Getting to Know our New Stated Clerk: Jeremy Campbell

Getting to know you,
Getting to know all about you…

Anna, “Getting to Know You,” from The King and I

Jeremy is the newly ordained and installed Stated Clerk for both the Newton and Elizabeth Presbyteries. He is a modest man who admits a reluctance in talking about himself and candidly admits that he prefers to “remain behind the scenes” … in other words, he avoids situations where he finds himself “center stage.”  Perhaps that is one reason he seems most comfortable with the polity of the church. There is familiarity, structure, and a solidness to be found among the words of the Book of Order that tends to lead one away from drama and theatrics. But wait… one doesn’t have to venture too far into stories connected to the polity of the Presbyterian Church to find plenty of drama – and even a little trauma (many Presbyterian Churches throughout the centuries can testify to that!). Ironically enough, it is when discussing polity and the Presbyterian Church that Jeremy comes out of the shadows and ‘steals the show.’

So I hope you come to know Jeremy just a little better after you read some of the highlights of my interview with him – and maybe even find a time to strike up a conversation with him to get to know him a little better. I know I left wanting to know more…

 Kathi:  Jeremy, what are some of your favorite things and who are some of your favorite people?

Jeremy:  I like playing acoustic guitar for my own pleasure – it’s not really about being in public places. I don’t like when I’m the focus of attention. Certainly my favorite person is my wife Megan. Our second anniversary – December 13 (2016 – note: this interview was held before this date) – is the same date that I will finally be ordained at the Elizabeth Presbytery meeting. It has been a long journey to reach that point. I am still connected to the core group of friends I made growing up in the First Presbyterian Church of Metuchen. My mother, a teacher by vocation, and her best friend, my Aunt Jackie, were very important figures in my life. Aunt Jackie’s son, Christopher, was my best man and is still one of my closest friends.

Kathi: Who (or what) has been very influential in your life? Who (or what) inspires you?

Jeremy: I don’t like to ‘toot my own horn’ so to speak – but I have been a good steward of the youth program at Metuchen for a while – the same church that meant so much to me and in which I grew up. It has been a wonderful experience and a privilege to pass on to other youth what has meant so much to me. I am inspired by watching kids grow and develop, always anticipating and hoping for that moment when they “get it” and Jesus becomes more than just a person they’ve learned about. I am especially inspired by seeing that promise that “all things are possible with God” in action, whether it is a youth who comes to know Christ or whether it is a mission project that has little or no hope of succeeding, and does.

Kathi:  An important event is coming up in your life – your December 13 ordination. What have been some of the highlights of your journey to get to this place and this time in your life?

Jeremy:  My journey has been a long one – and I’ve already talked about how important my church has been in my life. But one of the key events in my life is a weird and unique one:  I accidentally got speared in my neck with a javelin right before I turned 16. Doctors told me that a fraction of an inch shift in the entry (right by my carotid artery) would have killed me. This left me with the conviction that I had been spared death because I was left here for a purpose – there was a reason for my survival. Unfortunately, my survival turned into something of a media circus – perhaps that is why I dislike the lime-light. I ended up on the Donohue, Les Brown and Mo Gaffney shows (and others). I got to meet other survivors of freak accidents and was struck by how differently each had processed their experience.

Other significant parts of my journey have been my time at New Brunswick Seminary and the influence of several professors. One of the most significant steps of my journey to this point was the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) work I did at Phoebe Home in Allentown, Pennsylvania.  It was a wonderful experience – working in a locked dementia unit with mostly Alzheimer’s patients. I won the Deaconess award for outstanding care. I did my Master of Arts in clinical counseling at Moravian College, and received an MDiv and MOA in Counseling. I loved my work as an outpatient drug and alcohol counselor. I work now primarily with impaired health professionals. This is a path to which God has called me and there is definitely a need in the world in this regard. I’m glad to use my skills in this way.

Kathi:  What is one of the most interesting polity experiences you’ve had? Jeremy: There is no particular thing that comes to mind; in a way, every polity experience is interesting and important as each experience has something to teach us. The most interesting polity experiences are ones in which we have an opportunity to think and act outside the box so to speak, when we find ways to maintain good relationships with people despite diversity, differences of opinion and disagreement.

Kathi: What is most challenging about polity in our churches today from your perspective?

Jeremy: We are greatly challenged by structures that no longer make sense or are no longer relevant – ones that require too many people or require complex or confusing processes – ones which are not realistic and therefore, are set up to fail. Another challenge in our churches regards our tendency to confuse the business world and the church world. Church is not a business although sometimes we may want to look at business models. We especially need to consider how to recognize good leadership qualities and develop better processes to enable and empower churches to hire the right pastor the first time around (solid interim leadership, mission studies, better reference checks, not hurrying to hire a pastor, etc.).

Kathi: In your opinion, what is one of the strengths of our polity?  Weakness?

Jeremy:  One of the strengths is our commitment to our connectional nature. It is important that we pay careful attention to minority opinion –  that we not become a debate society or make an idol out of Robert’s Rules of Order. We should never approach or assess an action as one in which the ‘majority wins’ – thereby automatically setting up adversarial relationships.  Discernment in groups is an important way to foster unity in diversity. Our greatest weakness is forgetting we are a church –  not a court of law. Two of the biggest needs in the church today are the need for developing strong middle governing bodies to provide relationship support as opposed to regulatory oversight; and healthy, well-differentiated interim pastors who help churches to vision, define and call out their passionate mission and then helping them figure out how to accomplish that. Our new form of government helps in that it is now more focused on being “descriptive” than “prescriptive.”

Kathi:  What does the future hold for you?

Jeremy:  My future will radically change in a few short months. My wife Megan and I are expecting a baby in July. I look forward to being a father. Vocationally, I love what I do and plan to continue my relationships as Co-Stated Clerk with the Elizabeth and Newton Presbyteries.

~Written by Kathi Heath, Presbytery Coordinating Team, Communications Team