Melissa Toomajian is our new Director of Community and Family Ministries. We asked her a few questions to help you better get to know her and her new position.
What were you doing before you started your work here?
Prior to New York City, I lived in Philadelphia for over a decade. I started my time in Philadelphia at Westminster Theological Seminary where I received my Masters in Biblical Counseling. While in seminary, I interned at Tenth Presbyterian Church. After graduating, I started work as a guidance counselor at a Christian high school in Philadelphia, where I did both college guidance counseling and one-on-one and group counseling with students and families. I also counseled women ranging in age from teens to older adults at The Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF). I have experience counseling individuals and families suffering with grief and loss, depression, anxiety, and trauma.
In addition to my counseling work, I spent my last few summers launching and operating Philadelphia’s first standup paddleboard (SUP) rental and touring company.
What brought you to New York City?
I married a New Yorker last summer! Martin is a middle and high school teacher in Washington Heights. We live in West Harlem within walking distance from many Emmanuel Church friends.
What about Jesus gets your heart moving?
Jesus loves us through the cross. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Life offers me daily reminders of my neediness and helplessness–my poverty of spirit.. God first met me when he gave me eyes to see my need for forgiveness, and He has provided that forgiveness through his death and resurrection. Each day offers new opportunities to see my need and to experience His love, forgiveness, and grace more deeply. This is the work of His Gospel – “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:27b)
Jesus loves us through our struggles. This deep love of Jesus provides a security in which we are free to struggle with the difficulties of life, rather than ignoring them or hiding. Jesus invites us to bring our hard questions to Him:
“How long Oh Lord, will you forget me forever?” King David in Psalm 13:1
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Jesus from the cross, Matthew 27:46
My deepest honor and joy in life is walking with others in the midst of their suffering, and looking together to our Savior, Jesus who invites us to bring him our tough questions. When we bring them to him, he surprises us with the Gospel, and a deeper, fuller experience of his love.
What are your hopes for our church in the coming year?
I hope we will be a church that:
Welcomes: My hope for us this fall is that we would welcome well. I have experienced our church doing just that as Martin and I, ourselves, are newcomers. I pray that Jesus would give us eyes to see each other, to see the beauty in each person – God’s image, reflected uniquely in each of his image-bearers, and that we would respond with an eagerness and desire to provide a church home for one another.
Sees: I also hope that we pursue deeper relationship with one another. I pray that we would have eyes to really see each other, that we would take the courageous step forward to care for one another – at times asking hard questions and getting our hands messy. I pray that we would open our lives up to one another, inviting each other to see our real lives and caring for each other even in tough spaces.
Serves: As we share our lives together in deeper ways, I pray that as a community we would pray for and pursue our neighborhood and neighbors with the love of Jesus. I have enjoyed starting my time at Emmanuel learning, asking God to give me eyes to see Him at work in us and around us. As Jesus followers, the kingdom of God is present in all of us, and we take His kingdom with us wherever we are – the university campus, at the office, in our apartment buildings, on a playdate with other parents and their children. How might God be calling us to reach out and love our neighbors in these spaces within our community? I am excited to pray and dream with you about what this could look like in our lives in an increased measure. We are busy New Yorkers, but I wonder if there are ways to lean in a bit more to the relationships we already have with co-workers or the other mothers at the playground? In other words, I wonder if there are ways we could serve our neighborhood right where we already find ourselves, rather than looking for new places to serve?
What does your position “Director of Community and Family Ministries” entail?
This is a new position at Emmanuel, and it involves gathering, equipping, and serving our church community. This includes providing care and spiritual encouragement, discipleship, and counseling.
Counseling: We plan to set up a counseling office in the church office with the hope of having one night a week that is dedicated to counseling appointments. Counseling is a wonderful resource for times in life when you feel stuck and unsure of where to go in the midst of struggle. This often takes the form of meeting weekly for 4-6 sessions, but of course can be tailored to the individual need.
Discipling/Equipping: In addition to counseling appointments, I am available to meet with congregants throughout the week for other forms of spiritual encouragement and support – to pray or study the Word together, or simply to talk in the comfort of one of our homes. I also plan to lead groups – possibly a home fellowship group, as well as shorter-term groups. Some ideas for short-term groups include a group for newly married couples, book studies, and theme-related discussion groups and bible studies.
Women’s Ministry Oversight: I am looking forward to joining the Friday morning women’s bible study beginning September 15th! I am working now on planning our women’s retreat (more on that soon!), and also on developing ideas I have for providing spaces for meaningful connection among women at Emmanuel.
Children’s Ministry Oversight: Over the next few months, our great Children’s Ministry Coordinator, Katelyn, is showing me the ropes of children’s program, preparing me to serve after she moves this December. I will be helping support and develop our current youth group. I am quite passionate about supporting parents and caregivers and hope to provide support and encouragement to the families of Emmanuel.
Gathering: I’ll also be planning events for our congregation, providing space for meaningful interaction, connection, and deeper relationship with one another, e.g. our outing to Mitsuwa for lunch and grocery shopping, and our trip to Rockaway Beach. The fall calendar has a handful of other gatherings coming up that we hope will provide deeper connection for you at Emmanuel.
What do you like to do in your free time?
In addition to standup paddleboarding, I enjoy all sorts of outdoor adventures. The Shawanagunk Mountains (a.k.a. “The Gunks”) are about an hour from us, and provide a nice dose of fresh mountain air and views that I always find deeply restorative. Within the city, I love exploring neighborhoods and trying new restaurants.