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New St. Andrew's pastor happy to be in Sewickley

John Dykstra, the new pastor of St. Andrew's United Presbyterian Church, stands inside the Beaver Street building. Dykstra, who once wanted to be a sportscaster for the New York Yankees, said he thinks that the troubles in life that he has gone through makes him more relatable and more approachable to the people in his congregation. Photo by Kristina Serafini

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By Joanne Barron
Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012, 11:26 a.m.

The new pastor at St. Andrew's United Presbyterian Church said struggles in his own life now are helping him serve the small Sewickley congregation.

The Rev. John Dykstra, 46, who was hired in May after serving for 13 years as pastor at Bethany Presbyterian Church in Bridgeville, said his life certainly has had its ups and downs.

He has gone through a series of peaks and valleys with struggles and doubts - along with some "real genuine" moments with God, he said.

"I've been all over the roller coaster of faith. I've learned a lot about myself and learned I have a lot more growing and learning to do," he said.

Originally from New Jersey, where he felt the call from God while he was a high school senior, Dykstra of Scott Township said he went through a divorce and took a few years off from the ministry.

Before that, he said he had trouble with alcohol before he quit drinking 13 years ago.

He has two children, ages 18 and 14, who live in Bethel Park, and he now is in a serious relationship.

Dykstra, who once wanted to be a sportscaster for the New York Yankees, said he thinks what he has gone through in his life makes him more relatable and more approachable to the people in the church.

"What I can offer are individual relationships with folks so I can counsel them and help them get through different things. I want to connect with people who have had a lot of crises and struggles so they can know God is real and cares about them."

Earlier this year, Dykstra was asked to fill in, along with various other ministers, at St. Andrew's as the congregation searched for a full-time pastor.

"We found we had a mutual fondness for one another," he said.

"They are incredibly friendly and so welcoming. They really care about each other and make you feel at ease from the minute you walk in the door.

"They are genuine about their faith. In a small church like this, there are no divisions that you find in any congregation or organization. There are always disagreements and back biting, but everyone here is on the same page and in the same boat. This is the first time I've seen that in a church," he said.

And according to member Barb Brandt of Sewickley, the congregation likes him, too.

"He's very enthusiastic, and he's got a wonderful sense of humor. He speaks to all ages, and he is extremely compassionate and extremely good with the shut-ins and people who are ill," she said.

Brandt said last month he started an evening Bible study at the church, which hadn't been done in the past.

At Bethany, Dykstra was pastor for about 800 members. At St. Andrew's, the membership is about 50, he said - quite a difference.

"With a small congregation, you get to know people a lot faster, and there's more of a feeling of unity," he said.

"On the flip side, it's harder to generate new programs and activities that appeal to a wide variety of people."

As far as any new programs or plans, for right now, Dykstra said he still is getting the feel for the church, that hosts a Quaker Valley before and after-school program, and finding out about the congregation's strengths.

He also is getting a feel for the community to see what kinds of activities the young people and adults would like to see.

"If we do anything, we are going to do it together. It's not just going to be me as a crusader. This congregation has the potential to do neat things," he said.

"We want the church to have an environment where families feel welcomed and are excited about being here. We've talked about having a movie night or a family game night."

He said members are trying to expand and find programs that will attract new folks and do more for children and teens.

Dykstra, who graduated from Westminster College in New Wilmington, said he has worked with middle school and high school kids for 20 years and has spoken at various events about youths and mission-related topics.

At Bethany, Dykstra worked on increasing participating in the church's mission program. The first trip he organized was to a Native American reservation in South Dakota in 1997 with eight young people and two adults.

By the end of his time at Bethany, the program had built to 35 young people and eight adults who participated in mission trips all over the U.S.

"I would love to see this church get involved in missions. That's where people really discover their faith when they are involved in missions and service projects," he said.

However, at this point, he said, he has no grand plans.

"I just hope to be the best pastor I can be for these wonderful folks."

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