By John Burton
RED BANK – In one sense it’s been a long journey for the Rev. Jason Tucker but it’s one he knows he was meant to take.
Tucker, 39, who now lives in Rumson with his wife and three young children, was named Sept. 1 as senior pastor to the First Presbyterian Church of Red Bank, 255 Harding Road, also known as Tower Hill Church. He will be formally installed as pastor during a January service.
While Tucker was scheduled for a series of “meet and greet” gatherings with members of the church community, some of those sessions were to be held at members’ homes which were destroyed or left severely damaged by the late October storm that ripped through the area. That caused Tucker and congregants to address other priorities in the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy.
About 20 church member families have been displaced. Another 20 saw their homes seriously damaged from the storm’s effects, according to information provided by the church. The storm’s impact on the church community and surrounding area had church officials and members stepping up to help those in need. Tower Hill opened its doors to the community as a comfort station, offering kitchen and laundry facilities, Wi-Fi availability and showers for those that needed it.
That was the immediate response. Tucker has pledged that “we are in this for the long haul.” The church continues to work to address longstanding needs with local partners like Lunch Break, the soup kitchen and food pantry in Red Bank, Love Inc. and the Presbyterian Assistance Relief, a church-affiliated, global organization.
As daily lives get back on track, Tucker’s hope is “for the people of the Red Bank area to see this church as a vital component of this community … whether they come here or not.
“We want to meet the needs in people’s lives,” he said.
The storm and its magnitude has caused people to ask questions – hard questions – about the disaster and how God could allow this, said Tucker, who has invited the resulting dialogue. Tucker believes “God sees the hurricane as a tragedy as well.
“He never said life wouldn’t be without tragedy,” he said. “But, He would be there with us.”
One of the lessons that has come out of the tragedy, Tucker said, is he kept hearing from people – church members and others – that it showed them what’s important. “In the aftermath of disaster, God is there,” Tucker stressed, “people truly coming together.”
Tucker found his faith and calling when he was about 19. During a summer break from college, he took a job with a Presbyterian summer camp program. He loved it and also found it opened his heart to other things.
“I had done everything the world expected me to do to be successful,” he said of his youth in Southern California. While he was getting good grades in his premed program, in the end I was terribly lost,” he said. “My whole goal,” with the job “was to get out of the house,” given he had developed a strained relationship with his mother and stepfather.
“From that whole trajectory, my life changed,” he said. Though his decision to enter the ministry left his family, which were not traditionally religious, a little confused, he went on to earn a master’s of divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, and is working toward his doctorate in ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California.
Prior to coming to Tower Hill, Tucker was senior pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Avenel in Woodbridge. He formerly had been a director of youth ministries and contemporary workshop at the First Presbyterian Church of Amber, Pa., and a teaching assistant at the Princeton seminary.
Tucker sees himself “as the spiritual coach,” to the approximately 1,200-member congregation which comes from the surrounding area. He does his coaching by “walking alongside and pointing out where God is,” in everyday life, he said. “And, like a good coach, I like to think I give them the tools to find out where God is.”
And like a coach, he has to give the pep talk of sorts before the game. In his case it’s the sermon during services, which he said is a favorite part of his job. “In that moment I’m doing what I’m meant to do … helping to express the timeless truths of Christ.”