Piedmont Community Church’s interim pastor starts Jan. 1
By Lou Fancher
Emerging from a rigorous process that included more than 30 online interviews, sermon reviews, reference checks and “exhaustive” ranking exercises, the Rev. Dr. Steve Schibsted is taking the position of Transitional Minister at Piedmont Community Church.
“You have the same responsibilities as an installed pastor,” Schibsted, 63, says of the job he will start Jan. 1. “The special role of the interim minister is to help the church though a time of transition. To look under the hood and say who are we and who are we to be in the future.”
The church is an interdenominational faith community, centered on Christ and welcoming everyone regardless of age, race, status, background or sexual orientation. With more than 100 years in Piedmont and active in mission work within and beyond the Bay Area, the congregation before the transition was led for 18 years by the Rev. Dr. William H. McNabb. Rich Thompson, chair of the transitional minister nominating committee, says Schibsted’s across-the-board strengths placed him at the top of the list of candidates.
“Dr. Schibsted brings the perfect combination of experience, strategic vision and warm, outgoing engagement needed to guide our church in preparation to welcome a new era and a new senior minister.”
Ironically, the ministry was far from Schibsted’s thoughts during his childhood growing up in San Diego, where he was born, and then near Pasadena in a small town where he moved at age 5 with his mother and siblings after his parents’ divorce.
“Never dreamed I’d be a pastor. I wasn’t raised in the church, although I was baptized Greek Orthodox as an infant. My mom was raising three kids on her own, and I don’t think she had the energy to go to church.”
In seventh grade, he had what he now calls “a conversion experience with Christ that changed my life.” During high school and while attending UC Santa Barbara, opportunities and individuals reinforced and increased his faith. While working with youth at the Christ-centered camps operated by Mount Hermon in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Director Ron Demolar had enormous influence on Schibsted’s future as a pastor.
“He saw something in me: gifts for ministry and working with people. And he saw leadership that I didn’t see in myself. He was a real servant leader; a legend. He’s retired now, but he called out people’s gifts and encouraged people to do things they didn’t see in themselves.”
Now an ordained presbyterian minister, Schibsted received a master-of-divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1991 and a doctorate in ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary in 2001. Before joining Piedmont Community Church, he led congregations as senior minister at three locations and served most recently as transitional minister at First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley.
“The term there was up, and this just kind of fell in my lap,” he says. “I was asked to offer advice, and during that meeting they said they hadn’t done this in 20 years and wanted someone to guide them in selecting an interim pastor. As we talked, I said I might be interested.”
The role of an interim pastor, while in many ways not unusual, is specialized. Occasionally, a church has experienced conflict or operational mismanagement and requires an objective eye and a soothing, outsider presence. Such is not the case in Piedmont, Schibsted says.
“I think it’s solid. I’ve served other churches where there was deep conflict. In this situation, they need to look at new missions: What is God calling us to do? Maybe new areas of ministry.”
Interim positions typically are one- to three-year terms. Jumping whole-heartedly into a new church, becoming attached to people and programs, he knows that saying good-bye is going to be difficult. Does he therefore hold back?
“No,” he says, “I’m the type to put my whole soul into the work. Interim has been looked at as kind of babysitting until the new pastor comes, but that’s changing. You have to keep things moving because the church can’t just stand still. I don’t sit around. I want to help the church move forward.”
Moving forward, striving for a healthy church in a world undergoing swift and constant change, young families and youth are a particularly vital element.
“I love searching for missing things they may need to become the church they want to be. It’s a great process of asking people about their dreams,” says Schibsted, who also says brainstormng about children’s and family ministry brings renewal to older congregations that seek growth. “The people I’ve met are amazing. They’re capable in their careers, with love for their church and a desire to see it thrive. They have hearts for Piedmont and the area … and they’re just fun to talk to and learn from.”
When asked if affluent members of the faith community recognize their good fortune and seek to share it (it’s important to note the church draws from beyond Piedmont as well), Schibsted says, “They do a lot of good things and realize we have a real gift here. We need to be good stewards of what God has given us.”
The digital “Zoom preaching” necessary due to the pandemic is no replacement for what is supposed to be an interaction with people in a sanctuary, he says. Looking at a camera, Schibsted suggests, is not as enjoyable but is something he predicts will never entirely disappear.
“There are some people who will never want to go back to the sanctuary, so how do keep them engaged?” he asks.
Knowing Schibsted, the people at Piedmont Community Church can count on the question being asked and their new interim minister’s all-out assistance to find the answers.