In a few months, First Lady Marilyn Correa and her husband Dr. Alfred Correa will mark one year in pastoral ministry at the Brighton Heights Reformed Church in Staten Island. In Her Words, MariIyn Correa, born in Jamaica and at home in NY since 1996, shares her journey from her salvation to her hopes for the new assignment where God has placed her and her husband.
I met my husband, Rev. Dr. Alfred Correa 16 years ago, at an undergraduate program we attended in Manhattan. Interestingly enough, we were psychology majors, and while we enrolled in the same year, we did not meet each other until the year before I graduated. As we looked back, we were amazed at how many mutual friends we unknowingly shared long before we met each other. God knew best however, and we met each other in His perfect timing. Our friendship developed, when we registered for the same psychology course. At the time, I was working full time, attending school full time in the evenings, active in my church, and raising my three teenaged and young adult children. Romance was nowhere on my radar. In fact, I told God almost three years prior, when I turned 40, that I was content with ‘singleness’ and focused on pursuing my dream of becoming a Psychologist. So, it was not strange that I did not initially notice my soon to be husband who sat behind me during our class.
Our initial meeting was a week before his birthday, when he introduced himself, and requested my assistance. He said he noticed my focus in class and attention to taking notes, and wondered if I would share my notes with him, as he would be absent for the next class. A little surprised by his request but flattered, I agreed to help, and shared my notes with him when he returned to class. This started a friendship, from which love blossomed. We married almost two years later, and today, as we look back over the years of struggle and challenges, we can attest that God has been faithful to us. God has blessed us to raise together our blended family of eight adult children and three beautiful and amazing grandchildren.
Would you share the story of your career path
My passions from early childhood have been my faith in God and psychology. I gave my heart to the Lord at the age of six and knew that I wanted to serve God my whole life. I felt as if I had been searching for Him from my earliest recollections and when I started attending Sunday school and heard the message of the gospel…I knew it was God I was searching for. I often don’t share that story because it sounds so unreal, but it was real to me, and it’s my story. My introduction to my career path came out of my early experiences with my father who suffered from mental illness. My mother, who was training to be a psychiatric nurse, met and married my dad who became a premier motor mechanic. Together they had five girls, with me as the oldest. As I got older, around nine, I began to notice the emotional volatility of my dad, and his extreme mood swings and unpredictable behavior. We were impacted by his changing behaviors, but I kept feeling that his behavior was not willful, and was something he could not control. In my search to discover what was wrong with my dad and impacting his moods and behavior, I began to read my mothers psychiatric textbooks. In them I discovered my love and fascination for understanding the mind and human behaviors. I realized after some study that my dad was emotionally disturbed, and needed treatment to bring relief and return to some normalcy. It was then at age 10 that I decided that I wanted to become a psychologist, so that I could treat and bring healing to people in mental and emotional distress and ‘dis-ease.’ While I experienced many detours in my academic journey along the way, the desire has never left. It took almost twenty years for me to get back on track, but it was while I was living in New York with my mother that she began to encourage me to return to school to pursue my first love, psychology. So in 1998, I took a chance and attended an open house at Marymount Manhattan that turned my life around. Three months later I was enrolled in the spring of 1999. Today I am just months away from completing my PhD in Clinical Counseling at Capella University. I hope to complete my dissertation in 2017.
Your favorite part of sharing ministry with your husband
I think my favorite part of sharing ministry with my husband is that I get to do the things I love and am passionate about with him. We love God passionately and ministering to all God’s people, regardless of their faith heritage and religious background, race, age, economic or social class, and sexual orientation. We laugh at the fact that we are lifelong students, always learning and striving to grow in our faith. We also love passing that knowledge on at every opportunity and setting we are given, whether in an academic setting or in our community. When I look around me I realize that sharing ministry together is a gift to us from God – the fact that we both feel called to share this awesome work that God has called us to do together is a privilege we don’t take for granted. We support each other in being the best version of ourselves and encourage each other to maximize our potential. We are adjunct professors in a graduate mental health counseling department. We are privileged to pass on knowledge and skills to graduate students, to work as professional counselors with people who have been emotionally and psychologically broken through trauma and tragic life experiences. We also get to use our clinical training and knowledge to work with lay and ordained clergy, using a model that integrates psychology and theology, along with other social sciences. We train pastoral care providers in clinical chaplaincy, to learn the skills and theories needed to assess and care for the whole person. This is done through our non-profit, the National Association of Clinical Chaplains, which provides an intensive, semester long training and certification for chaplains, using a trauma sensitive, clinical-theological model. As my husband has accepted the challenge in this new call to serve and lead the Brighton Heights Reformed Church and community on Staten Island’s North Shore, I am excited by all God will do in this new place and new season of our lives. I stand ready to support the work he is called to do by using all God has gifted me with, to love and serve our community, and encourage and build up the women I have been privileged to journey with at this time.
Lady Marilyn Correa
What are you looking forward to at Brighton Heights Reformed Church
We came to BHRC because we believed God was calling us to minister to an area of Staten Island, the North Shore, which is a poorer and often neglected community. It is like the inner city of Staten Island. Our previous church, The Reformed Church of Huguenot Park, was located in the more affluent part of Staten Island, the South Shore, and my husband was the first person of color to pastor the predominantly Caucasian congregation. I believe our tenure there was rewarding and brought healing to the congregation, which had been without a pastor for almost 14 years. We gave ourselves wholeheartedly to serve the church and surrounding communities during the seven years we were there, including the Northshore, where we often did outreach. The congregation was aging and very traditional in their faith practice, so younger families were moving away as their children got older. There came a point in our tenure when we knew that we had done all that God had called us to do in that community. We knew in our hearts we were also called to reach out to the disenfranchised in our communities, not just through financial contributions, but also through being a physical, visible presence of Jesus Christ, touching and meeting the needs of a diverse community. We prayed and sought God to discern His direction for us. The time came when we both confirmed God calling us to another congregation. My husband was in a place of soul searching, and was in need of refreshing and restoration from the Lord.
As his wife, I am very protective of him and felt we needed a time away from church life before answering another call. But my plans were not God’s plans, and so when my husband told me he felt inspired to respond to an opening for a call to pastor Brighton Heights Reformed Church, I have to admit that I was not excited about the timing. I began to cry out to God for rest and a time away to heal, before beginning our new call. I admit I was a little like Sarah, seeking out ways to help the Lord and had things all planned for us to relocate to Pennsylvania. When my plans fell through, I heard the Lord speaking to my heart, not to stand in His way, but to trust Him to work things out in His perfect time and will. It was at that point that I surrendered to Him and began to pray His perfect will be done.
When I did, I began to see God’s hands all over this call. The previous pastor was one of the RCA pastors who had taken my husband under his wing, when he was accepted under care for ordination in the New York Classis. He was a dear friend and mentor to my husband until his death. The Lord also reminded me that I had taken a group of women from our previous congregation to a Women’s Conference hosted by Brighton Heights Women’s Fellowship, almost two years before their pastor died. He reminded me how blessed I was by their ministry and love we experienced there. I could not have imagined then, that my husband would be the one called to serve that church and community as their new pastor.
So, what am I looking forward to at Brighton Heights? I am looking forward to serving and loving this community alongside my husband. Specifically, I am excited to be leading the Women’s Fellowship ministry in this new season. I desire to see us grow in love, in our faith and service to the community as we journey together. We have an amazing group of young people who are gifted in so many ways and love the Lord. We have a youth Orchestra that not only plays for our services, but also plays around the island and other boroughs in New York. I enjoy encouraging them to use their gifts and talents for God. From day one, we have been overwhelmed by the love, support, encouragement, and blessing, that has been poured out on us by the consistory and congregation. This in itself has been healing in ways I could not have anticipated or imagined.
We are now in the center of the North Shore community that is primed for growth and a great move of God. Sadly, the North Shore of Staten Island has been long neglected, and shows the obvious signs of poverty and neglect. As the North is revitalized with the building of the largest Ferris wheel in the world and as investors begin to target the area for redevelopment, our church community wants to be on the forefront. We plan to advocate for the needs of the poor and disenfranchised, so that they are able to access better services and job opportunities.
There is an air of excitement stirring at Brighton Heights, from the youngest to the oldest, and we want to keep that flame glowing through teaching the Word of God, nurturing our youth, training up spiritual leaders – men, women, and youth, who lead by example, in love. We want to be the light on the hill that cannot be hidden, and be a place of refuge and renewal for our community. Truly, eye has not seen or ear heard what God has stored up for us in this next season of our lives at the Brighton Heights Reformed Church. We are looking up to God in excitement and anticipation of all that is to come!
May the Good Lord Continue to Bless the Ministry and Service of Pastor & Lady Correa