The job description of a pastor is someone who teaches, worships and performs sacraments. And after 19 years as senior pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Andrew McDonald says he would add another responsibility to the list.
Since joining the church at South Street and Sheridan Boulevard in 1999, McDonald says he hasn't stopped thinking about ways to improve the church, and in turn, the community.
McDonald plans to retire following Palm Sunday services this weekend, but the growing numbers of Westminster members say McDonald's contributions will continue through his architectural vision.
“I think our church is welcoming,” McDonald said recently, reflecting on his time in Lincoln. “People take note of that.”
They've taken note of the physical changes in the church, as well.
An expanded parking lot replaced older houses that faced a busy street. “People can now see us when they are driving on 27th Street,” he said. “We were hidden back then, so not a lot of people knew about us.”
Elevators installed at the church made it more accessible for guests, and heated floor tiles -- among many “green” renovations -- helped the church save on energy costs.
But for McDonald, the biggest building block was the transformation of an outdated church basement into a safe, nurturing environment where children can develop spiritually, emotionally, socially, culturally and intellectually.
“People are hungry for a safe place to bring their kids to,” McDonald said. “I wanted to create that.”
At first glance, you might confuse Westminster's preschool -- a hands-on learning adventure for 75 students -- for the Lincoln Children’s Museum. McDonald's vision was a preschool equipped with an art studio for future Picassos, a full-sized theater for film screenings and a drama room where children could perform their own plays.
Depending on the day, students at Westminster rotate between the art studio, theater, drama room, gym and computer lab.
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The success of the church's preschool has drawn interest from those interested in starting their own programs and others intent on working in early childhood education.
“I think that says a lot about us,” McDonald said.
The preschool balances child-initiated and teacher-directed activities, with an emphasis on creativity and play. Its future is secure, as McDonald worked to double the size of Westminster’s endowment to support growth in the preschool’s music and arts education program.
“Personally, I believe preschool is an important part of every child’s development, so I wanted to make sure kids received the best experience here,” McDonald said. “The more engaged, the better.”
Community engagement, McDonald says, helped him to develop his vision for Westminster.
McDonald graduated from the University of Illinois with a bachelor's degree in social work, added master's degrees from Vanderbilt University and Yale University and a doctorate of ministry from McCormick Theological Seminary.
He's given TEDx talks, covered ethics for students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and chaired the statewide Church Growth Leadership Project.
Westminster, in his 19 years, has seen its membership numbers continue to grow.
But, for McDonald, retirement doesn't mean leaving the pulpit. He's moving on to St. Paul, Minnesota, to work as transitional pastor at the House of Hope Presbyterian Church. His first day is Easter Sunday, April 1.
“I get to use what I learned here as a tool to go help another church,” he said.
A chance to build.
“I’ve had a wonderful career because I have an opportunity to be part of so many lives,” McDonald said. “That’s what makes it hard to leave."