Four decades ago, Darryl Kensinger pulled up a chair at the family table and bent his head for the blessing, which was a family tradition. As he listened to the familiar words, he started thinking about their true meaning.

It was an evening in August. He was 12.

"I remember clearly the moment I felt the calling, and I immediately told my parents that I wanted to preach," said Darryl Kensinger, who is the new pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ, Tamaqua. "It led to a family discussion on the meaning of words and the importance of prayer."

Like many families in southern Oklahoma, the Kensingers were Southern Baptists. Once each year, their church would have a special Youth Week, culminating in a service featuring youth leaders. That year, Kensinger preached the service.

His notes from that sermon, typed by his mother as he dictated, are in a box in a closet in his new office at the Trinity UCC. He still remembers the focus of that sermon, which he based on passages from 2 Peter 1: 5-8.

"The passages are about the qualities and characteristics of Christian Life," Kensinger said, picking up a bible and turning to the marked page. "Those are faith, virtue, knowledge, brotherly kindness, charity, temperance, patience and Godliness."

"I was raised to live according to those qualities and characteristics," he added. "My father (Douglas) was a deacon in the church and was a big influence on me."

Kensinger attended the seminary in Louisville, Ky., where he met his wife Tina, who was attending college in the area. He began his career as a southern Baptist preacher in Sept 1987 at a small church in Oklahoma.

His wife's brother was also a southern Baptist preacher, but began to feel a need to change denominations. He changed to United Church of Christ.

"Through talking to him, I had learned about the United Church of Christ and eleven years ago, I went through the process to change denominations," Kensinger said. "The foundations of the UCC ministry appealed to me."

Kensinger said that he was drawn to the UCC blend of tradition and modern thinking.

"I believe that a good worship service is one that is biblically based," he said. "And I wanted to serve in a denomination where women are more involved in church leadership and ministry, and where people who have different ideas are accepted."

Kensinger's first assignment as a pastor for the UCC was in Orangeville, where he served three small churches. Those churches belong to the UCC's southwest conference, which is headquartered in Palmerton.

"So I'd driven through Tamaqua, and admired the look of the town and in particular, the train station," Kensinger said. "We (he and his family) had considered a western move, such as to Missouri or Kentucky, but when that didn't fall into place we looked closer to home."

Early in November, Tamaqua became home. He and his wife Tina have three children, including a son, 19, at home; a married daughter in Mifflinville; and a daughter attending the University of Arkansas.

Although he's a long way geographically from that kitchen table in Oklahoma where he received his calling, he's never come a long way from the boyhood beliefs he learned there.

"We usually have about 100 people at services on Sunday mornings," Kensinger said. "With their help and efforts, our church will continue to embody the qualities and characteristics of Christian life."