SKANEATELES | Mario Bolivar is living the American dream.

The Barranquilla, Colombia native is a legal resident of the United States, recently relocated to Auburn and will obtain his full American citizenship at the end of the year.

And the lawyer-by-training turned minister-by-calling was recently selected to to be the first-ever associate pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Skaneateles, his first assignment out of seminary.

"I just bought my first home in America right about the Fourth of July. I spent like four hours at Home Depot. One of the first things I did when I got to the house was I raised the pole and I put up my American flag to celebrate July 4," he said. "How more American can I get?"

Bolivar and his wife, Melissa, officially moved into their Walnut Street home July 1, and he began his duties at First Presbyterian July 6. Melissa headed back to Dayton, Ohio to finish her current job before joining her husband for good.

During their first weekend in central New York, Bolivar said they went with some new friends to the Skaneateles Country Club and spent the day playing outside, jumping in the lake and enjoying the fireworks.

"It's like Christmas without the presents," he said of he and his wife's welcome to the community. "The congregation has been so overwhelmed with joy and happy, just showing me around, being welcoming. They have presented gifts for the house. They set up the whole office for me."

And that show of love, Bolivar said, is important to him. He left everything behind in Colombia to move to Ohio and then spent eight years there gathering family and friends before moving again.

"I've been overwhelmed by the love and encouragement, with the house, with the calls, with the emails, people stopping by at the office, the little gifts," he said. "They have made the transition that much easier."

As a youth, Bolivar said, he traveled to the United States in 1999 for a church camp and then got invited back as adult to be part of the staff.

After high school, he went to law school and is, in fact, a qualified lawyer in Colombia. But, a minister who he met through the church camp affirmed what Bolivar felt was a calling toward the ministry.

"He shared that I had some gifts for ministry that, while they might be really good for law, it would be for the benefit of the church if I would become a minister," Bolivar said.

So, after finishing law school, he moved to the United States in 2006 to attend the United Theological Seminary in Dayton and went through the process of ordination in the Presbyterian Church of the United States.

"My church here is my first position as an ordained minister," Bolivar said. "My ordination is Sept. 18 of this year. That's when I will complete my process. ... It's been quite the journey."

And that journey continued as Bolivar prepared to find his first position and First Presbyterian sought out its first associate pastor.

Bolivar said prospective pastors fill out a personal information form, while churches a ministry information form. The forms go on a central website, and pastors and churches review one another's information.

"For you to start talking to them, they have to like you and you have to like them," he said, noting each side looks at each other's gifts, strengths, weaknesses, personality and other aspects. "They just consider a lot of things."

Bolivar said he and First Presbyterian started communicating in January, first exchanging emails, then talking via Facetime, then a conversation with Lindsey, and finally a visit and face-to-face interview.

He auditioned by preaching at a church in Marcellus before he and the church each entered a period of prayer to come to the right decision.

"They need to have the spirit of God, asking for the spirit of God's guidance to see what the perfect person is," Bolivar said. "In the end, you never know, but you are trusting in God for him to guide you."

As the associate pastor, Bolivar will work under the Rev. Craig Lindsey, who is the head of staff. Bolivar will focus on youth, Christian education, networking and visitation of members.

And July 9, he hit the ground running — traveling to New York City for a pre-visit ahead of a subsequent youth mission trip July 13-18 with 12 youth and three adults to help feed the homeless around the city.

Among his goals, as well as building the church's youth program, Bolivar said, is taking advantage of new technology and social media to connect with fellow Christians both in the local community and around the world. It's about sharing their faith with others, he said.

"Ultimately, my goals and the goals of the church are the same — to glorify God in everything that we do while connecting each other with the church and the larger community," he said. "The global church is important. It's no longer I'm a Presbyterian, I'm a Lutheran, I'm a Catholic. We are Christians."

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