Doing Things Differently
In a small church far away, my friend Lynn became a Canon 9 priest. Up on the Canadian border, the church she loved and raised her son in became unable to afford a seminary trained priest. An alternative way of governance for churches was already in place throughout Province 6 called Total Ministry.
Lynn was selected by her church for their Total Ministry team. The diocesan missioner for northern Minnesota supported and trained those folks called to sacramental, pastoral, formational, hospitality, outreach and administrative leadership. (Today we have a School for Ministry for this). Lynn, with her background managing corporate IT in Europe, studied and trained with others for 18 months and was ultimately ordained to serve Holy Trinity, International Falls, Minnesota. The Total Ministry team members each strive to keep their hours to ten a week. The church is holding its own, providing worship and service to the glory of God. For decades Total Ministry has lifted up leaders from within congregations that can’t afford a seminary trained priest. Total Ministry acts on the belief that all the members of a congregation use their gifts for ministry.
In this era of dramatically changing church sizes, congregations do well to explore different models of structure and governance in order to give the Holy Spirit ample room to flourish. Here are some models of church leadership collaborations that parishes are exploring across the country.
Area or Deanery Ministry (San Diego has six mission areas. Find out about yours: edsd.org/maps.) Area Ministry seeks to unite neighboring congregations in collaboration. It is all volunteer and works best if there is a fertile mixture of proximity, friendship, need and generosity. Congregations meeting in their areas sometimes share youth or music programs, an administrator, or bookkeeper alongside the obvious coming together for joint outreach projects and social events. There is usually no cost involved in these joint efforts and may result in savings, especially in personnel.
The literature on merging churches tells us mergers are successful only under rare and specific conditions: a struggling church might approach a stronger church for a merger. Or a growing church may seek space to expand its mission in an underused sanctuary. It often involves a name change and a strong sense of mission wider than the local parish and neighborhood.
Yoked churches are created when two or more churches maintain separate identities but share one seminary-trained ordained leader. They are usually not more that 20 miles from each other and driven by financial pressures. Lutheran/Episcopal yoked churches are working in pockets of the country as well.
We Episcopalians are fiercely individual, wedded to our buildings, and very used to both our own priest and our predictable liturgy. What will it take to begin seeking collaborations beyond our own neighborhood?
Is your congregation right for exploring regional or area ministry? What would it be like to share a priest with another congregation? Have you ever considered talking with the leadership of churches larger or smaller than yours to see if there are ways collaboration might lead to wedding bells?
If you have not done so recently, you may consider some very helpful discernment tools for charting a next step in new or creative next steps.
The Church Assessment Tool (CAT) shows you the places you are most vitalized and where the congregation longs to make changes. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for information.
Spiritual Gifts Inventories, These help individuals within the congregation name those charisms God has given them in the priesthood of all believers. Contact email@example.com if interested.
The diocesan School for Ministry, is designed to help people to make a difference with the gospel in their churches and the world. Learn more online: sfmedsd.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org