When members of Columbia United Church of Christ learned their pastor of nearly 30 years, Fred Brandbenburg, was moving on in 2004, they wondered how they would fill the void.
“We felt like we needed to call on a pastor who would help us move our church forward,” said Steve Keithahn, a church member and chairman of the search committee, which interviewed pastors from around the country. When they met the Rev. Tom Nordberg, they found a match.
Keithahn said the committee wanted someone with fresh ideas, plenty of experience and an open mind.
“He tries to bring people of different faiths together at a time when churches are often pulled apart,” Keithahn said.
Nordberg will be installed at 4 p.m. today at the church, which is located at 3201 I-70 Drive N.W.
Nordberg said he was excited to join a new community and immediately got to work when he arrived in mid-June. He contacted community leaders and business owners, hoping to network and learn more about Columbia.
“One needs to know what the nature of a community is before you can prescribe how to be engaged with it,” he said. “I want people to know who I am and know that (our church) is here.”
Maintaining a relationship with the community is one of Nordberg’s highest priorities.
“I want to make sure the church is truly engaged in the community and known by the community,” he said.
Soon after his arrival, he encouraged congregants to attend the Islamic Center of Central Missouri’s open house. He led a group of 25 to the event.
Nordberg said learning about and connecting with other communities of faith promotes understanding and is “simply the right thing to do.”
“It helps us to understand the nature of our own faith and be good neighbors to the members of our community,” he said.
Nordberg has also made contacts with leaders in the Jewish community and other Christian denominations, inviting them to his installation ceremony.
“This is an occasion where I am saying, ‘I’m here and I want to be your colleague. I want to add to the integrity and well-being of our community,’” Nordberg said.
Partnering with agencies such as the Central Missouri Food Bank is another way Nordberg said he hopes to bring the church and the community together. He has toured the facility and is looking for ways to get involved.
“It’s one thing to help people by giving them surplus food,” he said. “It’s another to provide the means through which they can acquire skills to get themselves out of poverty.”
Helping disadvantaged members of a community is something Nordberg holds dear.
“As Christian people, we are to live out the great commandments of loving God and loving your neighbor,” he said. “When we serve and relate to our neighbors, we are honoring God.”
His proudest moments are those where he was able to provide aid to a neighbor in need.
Rob Reed, a member at Nordberg’s former church, Coral Gables Congressional Church near Miami, said Nordberg was a kind and compassionate pastor.
“In times of personal need, he is extraordinary,” Reed said. “He is a profoundly caring pastor and the people have the warmest recollection of him.”
Reed said he experienced Nordberg’s generosity first hand. While Reed was struggling with the decision to move his 106-year-old mother to a nursing home, Nordberg made a special trip to offer counseling and help with the move. Reed said Nordberg also made three follow-up visits. “He is a true friend and a true pastor,” Reed said.
Nordberg’s current congregants have had similar observations.
“I’m very impressed with him,” lifelong member Tracy Bach said. “He’s a genuine, kind man with a great energy and lots of new ideas about bringing energy back to our church.”
Nordberg met with each committee within the church, asking them to define their goals and objectives.
“We needed to assess where we are and where we want to be,” he said. “My job is to prompt people to get creative.”
Nordberg said asking committee members for their input in church ministries allows them to take charge in the church’s future.
“He’s asking us to take a new look at the programs we have and figure out ways to make them even better,” Bach said.
In addition to the three adult classes already offered, Nordberg, who has a doctorate in Christian theology and ethics from McGill University in Montreal and was a faculty member there for 10 years, will teach a class in October that examines Christianity, the history, ethics and denominations.
“His sermons are like listening to the most wonderful lecturer you’ve ever had,” Keithahn said. “He can relate to different kinds of people and brings up challenging ideas without preaching.”
Nordberg said he looks to marry the newspaper and the Bible in his sermons and explain what God is trying to say through worldly events.
“I want people to experience a sense of enrichment,” he said. “There will be an open-minded interpretation of Scripture and an embracing of contemporary issues.”
He encourages people to join the church regardless of age, race, ethnic background or sexual orientation.
“No one will be chastised here,” he said. “We will honor everyone’s unique spirituality.”