July 12, 2013

New pastor strives for church relevancy

By AMY HEGGEN Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — The Rev. Philip Richards looks forward to becoming acquainted with Plattsburgh United Methodist Church and the area.

“It’s a beautiful community,” Richards said.

He and his two daughters, who are entering the third and the sixth grade, moved from Glens Falls to Plattsburgh just in time for the church’s annual Strawberry Festival, held June 27.

Richards has served the Upper New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church for 23 years, and this will the fifth church where he has been pastor.


He grew up attending the United Methodist Church and originally went to school to be a history teacher, but a youth group that he led while he was in undergraduate school changed his mind.

“The connection that I had with the youth group members and my ability to share with them the stories of scripture, my own belief, in a way that got them excited about being a part of the church,” he said, helped him to realize what he really wanted to do.

Becoming a pastor fulfilled both his deep-seated faith and his desire to serve the community, so he earned his master’s degree in divinity from Boston University.

“I also love the church. It has made a huge difference in my life,” he said. “Anytime a community gathers together, amazing things can happen.”


Richards thinks the Plattsburgh United Methodist Church membership is excited and ready to serve the community.

“To see so many people enjoying just being together is awesome. It (the church) is a great place to find friends and great people,” he said.

Richards focuses on how the church is relevant to the community, as well as individual’s lives.

“What we’re really doing in the life of the church these days is trying to be vital to the community. If something is happening in our world, how can we as a church respond?”

He also focuses on the idea that people need each other.

“We’re social beings. We need to figure out ways to be together and grow from one another,” Richards said.

He feels that creating small group ministries, like volunteer groups, will create opportunities for people to connect. The small groups will try to match desires with the needs of the community.


Richards also sees a need for reaching out to younger generations, and he thinks the key is creating hands-on opportunities to serve.

“Young people want to put their faith in action,” he said.

Richards said the United Methodist Church has decreased from 15 million members in 1968 to 6 or 7 million today.

“The church has become less and less a part of the family’s weekly experience,” Richards said. “One of the things we’re going to be working toward is growing the community (of the church).”

He understands that busy families have many options on Sunday mornings.

“We have a church here that can provide a caring, open environment for you to worship and care for one another,” Richards said.


His conversational preaching style aims not only to proclaim the gospel but to focus on the love of God and how that is lived out within the community. 

“I try to share stories or experiences in life that connects the gospel and the theme of the love of God,” Richards said.

“For example, if someone is hurting or in crisis, how can the community be there for that person?”