How to welcome a new minister well
So, it’s happened: after months of prayer, investigations and interviews, a minister has accepted the invitation to come and be rector of your parish. Everyone in the congregation is thankful, delighted and – in a range of different ways – expectant about this next phase of your church life.
But there’s a lot more to a new minister arriving than changing the name on the church sign, particularly when the family may be moving from a completely different area and starting almost every relationship from scratch. How can a parish make them feel they are not only welcome, but at home?
Don’t wait until they arrive
The Rev Andrew Paterson became rector of Belrose in January and says there were many things parishioners did before and after his family’s arrival that they really appreciated. First, they were invited to see the house months in advance and make a wish list of things that needed doing – such as replacing the sailcloth over the outdoor area – which the congregation then donated money to pay for.
“That was very generous and showed us how much they cared to make our transition be the best it could,” he says. “What we also appreciated was their concern for our previous church to find a new rector. The church prayed regularly for [my previous parish of] Kangaroo Valley and, by the grace of God, a new rector was found remarkably quickly. We praised God for our new church’s care to think like that.”
The transition period was also helped by the locum at Belrose, former long-time rector the Rev David Reay, who helped prepare the congregation for the Patersons’ arrival by explaining “what sort of emotions we’d be going through with moving and being in a new church family and new city. He also gave me a rundown of ministries and history of the parish, which was very helpful.
“We heard also that a large prayer meeting was held monthly at Belrose for over a year to ask God to bring his choice of rector to them,” Mr Paterson adds. “This was great to hear and very affirming to us in our decision to leave our former parish and head back to Sydney.”
“We praised God for our new church’s care to think like that.”
The Rev Steven Layson has done the reverse – he moved from a Sydney parish to the Illawarra, arriving at St George’s, Gerringong last December. A number of parishioners made the family feel welcome well in advance of their arrival by sending them a basket of local produce, six months’ worth of local newspapers and signing them up to the weekly parish email so they could begin to get a taste of what was happening in the church.
One of the wardens also hosted a meal with some of the church’s older, stalwart servants so the Laysons could meet them. In addition, Mr Layson says, “We received a number of cards while we were still at our previous parish to let us know they were looking forward to us coming and were praying for us”.
Lynn Kaye, whose husband the Rev Roger Kaye became rector of St Anne’s, Strathfield in November last year, reflects that “it is often the small gestures that mean the most – although coming to a sparkling clean rectory was a very clear indication that people wanted us to have an easy transition!”
You’re (really) welcome
An official welcome event is always a lovely part of bringing a new ministry family into a parish, but there are plenty of other things congregation members can do as well.
Mrs Kaye recalls that, on the day she and Mr Kaye moved into the Strathfield rectory, “one family brought us dinner, which was wonderful. The church council provided us with a hamper of fresh food and basic essentials [and] several people rang us, sent cards or dropped in with small gifts. All these acts of kindness indicated that people were pleased that we’d come and were eager to welcome us”.
The Patersons arrived to find “lovely flowers and a welcome note” plus a game for the children. Some congregation members also visited to welcome them in person. In addition, at the commissioning service, they were presented with a voucher for dinners at a nearby restaurant.
“All these acts of kindness indicated that people were pleased that we’d come and were eager to welcome us”
Once at Gerringong, Mr Layson says, a number of people invited them over for meals and to walk around the local area, and one congregation member “offered to be an ongoing prayer support for me”.
He adds that a long-term member of the parish also provided some tremendously practical support by going through the parish directory for him. “It has photos – which is a huge plus! – and she wrote down a little bit of history about each family, such as what service they went to and how long they’d been here.”
Mrs Kaye says that getting to know everyone in a new parish quickly is difficult, and any opportunity others in the church might initiate to help a new ministry family get to know others and begin to build relationships is a blessing.
“I remember from the past that welcoming children individually with a small gift – a book or toiletries or sports thing – helps them to feel included and acknowledged,” she says. “Moving is a big upheaval for them, too, and they are grieving lost friendships, activities that feel comfortable, a sense of belonging and having a role. Families will settle well if their children settle well.”
And just in case anyone’s feeling pressured to perform for their new minister, Mrs Kaye stresses that welcoming doesn’t need to cost much. “I really appreciate expressions of welcome and inclusion [such as] a card to welcome the family, with a plate of homemade cookies or muffins, flowers from a garden or fresh fruit… small things can mean a lot.”
Ideas for welcoming a new minister (and their family)
- Don’t wait until they arrive. Let them know you’re looking forward to meeting them – all of them. Try things like a card, an email, or a link to the church newsletter.
- Let them know you’re praying for them as they make this change.
- Consider sending simple information that will help give a window into the new parish and area. Think about what you found helpful when you were new to that church.
- Make sure the rectory is cleaned and/or updated, ready for their arrival.
- Provide grocery staples for when the family moves in (discover any likes and dislikes first).
- Remember that they’ll need a little time to get settled, so don’t expect the family to be hosting events and inviting lots of people in straight away.
- Cook dinner for the day they arrive or invite them over/take them out in the first few weeks.
- Organise a simple event to help them build relationships with other families at church, such as a picnic in the park, or a meal that provides a cultural window into the area.
- If there are children, invite them to places that kids at church enjoy going to – but be prepared for the kids to say “No” if they aren’t quite ready for this, and be willing to ask again later.
- Depending on the age of any children, questions about things they feel comfortable with – such as their previous home, church and friends – might be more welcome in the early stages than queries about what they like in the new parish.