A Congregation of the United Church of Christ
402.476.7565   I   2000 “D” St., Lincoln NE 68502   I   Issue 2   I   February 2017

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Celebrating Pastor Barb Smisek

By Meg Lauerman, FP Communications Council chair


Pastor Barb Smisek is retiring in July from her full-time position as associate minister following 13 years of highly effective and often ground-breaking service to the mission to increase the love of God and neighbor. Her remarkable body of work, lasting lessons and influence on the lives of thousands give us much to celebrate. 

Those of us who have been around Barb even a little bit know that she exudes joy and peace—that is her ‘framework’ for the hard work in missions and ministry, both local and international. So not surprisingly, when I caught up with Barb for a retrospective on her years of service at First-Plymouth, the conversation was pretty joyful. Here’s a summary:

ML: Your career path wasn’t exactly a straight line. How did you get here in the first place? 
Barb: After graduating with a business degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, I worked in banking, going from a teller to eventually bank president of Home State Bank in Louisville, Nebraska. That was great, but I just knew I belonged in the ministry. So after 24 years in banking, I attended Central Baptist Seminary and graduated with a master’s in Religious Studies, and was ordained in 2007.  

ML: As you think back over your years at First-Plymouth, what, to you, have been the most rewarding events or accomplishments in your ministry?
Barb: Creating the Adult & Family Mission Team which provided mission trip opportunities for adults and families. The team expanded our mission efforts to include not only Ghana, but Honduras, Pine Ridge and Guatemala. We also sent teams to Camp Kaleo as companion campers for folks with disabilities, and disaster relief teams throughout the Midwest. 

ML: Thinking about the mission trips you have led, what do you remember as ‘lessons’ from those trips that you would like to pass along to the entire congregation?

  • Keep life as simple as you can.
  • A big part of helping others is taking time to listen to their stories.
  • Life is about people, not about things.
  • People are people. We all care about the same things: Family, friends, education, meaningful work, good health, peace, love, hope and JOY!

ML: Leading missions is a huge body of work. Any other highlights you want to add?

  • Mission One Campaign – I was so proud of our church when we pulled together and met all our goals. We filled 112 barrels of food for the Food Bank, raised $12,000 for Neighbors in Need, and wrote 1,111 letters to Members of Congress on behalf of hunger-related legislation. Also,
  • Helping match folks with a Stephen Minister and overseeing that ministry of compassion.
  • Creating, with Cherie Bayley, the Anybody Everybody worship service designed for folks with developmental disabilities and allies
  • Leading the faithful ladies of Circle 3 in various studies related to the Bible and church.
  • It has been such an honor to offer a Christ-like presence to folks during some of the most joyful and painful times of their lives.

ML: You obviously had a knack for having fun with the congregation. What pops into your head when you think about ‘most fun’ memories?

  • Doing the hula hoop in front of the congregation when they rose to my challenge to donate 600 pounds of food to the Food Bank (they actually donated more than 1000!)
  • When the clergy dressed in tuxedos and danced a soft-shoe on the chancel on a Sunday morning to celebrate meeting all the Mission One goals.
  • Being the Vacation Bible School storyteller and getting to do so in costume--I love to dress up. Over the course of 10 years my favorites were being Amelia Erhart, a flying squirrel, disc jockey, farmer’s daughter, and a safari guide.   

ML: I’m trying to imagine the flying squirrel costume but somehow it is totally believable that you could and would pull that off. On the more serious side, for what causes has your ministerial passion deepened over the years and why?
Barb: Poverty, homelessness and mental illness. While it’s a very complex and time-consuming ministry, over the years I’ve learned so much. My heart goes out to our refugees and immigrants that often have so little and so few people to guide them. I’ve seen how difficult it is for folks with mental illness to get and hold jobs and how quickly one can lose a home and end up living in a car. I’m proud to be associated with a church that is known for helping folks in our community that face these challenges. 

ML: You are known as a hard worker— how do you plan to go about slowing down in retirement, if at all? What plans do you have that you would like to share? 
Barb: I’m not slowing down, simply redirecting my energy. I will be spending a lot more time with my husband; helping my parents to sell the family business; taking over the care management of my uncle; and helping to care for and run grandchildren hither and yon. 

ML: Are there ways you might remain connected and active in the life of First-Plymouth?
Barb: I will continue to lead the Anybody Everybody worship on Saturday nights. My goal is to expand and grow the ministry. When available, I will be happy to officiate weddings and funerals. And after a while, I plan to volunteer in different capacities.

ML: I’m sure your family will be excited to have more of your time. Tell me about your family-- how it has grown over the years and what is up next in that important life dimension? 
Barb: My husband of 38 years is the sales manager for John Deere in Syracuse, Nebraska. He’s also been one of the Cookie Ministers at FP for 10 years. And good news—he plans to continue.

We have three daughters: Emily lives in Memphis, Tennessee with her husband, Ben and two girls (Eloise-7 and Adeline-4); Sarah lives in Lincoln with her husband, Colin and three children (Charleigh-6, Oliver-4 and Hattie-2); and Meggan lives in Shawnee Mission, Kansas with her husband, Rob.

ML: Any final thoughts you want to add?
Barb: I don’t think there’s any way to fully convey how blessed I have felt being a part of this church. First-Plymouth is what a church is supposed to be like, a place where the Holy Spirit is alive and well. A place where all God’s children are welcome to experience the love, grace, peace, hope and JOY of the Gospel. 

Jesus said that I have come so that you might have life and live it "abundantly." That is what I have experienced at First-Plymouth--abundant life!

Celebrating Sweet Barb

Join us for a "sweet celebration" honoring Pastor Barb Smisek's retirement on Sunday, June 10, 7:00-8:30pm in Mayflower Hall. All are welcome.