Running No More
RISE Pastor Talks Of Close Call And Its Effect On Her Life
Posted: February 16, 2013
Amanda Miller Garber, pastor of RISE United Methodist Faith Community, shares her testimony Feb. 12 at Common Grounds coffee house, located on the campus of Eastern Mennonite University. (Photo by Michael Reilly / DN-R)
After falling asleep at the wheel on I-81, Amanda Miller Garber realized her true calling: the seminary. She now serves as the pastor of RISE United Methodist Faith Community. (Photo by Michael Reilly / DN-R)
On April 10, 1995, she was driving from Roanoke to Charlottesville on I-81 when she fell asleep at the wheel. Her car flipped three times and landed upside-down in the opposite lane.
“This story is total grace,” she told a packed room of students and local residents Tuesday night at Eastern Mennonite University’s Common Grounds coffee house, where she shared her testimony during Spiritual Life Week.
“I walked away with a scratch on my elbow, seven stitches.”
People kept telling her that God must have a plan for her life. A short while later, she saw a newspaper story about a medical student who fell asleep at the wheel on the same day she did and died.
To those who repeatedly told her God must have more in store, she silently asked, “[So] God didn’t have a plan for this guy’s life; the guy who was on track to be a doctor?”
Although she had grown up in church, Garber had been running away from God for years, she says.
But at a retreat on April 10, 1999, she had what she calls a “mystical, powerful experience” and realized she was being called to seminary.
She hesitantly explained her decision to her husband, parents and friends. One by one, they told her they knew she was meant for seminary. They were just waiting for her to find out.
A seminary degree, several ministry positions and 14 years later, she’s not exactly sure what this April 10 will look like, but she does know it’ll find her working to expand the ministry.
“The day I stop finding joy in this journey is the day I need to do something else,” she says.
So far, that day hasn’t come.
RISE has big plans for the future: The young church that meets every Sunday in Court Square Theater is launching an offshoot house church in conjunction with the Covenant Presbyterian Church on Feb. 24 in Staunton.
Although the church will likely start slower and smaller than RISE — 140 people showed up at the movement’s first meeting in September 2010 — Garber hopes it will grow.
“I think the witness of a more traditional Presbyterian church partnering with a quirky movement like RISE is really powerful,” Garber said in an interview after Tuesday’s event.
“It says that maybe, just maybe, these crazy followers of Jesus can work together … and it’s not about labels; it’s about God’s dream.”
Dreams and outreach are integral aspects of RISE. Another longtime dream for the faith community is to open a not-for-profit bakery in Harrisonburg that would employ refugees who live in the city and potentially feature baked goods from their native lands.
“It’s an invisible community in many ways,” Garber said of the refugee population. “So many people who have amazing skill sets … are so frustrated here because they’re unable to work.”
In order to make that dream a reality, RISE needs two things, Garber says: funding and stable leadership.
The church is also in the preliminary stages of starting a second service in Harrisonburg, either at a different time in the theater or at a different location altogether.
When RISE first started in the ashes of the Wesley Foundation — a campus-based UMC ministry that served James Madison University for 60 years — it averaged about 100 attendees.
Now, roughly 170 people show up for the Sunday services during regular semesters, Garber said.
“We definitely have grown a lot; it’s been really steady, healthy growth,” Garber said, adding that she’s noticed increasing diversity in attendees’ ages.
Although the church is geared toward 18- to 30-year-olds, the doors are open to everyone, she emphasized.
She also highlighted another notion about those involved in RISE: “We’re dreamers.”
Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or email@example.com