Jeff Warner of Greenbelt said he had planned to pursue a career in electrical engineering, but he felt a charge to minister to college students instead.
That calling led him to minister to students at the University of Maryland, College Park, and the founding of Maryland Christian Fellowship Community Church three years ago.
“If someone had told me 30-plus years ago, you’re going to go into ministry, I would have laughed,” said Warner, 53. “But I have no regrets, because I love helping people.”
MCF Community Church of Greenbelt is a nondenominational Christian church that meets at the Hilton Garden Inn in Greenbelt on Sundays and still serves as a support for the University of Maryland, College Park, student ministry, MCF Students.
Warner, originally from Ohio, said he left vacuum manufacturer The Hoover Company to follow his passion of university ministry at Kent State University, where he met his wife, Dawn.
Warner said he relocated to Maryland in 1989 due to his wife’s military service and there he took over the University of Maryland ministry, which at the time had eight members.
“Our tag line for years has been, ‘Experience God,’” Warner said. “That’s what we’ve tried to do is help people have an encounter with Jesus that’s life-transforming. The work we do isn’t all spiritual. A lot of it is life — how to balance a checkbook, relational stuff they’re working through, past abuse.”
Aaron Lohr of Burtonsville was a freshman at the university when he met Warner in 1997. Originally from Huntington, Lohr said Warner became an “away-from-home father figure” for him.
“He kept me on the straight and narrow, kept me from hanging out with a ‘bad’ crowd,” Lohr said.
Three years ago, several alumni decided to create a community church, with Warner as pastor, that has grown from 30 members to about 100.
Warner said the church does a number of outreach efforts, including giving away free gas cards, assisting with a local food bank and other activities.
“We just want to serve the community. We’re not trying to get an award,” Warner said. “Our hope is for people to see our faith in Christ in action.”
On June 22, Warner was recognized by MCF congregation members for his quarter-century of work with the church.
Warner, who has two children attending Eleanor Roosevelt High School, also has been actively involved in the Greenbelt school, leading its Christian Club, and organizing student volunteers to paint bleachers and curbs, and help with other beautification projects. He also has presented a series of nonreligious workshops, “Taming Teens,” for parents. For his efforts, Warner was awarded one of three 2014 Amazing Parent Awards on June 6 by education nonprofit In Reach Inc.
“Mr. Warner has been an amazing parent volunteer this year,” said Reginald McNeill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s principal, who nominated Warner for the award. “He continues to offer great ideas to make Roosevelt a better place for students and parents.”
Warner said people sometimes ask him why he continues to work with teens and young adults, even into his 50s.
“I tell them, ‘If you had the front-row seat that I have, to watch God work in the lives of people on a daily basis, why would you ever want to give that up?” Warner said.