The Rev. Thomas Sweet has seen a lot in the time he has spent at First Presbyterian Church in Jamestown.
In the 19 years Sweet spent in Jamestown, he focused on helping the community in every way that he could. This included offering a summer "urban theater" for area children and hosting a peer-centered recovery house for those dealing with addiction. In conjunction with the church, Sweet has also helped to begin after-school programs and hosted free summer suppers for area residents.
Sunday marked his final day as the leader of the congregation at First Presbyterian Church. Sweet is now preparing to begin his position as pastor with the Market Square Presbyterian Church in Harrisburg, Pa. where he will officially start his ministry in Harrisburg on Dec. 1. His final sermon at First Presbyterian Church, based around the "two most important words in Christianity", was followed by a reception for members of the congregation to say goodbye to Sweet.
The Rev. Thomas Sweet
Sweet said the Presbyterians employ a circuitous route in their hiring process and that is how he came to be contacted about the position in Harrisburg.
"It's squeezed in between the capitol building on one side and the Susquehana River on the other, as well as the AA baseball stadium, which was the real draw for me in Harrisburg," Sweet said, laughing. "It just seemed that it was the right time here and it was the right time for that church down there to have someone like me apparently.
The congregation in Harrisburg called me in late September and the Presbyterian process, they allow four or five weeks for goodbyes and for a last good run, so that's what we've been doing for the past month with today as the culmination."
According to Sweet, it will be a bittersweet move, but one that he feels is the right thing to do.
"These people here in Jamestown have been so generous," he said. "It's been good and we have loved each other but part of that is just wishing the best for each other. If it's the right time for me to go, then it's the right time for this church as well and we're both off on our next good adventures. We hold each other in love and kind regard and we both have the sense that it'll be good. It's great to be in the midst of a congregation that is so gracious and so generous. 19 years is a long time for a pastor to be in one place and it's been a good run."
When asked what his favorite moments in Jamestown were, he said he believes, like most pastors, that the worship hour on Sunday mornings when the community gathers to be together are what he will remember most fondly.
"Everyone comes together to say thanks to God and to each other, and to renew our commitments to trying to live the gospel in the community during the week. That, for me, is why I do what I do," Sweet said. "Over 19 years, there have been so many times, both poignant and funny, both serious and not so serious, that it's a little hard to pull them out this morning. I've had things in my personal life, including the death of a daughter, through which this congregation has surrounded me and blessed me on my way. I think for me, the willingness of folks to move out beyond the walls of the church and to understand that we are who we are and we're called by God not to be a club, but to go into the community and make it better off for our presence is what I will remember most fondly."
Sweet, who has lived in Jamestown since 1994, said the city has come a long way since he first came to the area.
"I do love Jamestown, and that's one of the things that makes my heart sad, is leaving this great place," he said. "I came here in 1994 and I loved it immediately, but there's no comparison to the way that it is today, the way the city is renewing itself and the number of people who really care about the city and making it a better place. As with any place, surely there are problems and none of us should rest until everybody has a place to live and food to eat and health care, but those are problems everywhere. To me, Jamestown cares about those folks and everyone else, too. My message to the members of this community would just be to continue taking care of each other and to not be afraid of the great adventures that are out there to be had. It's a great city with great resources and I will always be a Jamestownian at heart."