“Excellence-Focused.” That core value is what drives the Eastern PA Conference’s new East District Superintendent and it is how he wants to see his district’s leaders and churches operating in ministry. “Long before I started serving God through The United Methodist Church,” recalls the Rev. Dr. Andrew L. Foster, III, “I was taught to give my best at a task or leave it to someone else.”
Indeed, he sees Romans 12:1—“I strive daily to present myself as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God.”—as his modus operandi for pastoral ministry and also what God “expects and deserves.” Pastoral ministry is a vocation that he admits is “not for the faint of heart,” but one for which “only God can equip those called according to His purpose.”
And yet, Foster is equally focused on the role and importance of laity as partners in ministry.
“Every clergyperson, whether licensed or ordained, began as a layperson,” he says. “This is my starting point when assessing the needs of a local church. I believe clergy and laity must act with a similar purpose but not lose sight of who they are or their specific roles in ministry.”
He calls that partnership “CLAY,” an acronym signifying “Clergy and Lay” being kneaded together and transformed in the great Potter’s hands to empower God’s creation through healthy, dedicated discipleship.
“In any church, there are always more laity than there are clergy,” he says. “Therefore, I believe it is the clergy’s responsibility to equip the saints in the pew to understand who they are in the life of the church. I also believe it is the responsibility of the laity to understand their spiritual gifts and to operate in those gifts, in partnership with clergy, to bring about excellence in ministry.”
The COVID-19 pandemic challenges everyone, including the church, Foster says. “But I have seen gifts of creativity come alive among the CLAY of the East District, including:
- drive-in, parking lot worship services;
- indoor worship settings that follow appropriate health guidelines;
- online Bible studies and prayer gatherings using Zoom, Facebook Live, YouTube and Free Conference Call;
- book clubs and small-group virtual gatherings.
‘Genuine hearts for ministry’
“I have experienced genuine hearts for ministry active outside church walls, as members provide food and other needs for their communities,” said the new superintendent. “I have participated in hard but necessary conversations on race relations. I have seen and heard hearts breaking because of restrictions against being physically present with one’s congregation and with family members during some of their most difficult times. My hope and prayer for our district is that we feel the blessed assurance that God is with us.
But superintendency is not new for this “DS,” after serving in that role in the New England Conference for the past three years under Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar. That followed a ministry career as a pastor and assistant pastor at four Eastern PA churches—Janes Memorial, Clearview and Tindley Temple UMCs in Philadelphia and Grace Community UMC in Chester. All are historic African American congregations except for Clearview, where his pastorate was the church’s first cross-racial appointment.
But New England’s Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts (RISEM) District is where Foster supervised a multicultural mix of pastors and congregations, similar to what he faces in the East District. “I rediscovered the inter-relational nature of the church,” he says, “and I return to this conference with the same intentionality of learning each local church’s DNA, its stories, its hopes and challenges.”
Coming from four generations of Methodist ministers, and with 14 ministers in his family, including his wife, the Rev. Lorraine Foster, the native of the Philadelphia’s Germantown community and U.S. Air Force veteran says he is “grateful to be a Christian serving in The United Methodist Church.” Indeed, his resume shows ample service in various conference roles beyond the local church and also in the communities where he was a pastor.
Yet, he says he knows that effectiveness in ministry requires the nurture of daily prayer, Bible reading, exercise and a healthy diet to give him strength and equanimity. With a doctorate in Marriage and Family Counseling, he says he is “thankful I learned early in ministry to balance my family life and my ministerial life.”