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First-time pastor comes to Valley United Methodist

Staff writer

Andrew West has his sermon prepared. It is neatly typed in a font large enough to read in front of a crowd. It is called “Crossing the Jordan,” about life’s unexpected twists.

Although West has delivered hundreds of sermons in his 16 years as a lay speaker, he is nervous before this sermon. It will be his first as a pastor, delivered Sunday at Valley United Methodist Church.

“You’re giving the message God gave 2,000 years ago,” West says. “You want to get it right.”

West draws confidence from his experience as a lay speaker substituting for a pastor in Buhler.

That time, as this time, West had his speech prepared well ahead of the Sunday service. He spent hours practicing the sermon, working through the proper emphasis, training his voice to deliver a sharp, poignant message.

His mother, Sandra, could not help but overhear her son practice. She was shocked when she attended church and did not recognize the sermon her son was preaching.

West knew ahead of time that the congregation in Buhler was struggling. They had recently lost a beloved pastor; they needed a message of hope.

He spoke about letting God into their hearts and letting Him mold them into what He wanted them to be. The message struck a nerve with the crowd of strangers.

“I felt like it was definitely the Holy Spirit telling me that’s what the congregation needed to hear,” West said.

Each individual who greeted him as they exited the church lobby said his sermon was exactly what they needed to hear.

It took West a long time to finally hear God’s message for himself.

The power in his sermons comes from his life experiences. His material began coming together even before he could remember.

He was born with an infection in his colon. It took surgeons more than 10 hours to heal his infant body. Doctors said he was in God’s hands. West’s grandmother, Frannie Lock, said God had a plan for him.

After a painful first few years, West had a face-to-face meeting with God’s plan. Inspired by the minister at his church in Hutchinson, West was heavily involved with children’s groups. When he was 5, he told Pastor Elsie Crickard that he wanted to be a minister just like her. Crickard still keeps up with her former pupil, now 34.

West also formed a connection with his next pastor when he was a teenager. The minister did not fit West’s visions of a pastor. He was young and had a head of unruly long hair. Along with his flowing locks, the pastor possessed a capacity for compassion and sensitivity.

At the time, West’s senior year of high school, his grandfather was very sick, on his deathbed. West regularly visited him in the hospital. He had seen him earlier in that week and he had looked better. West held out hope that his grandfather might recover.

When he left class one day, West saw his pastor sitting on his car. He told West they needed to go home, not to the hospital.

On their arrival, West picked out all the cars of his relatives parked around his drive. He hoped his grandfather had come home. The reality sank in when he saw his grandmother and melted into her for a hug; his grandfather had died. Throughout the entire mourning period, the pastor was never far away.

West stayed active with the church throughout his youth but did not make it a career. He went to college and became a pharmacy technician. He worked for The Kroger Co. food stores and a hospital in Hutchinson.

He had a good-paying job and a comfortable life, but he was increasingly unhappy. Deep down he knew he was not doing what he was supposed to do.

When he was laid off at the hospital, he took it as an opportunity to enter the ministry.

Now that he is in Marion, West wants to inspire his congregation as his ministers inspired him. The goal of reaching the entire community and trying to make important individual connections seems overwhelming.

“God will never give me more than I can handle,” West says.

West’s family knows he is on the right path. His mother says he is the happiest he has been in months.

But now he has to deliver his first sermon. It will be the first challenge in his new life.

Last modified July 2, 2012

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