The parishioners of First Presbyterian Church watched with joy as Sally Ann McKenzie Sisk joined them on Sunday for the service’s sermon.
The daughter of Tim and Pam McKenzie, she grew up in the church and is now a semester away from completing her work at Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta.
As Sisk said in an earlier interview, she described the joys she found in the Presbyterian church.
“It’s a connectional denominational church, providing a larger network of churches,” Sisk said. She and two other young seminary students at the time also grew up together in a church, where they reiterate that they were nurtured and loved.
Her sermon Sunday brought her message as well to the congregants of Hayden Baptist Church, the 144-year-old church that was destroyed by a fire in July. Sisk spoke warmly with Hayden’s pastor, the Rev. Robert Heflin, following her sermon and the service.
“I was sad to hear about the story of their church,” Sisk said. “It was such a beautiful church, and I can’t imagine that happening. My heart goes out to them.”
Last year she married Drew Sisk. They met as undergraduates at Furman University and Drew now works as a graphic designer.
In 2011, Sally Ann did an internship with a church in Atlanta, then worked as a chaplaincy intern at Northside Hospital there.
“The hospital is so different from parish ministry,” Sisk said. “I did a lot of crisis ministry, responding to end of life situations – meeting with families and parents. It was a difficult experience, yet I found it rewarding, working with other students and chaplains.”
As she noted in her sermon, however, every time the phone rang during her on-call hours, Sisk would panic, fearing the worst.
“Mary and Joseph must have feared the worst too when they realized Jesus was missing on the road,” Sisk said during her sermon. “He could have been kidnapped, hurt or killed, and they must have known it. I cannot imagine the fear that crept through them.”
At the hospital, a call from Labor and Delivery ultimately stunned Sisk. She had experienced tragic scenes, but this time, the patient’s husband greeted her joyfully for his healthy newborn son. The couple named the child Sierra Leone and asked Sisk to pray for their son.
“And afterward, I marveled at my own surprise,” Sisk said. “Didn’t I know what I was in for? Had I forgotten the God I was working with?”
Even when life ended, Sisk said, she remembered Sierra Leone and the incarnate God’s continued presence. “Perhaps it took a jarring encounter with her son for Mary to also remember the God she said “yes” to in the first place,” Sisk said.
As she approaches her last semester, she would consider hospital chaplaincy, but Sisk does feel called to parish ministry.
“That could change, but I do love the preaching and pastoral aspect,” she said.