Almost a month into her new position at First United Methodist Church of Oceanside, the Rev. Pearlina Lobban says she is feeling the love. “[They’re] very warm and welcoming and very supportive,” she said of her new Oceanside family. “It’s just a matter of getting to know the folks.”
Lobban, 61, was born in Jamaica, the eldest of eight siblings, and recalls playing a caretaker’s role. She described being nurtured at the Portmore Missionary Church, where she became an active member, singing in the choir and participating in weekly street and prison ministries. “I began to seek a deeper meaning,” she said. “Not just what I was taught, but I wanted to experience it for myself.”
She came to the United States in 1991, when she was 32, and moved in with her aunt in Floral Park. Her search for a local place of worship led her to the South Floral Park United Methodist Church, she said. She became an active member, chairing the outreach and witness committees, leading the Wednesday-morning prayer meetings and sharing in the pulpit duties as a lay speaker.
In 2000, Lobban said, her church community “recognized the gifts and the graces that were evident in my life, and said that I should go into ministry.” So she enrolled at the Bethel Bible Institute in Jamaica, Queens, and in 2005 she moved on to the New York Theological Seminary. In 2014 she became a pastor in East Hampton, which was the start of a difficult time, she said.
“When I was appointed to East Hampton, it was a two-hour drive …,” she said. “Every Sunday, I was commuting four hours. It was a joy for me to go and serve, but when you think about the distance … My husband started out coming with me, but after six months, he said, ‘I can’t do this,’ because the traffic was so bad.”
Lobban works on the weekends at Rikers Island as a phlebotomist, running blood tests on inmates. Her hours, from 4 p.m. until midnight, meant that she arrived home at 1 a.m. On Saturday nights, she would get less than five hours of sleep before commuting two hours to East Hampton, leading the church’s service and driving back.
She said that she relied on God to help her through that time. “I was able to trust the Lord,” she recalled, “and go forth knowing that the promise he has given me, that ‘I am with you, always’ — that sustained me.”
September will mark Lobban’s 12th year at Rikers. She says the most fulfilling part of the job is when she makes a difference in an inmate’s life. “We’re not really allowed to spend that much time with the inmates,” she said. “But I’ve had moments where, during that time, I’m able to get just a few encouraging words in to the person I’m seeing. You know, it’s like a revolving door: They go out, they come back and sometimes they say, ‘I remember what you said, and it made a difference.’”
Making a difference, one person at a time, is what Lobban says she wants to bring to her new spiritual home in Oceanside. She says that every pastor who passes through a church is a step on a journey, and each one brings something different to the community.
“I want to bring people to that level of spirituality, and I’m hoping to get the word out into the community that we’re a warm, welcoming congregation and a place to come and feel free, come and worship,” she said. “I want this to be a place where people can come and experience the light, come and feel blessed.”