New pastor is ready to listen

Published 12:55 am Saturday, September 1, 2018

The congregation at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church on Bridge Road recently welcomed new church pastor Gillian Weighton, who has assumed responsibilities from interim pastor Leigh Gillis.

Her first official service on Sunday was packed with positive energy and people of all ages, according to Weighton.

“People were incredibly, overwhelmingly welcoming,” she said. “The church was full, and we had a reception afterwards. It was nice.”

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The pastoral nominating committee had conducted several interviews with Weighton while she was at her previous church in Racine, Wisc. She said she enjoys the scenery of Bennett’s Creek but was truly won over by the congregation’s character, which was made evident by the committee members themselves.

“I thought if this was any indication of what this congregation was like, then this is where I feel God is leading me to be,” she said.

Weighton brings 26 years of preaching experience to her new position in Suffolk. She earned a Master of Sacred Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York, N.Y., and a Bachelor of Divinity at University of St. Andrews in Scotland, her country of origin.

She began with 12 years preaching at St. James’ Parish Church in Ayr, Scotland followed by nearly a decade at Bridge of Allan Parish Church in Stirling. She said she first felt the call to ministry as a teenager.

“I was very influenced by my Sunday school teachers and my parents. I had grown up in the church, and the pastor at my church growing up really inspired me with his preaching and his care for other people,” she said. “I had a very strong sense that this is where God was calling me.”

She’s a firm believer in practicing what you preach. She and her congregation back in Racine opened a food pantry that fed up to 40 families weekly, she said, and she was first invited to become pastor there when she visited during the 18 years she spent in a pastor exchange program.

That program allowed her to visit numerous churches across the United States. She said it’s a great learning experience for both the congregations and the pastors themselves.

“It was a wonderful way to connect with the community and to really engage in the congregation’s life, even for a short period of time,” she said.

Each church helped her understand how to best communicate and interact with the surrounding community to figure out what was most needed from the church, a process that starts by simply listening.

“I’ve always taken my time to listen to people, drive around the community and be in that community to try and discern the needs of that particular community,” she said.

Her new community at St. Andrew has 417 active members engaged in outreach efforts like soup kitchens and the adult senior group XYZ, or “Extra Years of Zest.” Members managed to produce 22,500 meals over the summer for Rise Against Hunger, Weighton said.

But she’s most excited by St. Andrew’s Preschool, which is expected to have 60 to 70 children this fall. She said the school is indicative of the church’s tremendous commitment to community outreach.

“I think it’s a great outreach for the church to say that we are the church, but church isn’t just worship on Sunday morning,” she said. “That’s the worship, but the service is what we do during the week, and one of those services is to provide a loving, secure and safe environment for young people.”

She wants the school to foster relationships between the young students and the church, build their self-esteem and let them know that there are people who care about them. In her words, each child is unique in their own way, and that’s OK.

“I want that to be the message that they get in this environment. That no matter who they are, they are beloved children of God, and they all have a place to fit in somewhere,” she said.

Along with building up the students, Weighton plans to build upon the church’s online and social media presence to spread the word on what they have to offer.

“We’re saying we’re here, and that there are things we can offer you. I think too often churches are like ‘here we are, come and get us.’ I think we should be ‘there you are, we want to come to you,’” she said. “We want to meet people where they’re at.”