The following introductory statements are from our new pastor, Joe DiPaolo, who began his ministry among us on July 1, 2015. He was generous enough to send us weekly bulletin blurbs in the weeks ahead of his arrival so our congregation could get to know him in advance. Please enjoy reading his words and welcome him to our church when you see him.
Pastor Joe's Bio
Rev. DiPaolo was born and raised in the New York City area, and holds degrees from Lafayette College, Palmer Seminary, and Princeton Seminary. While in college he had a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ, and began a journey that led him into pastoral ministry. Since 1985, he has served as a pastor and preacher in four congregations in the greater Philadelphia area. In 1988 he was ordained and became a clergy member of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference (EPAC). Since 2003, Rev. DiPaolo has served as the senior pastor of the 750-member Wayne UMC, in suburban Philadelphia. His gifts for ministry include preaching, teaching and leading congregations to formulate new visions for ministry and outreach.
In addition to his pastoral work, he has served on a variety of boards and committees for the EPAC and the larger United Methodist Church (UMC), including as an elected delegate to the General Conference of the UMC in 1996, and to the Northeast Jurisdictional Conferences of 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012. He serves as president of the Historical Society of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the UMC, and edits its annual historical journal Annals of Eastern Pennsylvania. He also has published several articles and books, primarily on regional Methodist history.
Active in ecumenical and community affairs, DiPaolo serves on the Board of Trustees of Evangelical Theological Seminary (ETS) in Myerstown, Pa, and he has taught as an adjunct professor both at ETS and at Palmer Seminary in Philadelphia. He is a member of the Advisory Board for the new Campolo Center for Ministry at Eastern University, and he served as senior chaplain of the Ocean City Tabernacle Association, from 2001-2005.
Dear friends at First Church:
With just about a month or so before I begin my ministry among you, some thought it would be helpful for me to supply a few paragraphs each week to tell you a little about myself. I thought I’d start with my family. My wife Sue and I met the first day of Band Camp, a few days before the start of our freshman year in college. She played the flute; I played the trumpet (and still do). We’d never have met otherwise, since she was a math major (later changed to chemical engineering) and I was a political science major (later changed to economics). We seem a case study in “opposites attract,” and will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary this June. My fire-haired Scots-Irish bride was raised in suburban Philadelphia, the middle child of a physician, and from a family that has been in America since Revolutionary days. I grew up on New York, a first- born son in the second generation of Italian immigrants (so both of us can be stubborn!). Sue is my greatest supporter and most honest critic, and a great light in my life.
Our three children inherited their mother’s love of science. Our oldest, Christina, is 26, and works as an architectural engineer. Laura, 25, is finishing her third year in medical school. Our son Tim just graduated college with a chemical engineering degree. We like to say that they all received Sue’s math skills and my verbal skills – and it would have been tragic had it gone the other way around. I cannot but help think of the verse from Deuteronomy 26:11, “Be grateful for the good things that the Lord your God has given you and your family; and let the Levites and the foreigners who live among you join in the celebration.” (GNB)
Pastor Joe DiPaolo
This week, I thought I’d write about my journey to faith and into ministry. My early church experience was in the Roman Catholic Church. Though my grandparents’ generation had been quite devout (a great-aunt was a nun in Italy), the next few generations were decidedly less so. Our Catholicism was part of my cultural identity, rather than a spiritual commitment. Still, I attended church as a child, and was confirmed in seventh grade, later drifting away by high school. At that time, God to me was distant; the Power who built the universe and set up the rules, but not a personal God whom I could know and love.
It was in college that I underwent a conversion experience, through the agency of several friends, a campus ministry, and the usual crises of identity that befall 19-year olds. In surrendering to Christ, I experienced a profound sense of God’s living presence for the first time, which has never left me. The Bible came alive, and I was hungry to learn more. I put off plans to attend law school, went to work for a bank in New Jersey, and took a night course at a nearby seminary. That course, along with a summer mission experience in Latin America the year before, convinced me I was being called to some sort of professional ministry.
I began studies at Palmer Seminary in 1984, and joined the Bala Cynwyd UMC, where the pastor, Rev. Andy Schultz, became a mentor. I became acquainted with the writings of John Wesley, and was impressed with his holistic understanding of the gospel – uniting head and heart; faith and works; personal faith and social engagement; the sacramental and the evangelical; revelation and reason; God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. I was hooked, and developed a life-long love of Methodist theology and history. I pushed forward with candidacy for ministry in the United Methodist Church, and in 1988 was ordained a deacon and assigned to my first charge. Looking back, I can truly testify that God is faithful, and that he uses even flawed people like me, if only we are willing to say, “Here I am, Lord; send me!”
Among the things that have me very much looking forward to joining you, is the emphasis First Church places on music and art. Both have played important roles in my life and that of my family. On my mom’s side, trumpet players go back to my grandfather, who played in community bands and in the army in World War I. I have a wonderful photo of him in his Waterbury, Connecticut Marching Band uniform, cornet under his arm, circa 1909. Two of his sons played professionally in the 1940s and 50s with big bands, and one of my uncles was in the US Army Band during World War II. I’ve been playing trumpet all my life, and currently participate in a community concert band, and with a brass group at my current church. My wife Susan was a flute player (we met through our college band); and my son Timothy sang with the Philadelphia Boys Choir for five years, traveling the world by age 12. My dad’s side is laden with artists; family lore actually has it that we are related to a famous medieval Italian artist, Giovanni DiPaolo; one of my cousins and my sister became professional artists. In high school, I did quite a bit of drawing and painting, and thought seriously of going to art school myself – but God had other plans.
Though I haven’t lifted a paint brush in some years, I am still an inveterate doodler, so don’t be surprised if, during long church committee meetings, you see cartoons all over my copy of the minutes. Music in worship plays such an important role in lifting us out of ourselves, and offering the chance, as the hymn “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” puts it, to “join the mighty chorus which the morning stars began.” And in a day in which people are less and less oriented toward written texts, and more toward visual imagery, the use of visual arts will play an increasingly important role in communicating the gospel.
A Note from Sue DiPaolo:
Hi to my new church family in Lancaster. As I read over Joe’s previous writings to you, I see he has already shared some of the most important parts of my life. I am the middle child of Bruce (Barry) and Nancy Montgomery – smack dab in the middle; my older sister and younger brother are 28 months apart, with me 14 months from either one. We grew up like triplets. I had a fantastic childhood in Gladwyne PA, vacationing at the Jersey Shore or Cape Cod each summer. We lived close to my paternal grandparents, so I was fortunate to get to know them very well. In fact, until I was married and Joe started his career, I attended church with my family and grandparents together at the Bala Cynwyd UMC every Sunday. I have many fond memories of pancake lunch at Nana and Pappap’s house after church – Pappap was always the cook. I don’t remember a time in my life when I did not know God and call Jesus my Savior – although, I did have a moment in my middle school years when I decided to make my faith my own.
Fast forward to the present. I work at Jacobs Engineering in the Instrumentation and Controls department. I have worked at the same engineering firm since my summer internship during college. Our clients are primarily pharmaceutical manufacturing firms. My current project will create a new facility to manufacture a drug that has revolutionized the life of a friend of mine.
Joe mentioned our three children. Christina also works at Jacobs in the structural department. I often see her during the day or at lunch; this is definitely the best part of my job. Laura is studying medicine in Jefferson Medical College at my dad’s alma mater (my Pappap’s alma mater, too). Tim will be moving to Texas to start his engineering career in a few weeks. Houston is soon to be my favorite vacation spot.
Moving does not come easily to me. I am very much an engineer. I like an ordered, consistent life (Though, I do admit that my house is often ruled by entropy. Or at least that’s the excuse I use). I have volunteered with our middle school youth group this past year. I learned a LOT! During one lesson, our youth director asked us how we know that we can trust God. As I thought about my life, my answer became clear. Each time we have moved to a new church, God has prepared a place for us. I am confident that God is preparing an awesome church home and I look forward to meeting you all.
When was the last time you gave thanks to God for your church?
At the very outset of his letter to the Christian community at Corinth, Paul exclaims, “I always thank my God for you...” (1 Cor. 1:4) But as you make your way through the letter, you begin to wonder how he can say that. The church at Corinth was beset with problems: infighting among various groups, misunderstandings of the gospel, chaotic worship services, and disputes over a variety of issues.
Yet Paul gives thanks – because despite all the problems, he saw evidence that God’s grace was at work among them. The whole sentence in 1 Cor. 1:4 reads, “I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus” (emphasis added). It was not their perfect track record he was thankful for, but the grace of God given to them, with the result that they “have been enriched in every way... [and] do not lack any spiritual gift” (v. 5-6).
Today, people are quick to point out what’s wrong with the church – and it isn’t hard to find legitimate complaints, since the church is filled with flawed, fallen and often forgetful people. Yet if we look closer, we will discover what Paul saw: that God has showered even the humblest of congregations with astounding gifts. There are people who have stories to tell of God’s redeeming power; who have amazing talents and abilities; and above all, who have opened themselves to the gift of God’s own presence and promises; the same God who has called them – called us – into relationship with himself. In verse 9, Paul says, “God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
As I prepare to commence my ministry at First Church, I have already glimpsed many evidences of God’s grace at work among you: in a marvelous history, stretching back more than 200 years, that has contributed many faithful servants to the church and world; in a talented and dedicated staff; and in a congregation that, even from afar, I have learned has been showered with gifts and talents that God is already using to impact our world for good and for God’s glory.
So like Paul, I want to begin my correspondence with First UMC by giving thanks to God for you: for what he has already done among you by his grace, and for what he will yet do among us in the months and years ahead. Please join me in praying that God’s purposes will be fulfilled in us, and God’s love will be displayed through us, despite any challenges we face. But join me also in giving thanks; for God’s grace is able to do more than we imagine. Confident in God’s continued care and faithfulness, let us also sing, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forev- er.” (Psalm 107:1)