Troy Presbyterian Church welcomes new pastor
While it’s situated in rural southern Woodford County, the new pastor at Troy Presbyterian Church wants to support a mission to connect with the larger community by getting to know and reaching out to its neighbors. A typical Sunday morning service draws 60 to 70 people to Troy Presbyterian Church and many come from outside the small community of Troy, says its new pastor, the Rev. Jerry L. Utt II. “Tradition here is pretty important,” he says of a church organized in 1874. “They like the traditional worship that they have …, but they also realize that we live in a changing time.” He views his role as helping the church honor its traditions while responding to the community’s needs by taking small steps forward in the coming years as he gets to know the history and people of Troy Presbyterian Church. Utt officially became pastor there March 1. His installation service will be Saturday, June 8, beginning at 4 p.m., at the church, 11021 Troy Pike, with a reception to follow in the fellowship hall. “It’s kind of like the family reunion,” says Utt of a Sunday morning service. “As we worship and celebrate together … all of us are being shaped as disciples and then we can go back out into the world,” he adds. Prior to coming to Troy Presbyterian Church, Utt served as pastor at two churches in Eastern Kentucky, most-recently Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church in Whitesburg for 13-and-a-half years. He also served as a chaplain for Hospice of the Bluegrass in Hazard from 2008 to 2014. “I learned a lot by doing that. I was able to minister to folks and to help them. So I appreciate that time. It was a really, really powerful time,” says Utt, who describes being a pastor as his primary calling in life. The Huntington, W. Va. native says coming from Appalachia helped him serve the people of Hazard and Whitesburg. “I also scored big points when they discovered that I was a UK grad. That opened all kinds of doors for me,” adds Utt, who earned his bachelor’s degree in history at the University of Kentucky in 1999. When Utt felt good about what he’d help establish at Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church and sensed its members were ready for a new leader, he knew it was probably time for him to make a change. That’s when he came to know Troy Presbyterian Church. Utt says his earliest memories of church involved going to Sunday school and Bible school with a friend of his mom’s. He remembers going to Spring Valley Presbyterian Church in Huntington, W. Va., on a Sunday while in the Boy Scouts and then joining its children’s choir “because I love to sing.” “Those people and that congregation formed me into who I am,” says Utt, 51. He remembers church members having a heart for others. They visited nursing homes and also made food baskets on Thanksgiving and Christmas for families in their community. “… In some ways simple things, but just a way to care for others,” Utt says. “It wasn’t just about the congregation. They wanted to care for others. So that was important to me. And I saw that. They lived their life in that way.” He says growing up in Spring Valley Presbyterian Church where questions were welcomed and “our worship had a rhythm to it,” appealed to him then and now. “Everyone had a role. So it didn’t matter if you were 4 years old or 40 or 80 or whatever, they found a way to include you. So I really appreciated that as a little kid,” says Utt. He describes this celebration of all people in a congregation as something he did while in Whitesburg, and something he hopes to continue at Troy Presbyterian Church. “I don’t think of young people as the future of the church,” he says. “I think of them as the church right now. They’re here. “… They don’t have to wait to be a part of it. They’re already a part of it.” Utt says he thought about pursuing a career in the ministry, but instead started earning his living at a distribution center in Huntington in 1985 and later in Versailles, from 1991 to 1999. He credits his general manager at that job for urging him and also helping him finish his undergraduate degree by allowing him to work a flexible schedule so he could take a late-afternoon class. Shortly after earning his degree at UK, Utt says he started seminary school at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga., where he earned a master of divinity in 2002. The Presbyterian Church has a seminary in Louisville, but Utt says he needed to move further away to insulate himself from his recent past. “The way I think about it,” he adds, “is God kind of said, ‘You do this and look what’ll happen.’ “All the doors just kind of opened up. And I got to do things that I never had a chance to do before.” It was an incredible, life-changing experience to live in a dorm while doing his studies in seminary school, explains Utt, who was baptized as a Presbyterian when he was 12 years old.