There's a joyous scene in Frank Capra's film "It's a Wonderful Life" when George and Mary Bailey stand on a front porch to welcome the Martini family to their new home.
They give the family gifts of bread ("that this house may never know hunger"), salt ("that life may always have flavor"), and wine ("that joy and prosperity may reign forever").
This scene is similar to scenes playing out at United Methodist churches around the U.S., and in other countries as well, as church members welcome new pastors with events, gifts and supplies.
When we posted the article "We're getting a new pastor! What can I do?" on Facebook, a number of United Methodists around the world offered their comments.
Mac Blackwood, whose father was a minister in both the Mississippi and Louisiana conferences, tells about an old tradition. "In the early 1960s, a new preacher and family received a 'pounding.' The congregation members would each give a pound of some food goods to welcome them into the family."
Jean Crawford, a member of First United Methodist Church in Salem, Virginia, provides a helpful tip: "Draw a map of the neighborhood that includes the nearest grocery store, pharmacy, schools, fast food favorites and neighbors who live near the personage with phone numbers included for help if needed during the moving in! I did it years ago. Taped it to the cabinet in the personage kitchen with my phone number (personage committee chairman) and muffins to have for breakfast."
In Norway, members of Flekkefjord United Methodist Church once drove more than 2,000 miles roundtrip to help move their new song and music directors and their belongings to their new church!
According to the Rev. Maudy Muchanyereyi, pastor of the Budiriro Circuit in the Zimbabwe West Annual Conference, "Welcome Day" for new pastors is celebrated at the church by all members.
"Members come to the parsonage singing and dancing and escorts the pastor to church," said Rev. Muchanyereye. "Immediately after service the welcome party starts. Members will present their gifts as individuals, classes or organizations. These gifts vary - some might volunteer to do pastor's hair for the year, groceries cash or even material things like clothes, kitchen utensils or poultry.
"After presentation of gifts," she continues, "we gather together for a meal with the church and fellowship telling jokes and getting to know each other. The pastor's family is then escorted back home. Since parsonages are rarely furnished – at most they have a fridge a stove and a bed. Settling down can indeed take long a long time, so I appreciated all the meals they prepared while we settled," said Rev. Muchanyereye.
According to Liraflor Arocena from Chosen United Methodist Church - Baloc in Santo Domingo, Nueva Ecija, and Lucille Grace Hilario, the director of Connectional Ministries of the Middle Philippines Conference, churches in the Philippines often hold "Despedida / Bienvenida" celebrations to bid both goodbye to the current pastor and family and welcome to the newly-appointed pastor and family.
At these communal gatherings, each guest or group contributes a different and often homemade dish of food to be shared. A short informal program is done during which members offer songs, messages, and original poems. The church also gives a gift to the pastor who is leaving.
Another practical suggestion for welcoming a new pastor is offered by Susan Kruk Gallagher at Kingwood United Methodist Church in Kingwood, Texas: "Wear your name tags if your church has them. It will make it easier for the new pastor"
Since many pastors have families, Kathy Kilday Gillenwaters from First United Methodist Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, offers advice on welcoming the pastor's children: "Help their kids get plugged in by inviting the kids to a youth gathering or a play group or whatever to let them be welcomed and cared for by the other children/youth in your community. It's terribly lonely to move early in the summer and know no one your own age until school starts." Gillenwaters speaks from experience. She is the daughter of a United Methodist pastor in the Holston (Tennessee) Annual Conference.
If you can't think of a gift for your new pastor, our article suggests: "A gift card to your favorite business, restaurant, or local home improvement store will be welcome, and helps the pastor and family get to know your community."
The Lewis Center for Church Leadership, which was formed within Wesley Theological Seminary in 2003 to "promote the effective and faithful practice of Christian leadership in the church and the world," offers "50 Ways to Welcome a New Pastor."
These 50 ways are divided into six categories:
- Prepare to welcome your new pastor
- Say goodbye to your current pastor in a healthy way
- Make things move-in ready
- Welcome your pastor on moving day
- Continue the welcome during the entry period
- Help the new pastor become familiar with the congregation
- Help the new pastor connect with the community
More information, as well as a PDF of "50 Ways to Welcome a New Pastor," are available here.
*This piece was first posted in June, 2018.