With every new season comes change, and this change of season brings a new pastor to Wilton Presbyterian Church (WPC).
For Rev. Jeffrey Weenink, moving to Wilton is a big seasonal change from his last congregation, Jackson Beach, FL.
But changing congregations is something Weenink has become accustomed to, as an interim pastor who has come to WPC after the departure of Rev. Shannon White. As an interim pastor, he knows his time in Wilton will be relatively short, from one to two years. During that time, his role is not only to be the full-time spiritual leader at WPC, but also to guide the congregation through the process of finding its next long term clergy member.
With 41 years of experience, Weenink has served in both capacities. This is his third interim post after having always been what he calls a “long-hauler,” serving eight years at his first church, then 10 years at his second, and finally 20 years at the third. But he knows how critical a role he plays for WPC during his stint in Wilton.
“This is a really important time in the footprint for any congregation and any time in a transition,” he said, laying out what he tries to do.
“I move into sort of a consultative role in a thorough, complete self-examination a self study, or a mission study … some call it strategic plans. I help us take a look at our ourselves, honestly, transparently [to] come up with a pretty solid profile of who we are in this time and in this place, but where we have a sense for where we would like to be or go.”
In effect, Weenink is shepherding the WPC flock through a journey of self-discovery — emphasis on ‘self’.
“Some authoritarian types would come in and try and tell the congregation, ‘This is how you need to be, here’s the party line, this is what you gotta do.’ And then there are those of us who come in in a truly Rogerian [non-confrontational] way, to learn who they are, where they are, where are the points of growth and opportunity? But also, what are their core values? Where are the core strengths, where are all their assets and where can you concentrate on the assets rather than the deficit. And can you continue to build strength upon strength upon strength?” he explained.
Weenink arrived in Wilton with his wife, Jeanne and their “diva-retriever” Jaelah on Sept. 8, and hit the ground running, both for work and off time. His first Sunday at the lectern was just four days later, and they’ve been avidly getting to know the area since then. After having lived and worked in Michigan, Illinois, upstate New York and then Florida, they’ve been enjoying the discovery of a new locale.
“It’s been fun for Jeanne and for me to be able to just take some drives and do some exploring. Jeanne and I are coming into the prime season for New England. The other thing about this gig is you get to be in different places and learn so much about the history, and every place has its own unique culture and different nuances. Wilton is rich — historically, geographically and culturally, and we’re just beginning to kind of scratch the surface. And it’s been just an absolute delight and the people have been just so gracious and hospitable and warm and welcoming,” he added.
The fact that Wilton is also close to Long Island Sound was also a positive. From the painting of the sailboat hanging in his office, to the sailboats on his tie, to all of the sailing references in his profile picture on the WPC website, it’s clear Weenink needed to be near the water.
“I’m a certified water baby, so anything in, on, around, under, by the water. I love to sail, I love to scuba dive, I love to paddleboard, I love to sailboard, so something coastal, that was a factor. It’s just a place where we can find fulfillment. By water’s edge, even if it’s a pond, somehow there is something restorative and healing and renewing. And when one is constantly giving and engaged in people’s lives, knowing what it takes to restore and get your motor renewed is important,” he said.
Finding fulfillment and connection is something he hopes both Wilton ‘long-haulers’ and the many recent newcomers like him and Jeanne will find.
“Everybody in their own way needs to do something about their own spirituality, and there are lovely choices [in Wilton]. I would encourage, especially newcomers, to find the faith community of their choice and get connected. The most important thing for me is for people to find their meaningful place where not only their faith can be fed, but where they can also find the outlet for the expression of their faith,” Weenink said, adding, “We’re one progressive faith community that offers people those choices, but I would really want to affirm everyone in whatever choice they make for their own spiritual journey.”
In just the three weeks that he’s been in Wilton, he’s gotten a sense of what he loves about the congregation with which he chose to work.
“Wilton Presbyterian Church is an inclusive, welcoming, open, lively collection of folks that want to serve. And WPC doesn’t have all the answers, but we’re not afraid to explore all the right questions. Actually this is the smallest congregation that I’ve ever served. It’s always been pretty large, multi-staff congregations, but there’s a spirit, a sweet, sweet spirit — it’s really hard to define, and it’s hard to capture, but it’s certainly something that is really exceptional to be able to experience, to be a part of. And it would be my hope that that spirit can be multiplied, and certainly shared.”