Reaching the Urban Sojourner

December 16, 2013

Rev. Scott Strickman, M.Div. '02

Rev. Scott Strickman is currently the Associate Pastor of Emmanuel Presbyterian Church in New York, NY. He also serves Westminster as a regional alumni representative, helping connect the seminary to its alumni to serve them better. Recently, we spoke with Rev. Strickman about his time at Seminary, his current role at Emmanuel, and the challenge of ministry in the midst of a transient city.

Westminster was only one of a few places Scott considered for seminary. However, as he examined the doctrinal standards and the quality of the education, Westminster became a clear choice. “I wanted a program that was academically strong. I also wanted to go to a place that had a high view of the Bible and that would be the foundation for everything that was taught.” Scott felt that Westminster was the best place to put himself “on track for a lifelong ministry.”

At Westminster, Scott enjoyed fellowship with students with whom he lived in Machen Hall. He also met his future wife during his time at Westminster. He greatly appreciated a winter-term trip to Jerusalem led by the Old Testament department, and, overall, was greatly impressed by the devotion of the faculty: “In choosing a seminary it was important that the faculty weren’t just people who were passing on information. I wanted authenticity. Do these guys believe this stuff? The Westminster faculty proved to be men who were seeking to pass on the faith. That was important. I wasn’t just listening to what I was being taught, but I was watching the person teaching. I was very grateful that there are a lot of godly men on faculty.”

Scott was a member at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, so he would take classes during the week at Westminster and drive back to New York on the weekends. Of that time, he says, “In my first year, a guy named Charlie Drew (M.Div. ’78) came on staff at Redeemer. During my second year, he started talking about planting a church out of Redeemer, and I expressed a willingness to be involved.” In his third year, the church plant began to gather and he was able to come on staff at Emmanuel by the time he graduated from seminary.

Emmanuel Presbyterian Church meets on Sundays very close to Columbia University. Because of the church’s proximity to a prestigious university, Scott feels as though his education at Westminster has prepared him well for interacting with smart people. “In terms of the relational connections of people who come to our church, they tend to be pretty sharp. And I think Westminster—really, the academic component—prepared me to engage the kinds of questions smart people are wrestling with.”

Being a part of the bustling New York City also presents unique challenges: “Our church is near a university, and the city in general is transient—people come to Manhattan to launch their career and then they leave—so there is a lot of turnover. One of the challenges we have is that we invest in people, and, just when they’re ready to be a leader in the church, they move away. Every time we get to know and love somebody, they go. We’re constantly getting to know people, and, while there’s an energetic and exciting component to that, we are constantly trying to raise up elders, people for our diaconate, and people who lead. It’s really hard to establish roots and have continuity.”

The transience that Scott, Charlie, and the staff at Emmanuel experience, while a challenge at times, has also provided a unique opportunity. “If we try to invest in people in the few years that they’re here, we know we’re going to impact other major cities. Typically, when people move on from our church it’s because they’re going to Singapore, or London, or Los Angeles, or some other major center. So in terms of the impact we’re having, we’re hoping that we’re having a bit of a global impact.”

Transience isn’t the only challenge Emmanuel Church faces. “On the one hand you have an Ivy League university and elite types in the neighborhood, but there are also housing projects. They are two very different groups, and it’s hard to engage both equally well. We naturally engage the university well, but we struggle to effectively reach out to and serve all our neighbors.”

In the midst of the work Scott does as associate pastor, he graciously assists Westminster as a regional alumni representative. “I really valued my Westminster years, and so I want the health of Westminster perpetuated.” Part of his role as alumni representative is to talk to people who might be interested in attending seminary, and as he talks with them he reminds them of the importance of being a part of a church. “I believe in the apprentice model: if you intern with a good pastor, you learn how to do ministry in the context of a local church. Westminster provides the academic training necessary to prepare you for so many aspects of ministry, but I like that there is a focus so that the seminary can do what it was meant to do. Westminster is a great place to learn the Bible, surrounded by people who love God and want to see the Gospel proclaimed, people come to faith, and the mission of the church advanced.”

Scott’s prayer is that he would remain faithful in the work of the ministry and not lose sight of the joy of the Lord. Please pray for Rev. Strickman and the staff at Emmanuel Presbyterian Church as they seek to proclaim Christ to New York City and through that the rest of the world.