This past week I came to an agreement with the First Baptist Church in Pittsfield to serve as its interim pastor. I’ll begin my tenure with them on January 2, 2012. This church is American Baptist. It’s also close enough to where I live that I can walk there.
The prospect excites me. This will be the largest church I will have served. It’s a big church for Pittsfield and right downtown. It’s across the street from the Berkshire Museum and also across the street from the church where I did my internship. Its building also houses a local program for pregnant teens and the local immigrant center. It serves as the city’s Monday night site for public suppers (the suppers are rotated among different organizations in the community). They are also a church that welcomes LGBT people and has that designation from its denomination.
There’s a lot running through my head right now. Although I don’t officially start serving the church until January 2, already I’m beginning to think about this ministry.
This rumination, though, is not about this specific ministry. Rather, it is the unpredictability of the Holy Spirit. This church is the second one in a row that I’ll be serving that is not in the United Church of Christ. (My previous congregation was the United Methodist Church of Lenox, which I finished on June 30.)
Without going into a lot of detail, interim pastors serve congregations in transition, typically between settled pastors. Each interim situation has its own challenges. Sometimes a pastor leaves for another church. Another could be following a pastoral misconduct. Others could be a pastor retires. Some might think interim pastors come into churches to “straighten” them out or to help them “grieve” the departed pastor. While these could be the case, an interim can also help the congregation by asking it questions and helping it to figure out how God calls it to be the body of Christ.
I’m thinking of the hymn, God Moves in a Mysterious Way. Indeed, we can’t always figure out God. The Holy Spirit moves in ways that will always be a mystery. If I charted my trajectory of ministry when I started, it would not have taken me to this church. I did not imagine that I would serve churches as an interim outside of my denomination. Even with my start, half-time pastorates, I would not have imagined that I’d serve a large urban church in the city I’ve called home for over 20 years.
It’s been tough not working much since the beginning of July. I also sent inquiries out to a few churches and got turn downs or no responses (I was really glad that one didn’t respond). But I remained hopeful and kept doing ministry even when it didn’t pay much or was unpaid.
Do I believe my patience has been rewarded? I don’t know. But I do know that God did not let me wander alone these past few months. And now I see that the Holy Spirit was at work.
So, this feels good. Not only am I able to work with a church that seems poised to re-imagine itself and its ministries, I also do it in a city I’ve gotten to know over the years. I’ve got a vested interest in this.