A New Pastor for the Federated Church
The Rev. Derek White, the new pastor of the Federated Church of Norfolk.
By Grace Allen
After a three-year search, the Federated Church of Norfolk has a new pastor. The Rev. Derek White started in his new role on Sept. 1, entrusted with guiding forward a church steeped in local history.
Rev. White says he was drawn to the Norfolk church because it has a very active congregation that participates in various missions, outreach, and youth programs.
“I think the thing that impressed me the most is that during COVID, a lot of churches struggled,” said Rev. White. “But at this church, the volunteers found their identity and became a much stronger lay-led church. There are so many gifted people here that want to give and serve the church as well as the wider community.”
With his 23 years of ministry, Rev. White brings to Norfolk a wealth of diverse experiences and talents. In addition to serving in congregations from the Midwest to the Northeast, Rev. White was also a wing chaplain for the United States Air Force, serving in multiple back-to-back deployments. As a military chaplain, he received special training in suicide prevention, addiction issues, and marriage and grief counseling. In January, Rev. White separated from the military, but he is currently working on a doctoral paper focusing on post-traumatic stress disorder to provide support for individuals and veterans in particular.
The 45-year-old pastor thinks of himself as a community pastor who also likes working with veteran populations.
“Even when I was a chaplain, I was out in the field, not in always in a building,” he explained. “I like to be out and about in the community, serving as a resource for everyone. And veteran causes are very important to me and I plan on being active and supporting veterans even if they’re not church members. I’m here to be a resource and to serve the community.”
The Rev. White also has a strong background in youth ministry. In addition, he has built 17 houses for Habitat for Humanity in Ft. Myers Florida. He and his wife, Carolyn, were also shelter site directors for a number of years and worked in homeless ministry, which he said is near and dear to their hearts. They have been married for 18 years and have two children.
From 2008 to 2014, the Rev. White was the pastor of the First Congregational Church of Kennebunkport, Maine. Among the congregants were George H. W. and Barbara Bush, and their family.
“They had an amazing sense of humor, and it was nice to get to know them in a personal way,” Rev. White shared. “They were wonderful, caring people. I think people see the title and the role they had, but they’re still people like everybody else.”
He recounted one time when a congregant shared at a Sunday service that her son was going to be deployed soon. George W. Bush was in attendance that day, and when the service ended and most people had left the church, the younger Bush came back into the building to hug and thank the mother and tell her how much he appreciated what her son was doing for the country.
“I saw the personal side of him that day,” said Rev. White. “There were no cameras, no press in attendance. It wasn’t a photo-op. It was a genuine, personal gesture.”
Rev. White says he found his calling early in life, while still in high school. He always thought he would become a pilot—he got his pilot license on his 16th birthday—but by senior year even his peers recognized the spiritual direction his life was taking and told him he should go into ministry work.
“Eventually I got to the point where I said, ‘I understand, God,’” reflected White. “This is the plan you have for me so I will follow this path.”
From there, White said, he devoted his life to learning the skills he needed to develop into the best pastor he could be. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biblical and theological studies from North Park University in Chicago, a master’s degree from Chicago Theological Seminary, and a doctorate in ministry from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. He has earned numerous certificates and accreditations in counseling.
Among his priorities for the Federated Church, Rev. White would like to bring back more faith formation and spiritual workshops to help people grow in their faith. In the short term, he’s focusing on several upcoming special projects.
On Nov. 19 from 3 to 5 p.m., the church will make and assemble blankets for its “Feel the Warmth” blanket project, an endeavor that is especially important to Rev. White. Prior to coming to Norfolk, Rev. White started the non-profit Feel the Warmth, Inc. The organization is dedicated to providing blankets to individuals facing heating insecurity through homelessness, natural disasters, humanitarian crises, power outages, or because they are lacking in resources to heat a home sufficiently.
Other church missions in the next few weeks include the Feeding of the 5000, which provides meals for people in need; Samaritan’s Purse, which fills shoeboxes with gifts for children; and assembling care bags for children placed in foster care.
With a new pastor at the helm, ready to connect with a congregation inside the building and a community beyond its walls, the Federated Church is becoming quite active again this fall. Since early September, there has been a 30% growth in attendance, estimated Rev. White. That bodes well for the church’s missions and outreach.
“We’ve got probably one of the largest Confirmation classes the church has seen in years,” remarked Rev. White. “We’re seeing a lot of young families return to church, so I think that’s encouraging.”
Rev. White can be reached at [email protected]. Or call 508-528-0262 to set up a time to visit him in his office.