Scott and Shana Cress moved to Hillsdale this month for Scott to take the posi­tions of pastor at Hillsdale’s First Pres­by­terian Church. Courtesy | Scott Cress

According to a 2010 census, three-quarters of the pop­u­lation in Hillsdale County didn’t claim a reli­gious affil­i­ation.

These numbers motivate the new pastor of the Hillsdale First Pres­by­terian Church, Rev. Scott Cress, who recently made his home in Hillsdale. Cress said he is looking forward to cul­ti­vating new rela­tion­ships within the com­munity through the church.

“A majority of people in Hillsdale county, at least according the the latest Census, reported them­selves as ‘nones’, meaning no formal reli­gious affil­i­ation,” Cress said. “This subset of life has been growing and in Hillsdale the number is some­where in the 30,000 range. It’s not a big county, but that is a big number.”

Cress and his wife Shana recently moved from West Lafayette, Indiana where he was an asso­ciate pastor. Together they have three kids, including a six-month old son.

As one can imagine, Cress said, moving was quite an adventure.

“We have boxes of stuff all through the house now, still trying to sort through toys,” he said.

In his pre­vious position as an asso­ciate pastor, Cress was not in a position of preaching on a weekly basis. Wanting to preach more reg­u­larly, he and his wife began to seek other oppor­tu­nities, including one in South Dakota and another in Chicago, Illinois. But when it came to making a decision, they chose Hillsdale for its com­munity.

“I just met the people here, and I really liked them,” Cress said. “There’s not really a great story there, but I just liked the com­munity and appre­ciated a lot of things about it.”

Despite living only a few miles away from Purdue Uni­versity in West Lafayette, Indiana  before coming to Hillsdale, Cress said that he and his wife do not inten­tionally pursue college towns, but “it just sort of works out that way.”

“We tend to like culture that is created by a uni­versity or college,” he said. “It tends to create a lot of oppor­tu­nities that my family and I are attracted to and inter­ested in.”

One of Cress’s major focuses as he begins pas­toring the First Pres­by­terian Church will be con­necting with Hillsdale College.

“Over the last several years, probably a couple decades, we haven’t really been a church that has strong rela­tion­ships with college stu­dents,” Cress said. “We love having them be a part of our life, but they haven’t been a sig­nif­icant part of our con­gre­gation. I would love to see the rela­tionship between the church and the college grow in new ways.”

Some of his out­reach ideas include inviting them to church, hosting Bible studies, and pro­viding college stu­dents with home-cooked meals. He says there are a lot of people in the con­gre­gation who would love to do that. As far as a Bible study goes, he would like to explore political the­ology.

“I don’t know if this is stereo­typing Hillsdale College a little bit, but I would like to study ques­tions of the Bible and pol­itics and faith in culture,” he said. “Given the values of Hillsdale in some ways, I think those [topics] would be really per­tinent to study.”

Pro­fessor of history Thomas Conner, has belonged to the First Pres­by­terian Church since the early 1960s. He later joined the Hillsdale First Pres­by­terian Church in 1996, where he is now the Clerk of Session and has served as a church Elder for several terms.

“I am extremely pleased that Rev. Scott Cress accepted the call to become our pastor at First Pres­by­terian Church, and I am quite certain that the entire con­gre­gation feels the same way,” Conner said. “Pastor Cress’ young family, youthful energy, fresh per­spec­tives, and solidly bib­lical preaching are great assets to our church family, and we are looking forward to fol­lowing his lead along the path that God opens up to us.”

Pro­fessor of pol­itics Kevin Portteus has been attending the church for ten years and echoes the sen­ti­ments of Conner.

“Pastor Cress brings new energy and com­mitment to our church,” he said. “We’re excited to have him as our min­ister.”

Other than con­necting with the college, com­munity out­reach is another aspect of min­istry Cress would like to pursue on during his time as pastor at the First Pres­by­terian Church. Hillsdale county has a pop­u­lation of about 46,000, and given the such large number of “nones”, there is a great amount of people to serve and reach out to. The church is an orga­ni­zation like no other, and its com­munity ought to be pre­served, expanded and strengthened, he said.

“The spir­itual aspect aside, there are a lot of other ben­efits to being a part of a church: social ben­efits, friend­ships, and you’ve gotta think there’s a lot of people who don’t have that mean­ingful sense of con­nection with other people,” Cress said. “I think people overlook the depth of com­munity that’s available in a smaller con­gre­gation.”