Church #25. Meet Gena Maria Koeberl. She is an intentional interim pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church in Springfield, Missouri.
“My role in intentional interim ministry,” says Koeberl, “is to accompany a congregation to do their homework so that they can harbor a healthy call process.” It’s about helping a church come to terms with the past and to move into the present. Once in the present a congregation can begin to dream about the future.
But many churches get caught up in the daydream about how things used to be. People reminisce about when the Sunday School classrooms were filled with children. They remember how people would sit shoulder to shoulder in the pews.
“There is always a grief period during transition. But at some point,” Koeberl says, “the congregation has to move into the present reality.” Once they make it there, Koeberl encourages churches in transition to start with what they have to do something new.
Her suggestion to churches is three-fold:
- Start with what you have and be open to the possibilities.
- Look for the positive and existing energy.
- Build momentum with people in the pews then reach out.
Koeberl told this story about a church recognized by the Council of Churches of the Ozarks at their Celebrate Compassion Awards Dinner to unpack her three-fold process. “Springfield,” Koeberl says, “has a visible number of homelessness due to the warmer weather.” This particular church is located in a neighborhood that at one time was homogeneous. But now the population has turned over reflecting a more diverse community. The people in pews knew they needed to have a presence in the neighborhood, and were trying to figure out what to do. At one of the community meals, they learned about an opportunity. Near to the church had been a non-profit laundromat that washed clothes for anyone who needed it for free. This laundromat was about to close, creating stress and anxiety in the neighborhood especially among the homeless. Here is what they did, three-fold:
- This church started with what they had to address the needs of the community. What they realized is they had a lot of empty space.
- There was energy and excitement to fill the empty church space with a free laundromat.
- The work to begin a new non-profit laundromat started with the people from the pews asking questions. In the end, there were 12 churches who now collaborate together to make this free laundromat happen.
Why is it best to start with what you have even in the interim? It matters because of what God does in Exodus 16. People had been wandering in the wilderness for two months. They were hungry, and they complained. God heard their cries, and God provided for them. Interim ministry is time when churches are wandering in the wilderness. Just as God did with the Israelites, God does with us. God provides. We are called to trust that provision, so that we can provide for others. Creating something new for the sake of someone else helps a church focus and have restored energy. The conversation just needs to start by looking at what there is and what is possible.