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New pastors halfway through first year


This is the sixth installment of a yearlong series that will follow newly appointed United Methodist clergy as they begin their ministry.

3:00 P.M. EST January 20, 2011

The Rev. Brian Rossbert leads prayer during children’s time at New Bethel United Methodist Church in Pegram, Tenn., in October 2010. A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.
The Rev. Brian Rossbert leads prayer during children’s time at New Bethel United Methodist Church in Pegram, Tenn., in October 2010. A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.
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Not long ago, they were focusing on midterm exams. Six months into their ministry, clergy in their first appointments have faced another midterm exam of sorts.

They’ve had time to get to know their congregations and begin learning what it means to be a pastor. But, of course, they still have much to learn. A group of first-appointment pastors shared their thoughts with United Methodist News Service on how they feel about their ministry at this stage.

Could you share your favorite moment of your ministry so far?

Mara Bailey, university minister, Nebraska Wesleyan University: I have to pick two. The first is having two students say “yes” to begin their exploring candidacy stage in our conference, and the great conversations that have led up to this decision. Second, having a freshman student who is so excited to live out his faith on campus and share that faith with his peers. He has come to me wanting to revive our former United Methodist Student Organization that started in 2007 with a lot of excitement. Unfortunately, much of that excitement graduated that same year, and the group has dwindled ever since. Thanks to his efforts, the group has now met with a core group of about 10 students who plan to engage the campus next semester through new worship experiences, service experiences, leadership development and Bible studies led by the students in this core group.  

Amanda Baker, associate pastor, Calvary United Methodist Church, Wichita, Kan.: I'm trying my hand at a little more teaching than I've done in the past, and people have been gracious in their receptions. I've also come to love the "interruptions" in my week, the times when people pop in my office to say hello, to ask a question or to tell me something they've been thinking about. 

Stacey Harwell, minister of community building, Centenary United Methodist Church, Macon, Ga.: My favorite moment in ministry thus far was the lighting of the Christmas star on the front of the church. At one point, I climbed the steps in front of the church and looked out at the beautifully diverse faces of our congregation. I watched as wealthy women in furs sang next to homeless men, and at that moment, when the area was dark except the illumination of the candles, the differences between us really faded away. 

The Rev. Stacey Harwell delivers the message at Mercer University¹s 2010 Christmas tree lighting ceremony. A UMNS photo courtesy of Mercer University.
The Rev. Stacey Harwell delivers the message at Mercer University¹s 2010 Christmas tree lighting ceremony. A UMNS photo courtesy of Mercer University.
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Braulio Torres, associate pastor, Millian Memorial United Methodist Church, Rockville, Md.: Back in September, we had Millian’s church spiritual retreat. During the retreat, we had four workshops as a guideline to help us answer four questions: Why church? Why Millian? Why Christ? Why me? This was what I considered one of my favorite moments because I got the opportunity to learn Millian’s history and to get to know more deeply some of the members of the church. We also had the opportunity to interact, worshipping and playing games together.

Brian Rossbert, pastor, New Bethel and Centenary United Methodist churches, Pegram, Tenn.: It's hard to name one favorite moment because there are so many. Each time we celebrate the Lord's Supper is a special moment for me. That gathering around Christ's table is our opportunity to receive God's grace in a special way. 

What’s been your greatest challenge?

Bailey: The greatest challenge has been figuring out how to do things (worship, especially) in a way that is applicable to students, yet upholds the university’s church-related tradition.

Baker: The adjustment to having (my husband) Ross and (me) both in full-time ministry has had its real challenges. We are incredibly blessed that my schedule allows (our son) James to be in day care part time, but keeping everything in balance is precarious at best. My church is so friendly and welcoming, which takes a huge stress off for me, and Ross' schedule is very predictable, which offers James a lot of stability.

Harwell: The biggest challenge of working in any type of ministry with people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol is relapse. Relapse is part of recovery, but I am learning how not to take it personally when they do. The hardest days for me are days when I know that there is only so much we can do for some . . . people. The immense need in the world sometimes hits me. The immense gap between the need and the resources available always hits me. Institutionally, I think the church is unsure of what deacons do or how to treat us. That's a big challenge for me. I feel like I am constantly explaining my calling and my particular job just because it's rare. 

Torres: My greatest challenge is to keep learning and growing spiritually to become a better servant of God.

Rossbert: One of my biggest challenges was dealing with the death of five persons in my first five months at one of my churches, including a grandmother and her grandson in the same week. There was a sense of great loss to negotiate, but also the hope that we have in the Resurrection. Weathering the storm of five funerals led us as a community to a deeper sense of our identity as a family atmosphere. 

The Rev. Mara Bailey. A UMNS photo by Ross Janovec.
The Rev. Mara Bailey. A UMNS photo by Ross Janovec.
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Has anything taken you by surprise?

Bailey: Feeling like I was the only person experiencing some of the struggles in the campus ministry setting and then meeting colleagues at a recent conference who go through the exact same things.  

Harwell: I was surprised at how active my congregation is. I am really blessed with a congregation that has an activist mindset – they come to me with their dreams and their visions for ministry. All I have to do is to listen, help be part of the molding process, and then help us as a church to live into their vision!

Torres: One of the things I have learned in ministry is that we never know what to expect, which is a good thing, because that means we are depending on God at all times. One of the things that took me by surprise was our Christmas dinner. Our church prepared the activity and the dinner expecting 50-100 people to attend. Then when the time came, we hosted approximately 250 people that night! It was a good surprise to see our fellowship hall filled with people from our neighborhood, and the most amazing thing was that we were able to feed the entire crowd. 

Rossbert: Waking up at 3:30 in the morning realizing that the worship service for that day needed to be reworked was a bit of a surprise. I am thankful for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and most times, I’m happy to follow where it leads, but sometimes I wish the inspiration would come at more "regular" hours.

How do you feel about your ministry six months in? What do you look forward to in the coming months?

The Rev. Braulio Torres
The Rev. Braulio Torres

Bailey: Overall, I feel pretty good about my ministry six months in. I am amazed at how often my work refreshes my personal faith, which to me is a good indicator that God has me where I am called. I am most looking forward to seeing how the next semester starts off since I feel a little more familiar with what’s going on around here. I am excited to experience the course of a full academic year, wishing the seniors well as they move on to the next stage of life and preparing for the next incoming class.

Baker: I am incredibly grateful to say that I've been placed in a great ministry match for me. I really, truly, honestly love the stuff I get to do as an associate pastor at Calvary. It's been fun getting to know people and the rhythms of life for this congregation, but I'm remembering that's a task that really does take a full year to have a full picture of it. 

Harwell: For the first six months, I was able to say, "Sorry, I'm new" a lot and get away with it. I feel like I can't do that anymore. The first six months was a beautiful honeymoon, but I think this particular appointment is a good marriage for both of us and I think we're going to have that "newlywed glow” for a while. I look forward to being comfortable in the routine of the church instead of constantly learning “what we've done” during this time . . . in years past.  

Torres: I feel blessed and privileged for the opportunity to work with this congregation and participate in their ministries, but most importantly I commend them for their passion in doing those ministries. I am looking forward for the blessing that God has already prepared for us as community and for the neighborhood around us.

Rossbert: The next six months will be exciting and challenging as we look forward to the future of our life together in community. We will be asking hard questions of ourselves, and it is my hope that we step out in faith to follow where God is leading us.

*Butler is editor of young adult content for United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Joey Butler, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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