Summit Hill pastor is back in her hometown
The Rev. Ruth Ann Christopher, second from right, was installed as pastor of Hope of Christ Presbyterian Church, Summit Hill, on Sunday. Among the participants in the service are, from left, the Rev. Beth Utley, state clerk of the Lehigh Presbytery; Drusilla Laughman, clerk of sessions of Hope of Christ Church; and Deborah Prince, moderator of the Lehigh Presbytery. RON GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
The Rev. Ruth Ann Christopher, pastor of Hope of Christ Presbyterian Church, Summit Hill. RON GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
On Sunday, the Rev. Ruth Ann Christopher was officially installed as the pastor of Hope of Christ Presbyterian Church in Summit Hill.
For Christopher, it’s a return home.
The gregarious pastor was born and raised in Summit Hill. She graduated from Panther Valley High School in 1976 and then Kutztown University (then Kutztown College) in 1980.
“I thought I was called to the ministry, but I realized I was too young and inexperienced,” she said. “I realized I was not the type.”
After working several years in computer programming, she again felt the calling to the ministry. She went to the Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, and after graduating, she accepted a call to Faith United Presbyterian Church in Pen Argyl. She remained there for 25 years.
Then, an unlikely chain of events occurred that let her return to her hometown.
About 75 people attended the installation service for her on Sunday. The charge to Christopher was given by a church elder, Diane Temples, who is on the board of deacons and historian for Hope of Christ Presbyterian Church.
Temples explained the founding of the Presbyterian Church in Summit Hill 180 years ago.
She told Christopher that she must lead by truth, by example and that she needs to be “the light keeper.”
The charge to the congregation was made by another church elder, Drusilla Laughman, who is clerk of session for the Summit Hill church.
The sermon was delivered by the Rev. Doctor Gregory Palmer, a medical doctor and parish associate of First Presbyterian Church of Allentown.
Palmer used the theme “A Place to Belong,” and used it to describe the career journey of Christopher.
He mentioned how, in the Bible, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob traveled in an effort to find their permanent home.
He told Christopher, “This is now your place. But this is not your place forever. This is your place of ministry.”
“Just like Abraham and Sarah, God has called you to this place to do the ministry of God’s work,” he said.
Christopher said, “It’s incredible that I was able to come back and be a minister in the town that I grew up in.”
She said that as a child, she attended the former United Church of Christ in Summit Hill.
She is the daughter of the late Mary Ann Christopher O’Donnell and Kenny Christopher. Her father, who was Summit Hill’s tax collector, died when she was 8 years old. Her mother married Jim O’Donnell, a grocery store owner, when she was 12.
She has two sisters, Gail Lazar of Summit Hill and Mary Caruso of New Jersey, and two brothers, Kenny Christopher of Lansford and Thomas Christopher of Tamaqua.
Several of her relatives were in attendance for her installation. Also attending were various clergy from the Lehigh Presbytery Commission and from other churches in the Panther Valley.
After graduating from Kutztown, she then continued her education at Pierce Junior College in Philadelphia, studying electronic data processing. She was hired at a company in Laureldale, Berks County where she worked for seven years, advancing from computer operator programming trainee to senior programming analyst. From there she went to a job in Hazleton, where she worked for three years as a programming manager.
Her next computer-related job was in Reading, where she served as a project manager.
She joined the Summit Hill Presbyterian church and began teaching Sunday school.
“While working there (in Reading), I took walks at lunch and I thought about the future,” she said. “I thought I had more fulfilling work.”
“I got to thinking about the work I was doing with kids,” she said. “I teach them and make a difference.”
She quit the Reading job and went to the Princeton school.
Christopher said that she thought she would be at the Pen Argyl church for the duration of her ministry career. She enjoyed it there. But then a break for her came.
She was asked to moderate a session of the church board at Hope of Christ Presbyterian Church. While moderating the session, she came to realize the church desperately needed a pastor.
“It’s difficult to find pastors in the coal region,” she said. “I said, ‘you know what? I can really do that.’ ”
“I prayed about it,” she said. She was asked to be a substitute preacher for a sermon there and, “I was so well-received and they were so enthusiastic. It was like God was saying this is the place for you.”
She began her work at the Hope of Christ church last May 1.
“When I got here, they said they were ready to do things, and they were,” she said. “I never saw people so enthused about community ministry.”
Various community projects occurred, including the formation of a Relay for Life team that came in first place in team competition for raising money for the American Cancer Society.
A group of the Summit Hill church members took a course at Moravian Seminary.
Members worked at the Heritage Center and hosted a summer lunch program.
A market street fair was held in which all the money went to Heifer International, where two cows were purchased for people in another country. This gives people in that country the ability to raise their own food.
Christopher started a Sunday school at the Hope of Christ Presbyterian Church.
“There wasn’t a Sunday school when I got here,” she said.
She said that her goal in Summit Hill is, “I really would like to see the church get more connected with the community and see Summit Hill make a comeback. Summit Hill is still a great place to raise a family.
“I love being back in Summit Hill,” she said. “I’m looking forward to building the ministry here in the church, and it will be fun seeing people I haven’t seen in 30 years.”
She said, “The coal region has a gift, and that gift is people. The way they care for one another is not like many places.”
Weekly church services are on Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Sunday school is held during the worship service and is open to children kindergarten through fifth grade.