by Sharon Williams
Nueva Vida Norristown (PA) New Life (NVNNL) recently celebrated Pastor Ertell Whigham for his 50 years of ministry with a gala and dinner. Friends, family, and ministry associates from the Norristown community, Mosaic Conference, and beyond joined the congregation with tributes and stories to share. A highlight of the evening was a jazz concert led by Pastor Ertell, given as a “musical love letter” for all of us. The offering was designated by Pastor Ertell for the congregation’s capital campaign, Enlarging Our Place in God’s World.
In December, Pastor Ertell completed 33 years of ministry as one of the three founding Associate Pastors at NVNNL.
After coming to faith in Jesus Christ in 1970, Ertell began ministering as a lay leader in visitation and youth outreach. When he and his family moved to Reading, PA, a neighbor introduced them to Buttonwood Mennonite Church and Lancaster Mennonite Conference. The congregation called him into ministry by lot and credentialed him as a bi-vocational pastor.
A job transfer relocated the Whigham family to Pastor Ertell’s home neighborhood in North Philadelphia in 1980, where he was called to join the ministry team at Diamond Street Mennonite Church.
One Sunday in 1985, Pastor Ertell was invited to preach at Bethel Mennonite Church in Norristown, PA. After the service, the Church Council Chair handed him a key to the front door of the church and urged him to become Bethel’s pastor. He accepted the call, and his wife Pat developed the children’s ministry. By God’s grace, they were able to provide stability and vision for the congregation.
In 1988, God was raising a vision for a different kind of Anabaptist witness in Norristown. Pastor Ertell was instrumental in discerning and leading the vision with Pastor Paul Leichty (First Mennonite) and Pastor Henry Ortiz (Fuente de Salvación). The three Mennonite congregations came together to form Nueva Vida Norristown New Life (NVNNL) Mennonite Church in 1990.
NVNNL became one of the nation’s first intercultural, bilingual Anabaptist congregations. The three ministers formed an intercultural pastoral team and became Associate Pastors—a model that NVNNL continues to embrace. Sister Pat Whigham’s emphasis on children grew into Precious Life Ministries, a Christian childcare center based in the NVNNL meetinghouse.
Whigham served as a Conference Minister and Executive Minister/CEO of Franconia Mennonite Conference from 2000–2016. He also served as the Board Director of Mennonite Health Services from 2012–2016. In 2007, Pastor Ertell received Mennonite Mission Network’s Urban Leader Award.
Currently, Whigham is an interim Leadership Minister with Mosaic Conference, a senior consultant with Manna Visions LLC, and a post leader/peace advocate with Pointman International Ministries, a healing ministry for military veterans.
Pastor Ertell and Sister Pat are blessed to have three adult children, six grandchildren, and Ertell’s energetic, independent, 102-year-old mother, who lives nearby. They also provide a “forever home” for rescued Rottweilers. Whigham spends his leisure time leading a gospel jazz band in which he plays alto saxophone.
Sharon K. Williams is the Minister of Worship at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life in Norristown, PA.