It is a privilege to be joining St. James the Less on the adventure Ken Bohringer has described. We are starting together just in time to
get up and running for the holy season of Lent, and I particularly look forward to exploring its spiritual depths with you at the beginning of our shared ministry.
Let me introduce myself and my family. I am a 49-year-old native of the small town of LaFayette, Georgia, the only child of now-retired
music teachers who still live in the house where I grew up. From them, I inherited both love and aptitude for music, and I continued in that path in college at the University of Georgia (music education) and in graduate school at Indiana University (music history). I became Episcopalian in college (having grown up Presbyterian) and discerned a call to ordained ministry while in graduate school. This call took me to the School of Theology of the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, where I not only completed the Master of Divinity in 1994, but also met and married my wife, Amy Bentley Lamborn (more on her later!).
After seminary, I returned to Indiana to begin work as curate at Christ Church Cathedral, Indianapolis, where I had a great variety of experiences in two ½ years. From there I became rector of St. John’s in Crawfordsville, Indiana, a small college town west of Indianapolis. During my seven ½ years there, we expanded children’s and youth education, we completed a capital campaign focused on rebuilding and expanding the organ, I began work on the Doctor of Ministry at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, and our daughter, Caroline (now in 6th grade), was born.
My wife Amy is also a priest, and after serving on the diocesan and cathedral staffs in Indianapolis, and as a parish rector, she returned to school to do a Ph.D. in Psychiatry and Religion at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. I became rector of Christ Church Riverdale in the northwest Bronx, the most diverse congregation I have ever encountered in the Episcopal Church. During my seven ¾ years of ministry there, we conducted a capital campaign centered on . . . you guessed it . . . rebuilding and expanding the organ! (Do you see a theme emerging here?) I also completed my D.Min. After completing her Ph.D., Amy became Theologian-in-Residence at Christ Church Bronxville, and later joined the faculty of General Theological Seminary in Chelsea, teaching pastoral theology.
A year into Amy’s professorship at General, we moved as a family to the beautiful and historic seminary campus, and I began my next chapter of ministry as interim pastor of St. Luke’s, Katonah. This warm congregation is in a small village 22 miles up the Harlem Line from Scarsdale. It was a period of fruitful growth for the parish, and for a variety of reasons my time there was extended twice, to the point of approaching three years. Yet interim means interim, and as I considered possibilities for what God would call me to next, I received a phone message from Ken Bohringer last November. It quickly became clear in conversations with Ken and Jim Hallowell that St. James the Less and I would be good match for the transition period you have entered.
I am aware of Scarsdale schools’ well-deserved reputation for excellence, but in order not to move Caroline out of her middle school temporarily, we will continue to live at the seminary in Manhattan rather than moving to the Rectory. I’ll be commuting by train most days, but driving some, particularly when I’ll need our car for an off-site meeting or pastoral call.
St. James the Less has enjoyed an almost 15-year rectorate with Tom Newcomb, so your memory of an interim period is not as recent as it is in some parishes. There are some things that make such a period distinctive. My title is Interim Pastor, not Interim Rector. During a transition period, the Wardens are in charge of the parish, with the accompanying temporal responsibilities. There are some issues handled and questions answered by Fr. Tom that I will be referring to the Wardens rather than addressing myself, because of this difference in structure. Other things will be same, however, as I am working full-time and taking Fridays off like my predecessor.
What is the point of interim ministry, rather than proceeding immediately to the call of a new rector? Here’s a good summary I read recently by the equivalent of Canon Deb Tammearu in the Diocese of Virginia:
Good interim practice takes as long as it needs to take. Sometimes it’s less than a year. Sometimes it’s a multi-year process. Interim work is flexible, because parishes are different, but it does offer the chance for a parish to catch its breath, figure out where it has been, discern where God is leading it next, and see what gifts the parish needs from its next rector to augment what the parish already has, [its] “animating spirit.” While some of that work can be done on a business-model timetable, some cannot. It takes time to quiet down enough to hear the Spirit of God, particularly in the hectic...way the world works today.
My training and experience in interim ministry have taught me to focus on three questions with the parish:
- Who are we? (distinct from the rector who has just departed)
- Who are our neighbors? (who may have changed over time)
- Who is God calling us to become?
Thoroughly addressing these three questions as a parish involves work in five categories identified by the Diocese of New York:
- Exploring the congregation’s history and relationship with previous clergy;
- Discovering the congregation's special identity, and what it dreams of being and doing apart from previous clergy leadership;
- Dealing with shifts in leadership that naturally evolve in times of transition;
- Renewing and reworking relationships with the diocese (and I’d add other churches, community organizations, and potential partners in ministry);
- Building a commitment to the future and a relationship with the new Rector that will lead the congregation and the Rector to a genuine sense of call to mission and to cooperative work to fulfill that mission.
That’s a mouthful! These categories have emerged through long experience with parishes in a variety of situations, but they are flexible enough in how they are implemented that St. James the Less will not be going through a cookie-cutter or assembly-line process. My first joy is getting to know you, a unique group of people beloved of God and called to grow in Christ and serve in ways no one else can. Our ongoing joy will be following Jesus Christ together through this season of ministry, caring deeply for one another, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, in the process of living more and more fully as God has created us.