Couple Finds Dual Success in Ministries
I know you were expecting William, but you’re getting me today,” Anna said as she addressed William’s congregation a few Sundays ago. So it goes in the Mandelstamms’ ministries – two churches six and a half miles apart in North Carolina. The two 2008 Iliff graduates, William and Anna Mandelstamm, pastors at Cummings Memorial United Methodist Church, Horseshoe, NC and Balfour United Methodist Church, Hendersonville, NC, respectively, are finding creative ways to connect the valley they call home – even swapping pulpits on Sunday morning without notice.
The Mandelstamms received their second appointments last summer and preached first sermons for their new congregations on July 4. There have been several opportunities for them to assist each other at weddings, funerals and special services in their first years on the job. “Our dream is to one day be pastors in the same parish,” William said. “But until then, we are finding ways of ministering together – it’s the only time we get to worship together.”
Saturdays in the Mandelstamm household are exciting days for sermon preparation. “Both of us are extroverts so we work on sermons out loud,” Anna says with a laugh. “We have a friend who likes to come to our house and watch the show as we banter back and forth about the best way to approach the upcoming lectionary. Their friend tells them that the nice thing about both being pastors is that they can talk shop at home. But the bad thing about both being pastors is that they can talk shop at home.” They both laugh.
William says that helping to create a cooperative youth ministry is one of many successes in their ministries so far. “We worked on joint ministries for youth and children – cooperatively working with our two churches, plus two others in the area. The churches take turns hosting one month of Sunday evening youth groups.” “It gets more kids together. Instead of just a handful in each of four small congregations, we have a good-sized group. Volunteers and leaders don’t get so burned out when they can plan for a few weeks instead of continuously. And of course, the kids love it,” Anna interjects.
“Iliff was so different for us, coming from the South. But learning how to think for ourselves, not feeling we have to buy into everyone’s indoctrinations, has served us well,” Anna says. “We must think innovatively about how to handle problems that arise – to think contextually. It’s not like we can run to the bookshelf and find a source to tell us how something should be done. We have to make it up as we go – with the situation before us. Iliff trained us well for that.”
“The French Broad River Valley is very similar to the Denver area in some ways,” William says. “Tourism is the number one industry with the Dupont State Forest and Pisgah National Forest nearby. Also, the river is a huge rafting and kayaking destination with water enthusiasts using the church parking lot for their vehicles. Yes, we compete with outdoor recreation for Sunday morning interests, just like in Denver. We’re also a popular retirement area.”
Anna considers a success for her to be the continual embracing of the connectionalism with “the other” – those outside of the ministry. “I still feel passionate about ‘the least of these,’ remaining faithful to the values I brought with me when I began, even though those values are challenged every day.”
They wanted to acknowledge the ministry struggles to current students – the “joyous and the ugly of ministry” as they called it. “In these difficult economic times, it’s tough to feel affirmed in your ministry particularly when your leaders may not seem to recognize your gifts through the appointments made. We need to first understand that we are ordained by God,” William said. Seamlessly, almost finishing his thought, Anna says, “Our call to ministry is only one of many callings. We are also called to be wives, mothers, friends, neighbors, mentors, disciples, and ourselves. They are all important callings. We may need to look to others for the affirmations of our gifts. Ministry is not the end all that says all of who we are. Affirmation may come through relationships and the people you are ministering to. Be true to the passions that God gave to you. The parish includes the world.”