The smell of chicken and dumplings enveloped me in warmth as I entered the Stott home, leaving the brisk autumn air behind. Mike Stott greeted me as Jess Stott offered me something to drink. Dinner still had a few minutes to go, so Mike showed me around their cozy abode. Their walls boasted a medley of items, including a Buffalo Bills pennant flag, Jess’s childhood pictures, and a framed photo of Calvin, their cat. Mostly though, there is a lot of art, most of which Mike made. There was also a mosaic of paintings that were painted by Mike’s sister, who has Smith-Magenis syndrome, displayed together. “This one is my favorite,” said Mike, pointing to a canvas filled with color. At that point, Jess called out from the kitchen to announce that dinner was ready. As we settled down to eat, I had the privilege of hearing some of their many stories.
Mike is 33 and Jess is 29. Mike is from the Capital Region of New York and has known Sean Nolan, the pastor of Engage Albany, since their teenage years. Jess is from Indiana but moved to the Capital Region nearly ten years ago. Shortly after Jess arrived in New York, she met Mike; he was playing in the worship band. They began dating a few years later and the rest was, as they say, history. In their free time, Mike likes to read, write, draw, listen to music—anything creative. Jess enjoys puzzles, playing on her Kindle, and going on relaxing day trips, doing activities like geocaching.
When asked about their faith, Jess describes herself as having always been a “goody-two-shoes,” but coming to have a profound sense of trust in Jesus when she was a teen. Meanwhile, God used supernatural acts to shake off Mike’s unbelief and stubbornness in his early twenties. A few years ago, they became pioneering members of Engage; it all started when Sean called them and asked if they would join him in his vision of planting a church in Albany. They agreed, and they met as a group of six in Sean’s living room. Now, Mike and Jess serve at Engage with zeal and compassion that inspires. They are often one of the first people to arrive, and Mike can be found greeting people or manning the Livestream. Jess coordinates the serving schedule and is often teaching in children’s ministry.
“Our hope is that it’s a place where people can be authentic, honest, and vulnerable,”
We moved onto dessert—ooey-gooey pumpkin cake—and I asked Mike and Jess what they are most excited about for Engage’s future. They looked at each other, and I knew they’d discussed this before. “We’re excited to help grow quality disciples,” said Mike. He said Albany is often listed as the least “biblically literate” place in America, but he thinks that Engage Groups can play a pivotal role in changing that distinction. Mike and Jess told stories from their group, which meets in their living room on a weekly basis. “Our hope is that it’s a place where people can be authentic, honest, and vulnerable,” said Jess. Mike agreed, and added that it’s a space where people can share past hurts and find growth, support, and healing in Jesus. As I listened, it became evident that the Stotts work hard to provide an environment where all can be unafraid to share their authentic selves because of the love Jesus first showed them.
As I was driving home that evening, I reflected on my time with the Stotts. I’ve known them for a year, and it occurred to me that they’re some of the most approachable people I’ve ever met, and I know the Engage community would agree. Mike is incredibly creative and has the most entertaining stories. Jess is hilarious and kind. Heck, she offered to let me borrow her car after I told her I had to bring mine to the shop—and that was when she barely knew me! But it is their faith in Jesus and their dedication to their community that stands out above the rest. The Stotts are an invaluable part of the Engage family, and I am so glad both the Stotts and I call Engage home.