MAHONING VALLEY Churches to share full-time pastor
The program allows churches to retain their identities.
By D.A. WILKINSON
VINDICATOR RELIGION EDITOR
YOUNGSTOWN -- It's not unusual for one pastor to serve two congregations.
But it's noteworthy that an all-white Boardman church and a mostly black Youngstown congregation -- each with deep roots in the Valley's history -- plan to share a full-time pastor.
St. Augustine's Episcopal Church, 614 Parmalee Ave., Youngstown, and St. James Episcopal Church, 7640 Glenwood Ave., have announced plans to start the Mahoning Valley Episcopal Shared Ministry.
The plan, finished a month ago, will be formalized in a ceremony at 4 p.m. June 17 at St. Augustine's by leaders of the congregations and Bishop Arthur B. Williams, bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Ohio.
Shortage: The main reason for the shared ministry is a lack of pastors caused by one generation moving on without enough replacements, said the Rev. Jerrald L. Townsend, who has been interim pastor at St. James for six months and St. Augustine for four months.
"A whole generation of clergy are retiring with 25 to 40 years of experience," said the Rev. Mr. Townsend.
Each church has been without a pastor for more than a year.
The passage of time has shaped the two congregations. St. James was formed in 1809 in Boardman. Other Episcopal churches in the area were formed from St. James, said Mr. Townsend.
Church histories: The original St. James Church was completed in 1828 with the help of Boardman founder Elijah Boardman. The building now stands in Boardman Park and is known as St. James Meeting House. It's believed to be the oldest church on the Western Reserve. St. James moved to its present building in 1971.
St. Augustine was founded by black leaders in the city in 1907. At that time, the Episcopal church kept whites and blacks separate, said Mr. Townsend. St. Augustine's still worships in its original 1927 building
Tradition is important in each congregation. Mr. Townsend noted that the senior wardens -- elected lay leaders -- at each church are women from fourth-generation families at each church.
St. James has about 100 baptized members and average Sunday attendance of about 50. St. Augustine has about 50 baptized members, and an average of about 30 each Sunday.
Both congregations are mostly middle age or older with a few children and teen-agers.
And, said Mr. Townsend, the congregations, "Are a good representation of the middle class of this region."
A committee of three people from each church will hire a pastor, which may take a year or more. That board would report to the governing board at each church. A joint treasury will pay the pastor and shared programs.
The idea of the shared ministry is to pool resources while retaining each church's individual identity, said the interim pastor.
The pastor would divide his time based on the amount each church pays towards his salary. Some diocesan funding may go into the fund to help the churches get one pastor, Mr. Townsend said.
Duties: The pastor will have three roles: the shared ministry and any separate programs at each church. That allows churches to keep their individuality.
The two churches already share a ministry. St. James has met at St. Augustine for a joint service one Sunday and vice versa. A joint Bible study divided its meetings between the churches and attracted 12 to 20 people per session. A joint vacation Bible school is planned along with a picnic for both congregations at St. James Meeting House in July and an August celebration at St. Augustine.
The past and pending events are helping members of the congregations to get to know one another and become friends, said Mr. Townsend.
The separate identities will continue. St. Augustine hosts the Learning Tree ministry for youths and plans to expand it. St. James recently added a new organ used for concerts. Those types of programs can continue independently.
St. Augustine is a member of the Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods, a coalition of urban and suburban, black and white congregations that is trying to address a variety of social issues. St. James is not a member of ACTION, although Mr. Townsend said that may change.
Hypothetically, the new pastor could be a member of ACTION through St. Augustine while St. James was not involved. If friction arises or each church wants to go in a new direction, the shared ministry could be dissolved after three years.
Expansion: More community ministries are being contemplated since both are in good locations, said Mr. Townsend. St. Augustine is near St. Elizabeth Medical Center and St. James is near Boardman high school.
There are other shared ministries in northern Ohio involving two -- and in one case three -- churches of different racial mixes and a shared pastor or pastors.
As mainline churches continue to have pastor shortages and congregations have tight budgets, Townsend said shared ministries are, "going to be happening more and more."