Answering the Call
Our Saviour Lutheran's New Pastor is Settling in Nicely
By Linda Dougherty
Her first year as the pastor at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Our Saviour in Stone Harbor has been a learning experience for the Rev. Rachel Semovoski.
“It’s been a lot of learning about the congregation,” says Semovoski, 34, who became Our Saviour’s pastor last fall. “I’ve been listening, observing, getting the feel for the congregation, and finding out what makes the place tick.”
While Semovoski has been getting to know her new position and all the faces of her congregation, the one thing that isn’t new is Cape May County.
Semovoski, who grew up on Long Beach Island, has deep roots in the area, with family living in Wildwood, Wildwood Crest, Ocean City and North Cape May. Her father, the Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Elliott, is pastor at the Cape May Lutheran Church, and an uncle is a minister at First Baptist Church in Wildwood.
At first, Semovoski thought she might become a teacher, as she helped her father with confirmation classes and other activities in his church. But she realized she wanted to follow her father’s footsteps and enter the seminary, as she felt a strong calling to teach people about God and their faith.
Semovoski attended Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pa., as one of two Fund for Leaders scholarship recipients. It was there that she met her husband, the Rev. Joshua Semovoski, a pastor helping in Dennis Township. The couple has a young daughter, Samantha, and is expecting their second baby at the end of August.
Before arriving at Our Saviour, Semovoski served at parishes in Maryland and Middletown, N.J. She says one of the things that made her appealing to the “call committee” that chose as a candidate for Our Saviour was her knowledge of Cape May County.
She explains the process whereby she was chosen to succeed the Rev. Glenn Schoenberger, who retired from Our Saviour after 34 years of service.
“My husband equates it to the NFL draft,” she says. “Both sides [the candidate and the church] submit paperwork. The congregation is looking for someone; I’m looking for a congregation. The bishop’s office looks at both sets of paperwork and decides whether it’s a good match.
“I was interviewed several times by the call committee, and they heard me preach,” she says. “There were recommendations by the church council, and then the congregation voted after we met one another. They were especially looking for someone that was familiar with the area.”
Semovoski arrived at Our Saviour Lutheran just after the renovation of the parsonage, and called it the best church housing she’d ever lived in. This is also her first time living in Stone Harbor, and she has found the borough to be very welcoming.
While there were many things to do in her first year as Our Saviour’s pastor, including learning from Schoenberger, she was quickly embraced by her new congregation.
Rachel Semovoski with her husband Joshua and daughter Samantha.
“It’s been a good year, a transitional year,” she says. “It takes time to figure each other out. It’s been a wonderful experience. And Stone Harbor is a great place to live and raise a family.”
Among the many things on Semovoski’s to-do list has been reaching out to the community to make Our Saviour more visible, and to grow the congregation.
“We want to welcome people here who may live elsewhere and just come to Stone Harbor in the summer,” she says. “We’re trying to let people know we’re here for any need they might have. We have events like the chicken barbecue and the blueberry festival. We’re trying to make contact with local schools, and we want to provide for families, too. We’re definitely moving forward.”
Semovoski has found that July and August are the busiest months for the church.
“We have a large Vacation Bible School the first week in August [6-10], and folks plan their vacations around that particular week,” she says. “By Memorial Day, we had a lot of people calling about it.”
Our Saviour Lutheran has served the Stone Harbor community for more than 100 years, having been chartered in May 1914. Services were held at a leased Episcopal church until a lot was purchased on the northeast corner of 93rd Street and Third Avenue. Ground was broken for the church in July 1916, and the finished building was dedicated on July 8, 1917.
Four pastors preceded Semovoski. In 1924, D. Upton Bair was called as first pastor, and upon his death in 1935 was succeeded by Morris Walker, who served for 28 years. John Spindler succeeded Walker in 1963, and in 1983, Schoenberger began his ministry.
Semovoski’s mission in her new role is to draw people to Christ and to the church through worship, education, service to the community and world, fellowship, caring, and prayer.
“People need to hear a message of kindness, hope and generosity,” she says. “We want to foster that message here. We are welcoming to all people, backgrounds and denominations.”
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