Answering the call: Interim pastor takes the pulpit at Westhampton Congregational Church

  • Pastor Greg Briggs recently took the helm as the interim pastor at the Westhampton Congregational Church. The church will spend the next one to three years looking for a permanent pastor. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Pastor Greg Briggs recently took the helm as the interim pastor at the Westhampton Congregational Church. The church will spend the next one to three years looking for a permanent pastor. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/23/2022 3:00:28 PM
Modified: 10/23/2022 3:00:16 PM

WESTHAMPTON — After a six-month nationwide search, Westhampton Congregational United Church of Christ has found its new interim pastor.

The Rev. Greg Briggs, a native of central Michigan, answered the church’s call and accepted the position on Oct. 1.

“One of the things that really attracted me to this church was just their self awareness and their openness,” Briggs said. “They weren’t trying to be somebody they weren’t or cover up the challenges they were dealing with.”

With so much of the world changing as a result of the pandemic, he was looking for a congregation that considered how it fit into the world as a whole and not just themselves. “And we seemed to hit it off. So, that and the fact that when I pulled up, I saw that they were openly flying the LGBTQ progress flag. Knowing that’s not a fight I have to have is great,” he said.

The search for a part-time interim began in April after the Rev. Tadd Allman-Morton, known as “Pastor Tadd,” decided to step down from the role after 14 years with the congregation.

“He fit the qualifications we were looking for. He seems very affable and outgoing, and anxious to meet everyone,” said Richard W. Tracy, chairperson of the church council.

Now that Briggs is in place, the church council will commission an official Pastoral Search Committee. Briggs will then work with the committee and the congregation to set the church’s future vision and its pastoral needs for ministry. The search committee will then complete a new church profile to seek a permanent pastor.

As part of that work, the collective group will answer the following three questions: Who are we? Who is our neighbor? Where are we headed?

The search for a new pastor is not a quick process, Tracy said. The role of an intentional interim minister is to lead the congregation over the next one to three years to help determine the future path of the church and then find the next pastor. Interim pastors are not allowed to apply for the settled pastor position.

“Pastor Tadd was here for 14 years. If you were 10 when you started coming to church here, you were 24 when he left. A lot can happen in 14 years,” Tracy said. “That’s why it’s important to have an interim pastor. It’s a good idea to review who we are as a church rather than think that nothing will ever change.”

The search for an interim wasn’t without its challenges as there are many churches searching and very few pastors to fulfill the need, said Tracy. While seeking an interim, the pulpit was temporarily filled by five different ministers.

Briggs was chosen after two rounds of interviews. He will commute from Vermont where he lives and stay in the area a few days a week, three weeks of each month.

Prior to this role, Briggs, who considers himself a transitional minister, was an interim minister for nearly two years in Charlevoix, Michigan, and an interim minister in Grand Ledge, Michigan for one year and eight months. He also spent almost five years as the associate minister of the Bethlehem United Church of Christ in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Briggs’ trajectory to the cloth wasn’t one that he had intentionally planned.

When he first began his collegiate career at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, he was working toward a bachelor’s degree in biology. Those plans changed along the way and in 1997 he graduated with a degree in religious studies.

“My undergraduate thesis was on the Golem and Frankenstein and the first in artificial intelligence,” said Brigg with a chuckle. “I started out studying biology, which is the study of life. Religious studies is also the study of life — it’s just a lot broader, you know? The academic context that gave me the freedom to ask questions.”

After college, he returned home to help take care of his grandparents after they fell ill. Years later, he went on to graduate with a master’s degree in divinity from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2005.

“Going to seminary was really more about me just trying to figure out what my life was supposed to be like at that point,” he said. “I was finding more connection with faith and traditions outside of Christianity, but still really feeling like there’s something in it that I needed to reconcile. So I went to seminary just to try to bring different parts of myself together.”

And in that process, Briggs says he discovered some gifts and found his calling in ministry.

After several positions as an intentional interim minister in both Michigan and Minnesota, he found his way to Vermont. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he got in touch with several groups of friends from college that would Zoom together once a week. That weekly contact led him to rekindling a romance with his college sweetheart and deciding to date long distance.

At the same time, he was examining the challenges he faced as a transitional minister, constantly having to move all of his belongings every time he accepted a new position and decided it was time to settle down. About one year ago, he moved to Vermont with his college sweetheart and her two children.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.
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