Regional Host Pastor Welcomed to Church of God, Welcomes Church of God
By Carl Stagner
“I feel right at home.” The words of Heather Semple, host pastor of the Regional Conference scheduled for June 21–23 in Anderson, Indiana, speak of her newfound comfort in the Church of God movement. Considering the Wesleyan pastor has only served in the lead role at Madison Park Church of God since January, her sentiment suggests divine affirmation of her placement. “I love the Wesleyan Church—I was born and bred in it and my whole family is in it,” she explains. “But the holiness theology of the Church of God is rooted deeply in me, and in the Church of God I feel a lot of freedom to lead in ways my context calls for. I’ve [already] felt enormous support in the Church of God.”
Madison Park Church of God needs no introduction; stories of God at work in the midst of the prominent Indiana congregation have been many, and local leadership have a history of welcoming Church of God people from across the country and around the world through their doors for special events and gatherings. As Pastor Heather Semple prepares to welcome the Church of God to Madison Park for the second of three Regionals this year, the Church of God movement is extending a warm welcome to an anointed leader whose visionary preaching, compelling teaching, loving shepherding, and spunky style are already causing a spiritual stir—for the good—just off Exit 226 along I-69 in Anderson, Indiana.
Reflecting on serving as the host church for the upcoming Regional Conference, Heather reflects, “I love, as a church, being generous with what God’s given and doing what we can to be useful and helpful. There’s a lot of value to church leaders coming together. Sometimes it can seem like just another thing on the calendar, but when you peel the layers away, it’s so powerful.”
Only conference attendees in Anderson will hear Pastor Heather preach this year at a Regional, and those who do are certainly in for a treat. Though we can’t reveal early the whole of the message God will communicate through this willing mouthpiece, Heather is delighted to address what “tethers” God’s church and translates to the truth that we’re “better together.” She says, “The entire world is grasping for straws to make sense of current events, and the church has the answer…. Coming together, remembering who we are, and having those anchors [of identity], is critical.”
For Pastor Heather—and for the Anderson congregation—sure and steady anchors are, by definition, tethered to the rock of Christ. The vision that God has given through her for Madison Park Church of God echoes the movement-wide emphasis, “Jesus is the subject,” as it communicates simply: “We exist to show people who Jesus is.” Heather Semple explains:
“There are so many things we could get behind. What I find with churches is we so often put our eggs in so many different baskets, and we struggle to bring clarity to what we’re doing. The culture ends up leading the church instead of the church leading the culture, and then it seems we’re required to respond to every little thing that takes place. When a million things are coming at us in the church, especially through COVID, racism, and all these other issues that dominated the headlines, you have to have a clarifying statement. If it’s to show people who Jesus is, then you just do what he would do.”
Longtime Wesleyan leader on many fronts, Jo Anne Lyon, familiar to the Church of God movement due to her popularity at Church of God conventions, conferences, and similar events, has played a vital role in the spiritual and leadership formation of Heather Semple. An “advocate, encourager, and challenger,” to Heather, Jo Anne was one of the first persons Heather called when the opportunity to connect with Madison Park came to light. But the Spirit-orchestrated symphony of Heather’s call to the Anderson congregation began with an intriguing prelude offered by the chair of the church’s pulpit committee, David Sebastian.
“I had many opportunities with different churches but none of them were the right fit,” Pastor Heather acknowledges. “Then David Sebastian called me, and it was a totally different conversation. Most people call and tell you everything’s awesome at their church, and that you should come and be a part of what they’ve been doing. But David admitted that not everything was awesome, but that they were a group of people wanting to see the church and community flourish…. When I came out of the interview, it was so clear Madison Park genuinely wanted to see a fresh new day. And that’s really attractive.”
On Easter Sunday 2022, 24 souls surrendered to Jesus Christ for the first time at Madison Park Church of God; some 181 souls indicated recommitments. A few weeks later, the church rejoiced as 22 followed Jesus’ example in baptism.
Register now for the Regional Convention in Anderson, Indiana (June 21–23), at www.chogconvention.org. Can’t make it to Anderson? Check out the Regional Conference opportunity taking place in conjunction with the Church of God Women’s Convention in Orlando, Florida, this October.
Feature (top) photo: Pastor Heather Semple preaches at Madison Park Church of God.