First United Methodist's new pastor is not new to the church

Shawn Hardy
Brian Cordell, left, a member of First United Methodist Church of Greencastle, and Ryan Whisel, pastor, talk with a ministry leader during an April missions trip to the Bronx in New York.

When the new pastor officially took over leadership of First United Methodist Church of Greencastle on July 1, he was a familiar face to members of the congregation.

Ryan Whisel, who had been youth pastor for two years, is replacing Pastor Bob Marsh, who is now at a First United Methodist Church in Bedford.

Both men started at the church in 2016 and Whisel filled in for Marsh as needed for duties like preaching and home visits.

"Word got back to the powers that be and I must have done OK," said Whisel. "God's got a sense of humor and I always enjoy it."

He was in a missions meeting when he was called out by the district superintendent.

"I was sweating bullets," Whisel said. "He asked, 'How would you feel about being a pastor?'

"I took a few hours to process it and seek counsel from people I respect and my fiancee," he said.

Whisel and Kimmie Lay are saving money to pay for the wedding they want and will probably wed in 2021.

"It was a change of plans, but she saw my gifts and graces and said, 'You need to do this,'" Whisel said.

In retrospect, he's taken many steps along the way to prepare for his new role.

Whisel majored in Christian ministries with a youth concentration at Messiah College. He served an internship in youth and Christian education with a small Lutheran Church in Mechanicsburg for a year and a half while in school and graduated from Messiah in 2012.

His first full-time position was at First United Methodist Church of Williamsport in a large youth ministry involving people from all walks of life, followed by work at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Mechanicsburg.

Wrestling with whether he still felt called to ministry, Whisel took a year off and worked in guests services at Target in Carlisle.

"I grew a lot coaching cashiers," he said. "It was very evident working with young cashiers that I still wanted to work with young people."

The year off was indispensable and helped Whisel reorient himself.

"I felt spiritually renewed to re-enter the ministry wherever God had opened a door for me," Whisel said.

That open door was in Greencastle, where Nerf nights are among his favorite activities. Fourth-graders and up can have an evening of fun in a safe environment. Averaging 20, the quarterly Nerf nights can see up to 60 kids through adults at the friendly competition.

During a lock-in with an escape room earlier this year, participants filled his office with balloons and covered it with plastic wrap.

"It's very moving to have young people so comfortable to do that to me," said Whisel, who is also part of a network of Greencastle youth pastors that plans events for teens, like last year's Mission Impossible, a Capture the Flag style activity at Rhodes Grove Camp.

While his heart remains in youth ministry and Whisel will still be working with young people, he already had a hand in some of the adult activities. For example, worship at the park with a potluck dinner is held at 6 p.m. Wednesdays at Jerome R. King Playground.

Whisel enjoys connecting shut-ins, who he says are "still very much a part of the congregation."

He's also involved in missions and was part of a group that spent a long weekend in April working in the Bronx, New York, including a visiting a local Christian school and serving meals in the area.

"It was my first missions trip in an urban setting," according Whisel, who calls himself as an extrovert who thrives on being around and getting to know people.

"I'm really excited to see what what happens with the Greencastle community," said Whisel.

He said he is "very much a believer in incarnational ministry ... it's not because of what I say, but because of what I do. I am excited about the opportunities available to us as a church to share the gospel in many tangible ways."

In practical terms, while Whisel is the church's pastor, he is not ordained. His special circumstances had to be approved by the bishop of the Susquehanna Conference and he is limited to performing sacraments like baptisms, weddings and Communion in the local parish.

"At this point I am just looking forward to serving as a local licensed pastor, but I am always open to the possibility that God would call me forward into full ordained eldership," Whisel said.

In addition to ministry, Whisel is a Pittsburgh Steelers fan who bleeds black and yellow and loves the 27-hole Whispering Falls Disc Golf Course at Antrim Township Community Park.

He has a passion for music, singing and playing the guitar.

"Music is a second language everyone speaks, even if they don't know it," Whisel said.