Fulfilling an important role that has been anticipated and prepared

As I write these words on Thursday, March 4, it is the three-year anniversary of my “installation” as Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem. In the Presbyterian Church (USA), there are two types of pastors for congregations: temporary and installed.

Temporary is more or less what it sounds like: someone who is engaged as a pastor for a congregation on a year-to-year basis through a contract that is approved by the Session. Here at First Pres, Pastor Sue Bennetch is a pillar of our pastoral care ministry, but she is technically “temporary” because her contract is renewed annually by the Session, which fits her own preference at this point in her ministry.

What’s interesting is that the alternative to “temporary” is not “permanent,” or even “indefinite,” but “installed.” I have to admit, for a long time I did not like the language of being “installed.” It sounded too much like being a dishwasher: you install it by just putting it in place and hooking up the connections, and then you let it go to work!

But I have come to appreciate it for a couple of reasons. First, it avoids the pitfalls of permanent (which is obviously never going to be ultimately true, no matter how long a person serves), and indefinite (which sounds like it’ll probably last a while, but you never really know). And second, installing something carries the sense that it both “fits” and fulfills an important role that has been anticipated and prepared.

The details of that role, and particularly how we fulfill it, are not always anticipated or prepared; certainly, I did not expect my role here when I was installed to include preaching to a camera in an empty room on Sunday mornings for months on end! But the emphasis on purpose rather than permanence is both more helpful and more faithful, I think.

Both our new associate pastor, Lindsey Clifton, and I are installed pastors. Lindsey began her work among us this week and is already making an impact in her ministry. I encourage you to make a point of welcoming her and praying for her as she completes the transition of her life here to the Lehigh Valley.

As a reminder, the purpose of creating the pastorate to which she will be installed (probably in early summer) is to provide the primary pastoral leadership in three crucial areas:

1) Engagement, meaning the ways in which we connect with people beyond the current membership of the church and help them to explore their own faith in both thought and action;

2) Mission/Outreach/Justice, meaning the ways in which we serve those in need and work to promote God’s justice, mercy, and peace in our community and world; and

3) Discipleship/Christian Formation, meaning the various ministries of faith development and education in the church, but particularly with children, youth, and their families.

Obviously, it is not Lindsey’s job to “do” these ministries, but rather to help catalyze and expand and support our ministries in these areas as individual members and as a congregation. As a full-time associate pastor, she will also share fully in the ministries of pastoral care and worship leadership, including weddings and funerals, and will preach periodically, as well.

So, as I celebrate the third anniversary of my installation here at First Pres, I am grateful for your vision and enthusiasm and support in calling Lindsey to join us in ministry here, and look forward to her installation later this year!

Grace and Peace,