Change can be hard. After all, change involves a different way of doing things and sometimes even a new person who is leading those changes. It can be a frustrating and difficult time for individuals who have been doing things their way for many years. And when there’s a whole group of people dealing with the change, it can lead to an even more trying time for the person who is leading that change.
“Change” is the backbone to a pastor placement program that is currently being used by five churches in the Presbytery of West Virginia. Called the “Small Church Residency Program,” it places recent seminary graduates into churches where a pastor is needed with the hope of giving him or her a starting point while also revitalizing the congregation where he or she lands. Formerly known as “For Such a Time as This,” the program is the brainchild of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and is working in churches nationwide.
The Rev. Elizabeth Campbell-Maleke is handling two churches in the Williamstown, WV, area, namely First Presbyterian Church and Waverly Bethel Presbyterian Church. She started preaching at the churches four years ago and when her two-year commitment through the Small Church Residency Program was over, the yoked congregations decided to keep her in the pulpit. She couldn’t be happier with how things have turned out.
“God is the reason why we exist, and I believe that it has been through the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit that things have been going as well as they have been,” Rev. Campbell-Maleke said.
Plenty has been going on at First PC and Waverly Bethel PC during Rev. Campbell-Maleke’s tenure there. Music and times of prayer have been added to the worship service as well as the use of liturgists and a projector. Holy Humor Sunday was implemented as a new tradition at the churches, and committee structures have been improved and strengthened under Rev. Campbell-Maleke’s watch.
There have also been significant visual changes to the properties. New flooring in the fellowship hall, which was a “whole congregational effort,” and repairing plaster in the sanctuary are just a few fixes that have been completed. At First PC, it has decided to purchase an adjacent property to expand the church’s space so that it can continue to grow its ministry and mission. First PC has started an after-school tutoring program, a summer music camp and a community-wide Easter egg hunt with Rev. Campbell-Maleke in charge.
At Waverly Bethel, changes are also happening. It has organized congregational rummage sales, celebrated its chapel that dates back to the 1840s and put the chapel on the National Register of Historic Places in recent years. And these events have been met with open arms.
“Sincerely, all of these changes were — for the most part — received very well,” Rev. Campbell-Maleke said. “Both of the congregations are flexible and willing to try new things, especially when these ‘new things’ seem to work well, and we are seeing the fruit of our efforts. So we are not making changes just to make changes. We are making changes that we sense — and are guided to sense — that will help us in our ministry and mission. I have been very impressed by the response of the congregations and have felt their sincere support throughout our ministry together.”
The enthusiasm of a new preacher combined with an open mind by the congregations has made for a pleasant transition at First PC of Williamstown and Waverly Bethel PC.
“I can’t describe this fully, but from what I have heard folks say and sense myself, I know my presence has given a sense of more stability,” she said. “I serve two congregations that are yoked, and it was helpful for them to know that they had stable pastoral leadership. Since coming to the churches, I have also gotten married and had a baby, and I think our son’s presence along with the presence of some more children has brought a joy and peace and lightfulness and thankfulness into our fellowship together.”
Like Rev. Campbell-Maleke, Pastor Nancy Didway is also in her fourth year at Highlawn Presbyterian Church of St. Albans, having spent two years with the congregation under the Small Church Residency Program before being retained. It’s been a remarkable experience for her.
“Highlawn is a loving congregation that welcomed me in with open arms,” she said. “Their willingness to bring me in and nurture me as a new pastor allowed me to grow in confidence, pastoral skill and trust in God.”
Pastor Didway has placed her stamp on the church by bringing in a new, younger approach that has changed the mindset of the congregation.
“The most significant change that I have made has been one of vision,” she said. “When I came, Highlawn was a dying church of old people past its prime. Now, we are a small church that is alive with a mighty God and overflowing with love and nurturing for our people and our community. While our numbers haven’t changed much — neither up nor down — our hearts are lifted up to Christ, and the Spirit is moving.”
Among the things Pastor Didway has done is turned an unused nursery room into a mission room where young families can get things like diapers, wipes, formula, clothes and car seats. It eventually helped attract a young family to Highlawn PC, and thus a nursery needed to be recreated.
“The people of Highlawn have been very accepting of change and even excited and relieved to know they have a role yet to play in the mission of God,” Pastor Didway said.
The new mindset has been a blessing to the congregation in St. Albans, one that might not have been available had it not been for the Small Church Residency Program that brought Pastor Didway to Highlawn.
“Without the Spirit of God breathing life and resources into our church, Highlawn would be an empty building of a dying people,” she admitted. “But by his Spirit we have grown deeper and stronger in love and joy. Then just when we are looking the other way, God brings us people, resources and opportunities to grow further and serve more.”
Note: Anyone wishing to learn more about the Small Church Residency Program can contact Craig Butler firstname.lastname@example.org or Cindy Cushman at the PCUSA at (502) 569-5381 or at email@example.com.