GLEN RIDGE, NJ — After 27 years as the pastor of the Holmdel Community United Church of Christ, the Rev. Rusty Eidmann-Hicks thought he was retired. He was retired, from May 2018 to February 2019, but now he is the interim pastor of the Glen Ridge Congregational Church.
Originally from New Britain, Conn., Eidmann-Hicks, 65, was a religion major at Trinity College.
“But I lived in the theater department,” he said earlier this week at the church. “At the end of my senior year, I had to decide between religion and the theater. I decided to go to Yale Divinity.”
After two more years, he began to question whether he had the calling for a life of a pastor. Having the feeling that you are being called, he said, is crucial.
“I joined a dying, little church in Connecticut,” he said. “I got involved and did a little of everything. The minister there asked me to be the assistant minister and that’s when the brick hit me in the head.”
Eidmann-Hicks was at this church for two years. A permanent minister was desired, but he was not chosen. He went to Bridgeport and began an inner-city tutoring program.
“I started from scratch with a small grant from the United Church of Christ,” he said. “Within six years, there were six different tutoring programs. I worked hard and raised enough money to hire a staff. But I didn’t want to be a teacher. I wanted to go into the pastoral ministry.”
At this time, he married Martha Eidmann, an ordained UCC minister. They mutually attached their surnames.
“Oddly enough, we moved from Connecticut to New Jersey because she got a job at the Glen Ridge Congregational Church as associate minister.”
Their home became the parsonage on Appleton Place. That was in 1988. Eidmann-Hicks was unemployed. He got a job at Christ Church, in Summit, and later was hired by the Holmdel Community UCC. When he began there, the congregation numbered about 40. When he retired, that number was 150.
Destiny then took a hand. The previous interim minister at the Glen Ridge church, Damien Lake, received a call to work in California and departed. That was when Eidmann-Hicks received a call. The search for another interim pastor had been brief and to the point.
“Our denomination is not large,” he said. “We all know everyone in the state. I’ve always been impressed with this church.”
Eidmann-Hicks said he is especially appreciative of the importance of the music and education programs at the church. His tenure will be a short one, he thinks only three months, but he has work to accomplish.
“I hope to advocate for the new pastor, that the church has a ministry ready for that person and are open to new ideas,” he said. “It’s not my job to make changes, but to let the congregation know changes are coming.”
He said changes come about very democratically among UCC membership. It does not happen “top down” as it might in the Roman Catholic Church.
“In this congregation, the pastor is in conversation,” Eidmann-Hicks said. “It’s almost a town meeting style.”
He will use his influence from the pulpit, attending church committee meetings and developing comradery. The GR Congregational Church, he said, already has strong leaders. But he also sees churches currently challenged to develop with new ways of operating. Congregations do not want their churches to be stuffy, he said, but rather in communion.
But accepting change is difficult, he acknowledged. For the GR Congregational Church, along with adjusting to cultural changes, there is also the arrival of a new pastor. The question the Glen Ridge church must answer, according to Eidmann-Hicks, is how it can be the church it wants to be and at the same time the church the community needs. He believes he is the right man at the right time for the church.
“I think the beauty of my being here is that I have nothing to prove and a lot of experience,” he said. “I have wisdom to pass on and advise. Not to push it, but only to make suggestions. Because I have nothing to prove, I hope to be in the background. I also have the freedom to say that once they find someone, I’m happily going back to retirement.”
Eidmann-Hicks feels honored to help the congregation move forward.
“I keep saying this church has strong bones,” he said.
He is especially grateful for having the music director, Thomas Mustachio, and the director of education, Maira Hernandez-Kinloch.
“Tom is a stable leader here and the music is so vital,” he said. “And new people coming to the church are looking for a family-friendly place to belong.”