Last fall I was leading members of Peace Lutheran Church in Sullivan, Mo., through a 12-week Bible study focusing on Jesus' parables. We viewed the parables from many different angles: as narrative stories, as metaphors of larger biblical themes, through historical/critical lenses, etc.
Over and over again we kept stumbling upon the theme of urgency. A merchant finds a pearl and urgently sells his possessions to buy it (Matthew 13:45-46). A king doesn't sulk after no one shows up to his party but instead urgently invites everyone in the streets (Matthew 22:9). A dishonest manager is praised by Jesus because in the heat of the moment he responds with action, even if it is shady (Luke 16:8).
Often I asked the class to ponder: Would we ever receive an opportunity to act urgently for the kingdom of heaven?
One of my favorite authors, former Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman, likes to say, "Be careful what you wish for. It just might not happen." In our case, I don't know if we wholeheartedly wished for urgency or not. But soon enough urgency came knocking on our door.
One of our neighbors, First, a congregation of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), was undergoing some financial stress. Eventually they had to let their full-time pastor go for financial reasons. Peace wasn't quite in the same boat yet. But with a slumping economy, it seemed like a matter of time.
Then an idea emerged: Why not share one pastor between these two congregations?
Technically speaking, it could be done. Leaders of the ELCA and PCUSA had signed the Formula of Agreement in 1997. Under this agreement, ordained clergy may serve churches of the other denomination. Thus it was "in good order" for me to serve both Peace and First.
But the hardest part wasn't technical. The biggest challenge was for both congregations to move out of their comfort zones. It's not every day that a Presbyterian church invites a non-Presbyterian pastor into its pulpit. Likewise, a small Lutheran church that had embraced its pastor struggled with allowing him to cut down his hours in order to shepherd another congregation in town. However, through deliberation both congregations grasped one idea: the urgency of the situation and the need for a response.
Suddenly the parables came alive.
On Easter Sunday 2008, I preached for the first time at both congregations on the same day. Beginning the next month I officially began a call as "one pastor with two congregations." Months later the partnership is going well. Neither congregation lost momentum. Each gained a renewed sense of hope. We even schedule some events together now.
Personally, my hope for the future of both denominations has been renewed as well. Sure, both these bodies may be declining in terms of membership. But in some towns we have an opportunity in terms of partnership. An urgent opportunity. May God give us the courage to respond.
Check out this week's articles:
Toward church unity: (right) The state and future of ecumenism in the ELCA.
When a Lutheran marries a Methodist, what do you get? : Answer: Faith, grace and a conversation on the future of ecumenism.
If it weren't difficult, I wouldn't write you: To the president-elect: Choose between Machiavelli and Isaiah.
Tell us: Congregations: Death to life
Share your stories of a congregation's death bringing life to others or of the death of something in your congregation leading to new life.
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This week on our blog:
Amber Leberman (right) blogs about the benefits of blogging.
Sonia Solomonson blogs about staying healthy.
Julie Sevig blogs about the book Laughing with Lutherans.
Andrea Pohlmann blogs about top jobs during hard times.
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