New officers were installed at the November Presbytery Meeting held at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Albany. Rev. Kate Kotfila stepped into the role of Moderator and Rev. Michael Burkley accepted the role of Vice Moderator. We give thanks for their service. Being new to this position, we took a moment to connect with Michael and learn a little more about him.
Before we get started, can you tell us a little bit about where you grew up, any siblings, your family, etc?
I grew up in Rancocas, a small town in southern New Jersey. It was so small that when everyone was home there were about 250 people in town. There were six streets and one of them no one lived on. Everyone looked out for each other, which was sometimes difficult when you were a kid, but overall I look back on it with a smile. I was baptized in the First Presbyterian Church of Moorestown (five miles from home), but my parents didn’t really participate in the church (then!) so my brother, sister (both older) and I went to the local Methodist Church with our grandmother.
How did you connect with PC(USA)?
In college at the University of Maryland I attended a United Methodist church right off campus for my first year-and-a-half of college. I really wasn’t that comfortable at the church and one day when the college Sunday School teacher asked us what we wanted to study for the next semester, I suggested that we study a book of the Bible. He told me, “Why would you want to study an old book like that?” I don’t remember how I responded to that question; perhaps I was as flabbergasted then as I am now at his question, but I soon decided that I was going to begin attending another congregation. Several of my friends were attending Wallace Memorial Presbyterian Church (a part of the National Capital Union Presbytery at the time), and so I decided to give it a try (after all, I had been baptized in a Presbyterian Church). I immediately felt at home. I loved the church and what I learned there. It was there that I first realized my calling to the pastorate, and I was blessed by the guidance I received there.
While I was in my second year of seminary (at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), I learned that Wallace Memorial was leaving the denomination. That put in a quandary. Would I leave the church I loved or the denomination I was convinced God was calling me to serve? In the end, conviction won over love, and I changed me membership to First Presbyterian Church of Moorestown and came under care of the Presbytery of West Jersey.
Lots of things kept happening: I got married (40 years this coming June), I did a 14 month internship at a church in Wheeling, WV (perhaps the most significant part of my education for ministry), I’ve served in four different churches (over the past 32 years), shared in raising two wonderful children of my own (now almost 34 and 30 years old), and experienced many griefs and joys.
God is good! All the time!
Will you share with us a little bit about how you are associated with the Albany Presbytery?
I’ve been a part of Albany Presbytery for a bit over 11 years now. Like the church I serve (Rockwell Falls, Lake Luzerne), it feels like home. I love being a part of the Albany Presbytery! We are full of differences, yet so many of us are committed to not letting those differences separate us. Do you regularly experience the freedom of being accepted and cherished (i.e.: loved) by someone who disagrees with you on so many important issues?
When that happens you know that love is a choice, and you are chosen. I have experienced that in my ministry with the Albany Presbytery. Priceless!
I am also associated with the Albany Presbytery as the pastor of the Rockwell Falls Presbyterian Church. This congregation is small but full of ministry and hope. It reaches out to care for our community in so many ways. Rumor has it that if you need help you can come to that “Stone Church by the Falls.” Rumors aren’t always bad things! Sometimes they speak the truth.
Share with us a little about your hobbies?
I love to read (SciFi, history, science, current events and more). I’m a polyurethane research chemist by background, and almost every chemist I’ve known has enjoyed cooking. I’m no different. Cooking is a fun creative activity–and you get to eat what you make. Even more fun is when you cook for someone else! Throughout my ministry I’ve made a loaf of home-made bread for every family that comes to our Christmas Eve worship–and more for others who work at businesses in town. Last year I made about 160 loaves of bread. I’ve already had one person volunteer me to make home-made soup and bread for simple dinners before presbytery meetings. Get me a big enough pot and that would be easy!
What are your goals (or how do you see your ministry) as the incoming Vice Moderator?
I told Jerry McKinney that I would be willing to serve somewhere in the presbytery where I might use my skills of drawing people together, of building bridges (metaphorical ones only – you might notice that I didn’t put handiwork on my above list of hobbies) and of helping us communicate with understanding and hope. Right after that was when he told me that the Committee on Representation and Nominations wanted to nominate me as Vice-Moderator!
So if I had to state my goal as Vice-Moderator, I would probably say that bringing people together in love and service will be my main focus. I want us to be glad when we see each other — that’s already true for so many of us, but there’s always room for growth! The moderator and I hope to preach at many of your congregations beginning in January (Click here to see Pulpit Exchange Information). We see that as an opportunity for us to be a blessing to you and your pastors being a blessing to our congregations by preaching there.
Finally, another (and related) goal that I hope to advance this year is to help the congregation I serve see the Presbytery as an important part of what it means for them to be the church. Right now the Presbytery often seems more “them” than “us,” and I hope that changes because I am convinced that our Presbytery (which means you and me and God working together) can be and should be an important part of what it means for us to be the Body of Christ ministering in the world.