Rev. Freeman Palmer
My name is Freeman Palmer, and I am honored and humbled to come before you as candidate to serve as Conference Minister for the Central Atlantic Conference of the United Church of Christ. I thank God for this opportunity and extend my appreciation to the Conference Minister Search Committee for its work and discernment.
I come from the New York Conference United Church of Christ, where I have been privileged to serve for nine years as an Associate Conference Minister. In this role I have served as Conference Staff to Committees on Ministry and for churches experiencing pastoral transitions in the New York City Metropolitan area, including Long Island. I also serve statewide in the area of Congregational Development, which includes new church starts and affiliations, church vitality initiatives, and provide resources in areas such as governance, mission, and planning. A second career minister, I was ordained in 2004 to a call at Middle Collegiate Church in Manhattan's East Village after a fifteen-year career as an executive with CBS, Inc. My professional journey also includes financial and managerial experience in two not-for profit settings, North Jersey Community Research Initiative, one of New Jersey's largest HIV/AIDS social service organizations, and my Seminary alma mater, New York Theological Seminary.
I experienced a call to ministry early in life, growing up as a 'church kid' in an African-American Baptist congregation where my parents served as deacons. As often the case with our teenage years, I did not respond to God's call. Subsequently, I chose the path of my first career. Yet God was lovingly relentless, and thanks to a combination of providential events, timing, and people, my journey brings me here. My sense of call comes from deep gratitude for a lifetime experience of God's love, grace, and mercy. It is both a great privilege and responsibility to serve in ministry, and I see my present call as a unique and important opportunity to serve in a variety of settings. Given this, I try, every day, to make my 'calling and election sure (I Peter 9:10 KJV)' by being devoted to prayer, meditation, study, worship, and reflection.
Making an impact is something I am passionate about in ministry. I am captivated and inspired by the story of how a diverse, sometimes conflicting, and faithful witness of a small sect of Jewish believers in a resurrected Messiah changed the course of history. This is reinforced by my religious upbringing in African-American churches during the Civil Rights Movement in the sixties, where the uncompromisingly faithful pursuit of equality and justice made an indelible mark on my life and the world. I firmly believe that churches can make an impact on anyone or anything, whether at an individual, local, or global level. While one might euphemistically term this passion as 'making a difference', I prefer the word impact, as this was also a passion I held from my previous career. This important component of my 'credo' keeps me faithful to the Church despite its human imperfections, its' apparent deterioration in relevance, and its' history and present of falling short of the radical inclusivity that was the hallmark of Jesus' ministry.
The opportunity to serve in the United Church of Christ is extremely important to me. I am grateful and proud to be part of an intentionally multicultural and multiracial, Open and Affirming, Just Peace, Accessible to All, United and Uniting church. A statement I learned in my first class in seminary was that 'ministry flows out of being.' I have long valued my religious education in an African-American Baptist congregation, experienced alongside a secular education in a predominantly Jewish private school (grades 7-12), followed by undergraduate studies in a Quaker institution. The result, seen through my own lens as a same gender loving person, is that I do not merely accept or tolerate diversity. I celebrate and embrace it. My vision of God's reign is the heavenly banquet where all are fed and all have both place and voice at the table. My current call with the New York Conference is to an Open and Affirming, Just Peace, and Global Mission Conference comprised of over two hundred fifty congregations. This ministry is 'marked' by experience and effectiveness with congregations in all shapes, sizes, and colors located in urban, suburban, and rural areas of New York State. I am grateful for the mosaic of life experiences that enable me to serve and to be blessed by the variety of gifts in the body of Christ, birthed of the same Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4).
A colleague described my leadership style in my present call as being both 'joyful' and 'firm.' That is a description I both cherish and try to live up to in my ministry. Areas of strength include being an effective preacher and teacher, lifting up and celebrating the gifts of others, and due in part to my education and 'first career,' an ability to think through complex issues and situations. Like many ministers, an area of growth is being more vigilant with the care of my soul and maintaining a healthy balance of the needs of family, friends, rest, leisure, exercise, and the arts. These components of sound, grounded, and what the New York Times calls 'smarter living' serve both to inform and enhance my call.
My hometown is Washington DC, where I attended Truesdell Elementary School and Georgetown Day School. I earned a BA in Economics at Swarthmore College, an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania, and an M Div. from New York Theological Seminary, where I served as Comptroller while a student. Although I serve in the New York Conference, oddly enough, I technically reside within the Central Atlantic Conference, specifically in Jersey City NJ with my spouse Don, who is an ordained ELCA minister and adjunct professor at New Jersey City University. In some ways coming to this Conference is full circle, as it covers a region I know something about and look forward to discovering through living and serving.
As part of my morning meditation I include a prayer based on Proverbs 21:21: "Whoever pursues righteousness and love will find life, prosperity (best translated here as righteousness) and honor (NIV)". It is my prayer through Jesus Christ that our lives together are characterized by the continual pursuit of righteousness and love, and in doing so we will find life, prosperity and honor, making us a people that glorifies God and blesses the world.