An unlikely path

Illinois teacher turned pastor touts progressive congregation

QUINCY, Ill. (AP) — An unlikely path recently brought the Rev. Keela Neumann to Quincy’s First Christian Church.

A Hamilton native and longtime teacher, Neumann was installed as First Christian’s pastor in June.

“I used to be a schoolteacher in Camp Point, at Central. I taught science,” Neumann said. “My last child went off to college, and I said, ‘Well, I’m not going to just sit here.’ Then I went to seminary.”

Neumann began her new life in the ministry at Brite Divinity School in Texas. In 2005, she completed her studies at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis.

“I had gotten more and more active in my church over the years,” Neumann said, reflecting on her journey. “I’m actually one of those people that wasn’t raised in a church, but I knew it was important for my kids. I got them very involved, and in order for them to be involved, I was involved.”

Neumann remembers the first time she was asked to be an elder of her church. Although she refused, saying she was incapable of fulfilling the duties, the moment had a profound impact on her.

“That was kind of the first button that was pushed to make me move forward,” she said. “It was the next year that I became an elder. I didn’t have the answers to all the questions, though. I wanted to know more.”

The biggest joy Neumann has received from the transition into the clergy, she said, is the realization that life can still be fun, even as a pastor.

“You can play. God has a sense of humor,” Neumann said. “These people here at this church have a great sense of humor. They love to laugh, and they also have very giving hearts.”

Neumann alluded to the church’s work with its youth group as being indicative of the church’s overall attitude.

“We have a wonderful youth group here that is made up of kids that are mostly not even members of this church,” Neumann said. “Here, they are just loved and accepted though.”

First Christian Church recently hosted a mixer dinner with the Islamic Center of Quincy and Salem Evangelical United Church of Christ.

“This church is more forward-thinking, more progressive,” Neumann said. “This fellowship hall was full, and we all mixed up at the tables so everybody was sitting with somebody they didn’t know. It was wonderful. We had to beat on glasses to get people’s attention.”

For Neumann, the event highlighted how little followers of the two religions know about each other.

“We think about the fact we don’t really understand the Quran and their beliefs,” Neumann said. “But I never really thought about the fact they don’t really understand ours, either. One gentleman asked me, ‘So you guys use something called the New Testament?'”

While she never expected to settle in Quincy as a pastor, Neumann said First Christian Church could potentially be her final stop.

“I see this church becoming a force of goodness in the community, but that doesn’t mean everybody is going to know,” she said. “I don’t think this church is loud. It kind of makes me sad that the public doesn’t know the heart of this church. It is open, loving and accepting.”