For Jeff Stansbury, the new pastor at Bethany Evangelical Congregational Church in Lehighton, leading a church means more than standing at a pulpit, reading Scripture and shaking hands on Sunday morning.

He's a people person, and he hopes to establish rapport with not only his congregation, but the general public as well.

"Relationships are very important," Stansbury said.

After graduating from Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown this May, he served as assistant pastor for First EC Church in a town called Palmyra, near Hershey.

In no time at all, Stansbury was informed that he would fill the position of full-time pastor on July 1 in Lehighton, a town he had never heard of.

He said it was difficult for him and his family to leave their church in Palmyra.

"We were very loved there," he said. "It's just like leaving any other family."

Because of the gracious welcome he's received by Bethany EC, the transition has been a smooth one, and he looks forward to getting to know the congregation more and more.

"Even before we knew the people, we were very welcomed," he said of his family's arrival in their new home on Third Street. They found hanging flower baskets, chocolate cake and baskets of fruit waiting for them from members of the church.

"I'm focusing on visiting and getting to know my congregation, getting to know the story of the church. Not just the history, but who is this church?" he said.

Becoming familiar with the congregation allows for better sermon writing, he said, because it helps to address particular issues the church may have.

His writing process is an intricate one and is planned for months in advance.

"I feel like it's not something that I just want to start on a Monday morning and decide what I want to preach next Sunday," he said.

As for any changes, he said he doesn't want to do anything drastic just yet.

He does hope to build on the youth ministry, and said that the Vacation Bible School held in early July was well-attended, which was a great start.

Other than building relationships within the church, he emphasizes the importance of community involvement.

"We want to be a vital part of the community. I've asked (the congregation), if Bethany were to close its doors, would the community notice?"

Because the church is located near the Stansburys' home, he walks from one to the other, meeting the people of Lehighton along the way.

"I don't want to hide inside this building. I want to get to know the people out there."

So far, he said that Lehighton has been a great fit for him and his family since they love the outdoors, whether they're hiking or just sitting on their porch.

When he's not at church, Stansbury enjoys fishing and golfing, and as a previous war re-enactor, he has an interest in the Civil War.

One thing he hasn't adapted to, however, is finding his way around the confusing Lehighton streets.

Laughing, he said, "First thing I had problems with is the traffic out here. There's no stop signs, there's merging. ..."

All in all, he said the area is great, and he welcomes new members to the church at any time.

"Our doors and our arms are open. We want people to come worship with us."