Board Member Spotlight: Rev. Jerry Gadsden

Board Member Spotlight: Rev. Jerry Gadsden

By Jeremy Handel

Called to Serve in the Church and On Campus

Rev. Jerry Gadsden
Rev. Jerry Gadsden

The Methodist Church has been an important part of Rev. Jerry Gadsden’s life since he was a child. He knew it would continue to be important to him but not necessarily in leading a congregation until he received his calling from a higher power.

“I never really saw myself as being a pastor in a church. I wanted to get a degree in accounting or finance and work for one of the general boards,” Rev. Gadsden said. “People always told me they thought I would grow up to be a pastor, but I wanted to make sure that calling came from God and not just the people around me. I answered that calling.”

Answering that calling has given him the chance to share the Word and promote the church to a number of congregations, including two stints focused on college students. These opportunities have provided a strong perspective for his position on the Spartanburg Methodist College’s Board of Trustees.

As a divinity student at Duke University, Rev. Gadsden honed his ministry skills on campus. It was his time serving at the Winthrop University Wesley Foundation from 2000 – 2006 that gave him a true understanding and appreciation for serving a college congregation.

“It was different than local church and was something I wanted to try,” he said. “The congregation changes almost year-to-year, and that constant change was a challenge.”

Rev. Gadsden’s tenure wasn’t just different for him; it was a change for Winthrop as well. When he got the position, he was replacing someone who had been there for 25 years. Risher Brabham is considered a legend at Winthrop and in the Methodist Church for his work in campus ministry.

It wasn’t just replacing a long-time leader that was new for the university. As the first African American pastor in the position, Rev. Gadsden also brought a new perspective and some new ideas to the position.

“I had to make some difficult decisions going in and make my own way,” he said. “A lot of times the majority didn’t always like those decisions.”

Working through differences of opinion for the good of the students and the congregation was the priority for him and the school. In doing so, Rev. Gadsden, Winthrop, and the students benefited. He was able to enrich students’ lives through the Word and mentor some into their own calling to the church.

“You get to be involved in the students’ lives,” he said of the campus ministry position. “I’m still in touch with many of them. They certainly impacted my life and I hope I was able to make an impact on their lives as well.”

He said he knows of at least three students he mentored who are serving in the United Methodist Church to this day and is proud to have been a small part of their journey to their calling.

He also proudly recalls his work with students on the Tuesday’s Child program at the university. The after-school program worked with children living in a women’s shelter near campus. Students from the school would go to the shelter and help tutor the young children. Rev. Gadsden said it was rewarding to see the pride the Winthrop students took in helping at-risk youth grow and succeed.

His experience at Winthrop provided him an excellent base for his future work with the SMC Board of Trustees.

While not having a direct connection with SMC, Rev. Gadsden was familiar with campus having attended events held there by the United Methodist Church. It was during his time with Silver Hill Memorial United Methodist Church in Spartanburg that he was approached to join the Board of Trustees. Dr. Penny Fisher, who was chair of the SMC Board at the time and a member of his congregation, approached him with the idea.

“She nominated me, and I prayed on it. I thought it would be a good way to serve my community,” he said. “It’s been enlightening. I really didn’t know what to expect but I’ve been really impressed with President Cochran’s and his cabinet’s leadership.”

Since joining the Board in 2016, Rev. Gadsden said he is proud of the advancements the College has made, including taking the step to add four-year bachelor’s degrees to the curriculum.

“That was a historic vote,” he said. “It moved the college to another level. The work is being done by the faculty, staff, and administration, but for us to have taken that vote was a great opportunity, and it was great to be a part of that.”

Since adding the four-year degrees, SMC has graduated two classes of bachelor’s degree students. Rev. Gadsden is proud to have seen those students graduate. He said he looks forward to continuing his work on the Board of Trustees to further advance the College.

“I think we’re all on the same page with continuing to improve SMC, including increasing the diversity of our faculty and staff to better serve our student base and help with retention,” he said. “I think the college is moving forward on that, and we’re on track.”

He also said the Board continues to look at the infrastructure needs of the growing campus and wants to address the need for more buildings, classrooms, and facilities for students and faculty.

Rev. Jerry Gadsden currently serves as the pastor at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Kingstree, South Carolina.

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