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Meet the Rev. Andy Schwiebert

By Susan Jakubowski, Connecting Voices Editor    

At first glance, he’s done a lot for not so many years on this earth; at a second glance he’s done a heck of a lot!  Meet the Rev. Andrew “Andy” Schwiebert, the newest member of Pasadena First Congregational’s pastoral team.  It all began in Phoenix, Arizona where the child of a Lutheran-raised father and Christian Scientist mom was brought up with his older brother.  When Andy was seven his mom discovered the UCC, and the rest, as they say, is history.  While a member of Shadow Rock Congregational Church there Andy participated in child and youth programs, remembering the values of reaffirming the goodness of people while building community and standing up for justice. Although he was expected to stay in Arizona for college to follow in family footsteps, Andy chose UC Berkley for its urban setting and diverse population.  Anthropology, with its fascinating study of people and cultures and Latin American studies were of great interest to Andy and he went on to chose both as his majors.  While at Cal, Andy also decided he wanted to learn Spanish, so he set off for a year in Chile to study with full language immersion.  While there, students protesting a 30% fee hike took over campus buildings for 13 weeks, causing all classes to be cancelled. On campus, Andy met student activists whose parents had suffered torture and exile under the Pinochet dictatorship. Meeting these students and hearing about their parents challenged Andy to consider what people are willing to do for what is really important to them.  After returning to Berkeley and preparing for graduation Andy felt called to service abroad.  That opportunity was presented through Witness for Peace – a U.S. based organization with offices in a number of Latin American countries. 

     Following his graduation in 1999, Andy signed up for a two-year commitment and was off to join Witness for Peace’s International Team in Chiapas, Mexico. There, Andy worked with locals and led educational trips of US citizens from churches and colleges to learn about and advocate for more just US military and economic policies in the region. While serving in Chiapas Andy was inspired by Rev. Delle McCormick, a UCC missionary who worked with the local Catholic diocese and other groups on peace and conflict-resolution efforts.  This woman became a dear mentor to Andy and he subsequently became an “associate missionary”, as arranged through UCC Global Ministries. Andy stayed on for a third year to work in Colombia.   The highlight of this growth experience was hosting then-UCC President John Thomas and a delegation of 100, including a number of conference ministers and others.  All were part of standing in solidarity with Colombian faith leaders in calling for the end of U.S. military support in Colombia.  This life-changing experience left Andy proud to call himself part of the UCC and the strong leadership role of UCC folks standing for peace with justice in the Latin America and elsewhere. 

     After returning to Phoenix following this three-year experience Andy became the interim youth minister at his home church. Andy was deeply heartened by the congregation’s decision to offer its solidarity in immigrant rights efforts along the border.  Andy continued to hear the call to ministry, and he began seminary at the Pacific School of Religion in the fall of 2003. At the same time, Andy worked intensely with an East Bay Interfaith Worker Justice group and a number of other community-based groups. Soon, Andy experienced a period of time when he wasn’t certain if parish ministry was his calling or if he should be in seminary at all.  He took a semester off from school, sadly coinciding with the passing of his father.  During his grief Andy was touched by how both his home church, Shadow Rock Congregational, and the First Congregational Church of Oakland embraced and supported him.  It became clear to him that the local church was where people care and God’s presence is indeed felt.  It was 2004 and through this wonderful reaffirmation Andy realized parish ministry was indeed in his future.  He returned to PSR and took on a healthier, more balanced approach to his community involvement.  A dating opportunity with another seminarian presented itself, and Allison proved to be just the type of woman Andy was looking for.  Allison was on her way to becoming an ordained Methodist minister in the area, so when Andy graduated in 2007 he stuck around, taking a job with the Interfaith Council of San Jose. In July of 2008 Allison accepted an appointment in Pasadena.  Andy knew he had a great relationship going, so they both packed up and moved south.  Marriage followed in Hawaii that October.  During that time Andy was working at Claremont School of Theology, where he was an admissions recruiter.  In 2009 Andy became involved in the First Congregational Church (FCC) of Pasadena where both pastors Jake and Marlene Pomeroy enjoyed their relationship with Andy.  Later that year he became the church’s substitute pastor while the Pomeroys were on sabbatical leave.  In 2010 FCC Pasadena adopted a proposal to create a new ministry for young adults in their 20s and 30s.  Andy attended the new Church Leadership Institute in Atlanta.  He learned new skills and style of ministry and on May 22 of this year (a)Spire Ministry created a new worship service.  Its focus is “to connect-to grow-to serve”.  Music styles have included contemporary praise, gospel, rock and folk. Following one more “trial run” of worship in August, (a)Spire Ministry will have its official launch in September. Andy has great excitement for growing a young, energetic faith community.  It’s exciting to see new expressions for the values and faith traditions shown in our long UCC history.  As a result, Andy believes that (a)Spire Ministry best describes his current work.  Monthly worship, service outings, and small group experiences are being planned.  In the interim, Andy is looking to collaborate with other churches launching similar endeavors, such as Irvine UCC (with Rev. Elizabeth Griswold, who he met at PSR).  If you want to learn more about Andy’s exciting work, go to Facebook (through www.aspireucc.org).

     That new wife Allison?  She is now happily ministering in the Methodist Church two blocks away from where Andy spends his days!  She and Andy see each other around town, through ecumenical council meetings, mayor’s breakfasts, and joint youth outings. Andy shares that in many ways their theology is quite similar, despite different life histories.  With their full lives it doesn’t sound like this couple could have much down time, but Andy loves soccer, and running.  On May 14 he completed the Pasadena Half Marathon in a little more than two hours, a darn good time!  It’s also no surprise that his favorite word is “spirit-filled”.  It certainly sounds like a descriptor for Andrew Schwiebert’s life thus far, and who knows what exciting work God will lead him to in the decades to come!

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