Last year the folks at a near-by federation of Methodist and Congregationalist Churches asked me to fill in on Sundays in January and February. The guy that usually preaches there was going on vacation to Mexico.
I say “the guy who usually preaches there” because he’s not really the Pastor. They haven’t had a Pastor since their last Pastor retired a couple years ago. They have been getting by for pulpit and emergency coverage with several retired folks. That’s how the usual guy can just take off for 2 months to Mexico.
Then last month (Sept of ’17), they contacted me to see if I might be available to cover pulpit and emergencies again this coming January. This time, though, they asked me to stay on through May. They said they “had a sense” that the regular guy wanted to not be so regular.
I agreed. So for 5 months I’m the new “usual guy”.
The people are nice folks. But it’s going to be awkward. Here’s why:
There are 2 churches involved. One is United Methodist (UMC, for those who like denominational acronyms). The other is Congragationalist (UCC). They call themselves “federated”. That’s not odd in itself. There are lots of “Federated” churches. But here, they are only federated in the sense that they worship together on Sundays and share a “regular guy” for pastoral services.
They alternate worship at the Methodist building one month, and the Congregationalist building the next. So, unless you happen to be on the inside, you stand a 50% chance of nobody being at the building you show up at on Sunday morning, and as far as I can tell no notices are posted at the vacant building with directions to the other one. So much for walk-ins.
They say they’re happy with the arrangement because it allows them to save the cost of “hiring” 2 pastors. And yet, because they can’t agree on much of anything, they can’t get a Pastor at all.
Last year (I happen to know), the Methodist District Superintendent contacted them to set up a meeting for the purpose of bringing them a Pastoral appointee. The Methodists turned down the meeting, in short, because the Congregationalists wouldn’t accept a Methodist appointment. (Congregationalists insist on getting a vote and setting the terms rather than accepting the Bishop’s choice and requirements for compensation.) Neither has the Congregationalist organization been able to find a candidate for them to consider. I don’t know the particulars on that end, but I suspect that the terms they are offering are woefully inadequate.
The current “usual guy” is a retired Presbyterian. So now (I happen to know) they have also been asking the Presbyterian Committee on Ministry to find them a candidate as well. The Presbyterians have indulged them with some time to consider the request, but they have their own pulpits to fill.
So they’ve asked me, a Baptist, to fill in as the usual guy. And if they should happen to ask me, my advice to them will be to end this awkward arrangement of “living together without benefit of clergy”. Either consummate the marriage and become a community church — sell off both of the old decrepit buildings and find a single new place they can afford, and stop pretending to be attached to denominations that neither of the congregations can cooperate with. Or each church re-commit itself to be fully engaged in its own denominational life, go their separate ways, and stop using each other as a way of hiding from the ministries they should be doing.
They’re nice folks. I’m fairly sure it’s not advice any of them want to hear. I might not last as the “regular guy” through May. That’s ok. As a renegade Baptist, I’ve got nothing to lose.