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Benson takes the pulpit at Cranberry Community United Presbyterian Church

The Rev. Jim Benson, senior pastor at Cranberry Community United Presbyterian Church in Cranberry Township, has been at his new position with the church since Aug. 1. The new position was something of a homecoming for the New Castle native. Cary Shaffer/Butler Eagle

CRANBERRY TWP — It took more than a year, but Cranberry Community United Presbyterian Church finally landed its new senior pastor in the Rev. Jim Benson.

The New Castle native took over the pulpit in the 40-year-old church at 2662 Rochester Road on Aug. 1, replacing the late Rev. Jim Moran.

He will be assisted by associate pastor Dena Roy.

John Hammann, of Economy, a member of Cranberry Community’s seven-member pastor nominating committee, said, “It took us over a year. It was about 14 months.”

“We seriously wanted to make a reach for excellence, for a person with the right biblical background,” Hammann said.

“We are a fairly conservative and biblically basic congregation,” Hammann said. “We wanted someone who interpreted the Bible in an orthodox manner.”

Lengthening the search, Hammann added, was necessary because “there is a great demand for pastors. The market for pastors has become tight, if you will.

“Still we were looking for the right fit, no compromises.”

The committee used the Presbyterian church’s database of active ministers that helps to match ministers with churches looking for a pastor.

“We had over 300 resumes, and we intensely reviewed 155,” he said. “We ranked them numerically in 17 areas on an Excel spreadsheet. And we advertised in several Presbyterian magazines.”

Once the committee began to narrow in on Benson, the committee members viewed his sermons and lectures on YouTube and Facebook.

Benson said he met with church members several times before he was invited to perform a guest sermon June 19. After the sermon, the congregation voted to offer him the pastorship.

Benson formally assumed pastorship of the 40-year-old church and its 256-member congregation Aug. 1.

Benson comes to Cranberry Community from the Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Rock Island, Ill.

He was born and raised in New Castle, graduated from Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio, graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Mass., and is working on his doctorate from seminary.

Before he found the calling, Benson said he was a grocery store manager, worked in life insurance and taught school.

He views his new position as something of a homecoming. He, his wife, Katrina, who is an orchestra teacher in the Chartiers Valley School District, and his two sons, Ian, 12, and Cameron, 4, live in Aleppo Township, Allegheny Township, about 20 minutes from the church.

The commute makes it easy for Benson to keep office hours at the church and prepare for the church’s 10 a.m. Sunday worship service.

“It’s been 16 years since I’ve lived in Pennsylvania,” said Benson. “I still have friends in the area.”

“I was at Good Shepherd for seven and a half years,” he said. “Good Shepherd doesn’t exist any more. There were four Presbyterian churches in Rock Island. Part of my work was helping those four churches become one.”

“My brother lives in Oakdale. I’ve never lived less than 600 miles from my family,” Benson said, so when Cranberry Community contacted him, it seemed like a good fit and a chance to move back to his home state.

“This church valued education and biblical teaching and wanted to grow in discipleship,” Benson said.

By happenstance, Benson said he was in Pennsylvania to meet his brother about some of his late mother’s property, when Cranberry Community contacted him about arranging a Zoom interview.

“I told them, ‘I’m 25 minutes away.’ We actually met here and had a wonderful conversation. I was very forthright about who I was. They apparently liked that,” said Benson.

“I’m orthodox, and by that I mean I hold to the historical interpretation of the Bible,” he said.

“I’m still feeling my way around a little bit,” he said of his new church. “I know they want to grow in discipleship and reach into the community. I want to help them in those areas. This is a thoughtful, engaged church. I really appreciate it. Those are things I value.”

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