By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
New pastor ready to serve St. John's
Rev. Todd Hackman will be installed as senior pastor of St. John's United Church of Christ during an installation service at 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23 at the church. (Times photo: Anthony Wahl)
MONROE - Rev. Todd Hackman has adopted a catch phrase: "No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here."

It's an expression he's keeping close by him in his newest post as the senior pastor at St. John's United Church of Christ (UCC) in Monroe. He officially took over the role Dec. 1 and will be formally installed Sunday, Feb. 23.

St. John's UCC is a church with a deep tradition and rich history. In 2012, the church and its congregation celebrated 150 years. Several generational families are involved with the only UCC in Monroe that has about 900 official members, but likely around 1,100 total parishioners.

Although St. John's is a church congregation that values that history, Hackman said members also look ahead and understand the church will see change. They have a strong foundation to help them achieve that in a positive way.

Hackman said his time has been spent thus far simply listening, learning and meeting people.

"I'm not coming in with an agenda of changes without learning about the congregation," Hackman said. Right now, they're working together, and letting the dust settle from all of the change in the past year and moving forward.

After saying goodbye last May to longtime senior pastor William "Mike" Heath after 20 years, the church has done well, Hackman said. In addition to Heath's retirement, former associate pastor Gretchen Slyvester also left St. John's last May to take a new pastoral position in Illinois. Heath's wife, Kay Carter-Heath, left her position as director of Christian Education at the same time, as did director of music and church organist Debra Krauss Smith.

Before Heath's retirement, the search had begun for a new senior pastor. Hackman was first contacted in February of last year and said it was exciting to learn the position was coming open, as St. John's is one of the larger churches in this part of the state.

Beginning in December was perfect, Hackman said, coming right into the Advent and Christmas season. The church was decorated and the choir was well rehearsed. It was a season with a traditional flow and Hackman said he was glad to be a part of the season of celebration that ran so smoothly.

He was proud to help plan a Christmas Eve service by candlelight - something that hadn't been done in years but was welcomed during the holiday.

The process of hiring Hackman included lots of references and hearing him preach trial sermons at neutral settings. Although it took months, it was a quick process compared to some, which Hackman said a testimony to the strong leadership and healthy congregation that St. John's upholds. The church was prepared for the transition and change, which can sometimes be difficult.

"Change can be a challenge and they're handling it beautifully," he said.

Rev. Tiff Bates has been the interim pastor through the summer and fall and will stay on board as the interim associate pastor as the process to find a permanent person begins.

How he got here

Originally from Columbia, Mo., Hackman was raised in the United Church of Christ demonination. Hackman admitted when he attended the University of Missouri, he wasn't sure what he wanted to do - he was an undeclared student for quite some time and earned his undergraduate degree in psychology.

But, the one constant in his life was always his involvement with the church and one day, he went to lunch with his pastor, who had asked him if he'd considered seminary.

"My reaction was "ha.' I literally laughed in his face," Hackman said. "I couldn't imagine myself as a pastor."

Hackman said he held pastors in such a high regard and had never seen himself at that level. Despite his doubts, the seed was planted and others began to point out things to him, like how he was a good listener and how he genuinely cared for people. One day it hit him - maybe it was the path for him.

He visited the seminary with his pastor for the first time during the 24 Hours at Eden orientation day. There, he met students who were attending and realized they were real people - just like him from real churches. It was then he understood that it was something he could do.

"I feel like I've been called from my church to serve the church," Hackman said.

Hackman's first weekend at seminary was when he met his wife, Heidi, at a student welcome event. They dated through three years of seminary and life came quickly for the young couple

They graduated, were married, ordained and began at their first churches all within three months during the summer of 1995. They knew it would be a challenge to be a clergy couple and that it would be hard to find two churches together. But Hackman said they were fortunate and right out of seminary, they found two close churches: He as an associate pastor at a church in Quincy, Ill., and she as the pastor of two small churches just outside of Quincy. It was the ideal setting for the newlyweds.

Hackman loved that first position he took on, and said the congregation there reminds him of St. John's today. They were dedicated and let Hackman, then 26, continue his education. He was the associate pastor and preached at all events.

While in Illinois, the Hackmans had their first son, Jacob, who had several "adopted" grandparents within the church and they still keep in touch with the people there.

But they were two hours from Columbia and almost six hours to Heidi's family in Wisconsin. They had been with the churches for five years when Hackman said he was ready to move on and become a pastor of a church. He received a call to St. John's UCC in Bem, Mo. It was a perfect setting and the couple loved small towns. Heidi took time off and they welcomed their second son, Matthew, while she was a stay-at-home mom and took on some part-time ministry positions. They were also there for five years.

As the boys got older and were ready to enter school, Heidi was ready to serve her church. This time, she led the search and hoped to be back in Wisconsin, closer to her family. She received a call to First United Church of Christ in Belleville in 2005 and the family has lived there since. Jacob, 16, is now a junior in high school and Matthew, 13, is in seventh grade.

Hackman didn't have such an easy time finding his calling and took on an interim pastor position at a Methodist church and became the associate pastor at the Swiss Church in New Glarus while waiting to find his calling.

But it wasn't long before he got his call back to the UCC in Monroe, a place that feels like home to him.

"This call was really a godsend," he said.