PH Community Presbyterian welcomes new senior pastor

| Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 9:02 p.m.

The Rev. Mark Whitsel took it as a good-luck charm when the Pleasant Hills Community Presbyterian Church pastoral nomination committee members took him and his wife, Kelly, to dinner at the restaurant where they dined after getting engaged years earlier.

Whitsel, 38, of Crafton, will join the Pleasant Hills Community Presbyterian Church on Saturday as the senior pastor. Whitsel's appointment by the church's congregation ends a six-year influx of leadership.

“I'm just super excited to get down there and get things into place,” Whitsel said.

The pastor, an avid guitar player, runner, cyclist, hunter, fisher and reader, grew up in Hollidaysburg in Blair County and moved to the Pittsburgh area to attend Westminster College, he said. He served at Union Presbyterian Church in Robinson Township for the last eight years.

One of the things that attracted Whitsel to Pleasant Hills Community Presbyterian Church is that the congregation is a staple in the South Hills, he said.

Whitsel looks forward to working with church leaders to set goals and “craft a vision,” he said. The main question he would like to answer is how to further reach out into the community to provide services and bring people into the church.

Both the church leaders and Whitsel said they thought he was a good match.

“The more we talked, the better fit it seemed to be,” Whitsel said.

The search that eventually led the congregation to Whitsel was a long one. Tami Licht served as chairwoman of the pastoral nomination committee for the church.

The committee formed in January 2012, after several years without permanent leadership. Licht said Stan Ott, who left the church in 2006, was the last permanent senior pastor.

“We've kind of been in flux,” Licht said.

The committee searched nationwide for a candidate, looking as far away as Hawaii for someone who fit the congregation's vision. The group looked for a candidate with leadership skills, who is a strong preacher, a teacher, administrator and someone who could provide excellent pastoral care, Licht said.

“Our church is large,” Licht said. “It's more than just preaching and teaching.”

The Presbyterian church requires a quorum of one-tenth of the 1,490-member congregation vote to appoint a senior pastor. For Whitsel, the committee put together a video introducing him to the congregation before the vote, Licht said.

On Oct. 21 Whitsel received an unanimous appointment.

“There were 307 votes and they were all yes,” Licht said. “We're just really excited to have a new senior pastor. We're looking forward to growing the church.”

The Whitsel family, which includes Mark, wife Kelly and sons Silas, 3, and Oliver, 1½, plan to move to the Pleasant Hills area within the next few months, Whitsel said. The Whitsels have been married for five years.

Whitsel said he is thrilled with the appointment, especially such a resounding “yes” from the congregation.

“That was wonderful,” Whitsel said. “It was very humbling to get that kind of affirmation from folks … I take it as a sign that truly I had arrived at the place that God had meant me to be.”

Laura Van Wert is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5814 or at

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