He's a surfer from California, former navel flight officer and flight instructor, the son of a Pearl Harbor survivor and pastor who has served in churches from California to Florida.
He's also man who knows tragedy. The deepest tragedy a parent can experience, the death of a daughter. Meet Jan Werson, Marco Presbyterian Church's new associate pastor.
Werson was raised in a typical California home where his family never went to church. After receiving a bachelor'sdegree in chemistry, Werson joined the navy, and soon landed in flight school. His squadron flew F-14 Tomcats; the same fighter aircrafts depicted in Tom Cruise's "Top Gun." Although he wasn't in that movie, his squadron took part in "Final Countdown" with Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen.
But it was a classmate in flight school who invited Werson to a Bible study. Three months later, he prayed to receive Christ as Lord and Savior.
He met his wife Dottie in Bible study when he was serving in Pensacola. Things began to click between the two when Dottie's sister invited him home for Christmas dinner because he couldn't go home to California.
They married in 1977, and a year later he told his wife "I think God's calling me to seminary." Dottie answered, "God's not calling me." The call persisted and Dottie still resisted until 1984 when the couple moved to Jackson, Miss. and he attended Reformed Theological Seminary. He earned his masters of divinity and served at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson. He returned to the navy as a chaplain from 1990 to 2001.
He was sent to the Naval Hospital in Jacksonville in 1999. The couple went church shopping and found the perfect church — Christ Church. The senior pastor at that time was the Rev. William "Bill" Lyle, who currently serves as Marco Presbyterian Church's senior pastor. Werson joined the staff of Christ Church where he served as associate pastor for six years. He also became a close friend of Lyle and the two have kept in touch over the years.
Last summer, Marco Presbyterian Church's Pastor of Families the Rev. Paul May felt called to start a church in Sioux Falls, S.D. Marco Presbyterian formed a search team. They looked at 70 candidates and winnowed it down to 44. Some bubbled to the top, but none jelled. They were looking for a seasoned, Gospel-centered, mission-minded, detail-oriented pastor with administrative skills.
"It is one position where age and experience count," said Lyle.
In January, Marco Presbyterian's Seasonal Pastor the Rev. Rod Whithed suggested Werson and asked him if he would entertain a conversation with the church. Werson agreed and was eventually offered the position.
On April 29 at a congregational meeting Werson was unanimously elected to be the church's new associate pastor.
"Jan and I have worked together in Jacksonville," said Lyle. "I am grateful to have the team reunited here on Marco. He's a man of God and our philosophies are the same and I know this church will love him and his wife Dottie."
"I am encouraged and privileged to see how God is working in my life and for the opportunity to work with Bill again," said Werson who has a passion to fulfill the Great Commission through local and world missions as well as to connect people in vibrant small groups, and to see the church provide care, not only, to those in the church, but in the community as well.
He shared highlights of his chaplaincy at a potluck dinner on April 29. The chaplains partnered with the Marine Corps and an inner city Los Angeles church to provide meals and build relationships within the city.
However, if there were a single event that proved God's eternal love and sustaining grace over the years of his ministry, it would be the death of his daughter, Jana, who died in a traffic accident on July 31, 2005. The verse that rings so true is Philippians 1:21 — "to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
Jana, a 26-year-old Navy nurse loved her work in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Jana was killed when a car ran off the road onto the sidewalk shortly after she went for a run.
Although Werson's faith was strong he wanted a confirmation from God regarding his daughter's death. At her funeral the Bible on her casket was open to Corinthians 4:16-18: "Therefore we do not lose heart…So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." The focus of those verses was on the eternal not on the temporary.
Some days later while going through her things he came upon her well-worn Bible. "It had more highlighting in it than mine," he said. "All of the highlights were about Jesus. That's where her hope was."
Marco Presbyterian Church
Women's Friday morning interactive Bible study based on the book "Unshakable Faith: 8 Traits for Rock-Solid Living" by Kathy Howard continues and meets at 9 a.m., in room 2 in the church's Fellowship Hall. The study centers on the Apostle Peter's life. Participants will walk with Peter as he walked with Jesus. They will learn what Peter learned and be challenged to apply it to their own lives. Books are $7 and are available. For information contact Bonnie at 389-0759.
Wesley United Methodist Church
GriefShare, a 13-week seminar/support group for adults who are grieving the death of a family member or friend, begins on May 29. The sessions will meet from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. every Tuesday through Aug. 28 in the church's Hensel Room. GriefShare is a safe place to find comfort, hope and healing with others who have experienced the deep pain of loss and understand how you feel. It doesn't matter if you experienced a loss recently or years ago. Each session contains Biblical insights, plus practical strategies for dealing with a variety of grief-related issues. For more information, please visit griefshare.org.
You may join the group at any time, but space is limited. Sessions will be repeated throughout the year, so if a session is missed or you want to go through the seminar again, you are welcome to come back.
There is a one-time $20 registration fee, which includes materials. Help is available for those who cannot afford to pay the registration fee. Information, call the church.