Brady Marston takes helm of Alva's Church of the Nazarene
• Wife Jennifer brings exceptional experience in disaster management and compassionate ministry
December 28, 2018
Brady and Jennifer Marston, both in their mid-30s, ought to be stressed to the max.
• They just got married on Nov. 10.
• Two weeks ago, they left their families and friends in the major metro areas where they've lived all their lives (Little Rock, Arkansas, and Oklahoma City) and moved to Alva, which is by far the smallest town either has ever lived in.
• Brady left his job as youth pastor at a Little Rock church, where he's been for the last eight years.
• Jennifer left her very fulfilling work in Oklahoma City where she led various nonprofits in the areas of compassionate ministries and disaster response (ask her about her two years in Haiti following the devastating 2010 earthquake, or her disaster-relief work after the Moore and El Reno tornadoes).
• Brady has a new job: pastor of Alva's Church of the Nazarene, and it's his very first senior pastor position.
• Jennifer is hoping to find meaningful work in the Alva area, perhaps involved with emergency management or with a compassionate ministry of some sort – but at the moment, she's unemployed, which is always a slightly scary place to be.
New house in a new kind of town. New kind of work in a new kind of setting. New marriage. Uncharted territory as far as the eye can see.
So, honestly, with all that upheaval, shouldn't they be developing their first wrinkles and gray hairs, or at least look a little wild-eyed from time to time?
And yet, sit with the Marstons in the coffee-shop-like lobby (also pretty new) of Alva's Church of the Nazarene and just chat for an hour and you'll see that this couple consistently exudes a kind of joyful peace. They talk about their brand new life and its myriad challenges with an excitement that's somehow also relaxed.
Maybe that's because the most important things for them are rock solid. They know they're together and where they're supposed to be: where God has led them. What more do they really need to know?
Their Life Before Now
Brady got his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from Southern Nazarene University (SNU) in 2005 – which is where Brady and Jennifer first met, although they didn't reconnect until 2015.
"Then I was going to go up to Purdue to do graduate work in engineering," Brady said. "It was through that summer that I just felt God telling me that wasn't the way to go. Wasn't sure what that meant, so for the next few months I pursued that, questioned through it and worked through it, and it eventually turned into a call to ministry. Specifically, the moment I identified was working with Katrina refugees in the fall of 2005.
"At that time, I wasn't working, I wasn't in school, which was very different for me, and so when the opportunity came I volunteered. I just felt God saying 'This is what I want you to do,' and more specifically in the role of minister. So I went back to school at SNU and took classes in ministry and got a Master of Arts in Theology and also most of a Master of Divinity degree, but I'm not quite done with that one yet. In 2010 I started at the church in Little Rock as children's pastor, and this is my first assignment as senior pastor."
The Marstons moved here Dec. 5, and Brady preached his first sermon as senior pastor on Dec. 9. Is moving to a small town for the first time something that they're nervous about?
They laugh at the idea.
"It'll definitely be a change, but we're excited for that change," said Jennifer.
Jennifer knows she'll have a lot to learn in her new role as pastor's wife, but she also plans to find a paying job in the Alva area.
"I'll be looking in the community for ways I can get involved, where I can work. In Oklahoma City I was working with nonprofits there for about 10 years in a compassionate ministry setting and then as executive director for a local nonprofit."
First she worked with Reaching Our City for about five years as the organization's volunteer and program director. Reaching Our City had several compassionate ministries, such as a food pantry, re-sale shop, social support group, and children's programming. After that Jennifer became executive director of ServeOK. There, she helps nonprofits and churches network more effectively in terms of providing services and responding to disasters.
"I'm still learning about the different nonprofits here," Jennifer said, "and seeing how I can be of service in the area. I want to be involved in the community, so even if that means working with the city in emergency management, that would definitely interest me as well. I'm a hands-on person; I like to get into the community and identify needs and see how we can meet those needs."
Taking Stock, Planning for the Future
Brady plans to finish his Master of Divinity degree, but it's not his top priority right now. What is?
"Getting started here. Right now, just getting a handle on where is the church, what do they do, what are their dreams, what do they want from me, what do they want to do in the community, what does their day-to-day church life look like? It's been a lot of learning."
The church has been without a pastor for six months, he said, "so they've been doing things (to keep the church going); people have different roles. They could go on without me. So it's picking up the things I can. Who's doing this? Do you need help with this? Are you good with this? What's going on there? Who's taking care of that? A lot goes on in the background and I'm the new guy," he grins humbly.
"After the first of the year, I plan to call a meeting of the board and get really intentional about vision-forming kinds of things. I feel like it's more effective if it's not just my idea. My ideal – and again, I'm new, so I don't know – my ideal is go to them and say 'I feel like these are the kinds of directions we could move; what is it specifically you want to do, that the congregation can do?' But I definitely have some strong philosophies about what a church should be and where a church should go, but that looks very different from place to place."
It's Really All About Family
The Marstons, of course, were interviewed by the board before being offered the job, and they also spoke with the congregation. That process, of course, made clear what this church wanted most from a senior pastor.
"Really, what came through the most, they're just looking for love, support, guidance and family," said Brady. "They love their church because of the family aspect of it, and they want a pastor that will respect that and work with it and really promote that family feeling; who would build the relationships between the pastor and the church, but also promote the relationships within the church."
The Marstons heard that message and took it to heart; the day they spoke with the Alva Review-Courier they'd just retuned from a trip to Oklahoma City where they'd been staying by the side of a congregant who had surgery the morning before.
Being a family means being there in the good and the bad, said Jennifer, and it's something that the congregation already does, which is why having a pastor and his wife understand and support and participate in it is so important.
"We have a family that has started to feed whoever comes to their house on Wednesday night," said Jennifer. "They have only been part of this church for a couple years, but they never had been part of a church before. Someone reached out to them and they came in and they felt like it was home and family. So that's the kind of thing that they've shared with us that they'd like to see happen more for people in the community who are seeking that family and that love. No matter where they're at in their walk or if they're not in a walk yet, but that they feel that love of Christ and that community that will surround them in the times that are good and the times that are bad. That's what we're hoping to build from, and that's a passion we have that kind of matched with this congregation," she said.
"It fits well with where my feelings about where the church is in general in America," said Brady. "We're in a time when people are not looking to go to church, not saying "Well, I should find a church." But the church has a lot to offer everybody, and one of the major things we have to offer is a family, a community, a group that cares about and loves you for no other reason except just that you're part of us.
"And to find ways to share that with those on the outside" is what a church can offer to the public at large. "To take our love as a family and make it not just about our love for each other but make it a love that reaches out. I think one of the best ways to do that, one Jennifer has a whole lot of experience in, is finding out the needs of the community. And meeting those needs for no other reason but that we want you to be part of our family, and we think we have something to offer you, things to help with needs you might not know you have. You know you need this, so let us help you out with this; and part of what we're meeting is a need you didn't even know you had. That's my vision of church growth – it's one individual at a time, one relationship at a time."
The Nazarene Church, even without a pastor, is a strong family, Brady said. "There are strong, deep relationships between people at the church. Obviously, during a time without a senior pastor people do wander off. But they have that connection of actually sharing life together, not just coming in on Sunday and saying hi and then leaving," he said. "I don't know how much of that is this church and how much is being in a small town. But I have noticed that, and it's encouraging."