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Noblesville Pastor Retiring, Prepares Church for Younger, More Diverse, New Leadership

Noblesville First United Methodist Church lead pastor Jerry Rairdon is retiring after 42 years of ministry.

“I have been with Noblesville First UMC for seven years and believe I have accomplished all that I am capable of for Noblesville First,” he said.

“I think it’s time for younger leadership that will be more able to reach future generations,” said Rairdon, a Noblesville resident, who turned 65 on May 13.

Rairdon will share some of his proud accomplishments when he preaches his last sermon on Sunday morning, at the 8:15 a.m. outdoor service at Teter Retreat & Farm, at the 9:45 a.m. traditional service in the UMC Sanctuary and at the 11 a.m. contemporary service in Celebration Hall.

Pastor Jerry Rairdon

He will also be honored during a Faith Filled Farewell from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday in Celebration Hall, with the public invited to attend.

Rairdon grew up in Plainfield and served on Indianapolis’ eastside before coming to Noblesville, and before that spent 16 years serving in New Albany. He graduated from Plainfield High School and University of Indianapolis and a seminary in Ohio. He plans to move to Evansville to be near two daughters and grandchildren. “I will be taking a position with a lot less responsibility,” said Rairdon, who will become the director of development for Wesselman Woods, a nonprofit nature preserve, “which happens to be the largest urban old-growth forest in the country.”

He thanks UMC director of music Jeff Wright, the church choir, his family, wife Nancy, the congregation and the community. (Noblesville First UMC, located at 2051 Monument St., has 1,200 church members with Sunday attendance of about 500 in-person and online.)

Six months ago, Rairdon announced his intention to retire, setting in motion the work to prepare his congregation for new leadership. “As much as I love this congregation, I came to the conclusion that I had done all I could do to grow this faith community,” he said. “I knew if we are to reach the next generation, it was time to shake things up and that would require younger leadership.”

He said, “I’ve shed a few tears the past six months thinking about what we are leaving, the relationships that we have built, the impact we have made on this community, the sacred times we have shared together.”

During his leadership, Noblesville First UMC earned the award for Volunteer Organization of the Year by Noblesville Main Street, the choir has continued to be a critical part of the community’s Christmas tradition and UMC partnered with Janus Developmental Services for a new Christmas tradition. The church’s Teter Retreat was transformed into an organic farm, now providing more than 25,000 servings of fresh produce to Hamilton County food pantries this year. The Respite Night for children with special needs has met a serious need, and the Teter Adventure Club for kids is off to a good start.

Bonnie Zickgraf, the church’s hospitality coordinator, said, “What I learned from Pastor Jerry is about deep faith and listening to what God has to say in our lives. Pastor Jerry helped to mentor so many others, including myself, from writing prayers to talking about topics openly and to be softly bold. He encouraged others to view our church family as a safe place to be, whether as a kid or an adult. He befriended, and was also a friend, to many.” She will give her first sermon at 8:15 a.m. June 12 at Teter Farm and at 9:45 a.m. in the Sanctuary. “This opportunity came from the faith Pastor Jerry had in me,” Zickgraf said of being put on the June 12 sermon schedule.

UMC associate pastor and director of contemporary music, Matt Hantelman, who has been at UMC since he was invited to youth group in 1999, is also retiring from the church due to his daytime job. He recently received a major promotion at his work.

Zickgraf said, “What I learned from Pastor Matt, He could sing with a booming voice during our contemporary service and follow up with a gentle caring tone during Holy Communion. His sermon topics usually made sense to me, but he could carry a topic to meet any person at any place in their spiritual journey. His famous motto is: “God is love. Everything else is debatable.”

The Rev. Jill Moffett, an associate pastor who came to UMC in 2020, and who will remain an associate pastor, said, “From Jerry, I have learned the importance of being a loving and prophetic voice for justice and inclusion. I have also learned the importance of making connections in the community as a church leader. I wish him all the best in his future endeavors. I know he will continue to be in ministry in other capacities.”

On Aug. 1, the Rev. Nicole Caldwell-Gross will become the new lead pastor for Noblesville First UMC. She will be the first female lead pastor and first African-American pastor for Noblesville First UMC.

As a child, she loved sitting in the front pew of her grandparents’ church in Detroit, and after high school attended Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in Politics in 2007 and went on to Princeton Theological Seminary (not affiliated with Princeton University) in Princeton, N.J.,  to earn a Masters of Divinity in 2010 and was awarded the George L. Rentschler prize in speech communication. She is an ordained minister, gifted storyteller of the gospel, published author and is currently pastor of mission and mobilization at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, where her husband, the Rev. Dr. Jevon Caldwell-Gross, is pastor of teaching and guest experience.

“We are very proud of the ground work we have laid to make this cross-cultural appointment possible,” Rairdon said. “Nicole has a passion for community outreach, so we believe she will continue many of the community partnerships we have cultivated the past few years.”

The word “we” takes on special significance with the change in leadership, he said.

Rairdon said, “Noblesville First has become a leader in our community because we have been willing to talk about tough issues …We believe we have to be a voice for those our society ignores.”

He said the church’s administrative board — Steve Baker, Pam Boyd, Rob Crandall, Jim Foote, Julia Kozicki, Heidi Mangus, Pastor Jill Moffett, Jerry Montag, Katy Rogers, Bill St. Dennis, Barb Weaver and Norm Williams — and staff have read together the book, “Biased,” by Jennifer Eberhardt, “who presents racial bias in a nonthreatening way.” He said when Pastor Nicole arrives, “It will be good to talk about it (racial bias) and have it out in the open instead of pretending that we are color blind.”

He said Pastor Nicole has a warm personality and folks will be inspired by her preaching. “She is a very gifted individual who will be a blessing to this congregation and to this community.”

Rairdon said, “I think Noblesville First has a unique opportunity to be that special ‘we’ in this community that proclaims proudly that we will be a fully inclusive community that embraces all people without exceptions.”

– Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com

Want TO GO?

What: Faith Filled Farewell honoring retiring pastor Jerry Rairdon of Noblesville, with the public invited to attend.

When: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Noblesville First United Methodist Church, Celebration Hall, 2051 Monument St., Noblesville,

What else: Jerry Rairdon will give his final sermons this Sunday, at 8:15 a.m. outdoor service at Teter Retreat & Farm, at 9:45 a.m. traditional service in the UMC Sanctuary and at 11 a.m. contemporary service in Celebration Hall.

Good to know: The Farewell event on Sunday afternoon will also honor other retiring staff or those who are moving on or have moved on during the pandemic and didn’t receive a proper farewell.

Info: www.noblesvillefirst.com.