When I was in high school, I had the chance to serve on two different search committees. The first was for a new superintendent of schools and the second was for a new high school principal. I enjoyed both of these experiences and learned a great deal through them. In both cases, we had the chance to interview candidates who were from outside the district as well as candidates who were serving within the district and therefore already familiar to us. In both cases there was a theme: those from outside the district were in many ways more exciting, shiny, and new! Those within the district, well, we already knew them. We already knew their strengths, weaknesses, and quirks.
Some of you, no doubt, when you heard the news I had been called to serve as the next Associate Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery and the North Branch Minister, might have had a reaction like this: “Who, him? Oh gee whiz, we already know him! We wanted someone shiny, exciting, and new but instead we get Brian?” I have worked with many of you and gotten to know you over my ten years serving in the presbytery. You know well my strengths, weaknesses, and yes, my many quirks. While I am not shiny, exciting, and new, I am very excited and privileged to be serving as the new Branch Minister for the North. I’ve heard it said a couple times that each of our four branches is unique and has its own unique culture. After hearing descriptions of those cultures, there is no doubt I fit best within the North Branch and am looking forward to serving with all of you in this new role.
After ten years in pastoral ministry, a large majority of which was focused on youth ministry, many have asked me, “Why on earth would you go into administration???” The first answer is the safe one, “I feel God called me to this work.” But the personal answer is I see the role of the Branch Minister as unique with opportunities to impact the local church. I believe, first and foremost, that the mission of the Jesus Christ is best carried out by local congregations engaging their local communities. Middle governing bodies do their best work when they focus on equipping, catalyzing, and networking congregations to fulfill the mission to which God has called them. That part of the work, equipping, catalyzing and networking, is what most excites me about this new role. Whether it be congregations in transition, supporting all of you as you seek to be the leaders God has called you to be, or brainstorming new ideas for how together we can impact our communities for the sake of the Kingdom of God. These are the things I am most looking forward to and why I am excited.
I have set a goal to make contact with each congregation within the North Branch, either through a meeting with the pastor and/or visiting the congregation on a Sunday, within the first year (so by July of 2017). At the onset, this goal seems more than doable but I have been warned that the “tyranny of the urgent” can sometimes consume our best intentions as presbytery staff. So while I will strive for this goal, I admit I may not make it. I have had the pleasure of filling the pulpit for a number of the churches in our branch (five so far). What I have especially enjoyed about these opportunities has been the chance, not only get to know the pastor, but also to get to know the people and participate in the worship life of the congregation. So if you are in need of a Sunday off, please keep me in mind as a guest preacher.
In addition to my role as branch minister, I will be assuming responsibility for being the staff liaison for the Commission on Preparation for Ministry (CPM). Since the departure of Doug Portz, Betty Angelini has ably filled this role and I have huge shoes to fill in this area but I am truly thrilled this will be part of my job. While the work of caring and determining suitability for ministry may be challenging at points, I am excited to have a role in this essential and life-giving part of the mission and ministry of our presbytery. I also will have responsibility in this next season of working on our response to the General Assembly’s approval of our overture regarding the plight of the African American male: Freedom Rising. This initiative (which is in its infancy at this point) has the potential to unite our congregations in ministry as we discern how God is calling us to respond to the issues facing our population. Finally, and this is still to be defined, I will have some responsibility for supporting those in Youth Ministry throughout our presbytery. As someone who has a deep commitment to making sure our churches give their very best to our middle school and high school students, I am looking forward to supporting and resourcing our youth ministry leaders as they seek to provide spiritual nurture and personal support to the next generation.
Last, but not least, let me explain one shift in how we are doing branch work. One of the things that has become evident over these past few years as we’ve utilized the Branch model is that the workload isn’t always balanced. There have been times which one branch has had a high number of churches in transition while at the same time another Branch has no churches in transition. For that reason, the four branch ministers will be serving in pairs to share responsibilities for the different branches. In my case, I will serve as the primary branch minister for the North and secondary branch minister for the East. The Rev. Dr. Beverly James will serve as primary for the East and secondary for the North.
The North Branch steering team has planned a lunch event for Monday, October 10, from 12:00 -2:00 PM. Our hope for this event is to first and foremost give us a chance to connect and share fellowship with one another. In addition, we want to take time to listen to feedback regarding the ministry of the branch and listen to ideas about ways to proceed as we move into the future. I hope you can join us for lunch at Elfinwild Presbyterian Church.
Associate Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery