“Christianity is not like Steeler Nation,“ the Rev. Jodie Smith told the congregation at her installation as Franklin District Superintendent on Sunday, Sept. 24. “We cannot be fans of Jesus. We have to be followers!
“Jesus wants people who will walk in his footsteps…who will deny themselves and take up their cross and follow him every single day,..especially into the deep waters,” she said in her message, based on Matthew 14:22-33. It tells of Jesus walking on water and Peter following—until he became afraid.
The new district superintendent noted that most of the disciples remained in the boat, watching while verbally acknowledging that Jesus was truly the Son of God. Like them, many in the church today are afraid to step out in faith, she said during the service at First UMC in Clarion.
Pointing to a USA Today report on what Americans fear most, DS Smith said people in the Church are also afraid of several things, among them:
We are afraid of change.
We are afraid of not having enough money.
We are afraid for the future of the church
We are afraid of becoming a divided church
Sadly, we are afraid of each other.
“We want to stay safe and we want to follow the rules and we want to stay in the boat – and we don’t want to rock the boat,” she said.
“We need to see and understand that the point of being a Christian is not to stay safe and dry in the boat. ..Following Jesus is about getting out of that boat, about diving in…about being unafraid of the deep water and what might be beneath."
Following Jesus means loving our neighbor – ALL of our neighbors, she added. “You’ll notice that Jesus didn’t list any exceptions to that command."
The new superintendent challenged everyone to get out of the boat and venture into the deep water.
“Let me tell you…I’m already there,” she said, laughing. “This is not what I’m used to, this is not what I planned to do and I am way out of my comfort zone. But we have to learn to trust…..that God will be with us, making sure that we will not drown.”
Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi said she trusted God when she asked Rev. Smith to serve as Franklin District superintendent. The Bishop said she did not know Rev. Smith personally, but her name was suggested several times when the Cabinet when considering the open position.
While praying, the Bishop said, she clearly heard God’s voice telling her that Rev. Smith was the right person.
“You’re going to think I need medication, but I don’t,” said the Bishop. “I clearly heard God say, ‘You’re going to have to trust me on this. She's the one.'"
The Bishop said Smith’s heart and passion for Jesus the Christ, and for the United Methodist Church are evident and what she will need in the job. Her education, as well as her work before entering the ordained ministry, will also be valuable.
“She has actually connected churches with each other to do ministry together,” Bishop Moore-Koikoi said.
A native of New Castle, Rev. Smith has been the senior pastor of the Redbank Valley United Methodist Ministry, a seven-church co-operative ministry in Franklin District, since the co-op was formed in 2008. She was instrumental in getting the churches to work together in planning, and sharing pastors in worship and leadership. The co-op under her leadership has lifted up and sent forth several people who now serve as local pastors in other churches. Before her appointment to Redbank Valley, she served White Chapel UMC from 1999-2008.
The new superintendent earned a B.S. degree in elementary education from Slippery Rock University. Her path to ministry included working as a legal secretary and in marketing. After received her Master of Divinity Degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, she was ordained an Elder in 2005.
Her passion is outreach and moving the people of church beyond the walls of the church building, particularly to serve the homeless and those in need.
As she pointed out in her message at the installation service, “If you want to experience the power of God in your life and in your church, you have to take that step of faith!
“Staying in the boat might be comfortable and it might be safe, but it is NOT what faith is all about," she said. "Please do NOT be content with just enough faith to feel safe!”