By Kim Walter
STRASBURG -- After more than two years without a full time pastor, the Rev. Bill Nabers has answered the call to lead St. Paul Lutheran Church.
Kitty Miller, president of the church's congregation council, said there were "tough twists and turns" during the vacant pulpit, but the members who decided to stay and work through the issues are glad they did so.
Thanks to helpful interim pastors, the congregation was able to "hold together" and continue ministries over the past couple years.
The process of finding a new pastor is rather intricate, and involves a congregation putting together a profile on issues they have, church and community history, and where they'd like to go moving forward. In turn, job-seeking Lutheran pastors use an online forum to provide their skills, strengths and experiences to potential congregations.
A bishop is in charge of each of the 65 Lutheran territories in the United States, and it is his duty to select four or five candidates from the pool of pastors when a church is looking to fill such a position.
Nabers, born and raised in Roanoke, had spent time at a number of churches in Virginia, but recently found himself in Colorado, working partially in both ministry and ski patrol. He said he always wanted to come back to his home state, but didn't realize how quickly it would happen.
The church's "call committee" diligently studied candidates and interviewed several, but Nabers was its primary choice.
Nabers visited with the church council and led worship in mid-January. A month later, the congregation met, needing to support Nabers by at least a two-thirds vote.
"The vote to call Pastor Nabers was overwhelmingly positive," Miller said. Nabers began his ministry with the church on April 14, and last Sunday was officially welcomed with an installation service.
Nabers said a number of things drew him to the church, but the one that stuck out most was the congregation's honesty.
"They admitted that there were some issues that needed to be worked through ... they weren't trying to hide anything," he said Thursday afternoon while sitting in the church. "It worries me more when a church tries to say they have no issues. That's impossible."
Since the congregation, which averages about 180 to 200 on any given Sunday, had taken its time ironing out any kinks in the worship and services, Nabers said congregation's enthusiasm to move forward was promising. However, the church's historic past also played a role in his decision.
The church is home to one of the oldest Lutheran congregations in the area, founded before the Civil War. Nabers, a history major during his undergraduate studies, loved that aspect of the church.
"Their past is an asset, a wonderful thing to build off of," he said. "They've had periods of perseverance. I mean, they've survived wars, literally."
Nabers admitted that some churches can get stuck in the past, and while Lutherans can be traditionalists, he said they're ready to embrace change and move forward.
"That's one theme that I'm lifting up to the church," he said. "The kingdom of God is like a good steward who brings out something old and something new."
Church members have suggested a multitude of changes, dealing with different areas like worship, youth ministry and other services. He said he's happy to take suggestions, but right now is focusing on getting to know people.
Nabers has spent time recently walking the streets of Strasburg and stopping into shops and restaurants so that the community can get to know him. He recognizes his role to lead the congregation, but also knows that he's not to be the focus.
"It all needs to go back to their mission statement - "Claimed by Christ to worship and serve God," he said. "A church has to really have a grasp of its mission and what it means. Otherwise, attention shifts to personalities and politics."
Nabers said he hopes to move closer to Strasburg soon, since he's currently located at a house in Bryce Resort. The location doesn't really come as a surprise, given his long-term love of skiing and enjoyment of the outdoors. He actually left the ministry for some time to pursue a career in ski patrol.
"But I love to work with people," he said. "That's how I got started in the first place, at a pretty young age. It made me happy."
The youth of the church is a group that Nabers said he hopes to build up and support. He said he knows a number of students with a variety of talents that can be put to good use, both on Sundays and as a member of the community.
He said it's important to make them feel like a valued part of the church.
All in all, Nabers wants the church to be an open, welcoming place for all types of diverse demographics. And he doesn't plan on going anywhere any time soon.
"I like to think of church on Sunday as a pit stop," he said. "You can't win the race without it, but you won't get anywhere if you only make pit stops."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org