The Rev. Danny Dieth says church can be too serious and wooden.
That is why his sermons frequently feature something aimed at bringing a laugh.
“Church is about building relationships with God and one another. I find humor to be a helpful tool in every aspect of ministry as I think it is a gift from God,” he said.
Sunday, Dieth will deliver his “check out the new guy” sermon at First Presbyterian Church in Columbus.
He is serious about getting it just right.
“It will be the first time the people will hear me preach,” he said.
And he would like it to be a hit.
Instead of the usual two services there will be only one at 11 a.m.
“We want the whole church family together,” he said.
In a message he sent to the First Presbyterian members upon his hiring, Dieth said, “the Holy Spirit is alive and well at First Presbyterian Church, Columbus and together we will build on the rich tradition of effective ministry that began way back in 1830. Now is the time for all of us to claim this rich inheritance and to step up and out into God’s new plan for us.”
Dieth took over as pastor of the church on Feb. 1. He comes to Columbus from Christ Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee, Fla., where he has been pastor since 2008.
The First Presbyterian congregation, with approximately 600 members, is about double the size of Christ Presbyterian.
Dieth’s wife, Vickie, and daughters, Hannah, 15, and Abby, 11, will join him here this summer.
“As a family we felt if we were going to make a move, this was the right time to do it,” he said.
He likes the idea of being at a downtown church, one surrounded by so many other churches.
“It should offer us some unique partnerships,” he said.
Dieth is replacing the Rev. Joel Alvis, who has led the congregation for more than two years on an interim basis.
“He has done a wonderful job,” Dieth said.
The church had a split in April 2015 over whether to separate from the Presbyterian Church (USA), which some members believed had become too liberal.
A new congregation was formed called Grace Presbyterian Church led by the Rev. Chuck Hasty, who had been leading First Presbyterian. It is part of the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians.
“There are still wounds. There is still healing to be done,” said Dieth. “We are going to work to come back together as a church family. I want to build trust and relationships.”
The new pastor has been told that many perceive First Presbyterian as a “country club church.”
He is going to work to bring a presence that lets everyone know the doors of First Presbyterian are open to them.
Dieth plans to join with members of the congregation to make the church more mission centered.
Outreach was a big part of his former church.
“It is one hand helping another. Helping others is a tangible way of experiencing scripture,” he said.
And you help yourself when helping others. “Those you are helping minister to you,” he said.
While saying the church can’t be what it has always been, he stressed the church will not be increasing outreach efforts just to try to get people in the doors.
His former church described itself as “traditional with a twist.” He described that as being creative and contemporary while familiar and traditional and that the church is a safe place for anyone to explore faith.
He said he is not coming to impose his vision on the members at First Presbyterian but to work with them on a vision.
“At the core of my approach to ministry is a focus on God’s Grace and light, and the radical love of Jesus Christ. I believe that a true faith in Jesus Christ comes through experiencing his overwhelming gifts of love, and his command to wash the feet of the world while loving our neighbors as ourselves.”
Dieth, who enjoys fly fishing and playing the guitar in his free time, is a native of Texas but spent much of his youth in North Carolina.
He said he grew up in the church but did not really get involved until his college days when he worked with the youth group of a small church in Laurel Hill, N.C.
For the first time, Dieth had to read, study and be able to teach the Bible.
“That is when my world opened up,” he said.
Still, though, he enjoyed Christian education, he was not sure he wanted to be a pastor.
He said an experience while walking near a lake with his Bible in which he heard God’s voice in his head inspired him toward the ministry.
As a seminary student he worked for a while at a small church in Oklahoma, which convinced him he was on the right path.
Dieth has degrees from St. Andrews University, Presbyterian School of Christian Education and Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
He has served as an associate pastor at two churches in North Carolina before moving to Florida.
Dieth is ready to get down to work.
“I am excited about this new beginning,” he said.