Paul Shepherd was named the pastor last month and has already begun delivering weekly sermons and laying out his plans for the future of the small Queen Street church.
“I’m very excited to be here. The people have been very nice and the congregation has been wonderful. I’m looking forward to becoming part of the community,” said Shepherd.
Shepherd most recently served as the associate pastor at the Cornerstone Community Church in Ballston Spa and prior to that served for three years in a ministry position before arriving in upstate New York.
He and his wife, Malinda, and their pets, completed the move to Whitehall the last full weekend of August.
The position at Grace Baptist Church will be his first as the head of a church and if he’s nervous he isn’t showing it.
“I’m fairly new at it but I don’t have any apprehensions,” he said.
Gregarious and quick to smile, Shepherd, who is originally from Florida and Mississippi and still speaks with a hint of a southern drawl, didn’t always have aspirations of becoming a man of the cloth.
“I started out in the I.T. world and have a bachelor’s degree in computer information,” Shepherd said, “but God had other ideas for me. His path for me took me by surprise.”
Feeling unfilled behind a desk pounding on a keyboard, Shepherd found solace in his faith and made the decision to become a man of the clergy. It’s a path he’s followed ever since.
When he preaches, Shepherd likes to focus on how the Bible can provide answers to adversities people face in everyday life, such as difficulties in marriage, stressful situations and parenting. “The Bible has a lot to say about how we interact with people on an everyday basis,” he said.
He also views the church as a critical part of the community and plans to be active outside the physical confines of the building.
“We want to be involved in the community,” Shepherd said. “The church is going to be outwardly focused, not inwardly focused. It’s for people outside these walls and not just people inside these walls.”
So far he hasn’t wasted any time being seen in the community.
He and his wife served fresh coffee and handed out bottled water during the townwide yard sale earlier this month and Shepherd said Malinda has been out “walking with folks, getting to know the people and the community.”
Future plans include a fall festival and another community event closer to Christmas. He also hopes to expand the scope and activities of the church’s youth group and there are plans to establish a church in Poultney, Vt.
He said Whitehall has been a nice change of pace from Ballston Spa. “The people are very friendly in a small town. Everyone knows each other. Coming from Ballston Spa, people know each other, but not as well. There weren’t as many connections. The town I’m from in Mississippi was very much like what we have in Whitehall. It’s kind of like going home.”
An avid outdoorsman, Shepherd likes to hunt and fish during his free time and he and his wife both ride motorcycles.
“God made it possible for us to come here and it’s been a great fit so far,” Shepherd said. “I’m excited about the future.”