BENNINGTON — Bob Wiegers, the new pastor of the First Baptist Church of Bennington, said he isn't a top-down leader or a go-getter, rather his approach is come alongside to assist and accompany people.
He and and his family moved into town on Dec. 18.
Wiegers is nearing his degree from Gordon–Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass." I've got just a few classes left," he said. "This is my first, full-time position. I've done part-time ministry over the years, but I was a full-time computer programmer for about 12 years or so."
His installation service will be held at First Baptist on Sunday, Jan. 24, at 4 p.m. in the church sanctuary. All are welcome. This will be the formal beginning of his pastorate.
"I'll finish my degree in the spring and then work toward ordination," he said in a recent interview. "So ordination will be within a year."
Wiegers, 39, was born in Ridgewood, N.J., but his parents moved to Boynton Beach, Fla., where he grew up. He has longtime ties to Vermont, however.
"My extended family has cottages on Lake Bomoseen and so that was always our home away from home, so even when we lived in south Florida, we would drive up every summer and go up on the lake. And my aunts and uncles are there, my cousins are there, my grandparents are there, so that was paradise for us."
He went to Covenant College, a small Christian college in Georgia, not far from Chattanooga, Tenn., and received a degree in English. He worked in a coffee shop and did some work for magazines and newspapers. He eventually found his way into computer programming, at first working for a friend who needed help. He has worked for himself, worked for small businesses and for some very large insurance companies, also.
Wiegers and his wife, Michelle, met in college and decided to stay in the Chattanooga area. They became very involved in a local church. They have been married for 16 years and have four children – two boys, two girls, ages 10, 11, 7 and 5.
"I became a lay leader of the church there and they started asking me to participate in more and more ministry there," he said. "So I did some preaching and teaching and music, and the more things that I did in the local church, the more I felt drawn to it and I never did feel completely at home in the computer industry."
It was, he said, a slow evolution toward a career change, but with much prayer he and his wife decided, "Yeah, let's make this leap." They prayed to discern where God wanted them to go. "And we were pretty sure it wasn't the South any more because we felt that our time there had run its course, even though we really loved being down there."
With the couple feeling called to move back north – Michelle is originally from Pennsylvania — a ministry internship eventually opened up in Portland, Maine. "And I could transfer my day job — I worked for an insurance company called Unum and they had an office in Chattanooga and an office in Portland — so I just transferred my day job there and began the ministry internship there," he said.
It was "our first chance to live in New England full-time, and really loved it," he said. "Portland's a great town. I really fell in love with cross country skiing, so that helped."
From there it was on to Gordon–Conwell Theological Seminary. "At first I thought I might be headed toward establishing a new church in communities. That's one way to grow churches, start a new one, there's advantages there. I realized that's not really my gifting, so what I really felt called to was giving a restart to a church," he said. "It's really no secret that many churches, including First Baptist here, have had a period of decline, and it's a unique ministry to come into a church that is really looking for a re-start. And I really felt called to that type of ministry."
First Baptist of Bennington has been without a full-time pastor since the Rev. Jerrod Hugenot departed in 2013. Wiegers found out about the opening from the Rev. Dale Edwards, regional minister of the American Baptist Churches of Vermont and New Hampshire, who will participate in the installation ceremony.
"He came to the seminary campus just to get to know some seminary students. And I met him and just got to know him and got to know what his vision is for the churches here in the region," Wiegers said.
"And so when they had the opening here, they asked Dale if they knew anybody who would be a good fit and he passed along some resumes, including mine. So, that's how it got started."
The couple got to know the ministerial search committee at First Baptist and really hit it off with them, he said.
In helping the church get a re-start "a lot of it's getting back to the basics, we're going to pray, we're going about taking care of people, we'll be welcoming, we're going to proclaim God's love any way we can, faithful preaching of the Scriptures," he said. "I'm very much enthusiastic about that."
These basics of historic Christian ministry include "knowing and loving people wherever they're at, bringing God's love, bringing God's grace to bear wherever you may be, praying, praying individually, praying together, praying at the church, praying for the well-being of the community, because we can't do any of this on our own," he said.
What are his strengths as a minister?
"I think, in some ways you might even call it the classic (type of) pastor...coming alongside people in their time of need and coming alongside people who are eager for spiritual growth, helping the community be a healthy community in the church," he said. "And also being a community that looks beyond its own walls, which this church is really good at on those real practical aspects, but we could also look at the spiritual needs as well.
"I'm not a top-down leader, I'm not a real go-getter," he added. "I'd guess you'd say I'm more of a come alongside, let's see where we're at, let's do this together and hopefully by God's grace we can move ahead together."
Anything to add?
"I'm just very excited that God led us here because God is at work in this place, in this community. You know, I've been able to talk to various shopkeepers, and the cable guy," he said. "And it seems like there's a general consensus that Bennington is not in its best place right now, and there seems to be some negativity that is kind of in the air."
So he would like "just to see what God has for that. This town, I can already tell, is filled with people who are hardworking and kindhearted and thoughtful," Wiegers said. "I see it as my role to come alongside and say: 'how can we experience God in this, in what our community is up to, and find God's grace in Jesus.' "
He added, "I've got a lot to learn, I've got a lot to learn about full-time ministry, I've got a lot to learn about Bennington, I've got a lot to learn about this church and the facility — and it is wonderful and beautiful and also intimidating," he said with a laugh. "So I'm excited to see what God is up to."