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Rebecca Segers

By Todd Etshman

Pastor Rebecca Segers came to Rochester from First Presbyterian Church of Germantown in Philadelphia and was a professional actress before attending Union Theological Seminary in New York City in the mid-1990s.

Pastor Rebecca Segers became head pastor of Third Presbyterian Church in Rochester at the beginning of 2022 during the COVID-19 crisis. Her initial sermons were delivered to an empty nave and a remote audience. Today, the congregation has returned to the pews along with some new members in an era of declining membership.

Q: What do you think the church’s role in the community is?

A: We worship God in our churches, but I think the church’s role is in the community. God calls us to make our corner of the world a better place. We deserve to be treated with the love God has for all of us. We must know each other or nothing will change. Education and housing are the keys to fixing a lot of problems. It’s where we’re putting our money, our hearts, our hands and our feet. This congregation is committed to the community. Tackling tough issues is what we’re here for.

Q: Does declining organized church enrollment nationwide concern you?

A: Do we want to have expansive churches and big numbers? Of course, but I don’t think that’s what we’re here for. What we’re here for is to try to discern what God’s call is in the community today and how we fulfill that. It seems to me that when we’re aligned with that the rest will work itself out. The decline is across the board not just for Presbyterians but for all congregations; Hindu temples and synagogues, too. We’re [Third Presbyterian] not where we were 20 years ago. There is a decline of people connected to a faith tradition globally. In the US particularly, we have all these other distractions that are pulling us away and that saddens me. Faith is the foundation of everything I am and try to do. It gives purpose and meaning to life. If you’re just running around all the time and not connected to something deeper, that diminishes your ability to have the fullness of life and to be present in life.

Q: Please tell us about your acting experience and how you got into the ministry.

A: I made a living at it, but not a great one. I had to wait tables and do part-time secretarial work to bring in enough to make a living in New York City. I was predominantly in stage and did a little television and film. It was a good and entertaining life.

In the early 1990s I was in the America Drama Group Europe. We were in Munich and all over Europe. I got to see so many places I would have never gotten to see. It sounds glamorous but it can’t compare to what I do now. I needed a more stable, settled life after I had a child. I couldn’t keep working on the road living hand to mouth. I wanted a job with purpose. Being in the ministry is so much more fulfilling, meaningful and exciting than anything I used to do as an actress. Preaching is one of my gifts. I would never have guessed that my acting background would translate to this, but it definitely has.

Q: Some non-traditional churches have found success with things like live music and eliminating the liturgy. How do you feel about that?

A: I know there are different worship styles. Some churches are “planting” churches and some are “watering” churches. A lot of people today, a lot of 20 year olds, have never been to a church. If you’ve never been you don’t know what a liturgy is.

Those who feel comfortable with the music in a “planting” or grow church may move on to a “watering” church grounded in ritual. Saying the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles Creed together is meaningful. As faith matures, deeply liturgical acts can be comforting.

Q: How do you like living in Rochester so far?

A: I can’t say enough about what a wonderful place to live this is for someone who loves the arts. It’s not just the number of artistic offerings but the caliber of talent blows me away. I think Rochester has an incredible amount to offer. If you want to be indoors or out, it’s a great place to live. I live in Corn Hill, a diverse city neighborhood where I can walk on the Greenway Trail and work in the Neighborhood of the Arts. I’ve become a Rochester convert.