LACONIA — After serving Laconia’s St. James Episcopal Church as part-time parish priest for eight years, the Reverend Tobias Nyatsambo is retiring.
The New Hampshire Episcopal Diocese requires mandatory retirement at a certain age, although priests may continue to serve in other capacities. St. James wishes this were not so, as their pastor is well-liked and respected.
In 2013, he and his wife, Rose, successfully shepherded the church through a time of great transition and tumult, as the congregation was forced to sell their large, beloved church building at 876 North Main St. to the Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region. The church then moved to shared quarters with Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Laconia.
Prior to the move, the parish had experienced the declining membership and decreased funds common to Christian denominations across the U.S. Pastor Nyatsambo helped St. James accept changes and focus less on their church building and more on their community. Following the move to Good Shepherd, the small congregation rallied and worked anew, raising money and applying for diocesan community grants. Substantial donations were made to local community organizations including Belknap House, LOVE INC, Hands Across the Table, and the Prescott Farm Environmental Education Center. Camperships were made available to needy Laconia children.
The church continued with its long history of providing food for the CAP Food Bank, Got Lunch! program, Thanksgiving and Christmas food baskets, and Christmas gifts for the children of prisoners. Active in the Hands Across the Table and Salvation Army Friendly Kitchen meal programs since their inception, St. James continued to serve in these programs.
Internationally, Pastor Tobias encouraged St. James to again do new things and consider community. The church had a long history of making modest monthly contributions to a series of Kenyan children through Child Fund International. Pastor Tobias, in consultation with Child Fund International, investigated what was needed by the current child’s family and village to make a real difference in their community. The church was then tasked with raising funds to purchase a grinding mill and build a mill house. This not only helped the family of the sponsored child and improved the status of the village, but also allowed the village girls to attend school. Previously there was no time for school, as the girls spent a good part of their days grinding meal by hand or walking miles to the nearest grinding mill.
A later community project funded by St. James in the same village was to build a three-room tin roof house for a widow and her four children. She was also provided with rabbits to start up a meat business in the community, allowing her to feed her children and to raise their school fees.
At St. James, Pastor Tobias encouraged the community model by consistently referring to the congregation as “our church family”. He incorporated a brief ritual during each Sunday service wherein the congregation formed a hand-holding circle and shared important personal or family news. The circle ended in a brief prayer. This practice did much to bond the members together in community.
Trained as an educator, Pastor Tobias is a gifted preacher and biblical historian. He often engaged the congregation with conversational question-and-answer periods during his sermons and used various audio-visual tools. Tobias led weekly Bible studies; Rose shared her deep faith and wise observations during the meetings. Over his eight years at St. James, he officiated at many baptisms, funerals, and weddings, uplifting families at these touchstone points in life. Rose was a warm and genuine presence at these celebrations.
When first at St. James, following a part-time ministry at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Ashland, Tobias made it clear that caring for the needs of the sick, elderly, and dying was of great importance to him. For more than five years, he provided monthly services and a pastoral listening ear to many residents at the St. Francis, Taylor, and Belknap County nursing homes. He also regularly visited parishioners in many other nursing homes, hospitals, and long-term care facilities.
Beginning in 2013, Pastor Tobias has served as chaplain and hospice volunteer coordinator two days a week for the Franklin VNA and Hospice. He will continue in this capacity following his retirement from St. James.
The church plans a dinner and a fellowship coffee hour in December to honor and celebrate Pastor Tobias and Rose Nyatsambo’s ministry at St James and retirement.
An interim pastor will be appointed by the New Hampshire Episcopal Diocese. Services are on Sundays at 8:45 a.m. at St. James Episcopal Church, 2238 Parade Road, Laconia.