Church sees leadership turnover as two women take charge

First United welcomes first female lead pastor and new associate pastor.

As society emerges from the pandemic to embark on a new chapter, the First United Methodist Church of Moorestown is also turning the page with two women at the helm for the first time in its history. 

Rev. Dr. Gina Hendrickson is the first woman appointed as lead pastor at FUMC, a church whose origins date back to 1815. Rev. Jessica M. Campbell will serve alongside her as associate pastor. They will assume their new roles on July 1.

For Hendrickson, religious life wasn’t initially in the cards. Her father was a Marine, so the family moved around a lot. Given the transient lifestyle, church didn’t come until later. Hendrickson’s mother was Episcopalian, and her father was Catholic. But when they settled in Ocean Grove, there was only one church in town, and it was Methodist.

When Hendrickson’s parents divorced, she remained in the town and was invited by her  best friend to a youth group gathering. Hendrickson said she’d never had a personal relationship with Christ prior to that, but as she got more and more involved with the youth group, she began to understand how that relationship could enhance her life.

“Youth ministry was a place where I was accepted, as I was with people who loved me no matter what,” Hendrickson recalled. “It was a great opportunity for me to explore and live life together as a family of faith.” 

Rev. Dr. Gina Hendrickson.

She attended Trenton State College (now The College of New Jersey), where she studied criminal justice, and continued to be involved with her home church’s youth group. Hendrickson was convinced she would become a police officer and was one of only 23 women accepted into the New Jersey Police Academy the year she applied. 

But one week into the classes, she knew it wasn’t the right fit, so she became a probation officer with the family division of Monmouth County court. Hendrickson  explained that  in the division, probation officers are more akin to social workers, and she dealt with families in crisis, domestic violence and an array of other serious issues.

After five years in that job, Hendrickson considered pursuing a master’s in social work. But as she thought more about it, she decided that with a master’s in divinity, she could incorporate her desire to help people with her faith. Hendrickson earned that master’s  at Bangor Theological Seminary in Maine and her doctorate of ministry from Drew University. She has since served as senior pastor at St. Andrew’s of Cherry Hill,  Associate Pastor of St. Peter’s Ocean City and Pastor of St. Paul’s New Gretna and Oceanville, the first female in all those roles.

For the past seven years, she’s served as the Methodist Church’s Northern Shorn District superintendent, a role in which she oversaw 58 churches. As she comes to Moorestown, what she’s most looking forward to is having one home church where she can worship.

“I really miss being in the heartbeat of a local church,” she said.

A youth group also drew Campbell to the ministry. Growing up in Michigan, both her grandfather and great uncle were United Methodist clergymen, but the desire skipped a generation with her parents. 

Campbell wasn’t a particularly active churchgoer, but like Hendrickson, she got involved in her local church youth group during high school. It helped Campbell form her identity and understand her sense of purpose. 

Rev. Jessica M. Campbell.

She  went to Eastern Michigan University to study elementary education, but hated one of her first classes so much, she walked out on the first day and decided not to declare a major. That summer, the pastor at Campbell’s local church, who saw she had a  natural gift for the ministry, encouraged her to shadow him.

Campbell spent the summer presiding over weddings and funerals, helped with counseling sessions and even got to preach a few times. She felt her calling during that time, and when she returned to school in the fall, Campbell changed her major to psychology, thinking it could come in handy with counselling.

Ultimately, she went to Princeton Seminary and is now an ordained elder in the Methodist Church’s Greater New Jersey Conference. From there, she served as a pastor at Franklin Lakes United Methodist Church, Thiells United Methodist Church in New York and Round Valley United Methodist Church in Lebanon. Most recently, she was a pastor at Hamilton United Methodist Church in Neptune. 

When Campbell found out about the opening at First United, she eagerly submitted her name. She was familiar with Moorestown, as well as First United’s efforts to become a reconciling community that accepts LGBTQ+ members. Campbell was also impressed by how open-minded and supportive residents seemed to be.

Both Campbell and Hendrickson have known each other for years through the Methodist community, but they are eager to officially work together. 

“I think we’re going to be a dynamic team together,” Campbell predicted. “I’m excited to see what good we will do.”

 The pastors will preside over their first services on Sunday, July 4, at 9 and 11 a.m. An outdoor service to welcome the pastors will take place at First United on Sunday, July 11, at 10 a.m. Attendees are asked to bring folding chairs, and a coffee reception will follow.