At 26, Pastor Mary Francis Hayes is shouldering the pastoral leadership of First Presbyterian Church of Newhall (First Pres), one of the oldest churches west of the Mississippi River.
Hayes is the caretaker of the church’s properties and the congregational family for the church at 24317 North Newhall Ave.
Although a female, she is the leader of First Pres and the congregation in a religious field dominated by males.
“I have no qualms or fears about being a female church leader,” Hayes said in a news release from the church. “I have been working towards this goal of having my own ‘big’ church and congregants to care for and support for years. I am ready.”
After the First Pres Congregation voted to accept Mary as their pastor, she was formally installed on Nov. 4 and preached her first sermon the next day.
Pastor Phil Aijian, pastoral support and the main pastoral leader during the one and a half years after the prior pastor left and the church’s Pastor Nominating Committee hunted for a new pastor, says the church family wanted a young, energetic pastor.
“We found it in Pastor Mary, Aijian said in the release. “She is being overwhelmed with hugs and kisses and greetings of love and acceptance from the church family. She is home now. She is accepted. She is wanted.” Bob Balkcom, office administrator, likes the fact she is open to changes and wants ideas from the church staff on ways to improve the staff’s impact in positive ways on the church family.
“I am just so grateful my church family wanted me. I am so glad they wanted me to lead them,” Hayes said in the release, adding that her first priority for her new church family is to work hard to grow the church.
Since COVID-19, the church family has dwindled, Aijian said. With Hayes leading, Aijian said, “We will turn this around and see growth again.”
“COVID caused people to leave First Pres to find other churches or just to hide at home,” Hayes said. “This has caused my church to bleed out family members. I want to change this dynamic. I want to draw back former members and reach out to unchurched people or people looking for a new home. I want my church family at First Presbyterian Church of Newhall to reach out and bring people into the family fold.”
She said she will be contacting former members and members who are just missing to see what she can do for them. “Sometimes just a friendly contact and kind words can reassure people they are loved and needed,” Hayes said. “This along can bring them back home.”
Hayes added she wants to first start creating new relationships and cement old relationships with churches in Santa Clarita, starting with two churches housed within First Presbyterian Church, specifically Bienvenidos Iglesia Las Americas and Gracious Korean Church.
Her plan is to find activities First Pres can share with these two churches and other churches. Ideas include sharing services, fun activities and fundraising activities with other churches. “I plan to create a close relationship with the churches around my church, and reach out as far as I can to create a family of interconnected churches,” Hayes said. “This will make our church stronger and all the other churches stronger.”
She also plans to encourage more missionary work by the church’s family members in the local community, as well as overseas. “I believe in healthy evangelism,” Hayes said. “You do not have to leave your home and go overseas to help in communities in foreign lands for long periods of time. You can help people and families for shorter periods … a day or a weekend … and within your community. I know of a lot of projects locally, and this is what I am going to push. I want to do missionary work overseas too, but I cannot neglect the need for missionaries here at home.”
More information on First Pres is available at www.presby-newhall.org.