Pastor Michael Richards came to serve as the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Saranac Lake in April 2011, as a two-month interim. After that, he was appointed by the bishop to remain. In September 2011, he also became pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity.
"I like the people here," he said. "I've made many good friends here. In this electronic age, it's easier to keep in touch with people. I also love the surroundings, the natural beauty, the lakes, mountains and rivers."
Richards was born in England and was active in the Anglican Church since he was a little boy.
Pastor Michael Richards
(Photo — Yvona Fast)
"Since the age of 9, I have known this was what I was supposed to do -?serve God as a pastor," he said. "I have always liked singing. A friend invited me to join the church choir. I walked into the church, and it was like God saying to me, 'Welcome home!' I felt very comfortable and realized I needed to be more involved in the church."
Music continues to be an important part of his life as well.
"Music, particularly classical music and English church music, raises my spirits when I'm feeling low," he explained.
When Michael was 13, his stepfather, an American, brought the family from England to South Portland, Maine - which was very different from the south of England. He explains: "We had very little snow over there, while we were inundated with it over here. Everything seemed new over here. The church I attended in England was built in the 12th century." Of course, nothing on the west shore of the Atlantic is that old.
It was quite an adjustment.
"I was used to going to the playground and playing imaginary games on the swings. One day they would be a fighter plane, the next day a covered wagon. After arriving over here, the first question my new friends asked was, 'Who are you going steady with?' I had no idea what they were talking about. However, I soon learned!"
Richards continued his involvement with church and choir at the Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Maine. Even at the young age of 20, he served as a member of the Lesser Chapter of the cathedral, chaired the Worship Committee and sang in the choir. He also filled in as custodian when the full-time person was out sick for an extended period of time
In 1986, Richards left the Episcopal Church and began attending an American Baptist Church just down the road from where he was living.
"Both pastors there encouraged me to pursue the calling to ministry," he said.
He studied at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass. and undertook a program in Christian Ministry. By 1993, Richards was already serving as pastor of an American Baptist church.
In 1994, he transferred to Andover Newton Theological School. Founded in 1807, the school ?- the oldest seminary in the country, in Newton Center, Mass. - is open to all denominations. Its diverse student body includes more than 30 faiths. Having completed the requisite number of courses, Michael was ordained in April of 1995. He graduated with a Master of Divinity degree in 1999.
"In 1998, I left the church I was serving in Maine and moved to Massachusetts to serve an American Baptist church there for two years," he said. "In 2000, I was called to Hartford, N.Y., and served for the next 10 years at a church there that combined two denominations, American Baptist and United Church of Christ. While in Hartford, I also served a Methodist church in Fort Ann. I left them at the end of 2010 and came here in 2011."
Michael sums up: "It's the same God?- no matter the denomination. If we spent as much time and energy sharing the good news of Jesus Christ as we do arguing amongst ourselves (among churches, denominations) then our churches wouldn't be half empty; they'd be full. We need to realize that each of us has a responsibility to our neighbors, and to work closely together for equality, justice and peace. People are afraid of the word evangelism, but when you boil it down it basically means sharing what difference Jesus has made in your life. If you can tell people that, you can begin conversations that go deeper."
For the past seven years, Richards has served as an emergency medical technician as well. In this capacity, he volunteers currently with the Saranac Lake Volunteer Rescue Squad.
"I enjoy the work, enjoy helping people in need," he said. "It gives me the opportunity to meet all sorts of people. I enjoy First Night each year, and I look forward to Ironman in Lake Placid where I have worked as an EMT in the medical tent for the last three years. That gives me the opportunity to talk with people from all over the world. "
Based on an interview with Michael Richards.
Yvona Fast can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com.