What, after all, is Apollos? What is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe - as the Lord assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who makes things grow.
I Corinthians 3:5-7
As we continue looking forward to the probable future of Redeemer, we saw last week that due to external and internal factors Redeemer as a sole pastor, independent congregation will not be possible in the near future. We began to look at what it means to have a "part-time pastor" last blog and we’ll continue that exploration this week.
There is one option of merging congregations I think I may have omitted last week. This would be two small congregations deciding to leave their buildings (sold or redeveloped) and buying a new parcel and constructing a new building equidistant to the two former locations. For example, if Redeemer, Newton and Prince of Peace, Hamburg were to merge / combine, they would each sell their church buildings and parsonages and then use those funds to purchase land / buildings in Sparta (roughly 1/2 way between the two) and start a new congregation with new articles of incorporation, constitutions, by-laws, and officers. This option is rarely done due to an “edifice complex” where people are attached more to the building than to the Lord whose building it is, but it does remain an option.
The most typical way of transitioning to part time pastoral coverage is to form a dual-parish arrangement. This method has a long history in our Synod and is fully recognized by Synodical officers. My first call was to such an arrangement in rural Nebraska and now many dual parishes have moved from rural to more urban centers.
In short, two congregations would “share” a pastor and the costs associated thereof. The division may be 50/50 (typical) or 80/20 or anything in between. How much of the pastor’s time “belongs” to each congregation would need to be sorted out before a call is issued and the particulars as to who is responsible for what laid out in the supplement to the vocation which accompanies the call. Both congregations would keep their buildings (and the expenses pertaining thereto) and non-pastoral staff (organists / musicians, janitorial, school, etc.). Both congregations would need to work with each other instead of against each other as so often happens. For example, if the pastor is to be at Church A on Thursdays for the ladies’ aid Bible study, but has a funeral for a member of Church B that same day / time - how do you handle it?
As can be seen above, the main “problem” with this arrangement is the unrealistic expectation of full time pastoral coverage with part time compensation and prior commitments. One of the biggest questions to be dealt with is the Sunday morning schedule. The pastor cannot be in two places at 10 AM every Sunday. If the churches are close enough together (as most dual parishes are) it is possible that the pastor could lead service at Church A at 9 AM and then (traffic permitting) lead services at Church B at 11 AM. Sadly, many churches would rather close than adjust their service times. This happens both formally and informally, Formally, one church removes itself from the dal parish agreement (called a Concord) and then closes its doors. More often it happens informally as some members of church A decide that 9 AM is too early to get up and be ready for church, so they stop coming. Or church B decides 11 AM is too late and that “church takes up the whole day” and so go elsewhere or nowhere. The result is the same, there are too few people (remember the critical mass blog?) to keep this dual parish operational. This is especially true of “special services” like Easter morning and Christmas Eve. BOTH congregations need to be flexible as to their service times for this to work.
Another thing to remember is that these are two independent congregations, each with their own demographics, histories, traditions, and needs. It is not uncommon for them to have two very different worship styles. In my first call the “old” church used Lutheran Worship (LSB wouldn’t come out for another 7 years), the “new” church was still using TLH from 1941 (remember page 5 or 15?). One may have traditional worship and the other a contemporary service. One may be primarily young families with children and the other more mature members. Thus the pastor would need to craft two very different worship services and two completely different sermons, even if the two churches shared the same text. This doubling of preparation time would take away from the pastor’s availability for other ministries throughout the week - remember, he is still working the same # of hours, just in / for two or more locations. There may be 2 shut-ins at one church and 7 at the other, so how do you arrange for a “prefect” 50 / 50 split? How do you deal with Confirmation Class? What about administrative meetings (council, board, voters)?
There are many things that go into forming a dual parish, any one of which could dissolve the agreement / concord. Thus while an attractive option, it works out on paper more often than in reality.
Another model gaining some headway in districts and the Synod as a whole is the “Circuit Rider'' model, which was used by our Synod in its earlier years so there is historical precedent for it. In this model the pastor is called by the Circuit, not one or more congregations. He is then “vacancy” pastor for all congregations in that circuit which called him. At any given time there may be 2-5 vacancies in a circuit and this number is expected to grow as more pastors retire, fewer enter or complete seminary training, and more congregations fall below that “critical mass”. The Circuit Ride would, well, ride (though drive would be the term in the 21st Century) to each of the churches in rotation. The first Sunday, he may be at church B and the second Sunday at church D, and the third Sunday preach and consecrate at church A and so on. While he’s in town, he would visit the sick and shut in and perhaps lead a Bible study or attend an administrative meeting. His compensation package would be split between the 3-4 churches he rides to and possibly with some help from the other churches in the circuit or the district.
So what do these churches do the other 3 Sundays of the month? Well that seems to be the biggest impediment to implementing this plan. Many churches have gone to Communion every Sunday, whereas in the past a monthly reception of the Lord’s Supper was more the norm. Pre-consecrating the elements is not in keeping with our understanding of the Lord’s Supper as laid out in Holy Scripture, and is therefore discouraged. Video streaming (e.g. Kairos) could be an option, as could lay led services. However the non-Communion service happens, the congregations in the Circuit Rider’s zone would have to be comfortable receiving Christ’s body and blood only once a month or be willing to travel to where the pastor is that week.
The other issue with the Circuit Rider is political. Do the 3 or 4 congregations served by the Rider = 1 congregational delegate for District conventions? Can the Rider serve as the circuit’s pastoral delegate for the Synodical convention? Do each of the congregations get a vote for their Circuit Visitor? These and other issues are generating much discussion right now in Church Polity classes at our seminaries, but as of yet no formal statements have been made by the Synod as to suffrage.
Next week, we’ll look at some “out of the box” options when it comes to pastoral coverage. Until then, check your mailbox at church (now open with Covid-19 safety protocols in place) for a letter to help prepare you for our District President’s Sunday which will be August 2nd at our normal worshiping time.
Pastor Brian Handrich graduated from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis in 1997. He first served a dual parish in northeast Nebraska before coming to Flemington, New Jersey in 2002.