SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Christ United Methodist Church’s new pastor, Rev. Garvin Warden, is many things: a grandfather, a scholar, even an actor. But he believes that all of his experiences have taught him how to connect with communities around the world.
“To make the world a better place, you’ve got to learn how to live and work in community,” Warden said. “You also have to help other people understand that things don’t always go the way that they want them to go. And that’s why I’ve love [being a pastor], because I see the church through different lenses than some people see the church.”
Born and raised in Bridgetown, Barbados in the Carribbean, Warden was introduced to his Methodist faith at an early age. He participated in Sunday school and his church’s youth chorus, as well as learning about Christianity in school. Warden was confirmed into the Methodist church shortly before turning 11 years old, which Warden explained was a young age to be confirmed into the church. He said that he felt a calling to ministry early, but had other interests that he pursued first.
Warden worked as a teacher and in the private sector in Barbados before joining the Barbados Civil Service, where he worked in community development, welfare and cultural affairs. He has also studied community development in Haifa, Israel, and even holds a bachelor’s degree in theater from Fordham University. Even before Warden changed his career path, he always felt a need to help people.
“Pastors would always say to me that they believed God was calling me,” Warden explained. “It was a little bit scary when I was young but I had that sense of call. But I wanted to do so many other things with my life.”
Warden eventually decided that he needed to dedicate his life to God and become a pastor in the Methodist Church. He earned a master’s of divinity degree from the School of Theology at Boston University in 1991, and in 1996, he received a certificate in urban ministry at the Urban Theology Institute in Sheffield, England.
Warden first preached at Christ United Methodist Church in February and served as an interim reverend. Warden previously served at Greenwood Memorial United Methodist Church in Dorchester, Mass., Centenary United Methodist Church in Attleboro, Mass., Hockanum United Methodist Church in East Hartford, Conn. and Chestnut Street United Methodist Church in Portland, Maine. He began his new position as the official reverend on July 1.
One of Warden’s influences on his service is his background in theater. He first entered the arts as a way to express himself, but now believes that the skills he has learned from theater can be applied in his service.
“If you have been in a production, you’ve got to listen to everything around you,” Warden explained. “And when you dance, you also have to be really listening really well. So [theater] has given me the ability to listen to people.”
But Warden admits that there is more to being a reverend than just listening to others. The way you listen is just as important, if not more so.
“One of the greatest influences on me was a teacher at a school in Israel,” Warden said. “I often hear her when I’m working with people that I have to take myself out of the equation and I have to know what baggage I bring into the discussion. And so you always say the lens you’re working in the community. It’s not about you. So how would you take yourself out of that?”
Warden applies scripture to his life, as well as others’ lives, during sermons. He said that since everyone lives with different experiences, a passage may be applicable the same way to everyone. This personalization is important to having a personal relationship with God, according to Warden.
“I always tell people, you need to find the answers for yourself,” Warden said. “My position is not to give you the answers, but my position is to show you where to find the answers. My relationship with the divine that created this world can’t be your relationship and you have to have that relationship with God.”
Having studied in Barbados, Israel, the United States and the United Kingdom, Warden has learned about the best group dynamics for diverse groups of people. At his four parishes in America, he has worked with people from various backgrounds, from African refugees to immigrants from Latin America.
“It’s not trying to make people do what I want them to do, but to sort of listen to people’s diverse opinions,” Warden said. “And always trying to bring those together and then get people to work for the good of their community.”
One of Warden’s main goals for his new parish is to encourage community outreach and growth. Warden is especially interested in getting more young people to attend services and become involved with the church. Warden would also like to continue the church’s connections with charity organizations like the Johnnycake Center and Welcome House of South County.
However, Warden said that since he is still semi-retired, he does not plan to stay at Christ United Methodist Church for more than a few years. Instead, he hopes that his efforts pave the way for his successor to expand the church and strengthen its message.
“The spirit of God kept on saying to me, there’s something that you can do, you know you have the skills to put Humpty Dumpty back together again,” Warden said. “That’s what I’ve done all of my life. Walk into situations that look impossible and said to people here the possibilities, there’s is a lot you need to do.
Outside of the parish, Warden is looking forward to exploring South County’s beautiful beaches and spending time with his wife, children and grandchildren. He lives in North Providence and enjoys gardens, watching television, and volunteering.