“I now present to you, your pastor!” With cheers and applause the newly installed pastor turns and faces the congregation with a wide smile across her face.
I recently attended and preached at the installation of a friend. Being a part of the service and witnessing the energy of the day helped me to give thanks for all the times congregations welcome new pastors. In my experience, anytime a pastor gets installed in the church, there’s much joy, excitement, and hope. It’s a part of what it means to be the church – welcoming and witnessing to God’s work in our communities. The service also helped me to reflect on a few reminders I think are important for pastor and people as they move forward together. If the congregation you attend is about to have a transition in leadership or you simply want to lift up the work of churches welcoming a new pastor, here’s what you can do to show your support.
First and foremost, pray. It seems almost too simple of a task, but ultimately, praying for the congregation, the people, and the pastor is the foundation of any relationship. Lift up the name of your pastor and give thanks for their presence among you. Pray for the people who come to worship each week and pray for those who have never set foot through your doors. Pray for meaningful communication. Pray for a spirit of playfulness and openness. Pray for rest and pray for work. And in all the praying, be sure to take moments to listen to God’s voice. Open your heart to what God is calling you as a congregation and as a pastor to be and to do.
In those first few months of having a new pastor it’s so important to be curious. To ask questions and to wonder. If you watch your pastor in worship and have a question about their sermon or how they lead the liturgy, ask them. If you’re the pastor wondering how the coffee gets made or who the member is with the longest history in the church, ask someone. Be curious about how God is using you to do something new. Read new books together, sing a hymn you’ve never sung before, and talk to a visitor to learn about their life. Being curious keeps both the congregation and the pastor open to how the Spirit is moving among them.
Show up to worship, Bible study, clean-up days, and service projects. Show up with food for the pastor and her family. Show up for the grieving spouse with a listening ear. Show up for the teen looking for a safe space. Show up for the Spirit. Show up for Jesus in the stranger. Show up over and over again. I believe one of the greatest gifts of Christian community can be found in the people who continually show up for one another. Maybe you’re grieving or amid a big transition and have no energy for prayers or supporting others. Come to church and know that others are there to pray for and with you. Come and sing, come and be fed, show up and feel God’s presence. And someday you’ll be able to offer that same gift of prayer to someone else.
If you’re not welcoming a new pastor at the moment I hope these words can still offer hope and support for your communities.
Kimberly Knowle-Zeller is an ordained ELCA pastor, mother of two, and spouse of an ELCA pastor. She lives with her family in Cole Camp, MO. You can read more at her website or follow her work on Facebook.