The Rev. Jeff Schooley, Ph.D. is the new minister at First Presbyterian Church of Bowling Green.
He officially started on Aug. 1, but will have the formal installation ceremony on Tuesday.
Schooley previously served at First Presbyterian of Marysville, Ohio, and Center Presbyterian Church, of McMurray, Pennsylvania.
Asked what attracted him to the church, his answer was quick.
“It’s a progressive faith filled community,” Schooley said. “It was especially important to me that they had a full-throated commitment to the LGBTQ community.”
His Ph.D. dissertation is 300 pages, “all about presenting an inclusive Biblical theology for same-sex marriage,” Schooley said. “I’d watched my denomination, PC USA, tear itself apart over the last decade on this topic. So I thought they were doing so both foolishly and unfaithfully, that there was, to the conservative point, to be theologically and biblically orthodox, but to the progressive point, to also be inclusive.”
He doesn’t believe they are opposing viewpoints.
“This place takes care of its gay, lesbian and trans friends very well,” Schooley said, accepting the label of being a pretty crunchy liberal.
He also has a vision for the future church.
“It’s a big question. I think this church has been on a big trajectory that is seeking to be ever more inclusive and diverse. That is not a vision that I have created, but have joyfully inherited. I want to see much of that continue to go forward, in whatever new and exciting ways God has for us,” Schooley said.
He also wants to create more bridges between the church, town and university, with students and faculty.
The transfer from Reverends Mary Jane and Gary Saunders, the previous co-pastors who retired just before the pandemic in September 2019, did take longer than usual.
Schooley pointed out that many things took longer because of the pandemic. However, he is pleased with the work that Rev. David Montgomery did during his extended period as an interim pastor, thanks to the pandemic slowdown of almost everything.
He noted that there is now remote access to the church services, through several forms of social media. Membership is also returning to pre-pandemic levels, with new members and curious visitors stopping in for Sunday services and other events.
Yet, during that time, some lost the habit of church, Schooley said. While it was happening remotely, there’s a big difference between sitting in a pew and letting the service happen on a screen while one might be folding laundry.
He stressed that there was a lot learned, beyond the medical, from the pandemic. There was the importance of relationships, recognition of self-deceptions and changes were made to many peoples lives, some of which continue. He calls it an extended moment of clarity.
“From a God perspective, it was apocalyptic, in the Greek sense of the word,” Schooley said seriously, with the gravitas of someone that has a lot of letters after their name.
Mostly, Schooley is light hearted, jovial and quick with a smile.
“I’m a fat guy, so all my hobbies are food related,” Schooley said.
He brews his own beer and roasts coffee beans. But when the stocks are full at his new house, you might also find him making his own sauerkraut or beef jerky.
He will joke about collecting degrees. His Ph.D. from Duquesne University took him 11 years, finished in May, but there were other degrees scattered around in there. His bachelor’s in English came first, but there’s also the master’s degree in English, both from Kent State University, and two more master’s degrees,in theology and divinity, both from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. However, there’s a bunch of extra classes, mostly audited, just for fun.
“I try to be a wordsmith on the pulpit,” Schooley said, invoking more of his love for the lyrics of older rap music than his formal English degrees might suggest.
His wife Brianne works for the Wood County Board of Developmental Disabilities.
Jeff said that she feels she is serving a segment of the population that is often overlooked, and she has a passion for work with a cause.
Together they have Brutus.
“He’s 95 pounds of aggressive cuddling, with a head like a basketball,” Schooley said. The very friendly dog is some sort of a black lab, pit bull and Newfoundland mix.
Currently, you might see Bree or Jeff walking Brutus on he west side of town.
For those interested in attending the formal installation service for Schooley, it will be at First Presbyterian Church, 126 S. Church St., on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. with light refreshments to follow.