From Politics to Pulpit
By Kathy Feist
The new pastor at Red Bridge United Methodist Church has a unique perspective of politics this season: an insider’s view.
Rev. Trista Soendker Nicholson worked for Congressman Ike Skelton and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse in Washington, D.C., prior to entering seminary school.
“When I worked on the hill, Congressman Skelton knew how to bring a diverse amount of thought together and to work with people who had varying opinions,” she recalls. “He debated others on the floor, but once the debate was over, they were still friends. They still had respect for one another.”
“You don’t see it much anymore, on The Hill or anywhere,” she says.
“Church can provide a way to embrace diversity,” she says.
Rev, Soendker Nicholso grew up in Odessa and Napoleon, MO. She knew she wanted to be a public servant at a young age, but because her religion did not ordain women in the ministry she left for the University of Missouri in Columbia confused and discouraged regarding religion. It wasn’t until she met her husband Sean, who was a member of the United Methodist Church, that her interest in religion was renewed.
When the two moved to Washington, D.C., in 2003 Rev. Soendker Nicholson became involved in the Capitol Hill Homeless Ministry. “How I got back into church started with serving others first. It wasn’t until then that I found healing around how I viewed church and religion,” she says.
“I thought I was going to do something that blended faith and politics,” she says. Which was why she was drawn to the United Methodist Church’s theology of serving and social justice and the personal growth received from serving others, she says.
She also liked the appeal of the open table, where communion is available to everyone. “God’s grace and love is there for everyone,” she says. “And out of that grace, we are to serve one another.”
Before long, she was participating in lay leadership and preaching. Fellow lay people were predicting her future.
“Other people started identifying my call for me,” she says. “They would say, ‘When Trista becomes pastor…’”
She began attending Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. before moving to Jefferson City, MO, where Sean worked as a political communicator. She completed her Masters in Divinity at the original St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, MO.
In 2012, Rev. Soendker Nicholson joined the Missouri United Methodist Church in Columbia, MO, and engaged in the college ministry there. In 2015 she was the recipient of the Emerging Leadership Award from the Griffith’s Leadership Society for Women at MU. She was singled out because of her passion for mission and service, particularly her passion for the people of Haiti.
In June, Rev. Soendker Nicholson was appointed to the Red Bridge United Methodist Church, replacing Pastor Rusty Maggard who was assigned to another local church. She and her husband and their two sons, Judah and Abram, now reside in the area. She gave her first sermon here on June 26. She hopes to deepen the community involvement with the church.
Rev. Soendker Nicholson plans to continue her ministry in Haiti where she helps install water filters to battle e. coli and cholera. She hopes to someday take a team from Kansas City there. She has been there seven times.
During one of her visits she asked a Haitian guide how his people kept such strong faith in God despite cholera epidemics, malaria, hurricanes, political unrest, etc. She recalls the conversation: “He said, ‘God is like a hurricane. God is there before the hurricane. God is there in the midst of the hurricane. God is there after the hurricane when we need to rebuild. We pray and God responds.’”
Perhaps during this political season, that’s a good thing to keep in mind.