Interim pastor hopes to help First United, Grace see community potential

Pastor AnnMarie Kneebone says her strengths include her enthusiasm and helping people see their potential, both traits ideal for an interim pastor like herself.
Kneebone began her time as interim -- replacing Pastor Robin Keating, who left earlier this year -- at both Grace United Church of Christ in Culver and First United Church of Christ in Plymouth, in June, though she actually moved to Culver in July.
She learned of the position opening for the two “yoked” churches, while living in the Elkhart area. She’d been pastoring in Chicago and began giving workshops and seminars in the Goshen-Elkhart area, all the while developing relationships in the United Church of Christ’s Indiana-Kentucky Conference.
She first took a turn at preaching at Grace church in Culver.
“When you hear of a job you consider -- you want to look into it. I was received with such warmth and enthusiasm in Culver, and that kind of caught my heart. The same thing happened at First United in Plymouth. I had an opportunity to preach twice, and then when they called me to the position, I had already said to myself I would accept it because of that.
“This town is a delightful little town,” says Kneebone -- who grew up on a 40-acre farm near a town of 1,500 -- of Culver. “I love that I can get a latte if I want to! I like the fact that the lake is here and that people who live here, in my experience, just really love living here, and that is really persuasive. Then you have all these people who come in from Indianapolis and Chicago and who knows where else -- they bring their energy and excitement into the town. That’s contagious.”
Kneebone keeps office hours in Plymouth most Wednesdays, and Thursdays in Culver, while Fridays are devoted to both churches, depending on needs.
The service schedule at both churches will stay the same as prior to her arrival: Sundays at 9 a.m. at Grace and 10:45 a.m. at First United.
“If I’m not long-winded at Grace, I make it to First with room to spare,” she laughs. “If I get a little excited about what I’m talking about, I have to rush!”
Once a month, she still preaches at a church in Chicago, where she lived for 15 years prior to her move to Elkhart, and she continues pastoral work for that church on-line.
Kneebone says she’s been in ministry “for all practical purposes” all her life to a degree, but for the past four years in a paid capacity.
“I do a lot of pulpit supply,” she adds. “Pastors on sabbatical, or if they haven’t found an interim yet, I go in and preach for them periodically.”
She points out the role of an interim pastor is decidedly different from that of a permanent clergy lead.
“I’m here to journey with people as they reflect on who they are and who they’re becoming, and as they look at their future I kind of help them look at their past as well, in ways that are as helpful as possible. It has to do with seeing the people and communities.”
That gift intertwines with the enthusiasm she mentioned.
“I can say, ‘Did you see this? Did you see that? Isn’t this a wonderful opportunity?
“The work of a pastor, according to the bible, is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. You have to see the potential in people and communities, and that’s exciting.”
And while she’s looking at the future ministries of both the local churches she serves, her work in that area isn’t the same as a permanent pastor’s might be,
“The nature of interim pastoring is, you don’t know how long you’re going to be here. If they find somebody six months from now, I will have completed my ministry. The goal is to make it so when they have made the decision of who they want to be the permanent pastor, it’s one they feel totally confident is Spirit-led and they have thought through what they need to. It’s a corner-turning time.
“I’ve really enjoyed the transitional ministry I’ve done in my career. I feel called to it.”
While different people, of course, feel called to attend church for different reasons, Kneebone invites those who aren’t yet to take part in the weekly ritual of marking time in their lives.
“That is important to me,” she notes. “As I lead worship, especially at the Benediction, where it says, ‘As you go forth from this place.’ We’ve made mistakes in that week prior and done good things. Hold on to those good things and let go of the mistakes. Know that we can move forward and say, ‘Let’s do this again.’
“In the Benediction, I think it’s important to say, ‘As you leave,’ so you know you’re not alone -- we’re still connected. It’s not just because we’re standing in this building. We’re connected because the Holy Spirit has connected us. People who are isolated, lonely, or happy and want to share their joy -- church is a good place to do that.”