Pastor heading to greener pastures
Pastor Craig Sumey will give his last sermon Sunday morning before he departs for Oakland, Fla. Sumey has been with First Presbyterian Church in downtown Coeur d'Alene since December 2011. He is seen here in the sanctuary Thursday afternoon.
Staff Writer | July 3, 2021 1:00 AM
COEUR d’ALENE — Anyone who has attended Craig Sumey's services or spent any amount of time with the First Presbyterian pastor in the past nearly 10 years knows that love and kindness are consistent in the messages he shares.
On the Fourth of July, Sumey will share his final messages with parishioners before he departs North Idaho for Oakland, Fla., to lead the Oakland Presbyterian Church congregation.
"It's always a mixture of emotions," he said, seated in his church office Thursday. "Over a decade you're just going to build up great relationships with people, and if you do it right, you're going to be part of a community. If you live in it, you might as well be a part of it.
"Whenever you've made that kind of investment in a people and a place, then it's just going to be rough bringing it to an end," he said. "It's a grief to say goodbye, but at the same time, I'm excited about a new opportunity. I'm proud of what has been accomplished in me and through me over the past almost decade."
As with any job, "there's always unfinished business," he said.
"There's things that you sort of believed you'd see through and you realize you're not and so you just leave it to others to take up the work if that's what they are called to do," he said. "If not, you're just satisfied with what you can do."
Sumey came to First Pres in December 2011. First Pres, at 521 Lakeside Ave., was the first church built in Coeur d'Alene proper in 1890. In 2018, the old church underwent an expansion and renovation to better accommodate its mission to serve its community.
"The challenge was to make a church more than a landmark, more than just a building that people notice on the corner that looks like it's somewhat historical," he said. "It has a heartbeat that connects its neighborhood. That was a real emphasis, to just really reach out beyond the four walls, to be a part of the downtown community, to be ready if downtown needed us."
The Oakland Presbyterian Church is about the same age, Sumey said, a little country church that has become enveloped by fast-growing suburbs of Orlando.
"The church has become a regional church that pulls people from all over that side of town," he said. "It's a similar size, it has its own unique challenges. It's literally at a crossroads, the turnpike comes right through town. Highway 50 comes right through town, which is a big east-west artery. And it's just really well-positioned to be a good hub for reaching out to people in that part of town."
He said he and his family were starting to sense their time in North Idaho was coming to an end.
"There was just getting to be a lot of new challenges, post-COVID, that were great challenges, exciting challenges, but not my challenges, not really where my gifting was," he said. "That's kind of tough to realize that, but it's best for the church and it's best for you, so you're not trying to put a square peg in a round hole."
They were just beginning to realize this when God revealed Sumey's next calling and he was contacted by the Oakland church.
"I honestly thought that I would spend a lot more time here than I did, but God had another plan," he said.
Sumey will leave his loving mark on the community. He and First Pres were instrumental in helping the nonprofit CDAIDE, which helps food service and hospitality workers, get off the ground."
"It came out of the question that we asked, 'Who are the people with the greatest needs who are closest to the church's front door?'" he said. "It became clear to us that people that worked in the restaurant and hospitality industry just had a lot of needs and they needed a lot of care."
The church will be the first office site for CDAIDE, which has previously not had an official brick-and-mortar space.
"That's just another way we've been able to come alongside," he said. "We're just profoundly grateful that we were given a vision for how we could help and it turned out to be what was needed and it resonated with people.
"When love just gets right to where it's needed without a lot of mucky muck, that's always a good thing and people appreciate it," he said.
Being a good neighbor is a First Pres priority. When the North Idaho College Children's Center was smashed by trees in the January windstorm, "they had a place to turn," Sumey said. "If a little new church like Doxa, a church that meets here now, if they needed a place to get launched, they could turn to us."
"It's just something that would have a heart, not just be a location, not just be a denomination, and not be a bunch of statements or pronouncements, but people actively showing, demonstrating the love of God," he said.
Actively participating in the community has brought joy to Sumey through the years. He smiled as he talked about when someone was shocked seeing him at the church after seeing him downtown.
"All they knew me as was somebody that volunteered for Oktoberfest every year. My wife and I would always work at the ticket table," Sumey said. "He saw us just hanging out downtown and I thought, 'That is the coolest.' That's what I want, to be somebody who's not behind walls."
Sumey's friends and parishioners will miss many things about him. Sam and Jeannie Logozzo remember the first Christmas Eve service they attended.
"We were blown away and began attending regularly after that," they wrote in a farewell note. "You were the magnet — we were the steel!"
Addressed to Craig and wife Lynn, Jerri and Jeri Lee thanked them "for raising First Pres from the dead."
"We love and admire you and mourn your loss to us but wish you fun and adventure in your new life," the Lees wrote. "May it bring you all you hope for."
As a last thought, Sumey shared that North Idaho is a lovely place to live, but he "can't help but think its inherent beauty is being threatened right now."
"I think God wants us to work hard to have covenant with each other, and that's not just church, that's a command that I think we're given as humans," he said. "We are called to want more than just what's best for ourselves."
He said the rhetoric he hears in this community is that people think what is best for them is only best for them and those who think the same way, and they're willing to exclude others if they get in the way.
"There's much greater joy at the end of the day in caring for each other than in only caring for yourself," Sumey said. "There is greater blessing, the community is thriving and great things can get done, which benefit everyone and doesn't leave anybody out."
He said he encourages fellow Coeur d'Alene residents and all Christians to "re-examine that covenant that we have, just by virtue of being human."
"If we don't re-examine it and claim it for each other, for the whole, this community will fragment," he said. "We'll be surrounded by God's natural beauty, but the human part will be corrupted and ugly. That won't honor God's creation that's around us."
Online and in-person worship will be at 9 a.m. Sunday.