Amanda Sadlier was formally installed as lead pastor of Hope Covenant Church, replacing her husband, Dan Sadlier, at a service on May 5, attended by Howard K. Burgoyne, the superintendent of the East Coast Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church, of which Hope Covenant Church is a member.
Hope Covenant Church, an Evangelical Christian Church, celebrated its fifth anniversary this spring. In the fall of 2018, the founding pastor of Hope, Dan Sadlier, began the process of starting a new church in Sunnyside, Queens, making clear that a replacement for him would be necessary.
Sadlier, who says she feels very tied to Roosevelt Island, seemed like the obvious choice. “I love watching people really come alive when they understand who they were made to be. Spiritually, I just want people to get an opportunity to know who Jesus is and understand His love for them, and what it means to live a life following Him in the context of community.”
Sadlier after being formally installed as pastor at Hope Covenant Church, photos by Irina Island Images
A New Church on Roosevelt Island
Like many of us, the Sadliers’ discovery of the Island was happenstance. Six years ago, they moved from Michigan to Roosevelt Island. Their plan was to start a church in midtown and they relied on their network to figure out where to live. A founding pastor of Hope Church Astoria, who lives on Roosevelt Island, suggested they come check it out, explaining it was good for families and more affordable than midtown.
“Then we got here, and realized that ‘we need to be here, not midtown,’” said Sadlier. So they switched gears and started a church here instead. They built on their years-long experience in Michigan where both Sadliers had been employees of a local church. “Dan did a lot of youth stuff. I did creative production. Our services were almost Broadway level in terms of music and lighting and videos. I would produce videos and video stories of people. The church was like a staff of people you lived with and were doing life with.”
The Lead Role
Compared to what they built here – Sadlier describes it as “embedded in the neighborhood,” their former church was “a very different church. We were part of a church that was 15,000 people, across four or five different locations. Our staff was 200 people.”
When asked why she wanted to be a pastor, Sadlier responds with a laugh, “I didn’t. I’ve been fighting it my whole life.” She says, “As a very young kid I heard the story of Jesus and was captivated and just fell in love with the notion that I had a creator who loved me the way Jesus displays.”
She always knew she was different, that her faith was more real to her than that of others around her. “When I look back through the years at the life choices I’ve made, who I chose to partner my life with, and how our family looks, and the people we’ve brought into it, it just has always been ‘okay God, what is it you want from me now?’.”
In this case, she says it was about a year ago that it became clear that Dan Sadlier would be moving on. (Sadlier describes her husband as “someone who starts things.” She says, “He’s really, really good at it. He can sustain things but he knows he’s not the best person to do it.”)
So, she says, “in knowing that Dan started this thing, he needs to continue to start things.” The question was, who will carry this torch? Sadlier recalls, “I just went, ‘you know what, I’m in a place with the right people, the right spouse, the right denomination, with a community who is saying ‘yes we’ll follow you, yes we believe in you.’”
The Woman Thing
“There are a whole lot of other women who don’t have that,” she says, and “so many other churches who just think it’s wrong.” Her decision to take this step was validated after her very first sermon as lead pastor. “There was a young girl who was there. Her mom told me her daughter looked at her and said ‘Mom, Amanda is going to be the only woman pastor I know; this is awesome.’”
She also believes that the treatment of women in the church has been a contributing factor in people leaving the church. “It’s been motivating to me that there are people who don’t think I should be doing this. But I’ve had many, many people say ‘thank you for giving voice to what I’ve felt for so long.’” And in these times, she says, “to hear from a pastor who can empathize with the oppressed more, just by being female,” is important.
Sadlier, after service
Explaining that, in her network of pastors in the city, she is a rarity; she says she believes that just showing up in those spaces and being present is a huge first step that will ultimately yield more like her. Though, her goals run deeper – and more local – than simply inspiring other aspiring female pastors. She wants to empower, listen to, and learn from local Island women, explaining that her church is supported by many single moms who often prefer to work behind the scenes.
Sadlier is eager to hear their voices, believing “they have so much to give and to share.”
Love What You Do
Sadlier believes Hope Church is uniquely suited for Roosevelt Island. She sees the diversity of the Island and believes the church offers a common, unifying language. “I love that there are people from every corner of the world that end up here, and we can speak the same language of our faith. There are truths that span cultures; that’s really cool. I love getting to create spaces where people can connect with each other. I like the challenge of the quirkiness of Roosevelt Island, and a church in New York.”
That diversity comes at a cost; many Islanders are here temporarily. She says it can be tough to say goodbye to church stalwarts, but that there is opportunity in the transiency. The student population is an example, “There are people that are lonely who need community and they need a home, they need to be cared for.”
Sadlier addresses a packed church, May 5, 2019
Structurally, she wants the church to be enmeshed in the fabric of the community as much a part of the Island as any other long-term organization or group. The Island itself has changed in her six years here – “I’ve seen restaurants open and close in the time we’ve been here” – so she realizes how daunting that goal is. “I think with the volatility of New York and the transient nature of this community, it’s easy for something to work for a bit and then not.”
Something For the Kids
Hope Church offers a robust kids program that Sadlier characterizes as age-appropriate, engaging content for kids. A long-time goal of Sadlier’s is to equip parents to serve as the spiritual leaders in their homes. She believes it’s tough for parents to navigate what they do and don’t believe, and then instill those morals in their children without being judgmental – that there is a delicate balance in explaining that “this is how we do it, but other people do it a different way.”
Her own family is a test case. Sharing some examples of struggles she’s had to navigate with her brood, she says, “‘We prayed for that person and they died.’ What do you do with that?” Or “This person was a part of our church and they left. ‘Where did they go? Do they not want to be our friend anymore?’”
Her response is to always go back to Jesus. She says, “It’s understanding that we are created, we are a mess, we need a savior, and that’s the person of Jesus, and for us, Jesus is the picture of God.” Where the kids are concerned, it comes down to acknowledging she can’t control the outcome, but that she can model for them. She says, “They make mistakes, there are consequences, but there is grace. There is no need to be overwhelmed with shame or guilt.”
Sadlier with husband, Dan, and their six children
Acknowledging that the Evangelical Church has had its share of scandal and reputed Trump ties, she responds, “Evangelical just means sharing your faith; that what you have is so good you want to tell someone about it. That has become twisted. What has happened, unfortunately, is that the demographic that is used politically right now; they’re evangelists about their political position instead of about Jesus.
It grieves me that this is what this word has come to mean. Jesus was a political figure. I mean, the empire had him killed. He challenged authority, he challenged the status quo, but he came humble and meek and his way of challenging was not for his gain. At the same time, I do want to make room at the table for those who are coming with all different perspectives.
When it comes down to it, Dan and I will always come down on the side of the downhearted, oppressed, beat up, because that’s Jesus. So we do speak to the fact that power corrupts and greed is not okay, and inequality is not okay. There are themes that can be politicized, but as a church we aren’t political.”
Sadlier chats with Howard K. Burgoyne, the superintendent of the East Coast Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church