Dynamic duo gets warm Claremont welcome to CUCC

Jennifer Strickland and Jacob Buchholz took different paths on their way to becoming pastors.

Ms. Strickland had just received her master’s in creative writing at Chapman University when she felt a calling to the ministry, decided to try it out for a year, and was hooked. Mr. Buchholz felt the call when he was baptizing Deaf people in Eastern Europe.

Now, the married couple will be making their big debut as the new co-senior pastors at Claremont United Church of Christ on Sunday, August 28. Ms. Strickland and Mr. Buchholz are the first co-senior pastors and the first married couple to take the helm at CUCC.

The couple is ecstatic to continue their ministerial journey in the City of Trees, and quickly fell in love with Claremont.

“Coming back here and getting the chance to live here is awesome, it’s a warm community,” Ms. Strickland said. “Everyone seems to know each other and it has a small town feel.”

Ms. Strickland, 33, and Mr. Buchholz, 29, came to Claremont from Lincoln, Nebraska—she was the associate pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church and he was the associate pastor at First Plymouth. They both brought new life into their respective churches, and started new programs aimed at reaching out to different parts of their community.

Ms. Strickland and Mr. Buchholz met as students at the Princeton Theological Seminary, and were first good friends before becoming a couple. They were married in 2014.

“I grew to really respect his opinions and his intellect and his heart for ministry,” Ms. Strickland said.

Mr. Buchholz comes from a predominantly Deaf family and learned sign language from birth. Coming from a Deaf family shaped how he looked at the world.

“I think it opens your eyes to how to both communicate and advocate, and have your eyes open to ways in which the world is not accessible or ways in which it’s oppressive and discriminatory,” Mr. Buchholz said. “And so you just get a better feel for how that works.”

It was a long road to get to Claremont for Ms. Strickland and Mr. Buchholz. The couple first interviewed with CUCC in May. Following an additional Skype interview and meetings in Nebraska and California, Jennifer and Jacob got their big chance to preach in front of the CUCC congregation on July 31.

“We joked about this in our sermon that a lot of pastors are given this sort of like ‘play it safe’ speech on your candidating weekend,” Ms. Strickland said. “But we’re not really the kind of people that like to play it safe, we like to take risks, so we decided to just show our true colors and be ourselves.”

Ms. Strickland started off the sermon by talking about Black Lives Matter, a civil rights movement that has garnered a large amount of controversy over the past couple of years.

“I talked about how Jesus didn’t say ‘blessed are all people,’ he lifted up the poor and he said ‘blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek, blessed are the disenfranchised,” Ms. Strickland said. “And the Black Lives Matter movement has some of those same t

hreads running through it.”

Mr. Buchholz noted that many churches take a masculine approach to worship, which alienates a large swath of the congregation. This is evident in the Lord’s Prayer, which famously begins with “Our father.”

“God is beyond gender, god cannot be defined by gender terms,” he said. “And when you say things like ‘our father’ every week, the problem with that is men and boys, they hear, ‘I am in an image of god, god is a man, god is our father,’ and women and girls don’t hear that same sort of discourse.”

The CUCC congregation, which for years has prided itself on openness and inclusiveness, was thrilled.

“We were just blown away,” CUCC moderator and lay leader Shirley Burns said.

Ms. Burns noted the congregation was interested in how a duo of senior pastors could work out a single sermon. But in the end, it worked just fine.

“When they preached, it was seamless,” she said. “One began, and the other popped up and it was all tied together.”

The congregation enthusiastically voted the couple in on July 31, and their first day on the job was August 22. They are currently trying to figure out their office spaces—both Ms. Strickland and Mr. Buchholz are in separate offices, but they are thinking about opening up a closed-off connecting doorway to join the rooms together.

Ms. Burns noted the couple has indicated they have plans to be at CUCC for the long run.

“[It is] very exciting for us. That’s what we have been looking for for a while,” she added.

The couple will debut their first sermon as senior pastors on Sunday, August 26.bvc

“The first [sermon series] we’re starting is something called ‘That’s in the Bible?’” Mr. Buchholz said. “It’s full of shocking, mystifying, obscure stories that really seem like they shouldn’t be in the Bible at all, and kind of wrestling with what their place in the text is and how you deal with stories like that.”

Mr. Buchholz and Ms. Strickland will also talk about acceptance of transgender people within the church, touching upon a passage in the book of Isaiah that “eunuchs,” foreigners and anyone willing to enter the presence of god is allowed in the church.

“We just want to invite the community into a future of change and excitement and new things are on the horizon,” Mr. Buchholz said.

Ms. Burns said that Ms. Strickland and Mr. Buchholz’s fresh ideas and enthusiasm would allow the church to branch out to a larger part of the community. Ms. Strickland noted the couple is excited to go out into the community, meet people and become civically involved in Claremont.

The warm reception at CUCC has been a great start so far.

“Everyone is just making us feel so welcome,” Ms. Strickland said.

Matthew Bramlett




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