Acting pastor takes pulpit at Westhampton Congregational Church

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

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

“One of the things that really drew me to this church was just their self-awareness and openness,” Briggs said. “They weren’t trying to be someone they weren’t or to cover up the challenges they faced.”

With so much change in the world as a result of the pandemic, he was looking for a congregation that considers how it fits into the world as a whole and not just itself. “And we seemed to get along. So that and the fact that when I pulled over I saw that they were openly flying the LGBTQ progress flag. Knowing that it’s not a fight I have to have is great,” he said.

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

“He matched the qualifications we were looking for. He seems very outgoing and outgoing, and eager to meet everyone,” said Richard W. Tracy, chairman of the church board.

Now that Briggs is in place, the church board will set up a formal pastoral research committee. Briggs will then work with the committee and the congregation to define the future vision of the church and its pastoral needs for ministry. The search committee will then fill out a new church profile to search for a permanent pastor.

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

Finding 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 three years to help determine the future course of the church and then find the next pastor. Acting pastors are not permitted to apply for the position of permanent pastor.

“Pastor Tadd had been 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 acting pastor. It’s a good idea to review who we are as a church rather than thinking that nothing will ever change.

The search for an interim has not been without its challenges as there are many churches looking and very few pastors to fill the needs, Tracy said. As he sought an interim position, the chair 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 a month.

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

Briggs’ path to the fabric was not the one he had intentionally planned.

When he started his academic career at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, he was working on 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,” Brigg said with a laugh. “I started out studying biology, which is the study of life. Religious studies is also the study of life – it’s just much broader, you know? The academic background that gave me the freedom to ask questions.

After college, he returned home to help care for his grandparents after they fell ill. Years later, he earned a master’s degree in theology from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2005.

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

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

After several intentional acting ministerships in Michigan and Minnesota, he found his way to Vermont. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he came into contact with several groups of college friends who zoomed together once a week. This weekly contact led him to rekindle a romance with his college girlfriend and decide to go on a long distance date.

At the same time, he considered the challenges he faced as a transitional minister, constantly having to move all of his possessions each time he accepted a new position, and decided it was time to settle down. About a year ago, he moved to Vermont with his college girlfriend and two children.

Emily Thurlow can be contacted at [email protected]

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