When Martin Hawley announced to his congregation, in October 2021, that he and his wife Kim were moving to Florida, effective immediately, many were left to wonder who would fill their roles as pastor and worship leader at South Bay Bible Church (SBBC) in East Moriches? After all, the Hawleys had spent the better part of a decade cultivating the church into a pillar of the community through outreach programs, community events, and countless worship workshops, all of which helped SBBC to grow in reputation and membership. Without them at the pulpit, would SBBC continue to thrive?
The answer is a resounding yes from SBBC members, staff and officials, who unanimously concur that the church has flourished under the leadership of Matt Horne, who assumed the role as lead pastor in mid-October, 2021, after the Hawleys’ departure.
The congregation took the opportunity to properly thank Pastor Matt for his guidance throughout this last year of transition, during National Pastor Appreciation Month, observed in October. The monthlong celebration ended with a surprise dinner held at the church on Oct. 30, where members showered Pastor Matt with praise and presented him with a gift for his exceptional leadership.
There was some uncertainty, however, about what the future held when the news first broke, said former SBBC sound technician, Erin Maag. “When I heard the Hawleys were leaving, I was heartbroken,” said Maag, now a vocalist in the SBBC’s music ministry. “So many of us started attending SBBC because of Pastor Hawley, and I wasn’t sure if people would leave if we got a new pastor.”
Fortunately, the search for a new pastor didn’t take long, as church board members had to look no further than Pastor Matt, who had already been serving as associate pastor and vocalist and keyboard player in the music ministry. A graduate of Liberty College in Virginia, Pastor Matt had a strong foundation in ministry, having studied pastoral leadership, biblical studies, and voice performance. Pastor Matt was also no stranger to preaching, something he said he’d been doing since he was a teenager.
“I have loved preaching for many years, even before I came to South Bay,” said Pastor Matt. “I used to preach at churches in my local area as far back as high school. Although I had many opportunities to preach while Martin was still pastor, as lead pastor, I now had many more opportunities to communicate and explain the scriptures to people who wanted to understand them and use them in their day-to-day lives.”
His first goal when assuming the title of pastor in those early days and weeks, was to make sure that parishioners were coping without the Hawleys, Pastor Matt recalled.
“I focused on helping my congregation navigate their grief from Martin and Kim’s transition out of the church. I actually used my first weekend to preach a message about transitions and moving forward as a church. Martin was a close friend, and he was my pastor, too, so that message was for me as much as anyone else.”
Although devastated from the absence of the Hawleys, congregation members said they felt confident in Pastor Matt’s ability to keep SBBC moving in a positive direction. Ellen Wilcenski, a church board member, said,“Pastor Matt jumped right in with both feet and has done great! He organized and ran a block party in the spring and the entire community came. Pastor Matt has a heart for reaching out to the community while teaching to the needs of the congregation.”
While the last year has been a wonderful experience, Pastor Matt admits that he didn’t take the job without some reservations and that there have been challenges along the way.
“The thing I was most afraid of was being constantly compared to Martin,” reflected Pastor Matt. “Martin and I had a very close bond, but we have some differences in leadership styles and ministry philosophy. I had to be wise in slowly adjusting the congregation, church leaders, and staff to a different form of ministry and leadership.”
Only 24 years old when he became lead pastor, Pastor Matt was also concerned that the congregation may believe he didn’t have enough life experiences to adequately minister to everyone’s needs. “Being a young pastor who is not married and has no children and winning over the trust of older and more experienced generation, I was going to have to counsel couples on how to fix their marriage or how to raise their kids.”
By all accounts, though, Pastor Matt has been well received by the SBBC congregation, who welcomed him with open arms.
“After watching the way Pastor Matt cared for the leaders and members of our community groups as associate pastor, I knew that he would take on the role of lead pastor with a passion to build up the faith of the entire body of South Bay Bible Church,” said Kelli Schoefer, SBBC communications director. “He is an incredible example of one who rejoices with those who rejoice, and weeps with those who weep. He shows a great love and compassion for everyone who walks through the door of our church, and we are so blessed to call him our pastor.”
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