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“A Ministry of Equals”

One of the gifts of my seminary training in the late 1980’s was an introduction to The Alban Institute. (

Since its start four decades ago, the Virginia-based Alban Institute has guided mostly mainline congregations through consulting and publishing. Its founder and former president, the Rev. Loren Mead, became well-known for his speaking and writing about the future of U.S. denominations. He was one of the first to predict denominational decline.- Website

As we progress our way through this next decade, one focus will be partnerships between sister parishes, or as Alban has coined it “hybrid shared ministry.” There are many forms being developed on shared ministry. For some parts of our country, and for the Anglican Church of Canada, there have been a variety of expressions in this style of ministry for many years. When I was a child, we would have a student minister sent to lead 4 or 5 congregations, of which our family was a part.

In the 70’s, I was part of a 5-point parish in northwest Saskatchewan. Did the incumbent attend each church on a Sunday? No. At the same time, it was not uncommon for him to do at least three services on a Sunday morning, and sometimes a 4th, later in the day. The blessing of this shared ministry was that no one church building was closed, and each community had equal value.

One of the descriptors that the Rev. Dr. A. Trevor Sutton presents about hybrid shared ministry is for the local ordained clergy to prepare a sermon each week. Except, this person would not attend each parish church. One week the ‘other’ parish would receive a recorded version of the sermon to be shared, with a lay person leading the service. At the other parish, the priest would attend to lead worship and preach. This is one scenario.

A second would involve, (as it did for me in my first parish) attending the two parish churches each week. This entailed 8 am and 11 am, where the rectory was. Fitted in between the 8 & 11a.m., was a 9:30 a.m. at the neighbouring community. It worked! One solution was to have coffee at the gathering space at the back of the church, “caffeine for the journey.”

I have colleagues in ministry who serve a five-point parish with more than two clergy. Listening to their leadership, they have developed an intriguing form of ministry for that region in Canada.

These expressions of leadership in ministry have assisted in preventing parishes from closing their worship spaces, with an end result of selling off the assets. In many cases, smaller congregations have been revitalized. With shared resources, the focus of sharing the good news of Christ can shift from survival based on fundraising, to a focus on ministry.

Part of the preparation process for shared clergy is the introduction of “Lay Worship Leaders” in our diocese. St. John’s is fortunate to have two lay people trained for this ministry. Another (and significantly important) part, is the acceptance of this ministry in our parish.

In my experience, this model of shared ministry should never have a focus of “one larger congregation helping out a smaller congregation”. The focus must be on “a ministry of equals”. Like our Anglican expression of the Archbishop of Canterbury being “first among equals.”

In March, the parishes of Cowichan Region gathered at St. John’s Duncan to begin conversations of ministry in the future. Over the next months /years there will be further discussions. There will be numerous recommendations. The focus must be to allow congregations to remain open and engaged in ministry.

Archdeacon Brian+