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A New Model of Ministry
“Stay tuned. Pray for us. Check back in about a year,” say Pastors David Wirt and Heather Spencer of their ministry with the folks at St. Ansgar and Redeemer Lutheran Churches in London, Ontario. Together, the two congregations and two pastors sculpt a new model of ministry, a work in progress that to their knowledge has never been tried before. The two calls, issued simultaneously by two distinct and separate congregations, had no precedent or model; just energetic vision, an adventurous spirit, and a willingness to confront old problems in a new and creative way.
Redeemer and St. Ansgar, like most churches these days, struggled to staff vital aspects of ministry and outreach with resources unequal to the task. “We talked about how we needed young families, [and] better programs to encourage families to come to church. If we wanted to do it well, we would need to have someone focussed on growing families… We knew we couldn’t afford two pastors,” recalls one member of the St. Ansgar/Redeemer Joint Ministry Committee. An annual retreat, some testing of the waters, a supportive synod office and a bevy of informal conversations led to agreement on structure and governance. With overwhelming support from both congregations, a new model of ministry was born and a call committee was formed. Their task: To evoke the Spirit’s guidance in selecting two ordained ministers who would, without knowing in advance who their partner might be, share ministry in two different congregations. It’s not quite an arranged marriage, but both pastors have a better grasp than most of us as to what that experience must feel like!
The arduous work of the Redeemer/St. Ansgar call committee paid off. The
result is two pastors whose complementary abilities add vital energy and creative skill to the needs and mission of their two faith communities. Pastoral resources are expanded as the gifts of two, rather than just one spiritual leader are woven with those of congregational members. To top it off, the two pastors genuinely like each other and enjoy working together.
Because each pastor serves both churches, collaboration and communication is a must. Fridays are reserved as dedicated time in which Pastors Heather and David work together as partners: debriefing the ministry of the week and looking ahead at what is to come, reading together about effective team ministry, praying for each other and for the communities they jointly serve. Communication is crucial as the two colleagues plan worship, brainstorm ideas, and care for the ministry and people entrusted to their leadership. The collaboration in and of itself is cause for excitement: “an extra pair of hands and eyes really balances it out nicely,” says Pastor Wirt. So also is the energy brought by the two congregations as they explore the nuts and bolts of this venture. The journey over unbroken ground is sometimes a hit and miss endeavor. Mistakes are inevitable, expected, and embraced as opportunities for growth and learning. “Folks here have given us the freedom of saying, ‘If it doesn’t work that’s OK and we’ll move on and try something else,” Pastor Spencer reflects. “Other congregations who choose to utilize this model of ministry will have opportunity to learn from our mistakes and successes.”
Learning opportunities abound. Two congregations explore what it means to share the resources of their pastoral leaders in a way they had never imagined. Two pastors who have functioned “solo” now find themselves thinking anew about what it means to be a team. Resisting the temptation to “do it yourself” requires patience and discipline. So also do the sometimes complicated tasks of bringing balance to routine responsibilities. “It’s double everything,” says Wirt, “two sets of meetings, for example, each with different agendas, one in each church. We are both attending everything to show that we are a team and to develop the idea that we are one voice. When one speaks we both speak.”
The two pastors alternate between one congregation and the other on Sunday morning. They must work harder to get to know people whom they see four Sundays out of eight. Scheduling can be challenging and it is difficult to anticipate what obstacles await. But the bumps in the road pale before the joy of partnership, the support of two grace-centered and adventurous congregations, and a firm sense of God’s guiding, yet challenging hand:
“God is stretching us beyond our comfort zones and this is a good thing,” the two pastors agree. “We can see the Holy Spirit’s fingerprints all over this.”
Pastors Heather and David welcome your questions and words of support. They can be contacted at:
redeemerlutheran [at] rogers [dot] com
st [dot] ansgar [at] rogers [dot] com
-Deborah Ann Taylor-
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