Interim pastor brings 30 years of experience
While uncertainty and fear may happen when a church has to say goodbye to its pastor, Interim Pastor Kathy Gibson Christensen is helping Prescott United Church of Christ move forward after their pastor left in June.
Gibson Christensen said since before she finished seminary school she has been serving as an interim pastor for various congregations. At times she said she thinks about settling down at one church, but God keeps steering her to stay an interim pastor.
Being an interim pastor, Gibson Christensen said, gives her the chance to see "how each place has its own characteristics."
Typically, she said she serves a church for about 1.5 years as the church is preparing for a new pastor to take over. However, this time can vary and the longest she has stayed at one church was four years. During this time she learns the customs, needs and missions of the church, but at the end of her time she finds the most difficult part of her job.
"The hardest part for me is when the time comes for me to let go and say goodbye," Gibson Christensen said.
But she sees the work she does as vital to helping a congregation prepare for its future. During her time as interim pastor, Gibson Christensen said she has five tasks she works on with the congregations she has served.
The first task is to help the congregation come to terms with its history. She said she tries to help the people look back at what has happened and figure out what was good and what was working, but also to look at what wasn't working. This gives them a chance to learn from the past.
The second task, she said, is to help the congregation rediscover its identity. Overt time, a church's identity may change as its surrounding area changes. The size of the community can impact a church's identity. Gibson Christensen said that as towns change from small towns to suburbs they may need to reevaluate their identity and see if changes need to be made to meet this new identity.
Thirdly, she tries to empower the congregations. After a pastor leaves a congregation, many times the congregation feels lost and unsure of what to do. They sometimes feel they have to continue doing things the way it was always done; she just tries to make the congregation realize there may be another way of doing things.
The fourth task she goes over with the congregation is the church's work in the denomination. She helps the congregation see what the denomination can do for them but also what the congregation can do to benefit the denomination.
Finally, she tries to prepare the congregation for its new leader. She said many times the congregation may not know what is important to them and she helps them see what they need and want from their new pastor.
Sometimes, the congregation may not even realize what is important to them until she comes in as interim pastor. Many times she will talk with church members and ask how communion is done, what they want for baptism and in general what is important to them. Gibson Christensen said she has had some congregations tell her to serve communion however she wanted, only to discover that when she did, the congregation said it wasn't the right way. But she considers this a learning experience.
"Fortunately folks are learning how to teach new pastor what's important to them," Gibson Christensen said.
As Gibson Christensen works through learning the processes of the church and what's important, the congregation is learning with her. The congregation is realizing at the same time what they want their new pastor to do.
Over the years, Gibson Christensen has spent a lot of time during the Christmas holiday serving various congregations.
"I have planned over 30 Christmas services," Gibson Christensen said. "It never gets easier."
Every Christmas,she strives to find a new way to present the miracle of Christmas so the congregation can see the Christmas story in a new way filled with wonder.
While getting ready for Christmas this year, Prescott UCC is also moving forward with preparing for a new pastor. The congregation is assembling a committee to begin the process. One of the first things the committee will need to do is "figure out what church needs before finding pastor."
The committee will look at and answer questions such as "where is God calling us [congregation] for next year? What does God have in plan for us?" After the committee figures this out they will make a congregational profile outlining where God is calling them in their ministry and what the congregation is needing from a new pastor.
After this process is complete the committee will review ministerial profiles to see which ministers meet what the church is looking for. This process usually takes 9-12 months if everything goes smoothly, but could take longer.
Gibson Christensen said every pastor has their own preaching style; Prescott UCC has been pretty accepting of her style.
She tries to engage her audience during the service and get them to talk back to her. She just wants people to know "faith is a serious business, but God invented laughter. Laughter is made sweeter in faith."