Cortland church welcomes minister from North Jackson

CORTLAND — The Rev. Joan Purnell, a North Jackson resident, has been named the new minister at Cortland United Methodist Church.

Purnell, who has served the past nine years as minister at Braceville United Methodist Church as well as the past five at Otterbein United Methodist Church in Champion, said she started in the ministerial field after working for more than 30 years in her family’s photography business.

She and her brother, Jack Acri, ran Acri Studio of Photography in North Jackson, but they decided on a career change, closed the business and went into ministry.

Purnell started at Braceville United Methodist Church while her brother served at First Federated Church in North Jackson, where the family had attended.

Purnell said in July, she started in Cortland at her third church in 10 years after being appointed to the post by the bishop for the Methodist churches.

“I am still learning as I transitioned to a new church during a pandemic. We have had to adapt to how we are holding worship. We have had worship outside on the lawn and have been holding services online on YouTube for those who can’t attend,” she said.

Purnell said the congregation is working on plans to get back inside the church for worship. She said the pandemic has forced all congregations to make changes.

“What we are doing still enables us to have connections to one another and what people are accustomed to. We are still holding worship even though it may not be in the sanctuary,” she said.

Purnell said she has learned how to Zoom and use other online technology to get the message to the congregation.

“You learn to embrace the technology. You are reaching more people, including those who you may not have necessarily had the opportunity to reach otherwise. You can be engaged with people in a different and safe way,” she said.

She said the church will not conduct the one-day-per-week after-school program on Wednesdays for Lakeview students.

“It won’t be held in the fall, but maybe in the spring. I look forward to being part of that successful program this church offers. It is an important ministry we want to continue,” she said.

Purnell said the church was in a transition with the former minister leaving in June and her starting in July. She said it is common practice for ministers to retire in June and new appointments to begin in July.

“The church was fortunate to not have a Sunday without a minister,” she said.

Purnell said she is aware the Cortland United Methodist Church is active in the community, and she is prepared for that, having been busy with the outreach at Braceville United Methodist Church that included backpack giveaways, dinners and blood drives.

During her time at Braceville, she also served a second church, Otterbein United Methodist Church, preaching there at 9:30 a.m. and then driving eight miles to be in Braceville by 11 a.m.

“It is exciting to be here and serving this faith community. This church has a long history here in Cortland back to the 1800s. It has a long and faithful history and its own traditions,” she said.

Purnell said she looks forward to being part of the Lakeview Outreach and Fellowship that the church took part in with Red Bag Sunday, where congregation members took red bags home and are being asked to fill them with nonperishable items for the local food pantry.

“Even though the church and others are in the middle of a pandemic, they are still activly helping in the community,” she said.


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