Faith Link doesn’t look 30 and she doesn’t look like a minister. She has the kind of face people could easily mistake for a teenager’s – not so much angelic, but innocent. Seeing her outside her church, people might find it difficult to imagine the world of pain she has witnessed: mothers learning of the death of their infants, loved ones struggling through the heart attacks of husbands or wives.
Although her official installation as pastor of the Community Church of Hoboken doesn’t take place until Oct. 15, Faith Link, a 30-year-old Secaucus resident, has been shepherding that flock since June.
The Community Church is something called a United Congregation, containing both the Reformed Church of America and a Methodist Church.
Link was born and raised in Secaucus and attended the Reformed Church in Secaucus for most of her life. She was ordained a minister in February 1999. But Link, who went through the Secaucus public school system and attended Hope College in Holland, Mich., did not know until she got there that she wanted to be part of the ministry.
“I thought I could be an ambassador to Russia or work in the UN,” she said. “I know that sounds ambitious.”
Within two weeks of arriving on campus, Link found a higher calling. Although she had always been religious, attending the local Reform Church services and Sunday school and getting involved in youth groups as well as in camp in Warwick, N.Y., the idea of joining the ministry was something new.
“The idea just came into my head,” she said. “That’s the only way I can put it. After looking over the previous 17 years of my life, it occurred to me that’s what I should do. It was definitely not my own idea.”
Even then, she did not know she would become a minister. She simply took the courses that would eventually lead her to a degree in religious study. She minored in Greek, noting that her knowledge of Greek and Hebrew later helped in planning her sermons on Sundays when she searched through the sacred texts for inspiration.
Did things out of order
In some ways, Link did things backwards. Most ministers get their degree and their masters, get ordained, and then pick out a field. Some become chaplains after their ordination, and others may seek additional degrees that will allow them to become counselors, or even seek a Ph.D. that will allow them to teach.
While Link attended Western Seminary – which was in the same town as Hope College – for another three years to get her masters in divinity, she still hadn’t come to the firm conclusion that she would end up a minister.
Instead, she started work as a chaplain at Holland Hospital, where she got to deal with people in crisis. This was a one-on-one relationship that allowed her to help people.
“It’s something I really enjoyed,” she said. “I got to know the more personal side of people and address issues in their lives.” Some of these people struggled through the emotional anguish associated with heart attacks or the deaths of infants. Link had to provide comfort for the victims of disease and their loved ones. Later, she continued in the role of chaplain when she moved to Minneapolis.
In a profession that has a strong conservative element, Link has battled against the misperceptions that women should not serve as ministers. While she said her teachers were always supportive, taking her and others under their wings to flourish and grow, other students and people in various churches have often turned a cold shoulder to her, making her task to become a minister that much more difficult.
“There is something of an Old Boys Network,” Link said.
The structure of the church hierarchy falls into several areas, something called the classis, the ministry and the elders.
The classis form a kind church government, dealing with various issues that come up among churches within their jurisdiction. Link, as a minister in Hoboken, was part of a region called the Classis of the Greater Palisades – where she found a strong traditionalist trend among some of its members.
“My strongest support came from the elders,” she said, “Particularly some of the older women.”
She said the East Coast is a little easier. When she was in the Midwest at the seminary, some churches would not let women preach there – even as students. Un-ordained misters often fill in for ministers that take vacations or do rotating duty at those congregations that lack a regular minister at the moment. Advertisements seeking ministers in church publications often had “Women need not apply” in their copy.
Yet, within a year of being ordained, Link said, she had four job offers.
Picking the right congregation
As flattered as Link was to get job offers, she also decided she wanted to feel as if she fit. Since coming back to New Jersey several years ago, she had served as chaplain in Bayonne Hospital, where she liked the people and the duties she performed. But when the Community Church in Hoboken asked if she would become its minister, she felt good about it.
“It was a surprise to me,” Link said. “I went and spoke with the people on the search committee and received good feedback from them.”
The congregation approved her in March, and the Classis gave their approval for her to take over in June. Since ascending to the pulpit, Link had been making house calls on her parishioners. The church has about 70 regular parishioners, many of whom haven’t been visited in a long time because of the change of ministers. Link hopes to attract more people to the church, especially among the young, hardworking professionals currently moving into Hoboken.
“Many of them are so busy they sometimes forget things like God,” she said. “What I want to do is create a place where they will want to come and worship God.”
To date, the problems she faces at the Community Church have little to do with faith and nothing to do with prejudice as a woman, but involve the every day operations of running the church. She talks about the nightmare of getting the church telephone fixed, or the challenge of her learning to pronounce some of her parishioners’ names.
“We have a mixed congregation,” she said. “Some are Anglo, some are Indian. I’m trying to learn how to pronounce some of the Indian names. The people have been gracious.”
Another issue is the church building itself, an old structure in need of repair, a practical matter that she must learn to deal with as the new minister. Yet the spirit of faith – even in practical matters – plays an important role in Link’s life.
“You can’t go through this whole process without faith and a complete dependence on God,” she said. “While I would like to be in control, I know that none of this is really in my hands.”