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Williamsport pastor's honor is an opportunity to learn

July 14, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

WILLIAMSPORT - After a few moments of savoring the thrill of being named one of 90 pastors of excellence in the United States and Canada, Mark Sandell began to appreciate the impact the honor will have on his life for the next 21/2 years.

"This isn't just a plaque - it's like continuing education for a pastor," Sandell said from his office at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church. "It starts in September at the Ashland Theological Seminary in Ohio."

Before he goes for the five-day initial seminar, Sandell will be feted by his parishioners at a reception Sunday following the 8:30 and 11 a.m. services at the church, which is at 10813 Donelson Drive in Williamsport.

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Sandell, 46, pastor at St. Andrew for 12 years, was nominated for the honor by his friend and fellow clergyman Brian Moore from St. James Brethren Church.

Sandell said he was subjected to a battery of tests before learning that he made the grade.

He and the other pastors selected represent more than 25 denominations, some of which are in Canada. Sandell describes it as an intensive study and self-directed learning program.

Topics are to include self-assessment, development of a healthy Christian community, spiritual vitality, personal well-being, healthy relationships, professional competency and anointed ministry.

Sandell has begun preparing for the adventure.

"I had been winding down from a number of other duties as this came up," he said.

Those duties include the presidency of the Williamsport Ministerium, for which his four-year term ends this year, and a six-year stint with the National Presbyterian Youth Council of the Presbyterian Church in America.

A pastor for 18 years, Sandell and his wife, Annette, have three children. A firm believer in the value of taking vacations, Sandell said he sees this process as burnout protection.

"You know, pastors often forget to take care of themselves," Sandell said. "Part of the seminars are designed to help us understand our limitations, refresh ourselves and then help our congregations renew themselves."

When he learned he'd been chosen, Sandell said he started checking around for other pastors with whom he could share travel expenses.

"It was then I found out I was the only pastor selected from Maryland," he said. "The cool part is we are a church of just 300 people - this is usually for much larger churches."

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