Pastor to guide Bible society into technology age
Feb. 21, 2007
NOTE: Photographs available at http://umns.umc.org.
A UMNS Report By Linda Bloom*
As a self-proclaimed lover of words, the Rev. Anne Robertson is frustrated by the "extreme resistance" of some local congregations to newer forms of communication.
During the past year and a half, she's offered podcasts of her Sunday sermons at the United Methodist Church of Westford, Mass., and sent weekly devotions via e-mail. Still, "people aren't quite sure if I ought to be spending my time doing that."
So when the Massachusetts Bible Society asked the 47-year-old pastor to usher it into the age of technology, she agreed. "They recognize that's how people interact and communicate in a huge way," she said.
Robertson is to become the 198-year-old society's first female executive director on April 17, succeeding the Rev. Donald A. Wells, who is retiring after 19 years.
She likes the organization's willingness "to put their money where their mission was," citing its decision to sell its headquarters building, with a money-losing but historic bookstore in downtown Boston, in 2006 to back a new vision of outreach.
Part of that vision is promoting biblical literacy while providing the tools to look at a biblical text in different ways. During its existence, the society has distributed more than 1 million Bibles in some 200 languages.
As a local church pastor, Robertson says new members often don't have a working knowledge of biblical teaching. She particularly wants to reach those who have rejected the Bible as being relevant to their lives and envisions "some basic bible literacy" targeted at specific secular groups, such as journalists and politicians.
With her speaking schedule already filling up at local churches, Robertson hopes her new job allows her to continue spreading the word.
"My call to ministry really was very fundamentally a call to preach," she told United Methodist News Service. "(Methodism founder John) Wesley said the world is my parish. Massachusetts is my parish now."
A call to preach
Robertson's journey of faith has been full of twists and turns. At 14, she found her calling while "preaching" during a youth Sunday worship service at the North Scituate Baptist Church in Rhode Island.
She later became active in the charismatic movement. Her book Blowing the Lid Off the God-Box: Opening Up to a Limitless Faith, published in 2005, is partly a confession "of having been deeply into fundamentalism to the point where it derailed my calling for while," she said.
Bumping up against the walls of biblical literalism made her worry about the salvation of her best friend, Celeste, who was a "steadfast freethinker" and lapsed Catholic, and led Robertson to attempt every job in a local church other than serving as pastor. But Celeste's continuing friendship and Robertson's need to preach, despite her gender, created cracks in her fundamentalist beliefs.
"When I moved and became a United Methodist, I learned about the Quadrilateral, which describes the way John Wesley made decisions," Robertson writes on her Web site, www.annerobertson.com. "He looked at Scripture as being very important, but he also considered church tradition, reason and experience. He allowed women to preach because he could not deny that the Holy Spirit was working through them and blessing their ministry. That seemed right to me."
Still, Robertson said she didn't fully embrace Wesleyan theology until her last semester at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, where she became a student at age 33 and graduated in 1994. She originally chose the United Methodist ordination path because of its job opportunities. "I was newly divorced and I needed to support myself," she explained.
She was ordained an elder in the United Methodist Florida Annual (regional) Conference in 1997, where she served at Trinity United Methodist Church in Gainesville and First United Methodist Church in Cross City, then became pastor of St. John's United Methodist Church in 2001 in Dover, N.H. She has served at Westford since 2005.
Having previously worked in publishing and as a bookstore manager, Robertson learned both sides of the book trade. In addition to Blowing the Lid Off the God-Box, she is the author of God's Top 10: Blowing the Lid Off the Commandments (2006), both published by Morehouse Publishing in Harrisburg, Pa. She has been a columnist for Zion's Herald, an independent New England-based journal of Methodism, and received the Wilbur C. Ziegler Award for Excellence in Preaching from the New England Conference in 2000.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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