The executive director of the Downtown Billings Alliance will step down next month to begin a ministry at Billings First Congregational Church, if the congregation approves.
Lisa Harmon, who has been head of the DBA for 13 years, decided last year to retire from the job. Earlier this year, she had lunch with Mike Mulberry, senior minister at Billings First Congregational Church, and they got talking about her future.
"When Lisa told me she was retiring, my first three words were, 'darn, darn, darn,'" Mulberry said.
First Congregational is a downtown church at the corner of N. 27th Street and Third Avenue North and has worked to create a community that bolsters and supports downtown Billings. Congregants and leaders at the church have created programs to serve the transient population, to minister to those struggling with addiction and to help members engage with the community around them.
He saw a lot of overlap with what Harmon had been doing with the Downtown Billings Alliance. For more than a decade, Harmon had been working with downtown businesses to bolster the community there and create a place that could thrive as all populations were being served.
"At the base of it is building community," Harmon said.
After Harmon and Mulberry chatted over lunch, Mulberry spent a restless night wondering if there was a place for Harmon and her skill set at First Congregational.
Harmon, for her part, has always been eager to serve. She felt the call as a child and always looked for — and found — ways to serve those around her, particularly vulnerable populations. A step into the ministry would not be that big of a stretch.
"I've been thinking about it for a long time," she said.
Mulberry talked it over with leaders at his church and they decided Harmon and the work she does would fit squarely into the mission of the church. Mulberry invited her to come aboard as the church's minister of healing and community transformation.
Harmon jumped at the opportunity.
"This is what I'm looking for," she said. "To take my gifts and apply them to an urban church."
Harmon will give a trial sermon at the church on Dec. 10. Afterward the congregation will meet and vote whether to bring her on in the new position. But so far, response from the church community to her possibly coming aboard has been positive, Mulberry said.
If all goes as planned, Harmon's official last day with the Downtown Billings Alliance will be Dec. 31. The board has received 30 applicants for her position, which will be both CEO and president when the new person is hired, and hopes to hire for the job by the first of the year.
Greg Krueger, DBA's director of development is also leaving the organization. One of the first duties of the new CEO will be to hire his replacement.
Mulberry talks a lot about members of First Congregational taking their spiritual practices outside the church and using them to build up the community Monday through Saturday.
"We're hoping what (Harmon) brings is a Monday through Saturday spirituality that people need to check back into," Mulberry said.