Hello, everyone. My name is Laurel Neal. The Session of Smith Memorial has invited me to serve here as your Interim Pastor, so I’ve been busy getting to know you and your church.I thought you might like to know a little bit about me as we get started together.My husband Fitz and I moved to Vancouver, WA 5 years ago. Fitz is also a pastor and serves at Columbia Presbyterian Church as pastor/head of staff. Two years ago, following a water catastrophe at our rented condo in Vancouver, we moved into our own home in Camas.I’m originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and was raised in the Presbyterian Church. I became a professing Christian during high school, and following Christ has been important to me ever since. Early on, I was nurtured in my church youth group and in Young Life. I attended college at Trinity University in San Antonio, worked for several years in Utah, and returned to Texas to study linguistics at the University of Texas. It was in Austin that I met and married Fitz, who already had a call to the ministry. Off we went to Princeton Seminary, where Fitz kept asking if I wanted to go to seminary, too. I didn’t. At least I didn’t think so.A sense of call to pastoral ministry slowly emerged in my own life after we’d gotten settled back in San Antonio. Eventually I began commuting to the Presbyterian seminary in Austin. Since then Fitz and I have served churches in Colorado, Oklahoma, and Indiana, sometimes working together and sometimes not. Since moving to the Pacific Northwest, I’ve done a short-term interim at Westminster Presbyterian in Eugene, followed by a 23-month interim pastorate at East Woods in Vancouver.Fitz and I are both avid readers and movie-watchers. We like to ski, fly-fish, and dance, and I love to cook. We were unable to have children of our own – but we love kids and always enjoy getting to know the young people in the churches we serve.
As you probably know, I’m working just 3/4 time through the end of the year. I’m attempting to create a work routine that’s fairly predictable, for your sake as well as my own. Right now it looks something like this: I’m here on Sundays from 9:00-1:00. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, I’m at the church from 9:30 a.m. until 3:30 or 4:00, and on Tuesdays from 1:30-4:30 or 5:00 (and later when there are evening meetings). I’ll tend to use the mornings for sermons and other kinds of preparation, but from noon on I’m available for meetings and visits with you. Please feel free to schedule some time with me or to take your chances on dropping by. Meanwhile, I’ll be trying to meet all of you and learn your names, and I’ll enjoy connecting with various ministry and social groups in the church.
For now, then, I don’t plan to be at the church on Fridays or Saturdays, though I’ll be responsive to emergencies and needs for hospital visitation. You might also like to know that Fitz and I try to practice a Sabbath on Fridays. Unless there’s an emergency – or a presbytery meeting! – we try to lay aside our work for 24 hours. This nurtures our trust in God’s work and creates a time of refreshment for us.You may always reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org; and by phone at 503-667-6800 (church); 360-608-4264 (mobile).
I realize that the time between permanent pastors is an awkward period for a congregation. But it also holds a lot of potential. I believe that. Overall it’s my intention to support your life together during this interim time, and to join you in preparing for your next permanent pastor.
Finally, I wish simply to mention the upcoming General Assembly in Pittsburgh June 30-July 7. I feel you should be aware that this Assembly may decide to change the definition of marriage. If it does, news stories about the change will be prominent in national and local media. My impression is that Smith Memorial hasn’t focused on issues of human sexuality in the past, and there may be quite a diversity of views and feelings within the congregation on this subject. Since I’m new here, may I make just a couple of suggestions? First, if you become confused or alarmed by any General Assembly action, please feel free to contact me directly. I’d be glad to spend some time with you. Second, whatever your personal opinions or convictions may be on these issues, please be aware that there’s no need to panic. There will be plenty of time to learn about and process the General Assembly actions here at Smith, if you wish to do so; and the Session has begun to consider that possibility, thinking about what might be most helpful and beneficial. They and I would welcome any input you have.
Warmly in Christ,