Building on a Strong Foundation

Three years out of college, Patrick McElwaine began to feel a bit restless. He had a good job in an optical lab in Asheville, North Carolina. But he says, “I felt like there was something more I was supposed to be doing with my life.”


That restless feeling led eventually to a decision to enroll in the M.Div. program at Union Presbyterian Seminary. His wife, Allyson, who sensed McElwaine’s call to ministry before he did, greeted the move to Richmond with enthusiasm.


Laughing, McElwaine recalls the incident that clinched the decision: He and Allyson had gone out to lunch one Sunday after worship. “We looked out the window of this bagel shop and there was a guy carrying a big wooden cross walking along the shoulder of the road.”


They never learned the story behind the cross-carrying man, but his appearance seemed more than coincidence. Allyson told her husband, “If that’s not enough of a sign for you, I don’t know what is!”


Once the decision was made, says McElwaine, “I realized that the path to ministry had always been there. I had felt these tugs, these pushes, but I always said no.”


McElwaine grew up in Roanoke, Virginia, where he was a member of Second Presbyterian Church. “Being raised in such a loving community helped me form a strong foundation for my own faith,” he says. “The youth program there was especially important in my spiritual formation. I want to help others have that same experience.”


As a way of “giving back,” he continued his involvement with youth ministry at churches in Roanoke and Asheville. Now he and two other Union students are leading the youth program at Second Presbyterian Church in Richmond.


After less than a year on campus, 29-year-old McElwaine finds UPSem to be “a wonderful combination of academic excellence, grace-filled community, and bold Christian witness.” He says the faculty and staff “help us keep focused on why it is we’re here.”


Seminary is about more than earning an academic degree, he explains. “We’re being called out to do God’s work.”


Once he has his degree, McElwaine expects to do God’s work as pastor of a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregation. He looks forward to the challenge of ministry in a world that is rapidly changing.


“The word of God is always relevant,” he says. But if people aren’t coming to hear the word on Sunday morning, the church must find new ways to reach them. “It’s up to us to meet people where they are.”