Patrick announced his departure about a month ago. His last Sunday with us will be June 11. Then, he, Jenna, Emerson, and Josephine will be moving to Cincinnati, Ohio, to live with Patrick’s dad, and Jenna will seek a full-time pastoral call at a church in that area. Now, our focus as a congregation is to celebrate Patrick’s seven years with us, recognize how we’ve changed and grown during his time as our pastor, and convey our gratitude, good wishes, and love to him and his family.
While we’re doing this, the Session is already at work on the next steps in the pastoral transition process. Several decisions were made at the Session meeting on March 20. This letter is to provide you with some information about what will happen next.
One of our first tasks is to figure out who we are without Patrick. Our church identity is our own, but it has also been wrapped up very strongly with his. That’s normal and good, when a pastoral relationship has been healthy as ours has been. But what are the issues that will continue to be important to us? What are the worship elements and styles that we absolutely want to keep? What are the areas of ministry that are strong priorities for us and that we will keep going on our own? And what are the new things we might try?
Because the Holy Conversations study was so recent and so thorough, we can use it as our Mission Study to guide us into the future. We will be holding some congregational forums to review the Holy Conversations recommendations and also to discuss the skills and attributes we need in our next pastor. This will help the Pastor Nominating Committee know what to look for in a new pastor, as it seeks a candidate who will help us move into the future that we envision.
And what about pastoral leadership while we do all this? The Ministry Teams will arrange for “pulpit supply” (worship leadership) for the weeks immediately after Patrick leaves. During this time, the Session will be actively seeking a Temporary Pastor for the interim period. (Session has decided to contract with a Temporary Pastor, if possible, rather than call an Interim Pastor, who would require a national search, likely serve for a longer period of time, thus postponing the process, and whose role would involve doing strategic research and planning Westminster has already done.) The Temporary Pastor will provide pastoral leadership as defined by the Session during the transition. Some pastoral duties will be assigned to other church leaders. And some things may take a temporary hiatus.
The next major step in the interim period is the formation of the Pastor Nominating Committee, which you’ll usually hear referred to as the PNC. The PNC is a committee elected by the congregation, with a slate proposed by the Session, to do the work of seeking and selecting a new pastor.
Presbyterians like acronyms, so get ready to hear about MIFs, PIFs, and the CLC. The PNC will complete what is called a “Ministry Information Form” (MIF) about Westminster, which includes general information about the church, answers some narrative questions, and ranks “competencies” which are important in a new pastor. The MIF is uploaded to a denominational matching service called “Church Leadership Connection” (CLC). Pastors who are looking for a new call submit their “Pastor Information Forms” (PIF) to the CLC, where they are matched with churches’ MIFs. Pastors may also self-refer to churches who are seeking a pastor.
The PNC will read pastors’ PIFs, listen to sermons, and do other background research, making decisions about which candidates it might like to interview (either by Zoom, phone, or in person). As it narrows down possible candidates, the PNC will bring them to Auburn for face-to-face conversations. Eventually, the PNC will bring a recommendation to the congregation, who will meet and hear the pastor candidate and vote to approve his or her call. The ultimate responsibility for calling a new pastor is the congregation’s.
This is the same process that brought us Patrick and, before him, Phil Windsor, and every other pastor we’ve had. We therefore have great hope that we will find the pastor who has the gifts, energy, vision, and love we seek.
How long will all this take? It’s hard to say exactly. Past interim periods at Westminster have been 18-24 months. This one could be a little shorter or a little longer. Collective and thoughtful decision-making takes time.
The interim period is an exciting time in the life of a congregation. The work is done by many—the Session, the Temporary Pastor, the Ministry Teams, the congregation at large, the Presbytery, and the Church Leadership Connection of the PC(USA). The Presbytery in particular will be providing constant support throughout this process. Now is a great time to be active and involved in the life of Westminster as we strive to see where God is at work in our community, and how we can be a part of that. It is up to all of us to contribute to the future of our church and to discover where God is calling us.
Jill Fandrich (Communicator) and Rob Schemerhorn (Clerk)
On Behalf of the Session of Westminster Presbyterian Church