FAQs for Pastoral Transition at Westminster

To our Westminster family and friends:

Although many of you have been through changes in pastoral leadership before, some of you have not. As Chandler reminded us in his letter, “the church is its people and not its pastors...This is a congregation who understands that pastors serve with their particular gifts, and then they move on… [O]ur most recent senior pastors were great leaders of the church. They all moved on and Westminster has thrived. It will happen again.”

God already knows who our next senior pastor and head of staff will be. They don’t know yet and we don’t know yet—and we simply can’t rush that process. But we pray to listen and discern in great faith (and patience!) as we take steps towards calling someone. Westminster has done this many times before, and we can do this again. We are a lay-led congregation, and we are inviting someone to be a part of who we are and call us to new growth.

-Steve Baron, elder for personnel and Westminster member since 1991

Prior to Chandler’s Retirement

Why is Chandler retiring?
Chandler spent a long time in discernment about his retirement, and now feels like this is simply the right time. “Though quite recovered from my stroke in 2016, my brush with mortality inspired me to reflect on my next chapter of life,” he says. “I’m curious and confident about a new pace and a new life… I feel a sense of closure and completeness about my ministry. I am, as ever, excited about Westminster’s future and feel clearly that it’s a good time, the right time, to invite new leadership to head this amazing team.”

When is Chandler leaving? What will he do next?
Chandler’s last Sunday morning in worship will be Sunday, June 24. However, our celebration Sunday honoring his 10 years with us and 35 years in ordained ministry will be held on Sunday, June 3, with an all-church luncheon to follow the worship service.

Chandler plans to stay in Grand Rapids near his kids and to do more singing and playing. He’ll continue his ministry with CREDO, mentoring pastors in intensives around the country.

What will Chandler’s relationship with Westminster be after he leaves?
Presbytery rules dictate that a departing head of staff does need to maintain distance from the church. To that end, Chandler will not perform funerals, baptisms, or weddings, or any other official acts of ministry following his departure from Westminster; he will also not participate in Westminster worship. Chandler sees a role model in our most recent pastor, Riley Jensen, whom Chandler describes as “very thoughtful and gracious and circumspect in the space he allowed me as the new head of staff.”

How is the staff doing?
When the staff was asked how best to answer this question, someone chimed in, “Bring treats!” Which pretty much sums it up: the staff is experiencing a season of uncertainty like the rest of us, but with their typical good humor. We have one staff member who has worked for three senior pastors here and another who just joined the team and the church; there are a lot of experiences and perspectives in the room. So, while the staff will (probably) do just fine without treats, they could certainly use your prayers!

Following Chandler’s Retirement

Who will take on Chandler’s responsibilities right after he leaves?
The personnel committee and session are in conversation with the Presbytery Committee on Ministry regarding their responsibilities after Chandler’s retirement. On July 1, Rev. David Baak, within his role as Executive Pastor, will take on the responsibilities of Head of Staff. As Associate Pastor, Rev. Jen Porter will take on the responsibility of Moderator of Session.

How is the decision made about an interim pastor?
Any decisions regarding an interim pastor will be recommended by the personnel committee and considered by session most likely this fall.

What are the next steps for calling a senior pastor and head of staff?
PC(USA) guidelines deter us from moving forward until Chandler’s role is officially vacant. This fall, the existing nominating committee will begin to discern who to call to serve on the pastor nominating committee, or PNC. The average length of time for the PNC’s work is 18-24 months. (More on that below!) As a part of their process, the PNC will reflect on the strengths of Westminster: who we are, ways we are strong and healthy, and ways we can continue to move forward. Their process includes a mission study, a review of the church’s vision statement, and completing a Church Information Form, a congregational profile that describes the values, missions, and intention of the church.

How is the pastor nominating committee, or PNC, created?
The members of the PNC are initially called by our nominating committee. Our nominating committee exists year-round to call elders, deacons, trustees, and Memorial Trust members to ministry at Westminster. Mary Jane Lamse is the current elder for the nominating committee, and these committee members are elected each year at our congregational meeting.

The nominating committee will now be tasked with calling members of the pastor nominating committee, or PNC. The PNC will be an intentionally diverse group of people, reflecting the variety of experiences, ages, and backgrounds of our Westminster family. The nominating committee will present the slate of nominees at a congregational meeting called by session, and the congregation will vote to elect the PNC and commission its work.

How long will the PNC process take?
The average length of time for the PNC’s work is 18-24 months. It is important to remember that we are not simply hiring our next senior pastor and head of staff, but listening carefully to God’s leading and calling someone to this ministry. We are not only listening to a call from God, but waiting for God to speak to our next senior pastor. This period of discernment and hard work on the PNC’s part (and so many others) will require patience and prayerful support from all of us.

How do I share my feelings about what I’d like to see in our next senior pastor?
This process will absolutely include reaching out to the Westminster community for input. (In fact, there’s even a form for that!) Once the PNC is formed, you will also be able to contact the committee directly.