My ministry has been helping congregations re-focus on their core mission and ministries in light of present circumstances and their particular vision for ministry since I began in Intentional Interim Ministry in 2007. I enjoy working with churches while they are in transition to make the most of their interim opportunities; it is a time poignant with promise and possibility. There are questions church members can ask about their ministry in between settled Pastors that might seem rude or improper otherwise. One of the most powerful examples of interim work in church history is the peripatetic itinerate ministry of the Apostle Paul who said “… I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.” (I Cor 9:22b) The interim journey is a spiritual journey, a time of vulnerability, flexibility and discovery.
Spiritual journeys best begin with prayer. I begin with prayerful listening. In prayer and conversation with the congregation and its leaders, we seek to identify and to work toward appropriate and strategic goals – specific to that church and its community. The focus is to prepare for future successful ministry in that particular place and time, with the people who will carry it forward. When the Search Committee is ready to form, this lays the groundwork for the church to search for a settled Pastoral candidate that will be a good fit.
I take each church’s particular history seriously on the interim journey, and then grounded in prayer, history and faith, with humor and attention to the wider fellowship; we find our way to the next level. Throughout salvation history when God’s people have been cut back, they have been spiritually strengthened in the growth that comes afterward. It was as true in the Exodus, for the prophet Elijah, and when the people were exiled in ancient Babylon, as it is today. With the gospel, we need to focus forward. How will we be faithful in these present circumstances? How will we invite a new generation to faith? How do we become the hands and feet of Jesus in our time?
One of the pleasures of Pastoral work for me is interpreting the faith in light of contemporary experience. Whether in a Bible Study, while visiting in homes or hospitals, in a sermon, as I counsel someone, or in community work – the historic faith of the church presses on to be brought into our contemporary lives. The way we articulate our faith, the way we spend our time, where we put our resources, the issues we choose to commit ourselves to, have everything to do with how Christianity is perceived, and what role it will play, for the coming generations.
We rejoice that Christ works through ordinary people to bring good news; we rejoice that we do not have to be perfect, only faithful and accepting of God’s beneficent grace, we rejoice that Christ redeems us and is making all things new. The gift of faith has been extended from Calvary to us all. As God’s people together, it is a privilege to share it widely, and to carry it forward into a new day.
The Reverend Erica Wimber Avena has been working in Intentional Interim Ministry since 2007. In nearly 30 years of ministry she has served numerous churches in Connecticut including as Interim Senior Minister of First Baptist Church of West Hartford and Interim Senior Pastor of the Second Baptist Church of Suffield. Erica is a Past-President of the American Baptist Churches of Connecticut, a former General Board Member of the American Baptist Churches, USA, and former Chair of the Committee on Christian Unity. She served as a Commissioner for the National Council of Churches for 12 years, and on numerous other church boards in ecumenical leadership. Her M.Div. (Masters of Divinity) is from Yale University Divinity School, 1988, and she received an S.T.M. (Masters in Sacred Theology) in Interfaith Studies there in 1994. She is married to Attorney Robert Avena, who practices law in Stonington; they have three children and make their home in East Lyme, Connecticut.