Pastor Dan Brockway, Ph.D. God’s call and the long saga of resisting and relenting

By on April 15, 2019
Pastor Dan Brockway poses at the front of the Brockport Baptist Church sanctuary, showing how he delivered the sermon on Sunday, March 10. Electric power had failed and the speaker system and lights were off. He called everyone down to the front pews where he gave the sermon up close from a music stand. The tattoos on his arms are artistic classic symbols from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Photo by Dianne Hickerson

Pastor Dan Brockway poses at the front of the Brockport Baptist Church sanctuary, showing how he delivered the sermon on Sunday, March 10. Electric power had failed and the speaker system and lights were off. He called everyone down to the front pews where he gave the sermon up close from a music stand. The tattoos on his arms are artistic classic symbols from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Photo by Dianne Hickerson

Something new and something old has appeared on the corner of Holley and Main Street in Brockport. Fairly new is the prominent LED sign in front of the First Baptist Church looking like a brilliant theatre marquee. For about a year it has been announcing what’s happening inside, like the worship services, a concert, or The Gathering Table offering free lunch.

Something old was the name of the new pastor. Soon after he arrived 10 months ago, the sign read: “Welcome Pastor Dan and the Brockway family.” Passers-by were stunned to see the family name “Brockway,” as in Hiel Brockway who, with James Seymour, bought the land that is now Brockport and laid out the village in 1822. Is the new pastor distant kin to Brockport’s founder, or is the matching name a coincidence? After arriving here, a cousin aware of family genealogy told Dan he is a very distant descendent of Hiel Brockway for whom the village was named.

Then, humor started to appear on the sign, such as: “That awkward moment when a zombie is looking for brains and walks right past you.” And, “Whoever keeps praying for snow, please stop!” The sign adds further mystery about the source of the humor behind these messages.

The mysteries are solved in the fast-moving saga of how Pastor Dan Brockway, Ph.D., in his early thirties, came here from California with his family to start his first experience as a parish church minister serving the Brockport First Baptist Church. His journey is filled with his resistance to God’s call to the ministry, following another path, and finally taking a big risk to answer The Call.

His journey starts – away from the ministry

Dan was raised in Allentown, Pennsylvania. His mother was a children’s minister in the American Baptist Church. His father had no religion at all. He said the experience, “Left me with a deeply-rooted faith in God, an even more deeply-rooted understanding that not everyone shares that faith, and a heart for those who feel excluded from the church.”

He was dismayed by how his mother was treated in the conservative wing of their church. Referring to the “stained glass ceiling,” he saw her denied the same opportunities that male clergy were given. He felt further pushed away from pastoral ministry as he saw the wants of the typical “preacher’s kids” in other families being secondary, as required church activity trumped school activities and the children’s interests.

Besides these repelling factors, Dan always felt pulled in another direction. “I felt I was being called to the academy (academic world). That’s where I really spent the bulk of my adult life as a professor, advisor and administrator. For all those reasons, any thought of a complete career shift to the ministry was really terrifying.”

A subtle beginning for The Call

Dan went to Kutztown University of Pennsylvania for a B.S. degree in electronic media and a minor in music. “I wanted to be a stand-up comedian,” he said. “I did a lot of stand up in college and worked in radio as a shock jock thinking that would be my career.” He was soon disillusioned and, he said, “Really my first call to ministry was realizing I did not want to work in radio.”

While interning in a Philadelphia radio station, he moved home to Allentown and became involved in the church where he was raised. “I had been out of church since starting college three years prior,” he said. The teens were in need of an adult supervisor. He helped them start a praise band. On a youth ski trip there would be worship where the band performed. Dan continued:

We showed up at the church to go on the ski trip and the youth pastor had quit that day. I was the only adult chaperone not related to one of the kids. All eyes were on me and they asked if I could teach for the weekend. I got the Bible out, and started going through stories I knew. That whole weekend I did mini-sermons, on the spur of the moment. I noticed that, when I was teaching the kids, going through Bible stories, it was the same energy and excitement I got in performing comedy.

Dan affirmed in retrospect that it was the beginning of The Call, however subtle.

At seminary — “Not quite sure where God is calling me.”

During the ski trip at a Christian youth camp, the camp director heard Dan’s first-ever sermon, preaching to the teens. The director was impressed and asked Dan to be teaching director at the camp for the summer. Hesitating to move further in that pastoral direction, but not wanting to continue to work in radio, he accepted the position a few weeks later.

After his summer camp experience and graduating with a B.S. degree in 2007, Dan applied to Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, to pursue the Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree.

“When I first went to seminary, I was trying to figure out if it was really for me,” Dan said. “I was at seminary, not sure what I am doing there, not quite sure where God was calling me. I was sitting in class, listening to the professor breaking down this fascinating stuff, and I was like, ‘This is it! This is what I could do!’” and he decided to become a seminary professor.  “Normally people earn an M. Div. because they want to be a pastor; I did it because I wanted to be a professor and teach pastors.”

Headed to California on a risk

While enrolled at Biblical Theological Seminary, Dan married his wife Erin in 2010. In his last year there, he applied to the Ph.D. program in theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He was accepted for the fall of 2011.

He and Erin had to plan the move and figure out how to survive in a new life on the other side of the country. Dan noted the great risk they took going to Fuller to explore what seemed like God’s call at the time, yet to be tested. “We had been married a year, we left everything we knew, we quit jobs that we liked and were good at, and moved all the way across the country without any jobs lined up. And, we had no source of income except all our savings which would last us only three months,” Dan said.

Headed back East on a risk in answering The Call

They took the risk and survived, even thrived, living in Los Angeles. While in Fuller’s Ph.D. program, Dan obtained a full-time position as an advisor to students in the Doctor of Ministry (D. Min.) program in 2015. He also began serving as an adjunct professor to Masters-level students in the same year. Erin got a good job. They had two children, Miriam and Ezekiel, now ages three and one. “We were living comfortable lives and could have made it work for 20 years,” Dan said. “But we were bored out of our minds and had not taken a risk in years. We both have this quest for adventure.” Now, that risk would be a response to the nagging call to be a pastor, which originally had terrified him.

Erin asked him, “If you were to be a pastor, what would your dream church be like?” Dan envisioned a church that was “small, American Baptist, progressive, and in a college town in the Northeast.” What are the chances of finding that unique combination of factors? After Dan graduated from the Ph.D. program in 2017, once in a while he would check the job openings posted at his seminary, not particularly looking for church positions. One day, this opening appeared: Brockport First Baptist Church in Brockport, New York, fitting all the criteria. He decided to take the risk and applied for his first-ever pastoral role. He was accepted, moved his family, and started as pastor in July, 2018.

“I’m loving it!”

Dan was asked how he feels now, nine months into his risk.

“I’m loving it,” Dan said. “My wife and I love Brockport and the church has been incredibly good to us. I am still in the honeymoon period, but things are going well already, like increased attendance by younger families and six new members about to join.”

He continued, “Our college outreach is also getting started. The folks at the church are forward thinking on this point, shaking things up to reach out in this way. I can’t overstate how impressive it is that an older congregation intentionally hired a 32-year-old pastor with college ministry experience, shaping the future of this church by engagement with The College at Brockport.”