On Thursday morning, the church was nearly quiet. The only sound was an organist practicing in the sanctuary.
The notes of a stylized, “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” rang into the large space, where the chancel was packed with wooden chairs and a nativity scene filled an alcove behind them.
Lights hung in the ceiling like bright spirits, and the chancel was flanked by two TV screens. Within the rest of the building, three new pastors settled into their offices.
Bridgewater Church of the Brethren installed the team of new pastors in a ceremony on Dec. 5.
The triumvirate includes the seasoned David R. Miller, the charismatic Jennifer Keeney Scarr and “dark horse” Erin Dalrymple. The team aims to combine its talents to make the church grow in inclusivity and outreach.
They each have a different title, but they said they all share the roles of pastoral care, outreach, education, worship and administration.
“That’s how our team wants to function. We all want to be pastor in the full sense of the word,” Miller said.
Miller has decades of experience pastoring and most recently came from Montezuma Church of the Brethren, where he worked for over 15 years.
He said he’s excited and challenged to join a diverse team of pastors.
“Erin and Jen are in their 30's. Ethan, the communications guy, is in his 20's. The exciting thing for me is also a little fearful. I feel like I’m kind of old,” Miller said. “It’s [also] something that’s very invigorating for me.”
It’s not usual to have three co-pastors in the Church of the Brethren. There might be multiple pastors, but usually there’s a hierarchy.
The preaching is divided up, the rotation right now is mainly Miller and Keeney Scarr with Dalrymple, formerly a layperson, adding in gradually.
Dalrymple grew up as a congregant in the Bridgewater Church of the Brethren, and brings a knowledge of the community.
“This is a congregation that is so overwhelmingly generous,” she said, recalling video recordings congregants made to provide music during virtual services. “Our congregation stepped up and provided that gift. They would video tape themselves and submit it."
The search for a new pastor has been over two years in the making. Having spent years in social work, other members of the church encouraged Dalrymple to pursue the role.
“[It] was a little scary. I had to spend a lot of time in prayer talking to God asking if this was the right decision for me to make,” she said.
With the support of two other pastors, Dalrymple said she could take the leap of faith. She plans to begin seminary in the fall.
“I honestly would not have considered it had it not been this team setup. This allows me to have partners in this process. Without the team, I really wouldn’t be here,” she said.
Dalrymple said a lot of social-work skills tie over to pastoring.
“Most of the time, my work in social work was just listening to people. I have [background] working with families who need direction and counsel and just a listening ear. I think there are a lot of parallels in pastoring,” she said.
Adding to Miller’s experience and Dalrymple’s connections, Keeney Scarr brings the charisma and leadership of a born speaker to the team.
Growing up, she thought she was going to be an actress.
Having studied performing arts in college, she said she felt called to ministry after a summer work experience in college.
“I saw the church through different eyes. I saw a lot of the beauty of the church a lot of the social justice ability of the church to engage the community. I felt like this is something I could do that I was gifted for,” Keeney Scarr said.
Keeney Scarr said theater is still a part of her and how she preaches.
“[My background] impacts how I preach, how I write and how I want to tell the story of the Bible,” Keeney Scarr said.
The pastors said they’re wrestling with the best way to reach all the members of their congregation.
“The outreach part is to help undergird, sustain and build on the relationships [the church] already has as well as connecting with new opportunities,” Keeney Scarr said.
It's also been a challenge getting to know the church from the administrative side. The church administrator is also a new hire, so the team doesn’t have much to go on procedurally.
“Part of the problem with our arrangement right now, is since none of us [are familiar] with this church, we’re working really hard to catch up,” Miller said. “If you need an extension cord and you don’t know where they’re at, you’ve got a problem."
The pastors said they’re working to make the church’s vision of inclusivity a reality.
“We need to make a connection and that involves looking at ourselves. This church has made a clear statement that it wants to be an inclusive congregation,” Miller said.
Dalrymple said the church has envisioned itself as "a light from the hill," and said she’s excited to see that vision of outreach come true.
“That was a little phrase that we picked up as we were planning this structure here. How can we shine God’s light from this hill so that it goes beyond our walls here?” she said. “I’m just so excited to see how that’s going to materialize.”