When I served as an Interim Associate Conference Minister in the Indiana-Kentucky Conference of the UCC, I was the point person in relating to congregations as they were making the transition from one called minister to the next. As you have experienced, this is a tender time, whatever the circumstances, as congregations turn from one style of pastoral leadership and personality to the person who will follow.
I have often counseled both the incoming pastor and the receiving congregation to be very patient and forgiving with each other. Early impressions can be misleading. There are many layers of interpretation concerning people and events. We strive to be on our best behavior, presenting our best selves, but words are often slippery, not always conveying our intent.
My best advice to you, the good folks of First United Church, and to Pastor Jessica Petersen-Mutai, is to take the time to establish trust and relationships. I believe the best years of ministry in a congregation are years 3, 4 and 5. (Additionally “best years” are possible with suitable planning, good will, and discernment,) Devote those early months and years to trust-building and relationship-forming. You may face some early challenges and disruptions as the society around us will not be on “pause” as you settle in. These occasions may test the bonds between you, but I believe good Christian love and forgiveness will carry the day.
I am advocating for the patience to fold a new person/family into the community of First United Church. You will need time to know each other as the distinct children of God you already are. This congregation has a rich heritage with stories of significant people and events. The past needs to be remembered and honored as the foundation for your present reality. Jessica and her family embody the excitement of new personalities, differing life experiences and enhanced insights into the diverse world in which we live. Many stories need to be told and owned.
Devote the necessary time to become comfortable with each other. The virus has complicated this process of getting acquainted, but you will find ways to persevere. You are not a perfect congregation, and she is not a perfect pastor. You can grow together into a community rich with resources, deeply committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and eager to address the issues which confront God’s children, near and far. Look forward to years 3, 4, and 5, and beyond.
This will be my last Monday Musings. I have thoroughly enjoyed being “with” you. Thank you for the privilege of sharing your journey with me.
Peace, John Krueger.