Rev. Natalie Hanson, is an experienced member of the United Methodist Church community with a couple of local connections. She was born in Jamestown and grew up in Westfield before attending high school in Amherst.
"I came back at the request of the bishop, but also with great joy," said the Rev. Hanson, whose husband, Paul Womack, is a pastor at Hurlbut United Methodist Church on the grounds of Chautauqua Institution.
Most of the Rev. Hanson's professional work took place in urban areas, including Rochester. She completed her undergraduate studies at Wesleyan University in Connecticut before moving on to Harvard Divinity School for seminary work.
Prior to joining Christ First, the Rev. Hanson served as district superintendent of the Niagara Frontier region of the United Methodist Church for eight years. She supervised 81 churches in that position.
Since returning to Jamestown, the Rev. Hanson has felt right at home.
"There are so many things I missed; I didn't realize I missed them until I got back to the church," she said. "I spent the first month grinning."
The Rev. Hanson has particularly enjoyed the opportunities for direct interaction with parishioners. Her superintendent position consisted of a great deal of networking; she advised others on how to help people get involved in the community. Now her job is to directly involve herself with Jamestown area residents.
"That's my job again, and that's wonderful. It's a blessing to be here with everyone," she said. "The urban character of Jamestown and some of the challenges it's facing feels very much like home to me."
After several months at Christ First, the Rev. Hanson hopes to increase the diversity of the church's parishioners. She'd like to see a mixture of longtime residents and newcomers to the area, a blend of young people and the elderly, and a melting pot of high- and low-income residents.
"We want to serve and reflect our community. The north side has it all," she said.
In addition to the church's 8:30 and 10:45 Sunday morning worship services, it hosts several area functions, meetings and organizations, including scout troops, an adult day care, Taking Off Pounds Sensibly, Alcoholics Anonymous, Mozart Chorus and the Northside Food Pantry.
Most days of the week, citizens from throughout the city step in and out of the church for various reasons.
The Rev. Hanson believes each church has its own flavor, but for three reasons, she thinks Christ First stands out.
She cited the church's community service projects, led by Charlie Hodges, as the first. Hodges involves himself in various initiatives throughout the city. He recently led a volunteer construction effort on the Child Advocacy Program office on West Third Street and an initiative to feed the hungry last fall.
Secondly, the Rev. Hanson feels the church's parishioners care for each other and everyone in the Jamestown community deeply, citing a high level of nurture and interaction.
Her final reason falls into the realm of the arts, one of the city's well-known strengths.
The Rev. Hanson described Christ First's music program, led by director Steve Woods and organist Ron McEntire, as "excellent."
"They provide us with an astounding range in music throughout the year," she said. "When you have the gift of music, that makes a huge difference."
In addition to that gift, the Rev. Hanson and the parishioners at Christ First have something else they can share every Sunday morning throughout the year. That's what kept the Rev. Hanson smiling when she first took the position.
"I love worship," she said. "You get to share people's lives. You go through seasons together; You share life experiences. It's a wonderful thing."