In fight with cancer, a deepening of faith

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 28 November 2014 at 12:00 am

Aleka Schmidt appointed pastor at First Baptist in Albion

Photos by Tom Rivers – Aleka Schmidt has been serving as a guest preacher at the First Baptist Curch in Albion. She starts a one-year, part-time appointment leading the church in January.

ALBION – Aleka Schmidt was 28, married with a 2-year-old daughter when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall of 2006.

It was a fight for survival, with surgery, chemo and radiation. After 18 months, Schmidt completed her treatments and made it through the fight.

“It was hard facing mortality,” she said. “There were body issues and the side effects. But it many ways it stripped away the distractions of life. I listened to the spirit and the God nudges.”

Schmidt said the battle with cancer brought her closer to God. She grew up in Kendall, and attended the Concordia Lutheran Church. When she married Scott Schmidt and moved to Albion, they attended the Barre Center Presbyterian Church. Scott played the organ and Aleka directed the church choir and hand bell choir for a decade.

After cancer, she shared her story at church, about her deepening of faith. She served as guest preacher a few times. Then other churches asked her to preach, including the First Baptist Church in Albion.

Aleka Schmidt when she was fighting cancer.

“I felt like God was preparing me to say something and to do something,” she said. “I want people to know there is hope in this lifetime and in the next.”

Schmidt, now 36, felt a calling to the ministry, and on Jan. 1 she will begin her first pastoral appointment at the First Baptist Church. Schmidt will serve in a part-time role while working on a seminary degree at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester. She also works as a music therapist for The Arc of Orleans County and the Orleans-Niagara BOCES.

She officially starts on Jan. 1, but Schmidt already is preaching and maintaining some office hours at the church. She also is joined by new church organist, Gary Simboli.

Schmidt is a classically trained musician herself. She said music will be a big part of the church’s worship experience.

Her husband is continuing as the organist at the Barre Center church. Mr. Schmidt will be a guest organist at times for the Baptists.

The congregation at the corner of Liberty and West Park streets meets in a building that was constructed in 1860. The building includes a clock tower, numerous stained glass windows and a large pipe organ. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Aleka Schmidt is pictured by the church, which is made of brick and Medina sandstone.

There are only about 15 to 20 regular attendees, but Schmidt said she is impressed by their faith and optimism that the church can make a big difference for the community.

While at the church on Wednesday, she noted that sanctuary was decorated for the holidays.

“They just did it,” she said about the members.

The church-goers also committed to appointing her for the year, while also hiring Simboli, a high school music and drama teacher, to play the organ.

“That is a sign for a hope for the future,” Schmidt said about the church appointments.

Besides preaching on Sundays, Schmidt will do home and hospital visits, program development and represent the church in community events.

She is thankful to be serving the Baptist Church, with a congregation of so many mature and welcoming Christians. Many of them, like her, have seen their faith tested and come out stronger.

“Breast cancer didn’t change me,” she said. “It just made me more of what was already inside.”

The church services start at 10 a.m. on Sundays.