DUNNSTOWN - Rev. Roger and Barbara Yoder enjoy living in Woodward Township which has been their home since July 1, the traditional move-in day for United Methodist pastors.
Pastor Yoder moved here to serve the three churches of the Lock Haven United Methodist Parish, replacing Rev. Ginger Baker-Betz.
It is his first appointment in the area, with the newly-reorganized Susquehanna Conference.
Rev. Roger and Barbara Yoder
"Everybody we have met has been absolutely welcoming and friendly and we just love it here," his wife said.
"The churches have treated us almost royally," he added.
Over his 30 years in ministry, the pastor has served other charges with more than one church, as well as single congregations, he said, so he is familiar with ministering to many people in worship in different buildings.
Here his churches are Dunnstown, Swissdale and Liberty on Island Road, and he preaches in each one every week.
"It keeps me on my toes on Sunday morning," he said with a wide smile.
Each church has an active membership, with attendance averaging about 25 at Liberty, 55 at Dunnstown and 65 at Swissdale, he estimated.
"The community has a more conservative atmosphere than in upstate New York, where we are from," the pastor noted. And, there has been less snow so far this winter, he added.
He's actually a native of the greater Philadelphia area and attended both Muhlenberg and United Wesleyan colleges in Allentown, then seminaries in St. Louis, Mo.
He felt the call to ministry during his first year in college, he said, and he began his career as a pastor in 1979 in the Wyoming Conference, serving churches in the Wilkes-Barre and Scranton districts for 20 years. He followed that with a decade spent serving churches in the Oneonta District in New York.
He chose to move into the newly-formed Susquehanna Conference of the United Methodist church, he said, when the Wyoming Conference re-organized and split along the New York-Pennsylvania border.
"We didn't know anybody here," his wife mentioned.
In fact, on their way to a recent bishop's retreat, it occurred to them that they would probably be meeting a whole new set of ministers and their spouses. But when they arrived, Mrs. Yoder said, they discovered old friends from their Wilkes-Barre and Scranton days.
She grew up outside the Oneonta, N.Y. area and was a legal secretary for 20 years in Franklin. N.Y. She retired when she and the pastor were married, on Jan. 3, 1998.
She said she doesn't feel she is really retired, though, since she serves as her husband's unofficial secretary.
"She's my administrative assistant," he said with a grateful note in his voice.
Office work may be the duty that gives him the least amount of joy, he said.
Barbara is kept busy with the weekly worship bulletins, helping with the prayer lists and doing similar work with the three churches.
She also has done some lay speaking and is currently participating in the parish's two conversational Bible studies which are lead by church members.
"It's wonderful that the parish has two Bible studies lead by laity," the pastor said. "It's a challenge for me to have a study because the people have commitments already."
Barbara is considering a challenge of her own. She is interested in organizing Celebration, a group that would be open to Christian women throughout the area.
Celebration is an official United Methodist women's organization that started in Texas, she said. Meetings include worship and prayer time, guest speakers and fellowship time.
"I'd like to see... a group that would be based from our churches but open to all Christian women in the area who want to get together," Barbara said.
"Celebration is a woman-to-woman ministry of sharing, encouraging, discipling and mentoring in the faith," according to the website celebrationministries.org.
It works alongside the United Methodist Women (UMW), an organization that is more familiar to area residents. UMW is the more mission-minded of the two, Mrs. Yoder said, while Celebration focuses more on spiritual growth.
Spirituality is also a priority in Rev. Yoder's ministry.
He considers "bringing people closer to Jesus" as the most rewarding aspect of being a pastor, and he describes his job as "following the leading of God's spirit, and helping others follow his leading for their lives as well.
"My perspective is a player/coach, not a dictator or a scorekeeper," he said.
In 1996 and 1997, he served on mission teams to Brazil, where he and the 11 other team members presented Life in the Spirit seminars for the laity and members of the clergy.
Since then, Rev. Yoder and his wife have participated together on Life in the Spirit teams, helping to present weekend seminars for United Methodist congregations in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Long Island, N.Y.
The pastor is bringing a sister program, Lay Witness Weekend, to his three churches here the weekend of April 30-May 1. It's a bit like a revival weekend, he said, but with laity rather than a guest preacher coming in to speak.
People from Pennsylvania and nearby states will come and share their personal faith experiences with congregational members and friends. The weekend will encourage a deeper relationship with Jesus, the pastor said, as well as increase hope and love for God, His church and others.
His long-term goal is to schedule a series of renewal weekends, which may draw in younger generations and help the three churches in the parish bolster their outlook for the future.
He would also like to expand worship activities to increase participation, he said, and expand the churches' outreach into the community.
Since moving here, he's followed in his predecessor's footsteps and joined the board of Protestant Campus Ministry, a first for him.
"I've been blessed by the congregation's support for PCM," he said, "with their help in upgrading the Akeley house for campus ministry and their support of students during study week when we have pizza nights in the dorms during finals."
He seems easy and comfortable with young people - in fact, with people of any age.
He has five children and seven grandchildren who range from Nathan, 16, in Scranton, to Quinn who is just a year and a half and is in Carey, N.C. Other family members live in New Jersey and New York State, and the pastor's mother now resides in Florida.
Barbara's son and family, including two grandchildren, live in Franklin, N.Y., and her mother resides in Tennessee.
They stay in touch with everyone as best they can but traveling is difficult because "we can't get away on weekends," Barbara said.
The pastor treasures memories of this past Thanksgiving when 22 members of his family gathered at his daughter's home in Scranton, close enough that he and his wife could join everyone around the table.
And, in the summer, the Yoders extend their annual trip to a national convention on the Holy Spirit, wherever it may be held each year, so they can fit in family visits.
They also hope to revive their yearly tradition of a trip South to visit the pastor's mother.
Meanwhile, Rev. Yoder said, with nine grandchildren between the two of them, "there are a lot of phone conversations."