For nine months, the Rev. Cindy Antonuk had occasionally filled in leading services at the First Baptist Church on Gloucester Avenue — a church that had gone without a true pastor for two years.
Now, the church has a new pastor of its own, and it’s someone who had already been familiar to many in the congregation: It’s the Rev. Cindy Antonuk.
Antonuk started as the church’s covenant pastor in June, and has settled into her new post over the summer.
“They enjoyed my preaching, they kept calling me to come back and I was happy to do that,” she says.
After she had preached at the church several times, members of the congregation suggested interviewing her as a possible candidate for a covenant pastor. The head of the denomination gave Antonuk a call, saying that what the congregation needed most were patience and love because they’d experienced hurt in the past.
Antonuk says she provides the perfect fit.
“I feel that patience and love are two gifts that God gave me and I knew I could provide it to this congregation, no problem,” she says, “The rest, as they say, is history.”
Antonuk has spent many years involved in hospice chaplaincy.
“I was quite convinced that God had no plans for me to be the soul pastor of a church,” she says. “I felt that my experiences with terminal illness and the deaths of both my parents was God calling for me to be with those at the ends of their lives.”
She says she sees a number of similarities between her hospice chaplaincy and her role now as the pastor of First Baptist.
“It’s a church with an aging congregation, and they need to be revitalized,” she says.
She says her welcome has been warm.
“This congregation has been through some rough times, and at this point right now they are so ready for something new and different,” she said. “They have embraced me so warmly and they are so very supportive of my ideas.
“It’s a really nice feeling on Sunday morning to see people coming in with smiles on their faces because they’re just happy to be at their church,” she says. “In the past, for a lot of people it wasn’t the happy place it could have been.“
For those reasons, Antonuk dubbed the annual theme for this year, “Bend and Stretch,” which speaks to the notion of trying something new through her and the church’s new beginning.
“The theme is inspiring everyone,” she says. “It’s an exciting time to be there right now. Exciting for me and exciting for the folks in the pews.”
Born and raised in Beverly, Antonuk was brought up in the First Baptist Church in Beverly, and says that church experience has really been walking with her through her journey to ministry.
Antonuk says that she received her calling later in life around the time when her mother was dying.
“There was something about being present with my mother when she died,” Antonuk says.
She said that before her mother passed away she had always joked about her passing, “I had joked with my husband and I’d always say that when the time comes give me a valium and stick me in the corner, because I won’t be able to function.”
“But when the time came and I was able to be so present with her, I knew it was God giving me the strength to do that,” she recalled. “I knew I had some kind of a gift that I could help other folks do the same.”
Antonuk went on to pursue her education at the Andover Newton Theological Seminary in Newton.
“I entered seminary on Sept. 11, 2001,” she says. “It was a very powerful day to be starting this journey and I’m so glad to have been there. It was quite an induction into ministry.”
Since 2008, when she graduated, Antonuk has been working through the process while preaching at the First Baptist Church of Beverly whenever she had the opportunity, — as she says — to exercise her muscles in ministry.
She also made many pastoral visitations, for which she has a real passion.
“People want to be able to tell their stories and they want to be heard,” she says. “Having a pastor come to a home or a hospital is very powerful.
“People are very happy to see that I want to be out in the community in Gloucester,” she adds, “and I’m thrilled to do it.”
Antonuk preaches every week and also leads a Bible Study on Sunday mornings for adults. So far she says that her time spent at The First Baptist Church has been overwhelmingly positive.
“It has been fantastic,” she says. “I am having such a good time.”
The church itself was built in the 60s and, keeping with its Gloucester roots, was designed to look like the prow of a ship to show that the church is in motion and going somewhere. This could not be more fitting with Antonuk coming onboard as the new pastor.
Among other projects, the church will be hosting Crosswinds Coffee House, a monthly event hosting local musicians with all proceeds to be put toward the mission work of the church. It also offers Christian education classes on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. for both children and adults and the church also serves as host to a large Alcoholics Anonymous group, a day care center and a pre-school.
The congregation also hopes to host concerts, craft and holiday fairs as well as a community Thanksgiving dinner. For more information about upcoming events and services, follow “The First Baptist Church of Gloucester,MA” on Facebook.com.
In planning for the future, she hopes to further branch out into the community and be of service to Gloucester and its people.
“We are hoping to explore ways to get out in the community and make sure folks know where we are and what we are doing,” she says. “We are talking about all kinds of different programs and we are figuring out how to focus all the excitement in a way that will help Gloucester the most.”
She said she is also moving to Gloucester, and is anxious to meet with the clergy in the area.
“I’m just really excited to get to know the people in Gloucester,” she says. “I just want to sit in George’s one day and meet people and then plunk myself down on the Boulevard and talk to folks.
“I’ve heard how great a place this is,” she adds, “and I’m really anxious to get my feet on the ground and start meeting people.”