Cooperative Ministry Process (June 28, 2019)

Our cooperative ministry is close to coming to fruition!  Now it’s time for everyone to be involved!

****First of all, if that statement is a surprise to you, read below to catch yourself up!

As we have been discussing over the last year at HOP, we have been working at length to create a relationship between House of Prayer, Faith, Van Kirk, and Rehoboth Lutheran Churches.

We have also been talking at length about how we will have staff for all of this exciting ministry, especially pastors.  Obviously, Pastor Mike is called to House of Prayer and Pr. Susan is called to Rehoboth.  But we need more pastoral leadership than just 2 people for all four churches, especially in terms of worship leadership.  We have been incredibly blessed to have Pastor Paul Leone (and his wife Terri) join the House of Prayer community.

In that time at HOP, we have sensed the Holy Spirit’s movement in his/their presence among us.  In January of this year, Pr. Paul led worship at HOP.  About the same time, Pr. Paul began joining the cooperative ministry meeting between the four churches.  During Holy Week, Pr. Paul preached at Van Kirk on Good Friday for their parish worship.  At each of these moments, as people have had chance to meet Pr. Paul as a pastor, worship leader/preacher, and person, he has been affirmed in our churches.  

At this point, the group that has been meeting monthly for the last year feels that the Holy Spirit is calling our four churches to be in cooperative ministry with each other.  And we also feel that the Holy Spirit has given Pr. Susan, Pr. Paul, and Pr. Mike to be our pastors of that 4 church cooperative.  Each of the four councils feel that this is what the Holy Spirit is calling us to do.  Now we’d like to hear what you think the Holy Spirit is doing.

Since everyone across the four churches have had the opportunity to experience Pr. Susan and Pr. Mike as preachers and worship leaders, we are making specific opportunity for everyone to have that same opportunity with Pr. Paul.

  • June 30th (this Sunday) - Pastor Paul will lead worship at both Faith and Van Kirk churches.
  • July 7th - Pastor Paul will lead worship at House of Prayer
  • July 28th - Pastor Paul will lead worship at Rehoboth
  • August 4th - We will have a Discernment Day across all 4 churches

Discernment Day:

On August 4th we will have a Discernment Day across all four churches.  This will look like an opportunity for everyone who is part of our 4 churches to respond with their sense of the Holy Spirit’s work.  At each worship time that morning, there will be a chance for each person to respond to this question:

Do you think that the Holy Spirit is calling for the four churches (Faith, House of Prayer, Rehoboth, and Van Kirk) to officially be in cooperative relationship with each other?

Yes_____  No______

Do you think that the Holy Spirit is raising up Pastor Susan Irons, Pastor Paul Leone, and Pastor Michael Sourwine to lead our cooperative ministry?

Yes_____  No______

This will not be a constitutional vote.  There will not be an official call to order or a quorum called.  Rather, we want the people who regularly come to our churches to affirm this Spirit movement.  We want to include people who may not be members but are active parts of the church.  We want to include children who may not be confirmed members, but who are a dear and vital part of our churches.

Please join us in this moment of discernment for all four churches.

If you have any questions or thoughts, please feel free to reach out to Pr. Susan, Pr. Paul, Pr. Mike or any of your faithful council leaders.  We will do our best to answer your questions.

***** A further back story if it would be helpful…

Two years ago, Pr. Susan and Pr. Mike were assigned to be the interim pastors at Faith and Van Kirk.  As interims, the role was simply to attend council meetings and do emergency pastoral care.  As Pr. Susan and Pr. Mike met regularly with the leadership and people of Faith & VK, we mutually felt that there may be more that we could  together.  Finally, in the summer of 2018, Van Kirk requested that cooperative conversations begin with them and HOP/Rehoboth.  We obviously extended that invite to Faith.

A model like this (two larger, stable churches coming along side two smaller churches not out of necessity) does not exist in our Church.  We are trailblazing.  Fortunately, we have had incredible support from our Synod staff and the bishop.

Last summer, be began meeting cooperatively every 3-4 weeks.  We invited anyone from the 4 council to come and meet to get to know each other and talk about what a cooperative ministry may look like.  The relationship building and vision has been incredible!

After many hours, we have come to a vision that our leaders are comfortable with.  Basically, the agreement is one in which each church would maintain its building, community presence, and governance.  We then, would work to share staff and ministry resources.  This would hopefully increase as time moves on and relationship develops.

For HOP and Rehoboth, this would not effect any budget numbers.  Initially, this will also not have a huge impact on Sunday worship schedules.  Pr. Mike will still be the primary worship leader at HOP.  Pastor Susan will be the primary worship leader at Rehoboth.  However, one of the huge benefits of this is that now each church will have 3 pastors.  Therefore, it will be really important and a gift to all to have all of the pastors lead worship at all of the churches.  If Pr. Paul and Pr. Susan are also pastors at HOP, it is important that they be part of a rotation that would give them opportunity to lead worship and meet people regularly.

For Faith and Van Kirk, obviously the biggest benefit is that they will have full time pastors and worship leaders who are the pastor.  Right now, they have intermittent Sunday fill in people.  Sometimes a pastor and sometimes a lay person…none of which are “the pastor.”  Faith and Van Kirk have articulated a great appreciation for the movement of HOP and Rehoboth in this moment.  They have also been willing to seriously invest financially in this cooperative ministry.  Both churches are willing to enter into this cooperative ministry by going into the red monthly (using their savings) to invest in a staff that can grow all four churches.  Our vision is one in which we are growing all four churches.  We are not biding time until a church closes.

A fantastically surprising opportunity has presented itself in the midst of this conversation.  In the summer of 2018, Pastor Paul Leone and his wife Terri began worshipping and participating in the community life at HOP.  Pr. Paul is a Disciples of Christ pastor.  Once Pr. Mike found out that Pr. Paul was a fellow pastor, Pr. Paul was invited to worship leadership.

In January 2019, Pr. Paul led worship at HOP.  As is our custom at HOP, we had our weekly celebration of communion.  At that date in which Pr. Paul led worship, he distributed communion elements (bread and wine) that had previously been consecrated.  It is the order of our church (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)) that only ELCA pastors or fellow pastors from denominations in which we have “full communion partnerships” are permitted to consecrate the sacraments.

* We will pause for a moment to acknowledge the complexity of that last statement.  Rather than explaining all that is meant with those words, I invite you to speak with one of the pastors or council people for a clearer understanding.

While leading worship in January, Pr. Paul was able to reflect on two important things.  First of all, he experienced it as an affirmation of him as a pastor in our community.  And secondly, it was a stumbling block that our “order” doesn’t make space for him to consecrate the elements at this moment.

We have responded (we believe) with great faithfulness to both reflections.  To the former, we began to involve Pr. Paul in our cooperative ministry meetings, introduce him to the leaders of the four churches, and worked to find places for him to lead worship for all churches.

To the latter reflection, we are, with the support of our bishop, Bishop Kurt Kusserrow, appealing to the ELCA to be granted this permission/support/experimental space to do this with Pr. Paul.  There is great reason for optimism.  Again, our leadership as taken this trailblazing opportunity with excitement.

So at this point, the three pastors, the four councils, and those who have been part of these discussions have great joy and excitement about what we believe the Holy Spirit is doing among us.  Now it is time to hear from the fullness of our churches.

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