Profiles in hospitality: First Presbyterian Church, Fernandina Beach, Florida

The Rev. Julie Jensen began in February as Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Fernandina Beach, Florida. I got to see Julie’s search for a new call through a few different windows, and it seemed clear that something special was unfolding when she began communicating with FPC. I asked her to share how FPC’s hospitality impacted her acceptance of the position and the start-up of her ministry in Florida.

When did you discern that FPC was a great fit for you?

Julie said that her inclination grew throughout her interactions with the search team. As someone who is experienced at reading congregational profiles and position descriptions, she could tell that the search team had taken care to show their heart and their story in these documents. When her initial Skype interview was rescheduled due to a hurricane threat in Florida, Julie noted that she had family in the path of the storm as well. When the Skype call took place, one of the search team’s first questions was about her family’s safety, and the team members noted that they had been praying for Julie’s loved ones. In the various rounds of interviews, the search team asked thoughtful questions that provoked candid conversation. For Julie’s on-site interview, the search team was flexible with her about timing, the scheduling of events during the visit, and her transportation and lodging options, all the while being clear about the ways they would cover her expenses. There was a basket of goodies in her hotel room, along with a handwritten note of welcome. Her one-on-one time with the Senior Pastor/Head of Staff was spent in conversation, prayer, and the building of a truly collegial relationship. As Julie sat in the airport after her on-site visit, she reflected on all her experiences with the search team to that point. Realizing that she would like to serve this church and these people even if they were far from a beautiful beach setting, she knew she had found a new home. Her discernment was confirmed when the congregation put her on speakerphone following their vote to extend a call, and the people in the pews burst into thunderous applause.

After the congregational vote, how did church folks begin welcoming you?

Julie began immediately receiving friend requests on social media, and her new church members were understanding about her decision not to accept them until her new position was public. The search team contacted her weekly to see how she was holding up during the impending transition. The church was generous with moving expenses and helped her secure housing. The staff cleared out the Associate Pastor office, and upon her arrival Julie was given a budget to decorate it as she liked. Two church members helped her with the project, which was a fun way to get to know them better. Julie's name was already on the permanent sign for her first day, and someone brought her flowers. The church threw her a “welcome wagon” at which church members were asked to bring their recommendations for local services and an item that represented what they loved about their community. Three months in, people are still taking Julie up on her offer to meet one-on-one or in small groups so that she can build relationships with her parishioners. She also notes that her Senior Pastor/Head of Staff cleared considerable time on his calendar during her first two weeks to help her enter well. One of the first things they did together was pray in the sanctuary for their ministry. He made himself available, as did the rest of the staff, to help ease the transition and answer questions Julie had. 

What difference has the hospitality of the search team and congregation made in your mindset and ability to do ministry?

Julie says she started her position wanting to work hard for these people who had already accepted her not just as one of their pastors, but also as a human being. Through the way she has been welcomed since the beginning of this search, Julie felt the desire on all sides to build good, healthy working relationships with members and staff.  These relationships have provided a foundation of people she can reach out to when she needs questions answered or systems explained. She still hears the thunderous applause in her head when she has a hard ministry day and knows that her church is still cheering for her, which allows her to focus on the tasks at hand. The warm welcome of the congregation, staff, and others in the community has allowed her to find her way in a new place with confidence.   

Hospitality doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money, just some attention to detail. But it makes all the difference in a church and a minister’s excitement for learning to love and live well together.