The Rev. Alexander Haines, the new pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Howell, is feeling happily at home in Livingston County.
“I started here in January and I’ve fallen in love with the area, with the fantastic connection between town and country. But more than that, I’ve fallen in love with the church community I’ve found here,” Haines said. “This is an incredible group of people who genuinely look out for each other — I can’t count the number of people who’ve told me they’ve discovered a church family here that’s really welcomed them.”
He’s excited about the opportunity for growth at First Presbyterian, and the church welcomed nine new members earlier this month.
“We want to seek the good of our city community, too,” Haines said. “I’ve been really proud of members who are giving a lot of themselves to do good for Howell, sometimes in really visible ways, and sometimes in invisible ways.”
Raised near Minneapolis, Haines’ road to Howell provided him with experiences in a variety of places that helped form his appreciation of different cultures.
“I’ve gotten a wider view from living in different places in the country and abroad, but it’s really only a tiny glimpse of a wide world,” Haines said. “I have learned this, at least: we are all immersed in culture and place. There is no such thing as a generic person: each of us is nourished and formed (or malformed) by the culture and the place that surrounds us.”
Haines said he learned that God meets us as we are: “There’s no sense of cultural superiority in Christianity.”
In his travels, Haines said he saw some churches that misunderstood the gospel message, becoming exclusive or paternalistic.
“Racism and economic devastation are not just social problems. They’re acts of spiritual warfare,” Haines said. “They spiritually harm people who have become blind to their neighbors, and they can keep the gospel from going out.”
In high school, Haines spent a year in Austria as a foreign exchange student. He went on to graduate from Claremont McKenna College in Southern California with a degree in religious studies and government. While there, he participated in the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship where he and other students studied the Bible.
He received his master of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey. He interned at churches, a hospital and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations in New York. Haines was then ordained, and he served churches in South Dakota, while also working briefly as a special education paraprofessional on the Standing Rock Reservation, made famous by the protests in 2016 against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
After a long search process, the Pastor Nominating Committee of First Presbyterian Church of Howell selected Haines as their candidate. In November 2018, he preached a sermon to the Church. The congregation unanimously voted to call him as its next pastor, a role he began on Jan. 2, 2019.
For Haines, leading First Presbyterian Church of Howell is an amazing job for many reasons. He gets to learn and teach God’s Word; he’s able to be part of a great church community; and on some lucky days, elementary kids on a field trip come by to ring the church bell.
Aside from his pastoral duties, Haines lives in Livingston County with his wife, Rachel, and their toddler son. In their free time, they love to work outside — especially in their large gardens.
“There’s something wonderful about being outside, working the ground, nurturing plants, and tending the land,” Haines said. “Honestly, that’s not so different from what God wants to do for our Livingston County community: plant seeds of faith that will sprout in people discovering faith for the first time.”
Haines said he is extremely thankful for and feels blessed to have found a home in the First Presbyterian community.
“Just yesterday, someone told me that she had been searching her whole life for a church family, and even though she attended other churches, it wasn’t until she came here that she found it,” Haines said. “That’s what I’ve found here too: deep friendships, rooted in Christ.”