Winter 2018


The Communicator


Bethany Presbyterian Church
Sacramento, CA


From the Minister

What is Interim Ministry anymore?

This summer I'll be attending the second half of an educational opportunity that used to be called Interim Ministry Training, and is now called Transitional Ministry Training. If you happen to be one of those people who scours the Presbyterian Book of Order for answers to all of life's most pressing questions, you may have noticed in the last 6 years or so that the words 'interim minister/pastor' are not found together even once in the whole book (we still recognize interim stated clerks, but the only entry that includes both words 'interim' and 'minister' or 'pastor' is found in the index, where the reader is directed to look up instead 'temporary pastor').

Temporary Pastor...  Transitional Pastor...   but not Interim Pastor.

If this all seems like semantic hair splitting, it probably is, but I think I have at least an idea of what compelled the denominational wordsmiths to make such a change. The word interim is used to denote 'an intervening time' with the example sentence, at least in my digital dictionary, "In the interim, I'll just keep my fingers crossed."

There is an assumed passivity to interim periods, while we simply hold down the fort, waiting for what is coming next ... in our case, the next called and installed pastor of Bethany Presbyterian Church. 

And during the second half of the 20th century, this passivity often made sense. The institutional health and stability of the church was such that many congregations could spend their seasons of interim ministry simply keeping their fingers crossed that the next pastor would be as likable as the last. Nothing even remotely resembling existential dread haunted the powerful institution, even in its relatively modest incarnations.

Sure, even during mainline protestantism's so called golden years of the 1950s and 60s, there could occasionally be found a congregation who needed more than finger crossing and passive waiting. In some cases there had been abuse, spiritual or otherwise; poor organizational leadership or dishonest financial management, requiring a more intentional healing process; but by and large, interim ministry was the work of semi-retired ministers, holding in place the worship and pastoral care of a congregation while they expectantly waited for what was coming next.

By the end of the century, all of this had changed--even in the Bible Belt town of Stone Mountain GA. I was a Sophomore in high school student when The Rev. Bill Arthur was hired as the Interim Pastor at Eastminster Presbyterian Church. And to this day, he is one of the only people I think of as having been my pastor. 

I remember being chastised by Bill for laughing in balcony with my friends during a worship service (he skipped the greeting line that morning to bolt upstairs and let us know that we had crossed a line that ought not be crossed again). I remember him challenging the Worship Committee with the idea of having communion every Sunday morning in worship. I remember that he smiled and laughed a lot, even as I'm certain our congregation, at times, confounded and annoyed him with our quirky particularities. And I remember that he never seemed rushed ... at least not to me.

Eastminster Presbyterian had shrunk quite dramatically during the previous pastorate and there was a lot of anxiety in the church. And Bill didn't ignore or downplay any of that; but neither did he let it rush him to solve all problems and quell all fears at once. We dealt with problems as they arose, and he remained firm in his convictions that the faithful church gives reverence to Christ in all things--worship, congregational care, mission, fellowship and outreach.

I hope to serve Bethany Presbyterian as well as Bill Arthur served Eastminster. He did not save the church--that was never his job anyhow--but he did provide a non-anxious presence that allowed our congregation to get out of our heads, get over our fears and trust the Holy Spirit to open new avenues of ministry. Eastminster did not become a thriving mega-church under or after Bill's season of ministry, and I don't expect Bethany will after mine ... but that has never been the goal. The goal is faithfulness to the call we have received and abiding trust in the salvation of our God. If we give everything we've got toward these two aims, we will come out on the other side of this season a healthier congregation that when we started it.

May it be so.

Will Norman
Epiphany 2018

#LentOn - More than a Sermon Series


Near the end of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a young woman named Rose says "we're going to win this war, not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love." Traditionally, Lent is a season during which people choose to abstain from certain activities or behaviors that are seen as vices--which can be a little bit like fighting what we hate. 

I happen to think that the church and the world will be better served by making Lent a season in which we endeavor save what we love. Seen this way, Lent is not first a foremost a season to turn off all our troublesome activities and behaviors (though that may result), but to turn on life-giving activities and behaviors.

During this Lenten season, we at Bethany are going to keep LentOn! We’ll be tracking though a Sunday sermon series exploring six #LentOn Practices found in the readings from the Revised Common Lectionary

1) Nature Walks,
2) Tell It Like It Is,
3) Spring Cleaning,
4) Fess Up
5) See It Through
6) Be Ironic - Ride A Donkey

On the surface, these less explicitly religious (and sometimes bizarre) practices may not seems ultra spiritual, but join us for worship, and try them on. You might just find your life changed for good!

And while the practices that will be the focus of our preaching will be a good starting place, there is no need to limit ourselves to these six practices … What are some habits you’ve been meaning to form? What is that gifts you have that could serve the church or the world if only you would take it off the shelf and dust it off a bit?

As our church is in this time of transition, we will set ourselves up for success by allowing ourselves the grace that God has already given us as we try on new practices, structures, and even leaders. It is true that not all of these experiments will work, but we’ll always be stronger having tried and failed than never trying at all. Such is the gift of God’s unending grace!

1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings [read ‘failures’], knowing that suffering [‘failure’] produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. 
— Romans 5:1-5 (NRSV)