AND THEN THERE WERE NINE!
This past month has been a significant one for PLUM. Two new congregations have joined us for their trial year. They are Messiah Lutheran Church, Munhall and Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Coraopolis. Both of these congregations have voted to give our unique approach to pastoral ministry a try. We look forward to the coming year when we will have opportunities to meet and greet the members of these congregations at our annual PLUM picnic, PLUM Board meetings and our joint worship services.
Inviting more congregations on board has been a goal of the PLUM Board since we began this venture in ministry. How many congregations are we envisioning? At this point, we (the PLUM Board and pastoral team) have been envisioning twelve although, if the need arises and with the necessary modifications, maybe more.
When Pastor John and I first put our heads together and came up with the proposal to form a cooperative of congregations that would share the cost of pastoral ministry, we had Pastor Johnís experience with a similar model, albeit in a rural setting, as a guide. That model included, for short time, as many as 24 congregations that covered an area from Avonmore to Brookville to Dubois to Homer City, with a pastoral team made up of 3 pastors, 3 Seminary Interns and pulpit supply pastors (to cover worship responsibilities). These numbers were based on our Churchís guidelines for adequate pastoral coverage which was 1 pastor per 200 members. This is the guide used by large congregations to provide adequate pastoral coverage and the guide PLUM is using. Our model is very much like a large congregation with a multiple staff ministry. Instead of the parishioners from different communities going to services at one location and the pastors rotating through the same pulpit, in our cooperative, the parishioners stay in place, continuing their unique ministry and mission in their community while the pastors do the traveling.
Occasional concerns have been expressed by members of the nine PLUM congregations about the feasibility of having more than seven congregations. Those concerns are sincere and need to be addressed.
The concerns fall into two basic categories: 1) an uneasiness that the pastoral presence in the congregations will be spread too thin and 2) apprehension that the pastors are taking on too much work.
There is no question that this model of ministry works differently than the traditional model of one pastor per congregation. The pastors do spend time around the churches. They are there when they need to be. Otherwise, they are on the move visiting the sick, attending events and meetings in the different congregations, helping with ministry planning, etc. The advantage of this arrangement is that four pastors are available to handle things when multiple crises occur at the same time. For instance, if there are three deaths in a week along with four people in the hospital, two special events, a wedding and three council meetings (and this has happened as recently as last week!), it can be handled! A pastor who is known by the people involved is there and able to provide good pastoral coverage. In addition, the members of the PLUM pastoral team possess a variety of gifts that provide an array of resources for each congregation to draw on.
There are modifications that our congregations can consider in regard to dividing pastoral responsibilities to meet congregational needs such as, assigning specific responsibilities (i.e. worship and music, evangelism, education) to specific pastors or assigning specific pastors to be primary pastors at specific congregations. The PLUM Board and the Congregation Councils will be instrumental in making modifications to our model as we move forward. The best part of our model is that it is flexible and amenable to experimentation.
We pastors do keep busy. That is a given. However, having a team of pastors is not only a win for the congregations but it is a win for the pastors. I was asked by the former treasurer of the Synod, John Franz, about the stress I experience now that I am pastor to nine congregations. I laughed and said that he might find this surprising, but it is significantly less than when I was pastor of only one congregation! Why? The answer is simple. I have a wonderful team of colleagues I can count on and an ever expanding flock made up of Godís faithful people. I can go on vacation and relax knowing that our people will be taken care of by shepherds who they know and trust. When I am facing a problem I have three pastors to consult who together have some 100 years of pastoral experience. My pastoral leadership is significantly enhanced by working with this team and I am enjoying getting to know the members of our congregations.
Then there is the financial benefit of nine congregations. With nine, the cost per congregation for pastoral ministry is reduced. At the next PLUM Board meeting, the amount of the reduction will be determined and reported to the congregational treasurers. Also, there are broader issues to be considered as we grow this ministry. The PLUM Board will be looking at the possibility of using any additional resources to address special ministry needs such as seminary internships, evangelism, youth and young adult ministries.
The future of our cooperative ministry is bright. Working together with Bishop Kusserow, the staff of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod and Pastor Blair Morgan (the Director for Evangelical Outreach from the ELCA), we are leading the way with a creative approach to the issues facing the Church today. PLUM has turned into a great adventure for our congregations and for us pastors. May God continue to bless us, now that we are nine.
Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sheraden, 3102 Sherwood Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15204 412-331-0600