"Who would have thought that a woman born in Zambia, raised in Queens, NY, and affiliated with the Presbyterian tradition would experience God in such a profound way at a small Lutheran church in Cape Cod,” chuckles Tembo as she reflects on the irony of the situation.
It was almost love at first sight. Tembo was drawn to St. Peter’s Lutheran Church (St. Peter’s), located in Harwich, MA, while on vacation when she first laid eyes on the building.
“Past the narthex and into the main sanctuary there was a huge stained-glass window that depicted a boat and net that was surrounded by fish. The bright colors and artistry spoke to me. To me, the church was conveying that they fish for people, like in the gospels,” recalls Tembo. “I felt like that was a sign that they were a Christ-centered church. I really respect that before you even enter the building you began worshipping.”
"I was very nervous about being an outsider to the community, but I was welcomed in with open hearts, ears, and minds. The community reflected God's love toward me and I, in turn, allowed myself to be more open and authentic to others."
Tembo enjoyed her worship experience that day and began considering St. Peter’s for her field placement that would take place the following summer. She was curious about ecumenical relations and thought it would be a good opportunity to learn more about the Lutheran tradition.
On a subsequent visit, Tembo learned that St. Peter’s co-pastors were Princeton Seminary graduates. Husband and wife duo Revs. Christian and Tiffany Holleck had been serving as co-pastors since 2006. Christian, MDiv, ’95, is a German Lutheran, and Tiffany, MDiv, ’96, is a Presbyterian.
“Both pastors were welcoming, passionate in their ministries, and broadened my ecumenical exposure,” reflects Tembo. “It was a blessing to have two supervisors as part of my internship. They were both eager to see me thrive.”
Admittedly, Tembo was initially nervous about leading and fellowshipping with congregants that appeared to have little in common with her. The congregation was comprised primarily of Caucasian retired parishioners and vacationers. However, Tembo quickly learned she had nothing to fear.
“My preconceptions were dismissed by the first week! I was very nervous about being an outsider to the community, but I was welcomed in with open hearts, ears, and minds. The community reflected God’s love toward me, and I in turn allowed myself to be more open and authentic to others,” remarked Tembo.
The congregation demonstrated their hospitality by converting a storage space into a plant-filled office and a parishioner gifting her with a wooden name plate that he hand carved. During her initial days, she received a parade of impromptu greetings by congregants eager to welcome her to their community.
Tembo was off to a great start. “The intern committee really thought through what were the potential learning opportunities for me, considered what I was interested in pursuing, and factored in where I was along my academic journey,” said Tembo. “They were very intentional—very thoughtful.”
During her internship, Tembo was able to preach at three of St. Peter’s Sunday morning services and three times in mid-week worship. Also, she delivered two sermons at a local assisted living facility. When she wasn’t preaching, Tembo conducted several home visits.
The internship proved to be fruitful for Tembo. With two co-pastors as supervisors, she recalls receiving “double the feedback, double the support, double the attention, and double the resources.” The congregation included five retired clergy who would often offer post-sermon feedback as well. Additionally, the intern committee provided a formal review on Tembo’s sermons and the order of service.
“I was supposed to be there,” said Tembo. “By God’s grace I was able to thrive.”