Grace and peace to each of you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ! My name is Matt Gaventa, and I could not be more excited to introduce myself to you, to meet each of you, and to enter into a new season of ministry together at University Presbyterian Church.
For the past four years, I have served as the Pastor at Amherst Presbyterian Church in Amherst, Virginia, between Lynchburg and Charlottesville in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. For the past two years, I have also worked as part-time chaplain to nearby Sweet Briar College. I’ve also married into my own profession: my wife, Sarah, is the Associate Rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Ivy, Virginia, just outside of Charlottesville, and we live between the two with our five-year-old son, Charlie.
Amherst is just the latest in a long line of college and university towns that have been home to me. My mother teaches New Testament so I spent my childhood in and around seminary campuses in Rochester, New York; Atlanta, Georgia; and then finally Princeton, New Jersey. I went to college at Georgetown University, graduating with a passion for film and media studies that led me to a Master’s at the University of Iowa. Afterwards, I found myself in Charlottesville, working for the University of Virginia, meeting and marrying Sarah, and reconnecting with the church and with my own call to ministry. We made the decision to return to Princeton for my seminary education, and I loved every moment of it.
I love church, especially the Presbyterian church. I love the work that we get to do together. I love the liturgies with which we get to worship together, the music we get to sing together, and the relationships we get to build together. And I love that I get this amazing responsibility of standing up on Sunday morning and helping us to say something about the grace of God. Preaching is at the very center of my sense of God’s call, and it’s a calling that has been well-affirmed: as a seminary senior, alongside a host of Princeton awards in preaching and church leadership, I received the national David H.C. Read Preacher/Scholar Award given by Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church.
In Amherst, I’ve also had the chance to expand my voice beyond the Sunday morning pulpit. I’ve done some writing for publication, and you can find a few of my pieces in The Christian Century among other places. I’ve also returned to some of my old film and media roots, and I now co-host a podcast called Technicolor Jesus, all about movies and pop culture for pastors and preachers and anybody who cares about the church. But for me, nothing in ministry compares to the holy time of Sunday morning, and I can’t wait to share it with you, in word, in sacrament, and in fellowship.
University Presbyterian Church is such a dynamic congregation, both in the richness of your Sunday morning time together and in your dedication to engaging the bounties and the needs of the Austin community. I’m eager to work alongside your dedicated staff, to hear the harmonies of your amazing choir, and to walk with each of you in our common faith journey. Your PNC has served this process with such rich faithfulness, integrity, and joy, and I am bursting with excitement to meet the rest of the family that they have so diligently represented.
I know that you have been preparing for a new pastor for a long time, and now Sarah and Charlie and I are busy getting ready for this major adventure. But I can’t wait for a time when we can all find our new rhythms again: after Charlie has found himself in a new school, after Sarah has found how God is calling her to serve in Austin, after the boxes are put away and a new home returns to its natural messy state. I’ll hope to unpack the kitchen first: it’s my natural habitat, not to mention the source of many of my best go-to sermon illustrations. And then I hope we can sit together at the table, and share our stories with joy, and listen for God with grace, and pour out a glass or two with love, and recognize each other in the breaking of the bread.