North Shore Presbyterian Church Pastor Cherishes 'Challenges, Joys and Sorrows of Ministry'
Rev. James Bender talks about his journey to becoming a pastor and to North Shore Presbyterian Church from upstate New York, his fondness of the community and what he hopes the future holds for the church.
As part of Shorewood Patch's recurring Faces of Shorewood series featuring the people that make Shorewood special, we caught up with Rev. James Bender of North Shore Presbyterian Church, which recently celebrated 90 years in Shorewood.
Are you from Shorewood? If so, what is your favorite thing about the village?
My family and I lived in Shorewood for about 10 years before moving to Wauwatosa to be closer to my wife’s work. My son went through four years of Shorewood High School; our daughter was in the Shorewood School system from second grade through high school graduation.
My favorite thing about Shorewood is the people. I have always found folks here to be engaging, involved and interesting. I enjoy the “small town” feel. While I no longer walk much around town, when I do, I enjoy meeting people, talking with them, making contact with them.
When did you join North Shore Presbyterian Church? What were you doing prior?
I came to North Shore Presbyterian Church almost 22 years ago from upstate New York where I pastored three different Presbyterian churches for the prior 15 years. The funny thing is that the first time I came to Milwaukee for my first interview, I thought Milwaukee was in Michigan. The other interesting thing I remember is that the committee seeking another pastor sent me a marketing video (or whatever form it took 22 years ago) that showed the splendor and activity of Milwaukee three seasons of the year: Spring, summer and fall! Of course, coming from upstate New York, I knew what winter was about.
Why did you decide to become a pastor?
I didn’t really decide to become a pastor. All through high school, my plan was to become a lawyer, teacher or go into the Foreign Service. But as it’s been said, humans make plans and God laughs. My home pastor in Hershey, Pa., put the thought of ministry into my mind. It wouldn’t go away. Even in college as a political science major, I kept being drawn to religion courses. After graduating from college, I went to Princeton Theological Seminary thinking I would then go to law school and pastor a small church on weekends. I never even took a preaching course … which probably won’t surprise some of my parishioners. But during my seminary career, I took a year off from course work to serve on staff of a church in the Trenton area. I fell in love with the challenge, the joys and sorrows of ministry.
What is your favorite thing about NSPC? Is it different from other churches?
Every church has its own distinctive characteristics; it’s unique personality. NSPC is the most welcoming, caring and engaged group of folks I’ve ever served. And the most unpretentious. We scan the political, theological and socio-economic gamut. But it works for us because we see ourselves as a family, the Covenant Family, drawn together by God’s grace to be God’s people in this place at this time. The other thing I love about this church is that it is challenging. I have likened my roll here as trying to hold on to the tail of the tiger, not necessarily to direct its path, just to slow it up a tad so we can all go the same direction together.
In what ways are you involved in the Shorewood or Milwaukee community?
In prior years, I have belonged to North Shore Kiwanis, served on Shorewood Responds, worked on various Community Way endeavors. Now I find myself spending more time in leadership roles in the Presbytery of Milwaukee.
Hopes for the future of NSPC
My hope, my expectation for the future of this church is that it will continue to grow in ministry and mission as well as in numbers; that it will continue to be the warm, caring, inclusive and loving faith community it is now; that NSPC, the best kept secret in Milwaukee County, will be known as the strong, vital and dynamic church in the county.