Jeff Finley

Jeff Finley

Light + Life Executive Editor

Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined the Light+Life team in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media. He is a member of John Wesley Free Methodist Church where his wife, Jen, serves as the lead pastor.

by Jeff Finley

Several years ago, Zoe Hatcher sensed God calling her to serve Him in a new way, but she wasn’t sure exactly what that meant and how it connected with her longtime involvement at Open Arms Community Church in Bradford and Port Allegany, Pennsylvania. 

“I had already been a Christian for about 20 years at that point. I had been working in children’s ministry on staff at our church. At the time, I had been there [at Open Arms] about 14 or so years, so we were solidly in the church. My husband had been on staff as well,” Hatcher said during an interview with Light + Life at the E2022:[Her]Story conference. “I loved what I did. I homeschooled my kids and loved children’s ministry. I never thought I would do anything else.”

But then she “felt this stirring” that “God was calling me to more,” said Hatcher, who added she had previously found herself drawn to Isaiah 60 and 61. Verses filled her mind: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. … He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”

Her call to ministry seemed stronger, but she wasn’t sure how to interpret it. 

“I could just feel Him calling me out and Him noticing me and calling me to more, but in my mind, I’m just thinking, ‘OK, well, I didn’t finish my degree. I probably need to go back to school,’ and I started to look into different schools,” she said. “The more that I dug in, the more that I realized, no, I don’t think that’s it.”

Along with her four biological children, she served as a foster mother for eight children until she had to stop fostering to help care for her ailing father-in-law. She then became a court advocate for foster children.  

“I’m pressing into basically just anything that I felt fulfilling Isaiah 60 and 61,” said Hatcher, who prayed, “I’m freeing the captives, Lord. You’re calling me to do more than children’s ministry, so OK, I’ll press into this.” 

But advocating for foster children didn’t seem like all the ministry God intended for her, and she wasn’t sure what other ministry options existed in the local church. Although Open Arms’ denomination, the Free Methodist Church USA, ordains women, she didn’t initially consider becoming a pastor. 

“I had not seen a woman in any role other than working with children and women,” she said.

“I knew we were a Free Methodist church, but [being a woman pastor] wasn’t like anything that I had experienced. Our church’s target was men and younger men, so to be a woman in ministry was not something I even thought was a possibility in our context.” 

She looked at other options such as becoming a social worker or a counselor. 

“I very much had a passion for bringing freedom and help to those who are in need,” she said, but “God just kept closing every single door.”

GC19 Awakening

Then she went to the FMCUSA’s General Conference 2019 even though the timing seemed less than ideal.


“Lord, I’m not trying to be disobedient. I’m not trying to run, but I have no idea what you’re trying to say to me.”


“It was a really busy season in my family’s life. Our oldest two children are twins, and they got married six weeks apart: one a few weeks before GC, one a few weeks after GC,” she said. “We were in full wedding prep swing, and it was not on my radar at all to be thinking anything else about ministry.”

She chose the children’s ministry track for GC19. 

“I was excited about that, but very quickly, I realized that I was not there for children’s ministry,” said Hatcher, who felt more stirring as she saw different ministries being featured during the conference. “God was just showing, ‘Yes, you are a part of this, and look around you. I’m calling you very much to be a bigger part of that.’”

During the conference, Linda Adams became the first woman elected as a Free Methodist bishop.

“I saw Bishop Linda elected, and it completely blew my mind that it was a possibility,” she said. “I was just unsettled.”

But she had another family wedding on which she needed to focus as soon as she returned home, so she pushed thoughts of women in church leadership aside but “got to the place shortly after that where I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I just didn’t have an appetite.”

She decided her lack of hunger meant she should be fasting. She prayed, “Lord, I’m not trying to be disobedient. I’m not trying to run, but I have no idea what you’re trying to say to me.”

She went on a weekend retreat and read John 20 in which Mary Magdalene met the resurrected Jesus at the tomb, and she also sensed God speaking to her through the passage.

“Jesus just showed himself to her, a woman, and said, ‘Go and tell the brothers,’” Hatcher said. “It was very clear, the Lord said, ‘I see. I know you’re a woman. I know. I made you, and go tell the brothers. Don’t tell the children’s ministry. Don’t tell the women’s ministry. Go tell others.”

Hatcher protested, “I’ve never preached before. I don’t have the education. I’m in a church that reaches men.”

Despite these concerns, she said, “I just knew that I had to obey Him, and He just kept speaking, but I was scared to death.” She left the retreat knowing “God has called me to preach, but I didn’t know where to go with it, so I didn’t tell my husband. I didn’t tell my pastor. I just kind of sat on it.”

Meanwhile, Open Arms prepared for major change. 

“It was the very same week that our pastor [Michael McAvoy] had announced that he was leaving, and he was up for election for [Southeast Region Conference] superintendent,” said Hatcher, who felt a new “stirring that God was calling me up to lead within the church, and I became a part of the transition team.”

The team discussed who might become the church’s next lead pastor. Hatcher sensed that the possibilities being discussed were not ideal for Open Arms, but she had not yet revealed that God was calling her to a new form of ministry. She finally told the team, “There’s got to be other options.”

A team member responded, “OK, well, what would it look like if someone rose up from within?”

Although Hatcher knew the community and the church well, she wasn’t sure how she might be able to serve Open Arms as lead pastor. Then a team member asked, “OK, so say Zoey was called to step up?” 

“I’m laughing like Sarah, ‘How dare you; don’t mention my name,’” Hatcher recalled. 

The transition team discussed the Free Methodist ordination system’s steps (none of which Hatcher had taken).

“I just went home, and I was just so grieved,” said Hatcher, who prayed, “Lord, it feels impossible, but there can’t be another way for our church.” 

“I love these people, and I could just see all their faces and the struggles and the trials that they’ve been through,” she said. “I couldn’t sleep at all, and I’m crying.”

Her calling became clearer and she prayed, “OK, Lord. I’m not going to fight it anymore. I don’t care what it takes, or what it means. I have no idea what it’ll look like, but I’ll say yes.”

When her husband, Josh, woke up, she explained what was happening.

“We really had to seek the Lord because of the background we came from,” said Hatcher, who told her husband, “Honey, all I can tell you is what Jesus said to me. All I know is what I experienced and that I have to say yes or it’s disobedience.”

She said that Josh “sought the Lord. He felt a peace completely and 100% knows that I was called by God.”

She met with McAvoy who asked her, “Do you want me to put your name in for nomination?” 

“I had my LMC (local ministerial candidate) interview the next week. And then 24 hours later, I had my MEG (Ministerial Education and Guidance) Board interview and became a CMC,” said Hatcher, who took the required “Free Methodist History and Polity” course during the next six weeks. 

After a December 2019 announcement, she officially became Open Arms’ interim pastor in January 2020.

“My first time ever preaching in my life was two weeks before I was appointed interim,” said Hatcher, who acknowledged she was “scared out of my mind. I really had absolutely no experience other than teaching children, which I found was actually similar.”

Bishop Linda Adams invited her to the Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy conference in March 2020. Hatcher attended with two other Open Arms staff members exploring their callings.

“To see a room full of women that were pastoring and leading churches like I am, it completely blew my mind,” Hatcher said. “It just changed my paradigm forever.” 

She was officially appointed Open Arms’ lead pastor in May 2020 at the first in-person service following 10 weeks of only online worship because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While all congregations were hit by the challenges of the pandemic, Open Arms also experienced what Hatcher described as “a crazy change in leadership in our church” that included the Port Allegany campus pastor leaving last year. She noted that the church went “from two male leaders to three top female leaders” not what members may have expected from a congregation with a longtime strategy of attracting families by targeting men. 

Despite the challenges, “God is so faithful in it. I’m just learning to lean into what He’s called, just saying what it is that He’s asked me to say,” said Hatcher, who added the church unveiled a new vision for Open Arms last fall. “It’s been received really well, and we’re moving forward. There’s some new life new growth coming back, and we’re all praying to see the other side of COVID.”

Discipleship and Engagement

Open Arms recently launched a network of microchurches. Some are theme-based (Promises of God, Restoring Hope, Where You Are) or appeal to a specific gender (for example, Tribe of Lions for men and EmpowHer for women), but all of the microchurches have a common mission of organically making disciples.

“We have 10 active microchurches right now,” said Hatcher, who explained that Open Arms is  “trying to address the discipleship problems of not seeing people engage.” 

While Opens Arm now works to attract both men and women, the congregation continues to reach a group that may not be welcomed by some churches.

“A lot of the people that we were reaching at that time of the transition were recovering addicts. We’re still reaching recovering addicts,” Hatcher said. “That demographic actually has grown.”

The congregation is living into the Isaiah 61 vision “to bind up the brokenhearted.”

“We’re targeting reaching broken people, and they were already among us,” she said. “I think it’s just clarifying the call of what God has already called us to as a church.”

She said the area is home to “a lot of mental illness, a lot of addiction and a really high rate of overdose,” and Opens Arms is developing support group ministries even though the efforts won’t be easy.

“There’s this own level of challenges that come with reaching people that are in whatever stage of brokenness,” she said. “We have some young families, some older people, middle age, all across the spectrum, but if we look at the common thread, in the majority of the congregation, they either have a loved one who’s struggling with some sort of addiction or brokenness, or they themselves are in addiction or some sort of brokenness.”

Hatcher’s sermons have addressed changes within the church and also the needs of the community.

“We are to be out making disciples and multiplying disciples, and, yes, reaching the broken,” said Hatcher, whose sermons last year often discussed “dealing with changing religious mindsets toward people that are broken and hurting trying to address that and bring compassion and more of a holistic perspective towards ministry.”

This year, sermons have focused more on personal challenges. A recent series on sexuality provided a biblical perspective with guidance from “Loving From Where We Stand: A Call to Biblically Faithful Ministry With the LGBTQ+ Community” by Bruce N.G. Cromwell.  

“We’re digging into that with the youth group as well with some of the resources and dealing with people deconstructing their faith,” said Hatcher, who added that the church “is dealing with that solid foundation of truth, and now we’re going to be starting a series on holiness … introducing our holiness background to people that really don’t understand.”

Overcoming Challenges

Hatcher understands what it’s like to experience challenging circumstances.

“My dad was an alcoholic, abusive” she said. “My parents got divorced when I was 9. And I left with my mom and my younger sister.”

Her mother struggled with mental illness.


“I felt firmly that I never wanted to see another kid go through that again.”


“We ended up back with my dad,” she said. “Battling that abuse and coming out of that background, I felt firmly that I never wanted to see another kid go through that again.”

She became a Christian at age 15 after her stepmother who was a Christian but didn’t often attend church took her to a Brethren Church youth rally. She said it was the “first time I’d ever heard that Jesus would have a personal relationship with me and that He actually knew me.” Then a girl on her bus invited her to join a Baptist youth group, and she began attending that church regularly.

The next year, her father and stepmother split, and her father began dating another woman.

“She was struggling,” Hatcher said. “I remember ministering to her and talking to her, and I led her to the Lord at 16, and God clearly said, ‘This is what I want you to do for the rest of your life.’”

She assumed that meant some form of counseling and attended Liberty University where she met and married Josh. “Right out of the gate, we had twins on our one-year anniversary. We got married on the Fourth of July ’98, and they were born on the Fourth of July ’99,” she said. “We had two other children after that.”

Hatcher has transitioned from homeschooling mom and children’s worker to lead pastor of a multisite church.

“Even in the midst of the crazy change, God so loves and has a plan for all His people,” she said. “My prayer in this journey is that it would open the door for other women and other people that never thought [pastoral ministry] was an option for them. If God has called you to something, do it.” +

Jeff Finley

Jeff Finley

Light + Life Executive Editor

Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined the Light+Life team in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media. He is a member of John Wesley Free Methodist Church where his wife, Jen, serves as the lead pastor.