When Hal Jensen became the pastor of the United Christian Church of Marietta in 1998, the congregation was made up of just eight women. But after 13 years under Jensen's ministry, the church has outgrown its walls, with 80-plus attendees on a regular basis. An addition to the church is underway.
Members at first hesitated to expand on the church's historic frame; the original building dates back to early 1900 when the church was comprised of 21 women (the men, Jensen says, were busy tending to the farm). The original space will remain in use for Sunday school, and some historic gems will be moved to the new sanctuary, including the church's chandelier, a gift given by the Presbyterian Church in Marcellus over 100 years ago.
The expansion of the church is no small feat at a time when country churches are struggling to survive. Jensen attributes the church's prosperity to a simple philosophy taught to him by Village Missions, a group that provides aid to country churches.
"They said the only thing you have to remember to do is teach the word of God and love the people, and always be available to the people," Jensen said. Village Missions is one of five missions the church now supports.
Jensen himself never expected to go into ministry. The former Marine spent the bulk of his life in the newspaper business. He owned newspapers in New Jersey and still owns papers in Southern New York.
"I thought money was all there was to life," he said.
Jensen was raised by his grandmother, who he says pulled him by the ears to go to church on Sunday mornings.
"That's why they're so big," he joked.
But by 1998, after 20 years as general manager for Lakeside Printing in Skaneateles, Jensen was ready to move on to a life of worship.