more important ministry “is the stuff that happens every day in our community, around here.” First Presbyterian has been involved in Inspiration Station, a local effort focused on tutoring in several neighborhoods.

“The mission I see is putting your talents on the table and (asking), ‘God, where do you need me?’ So that could be a variety of things,” Hodsden said.

“My hope is to get acclimated and to understand what the church is doing and what the church is excited about, what the church has a passion for and then my hope is to sit there and be a catalyst to magnify that. Again, I think this church has a passion for mission and I think this church has a sense of community; they care for each other. I also think our worship is wonderful. The teaching ministry and everything here could be really exciting.”

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