‘Power Couple’ Of Methodist Ministry
By JENNIFER HILL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Call them a Power Couple of The Cloth.
Rev. Dana Horrell begins his ministry Sunday, July 7, at Cooperstown United Methodist Church, while 32 miles down the road, his wife, Rev. Marti Swords-Horrell, the same day will celebrate her first anniversary as pastor of Oneonta’s First United Methodist Church.
They’re the second such United Methodist husband-and-wife clerical team, joining the Revs. Daniel and Donna Martin, he at Worcester; she at Elm Park in Oneonta.
Horrell succeeds Rev. Thomas LeBeau, who the same day will be presiding at his first service at Kidder Memorial UM Church in Jamestown, after serving three years in Cooperstown. Swords-Horrell succeeded Rev. Teresa Sivers, who was transferred to Ithaca last year.
The two pastors have collaborated and even co-ministered since they married in 1986, a year after meeting at University of Chicago’s Divinity School.
“We were in our first year as Ph.D. students,” Dana said. “We met at the first community lunch the school had every Wednesday for the students.”
Married and full-time Ph.D. students, Dana and Marti became co-pastors of the Community United Methodist Church in Brookfield, Ill., where they served there for four years.
“It was fun,” Marti said. “We would switch off doing sermons every six weeks and really enjoyed listening to each other’s sermons.”
Both Marti and Dana approach their ministries with the same goals in mind – using rational and practical methods to engage their communities in issues of social justice. And both had mentors who greatly impacted their approaches and coals at key moments in their youth.
For Dana, it was Rev. Bill Lewis, now a retired bishop, who guided Dana after his parents divorced and he moved to Edwardsville, Ill., just east of St. Louis.
“When that happened, I needed a new community and I found it at St. John’s United Methodist Church,” said Dana. “Bill Lewis emphasized that doubt and faith go together, and you can examine both, apply reason to them, and renew your faith. And you do that throughout your congregation, at every level.”
Marti’s father and both grandfathers were Methodist ministers, but it was a required course on philosophy her freshman year at Colgate University which made her start considering becoming a minister herself.
“I did not want to think about my religious upbringing,” she said. “But in that course, I examined my childhood beliefs and saw how they had changed. I could throw them out and use my new ones.”
One of Marti’s professors, Coleman Brown, became her lifelong mentor, until his death in 2014. “He taught social ethics and was committed to social justice,” she said.
Marti described her ministries as “walking alongside people living on the margins.”
“They teach us about who God is, more than the people at the center of power,” she said.
In Oneonta, Marti said the marginalized people teaching her are members of the LGBTQ community. “We’re in a very exciting time,” she said. “We’re working on changes for them that are long overdue.”
In addition to his ministering, Dana edits “Parish Paper,” a professional newsletter and his book, “Engage! Tools for Ministry in the Community,” was published last April.
Dana is also working on “Faces of Poverty,” a documentary on how rural poor in Delaware and Otsego Counties make ends meet, with local film producer John Stillman directing it.
“Jesus tells his disciples to come to him with their heavy burdens to take his yoke because it is light,” Dana said. “A yoke brings two farm animals together and when it fits them, they can work together in partnership. I want to offer that to Cooperstown: they can take my yoke and we can fit it together to make a partnership.”