Courtland UMC pastor accepts new position

Published 9:52 am Wednesday, May 7, 2014

COURTLAND—After prayerful deliberation, Pastor Brandon Robbins of Courtland United Methodist Church has answered an invitation to walk in a new direction for Christ.

“I’m going to Old Dominion University [in Norfolk] to start a church that reaches out to young adults, young families and students,” said Robbins.

While there has already been a campus ministry for the past decade, he said, the task will be “to really create something bigger. We’re going to expand the vision. There really just aren’t any churches that reach that younger population.

“A big part of what we’re doing is not just to bring people in, but sending people out. We’ll be doing mission work and addressing the poverty issue in the city.”

With 25,000 students on campus, his hope is to make as many as possible aware of what’s around them and inspire the students to take some action.

“Our hope with the college students is they’ll realize they don’t have to wait to graduate to make a difference,” said Robbins. “We believe that a difference can come when we follow Jesus, and we do so with the power of the Holy Spirit working with us.”

“I was approached,” he said in explanation of how the position became available. Mark Ogren, director of Congregational Excellence, and Derrick Parson, director of ministries with young people, both the the United Methodist Church, were the ones to contact him.

“My wife and I have known we wanted to plant a church for over a year now,” Robbins said. “We had an idea of where that might be. We actually thought Williamsburg. In February we drove through, but decided the time wasn’t right. Three days after we got the invitation.”

Though the pastor won’t be employed by ODU, he’ll be regarded as the campus minister. To do all this will require moving to Norfolk. The distance puts him a little closer to his family, but a little bit farther for his wife’s folks, who live in Richmond.

“We took a month and really prayed about it,” he said. “We love this church and this community. We’re not just going on to ‘bigger and better things.’”

His Courtland congregation was officially notified a couple of weeks ago.

“They’re sad to see us go, but excited for us about the opportunities that lay ahead,” he added. LeeAnn, his wife, is a speech therapist in Franklin, and he expects that she’ll make a transition in time.

“She’s amazing,” Robbins said. “She has the freedom to do what she’s passionate and gifted about, such as serving as the Children’s Ministry leader. She really helps that to grow and thrive.”

He praised LeeAnn for her supportiveness, and he often shares ideas and runs sermons by her.

“We went on a journey together,” he said.

Robbins’ own spiritual walk began as a teenager.

“My calling came when I was 16. I had grown up in church — it was something I did my entire life,” he said.

But some mistakes got him into trouble. Specifically, playing a prank over the Internet scared another student and his family. This was deemed a threat, especially because it was done in thew aftermath of Columbine.

Robbins is referring to when Columbine High School students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed a teacher and 12 fellow students in 1999 at their school in Colorado.

A lawyer’s services were needed, but he convinced all concerned that there was nothing serious to warrant more than an apology and public service. Eventually everything was dropped.

“Much as I regret the situation and will always do so, at the same time I wouldn’t trade the experience,” said Robbins. “It formed and shaped me. It threw my life off the rails, but then I realized I needed to be completely dependent on God. Then I started hearing God.”

In time the young man discovered he had gifts for the ministry, and nurtured them through high school and college.

The first taste was found when he did an internship with a pastor at his home church. Then at college Robbins led Bible study and did campus ministry, even preaching as a sophomore. “All those things helped me to find out if this what I’m meant to do,” he said.

After earning a bachelor’s degree at James Madison University, the next step was to get a master of divinity degree at Duke University.

After graduation, Robbins was named associate pastor at Chester UMC just outside of Richmond. He came to Courtland in July 2011.

Although his move becomes effective on June 25, the pastor is already making connections.

“We’re starting out from scratch practically at ODU, and are not sure if the available building will suit our needs.

It’s a process to figure that out,” he said. “We’ll probably not be doing regular worship until next February.”

Meanwhile, said Robbins, “you’ve got to make small group opportunities. You’ve got to make connections.”