Everybody Wins, Nobody Loses
By the Rev. Canon David M. Baumann
Priest-in-Charge of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Centralia
Interim Pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Centralia
In May 2017, at the urging of one of the members of St. John’s in Centralia, I sent a letter to Redeemer Lutheran Church of the same city, offering them a home at St. John’s. The congregation had recently lost its pastor and was in the process of selling its building; they did not have enough members or income to keep going as they had been. At the time I wrote the letter, I did not know that on top of these sorrowful events, Redeemer had been in negotiations for a year with another church in Centralia regarding a merger, and that the other church had just made an unanticipated vote not to continue with merger plans that had long been in the works. The timing of my letter was providential; Redeemer was delighted to consider a relationship of some kind with St. John’s, and began to use our building for their services on the first Sunday in September 2017. They were served by a retired Lutheran pastor who had been contracted for a limited period of time. Our two congregations manifested immediate charity toward one another, and began to cooperate in many ways even as we established a Transition Team to address all the issues that would come up as we proceeded on the path toward a formal linking of our congregations.
Our goal was to design a plan that would preserve the traditions, gifts, and overall identity of both congregations while simultaneously sharing those gifts with the partner church. We were careful and thorough, and the excitement grew as time passed and we saw the fruit of our work in our daily practice.
Finally, after nearly a year, we achieved our goal. On the first Sunday of August 2018, Redeemer relinquished its own service time and joined St. John’s in a single Sunday service. I was appointed Pastor of Redeemer by Bishop John Roth of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Redeemer brought about twenty people to St. John’s twenty, effectively doubling the size of the congregation.
Every issue had been worked out to everyone’s satisfaction, e.g.
- how Communion will be distributed (those who wish to receive from the common chalice do so at the altar rail; those who wish to receive from individual cups do so in a line at the front of the nave; grape juice is blended with a tiny amount of wine; the vessels are cleansed “Episcopal style”)
- how the finances will be handled (each congregations retains its treasurer and finances, but a joint checking account will be used for shared expenses which are divided equally)
- how the liturgy will be conducted (Episcopal Prayer Book with Lutheran additions and adaptations allowed by Episcopal rubrics; Episcopal service music with Lutheran hymns are used for a season, followed by a season of Lutheran service music and Episcopal hymns; liturgical assistant ministers serve as they always have according to their own tradition)
- how property is to be shared (each congregation’s property is retained, but everything is shared without reserve, such as a sound system, photocopier, and musical instruments)
- how the two musicians will work together (both were retained at the pay they were receiving, and were asked to devise their own method for performing their ministries together; an electric piano was added to the organ and both instruments are used, thereby greatly expanding the congregation’s musical experience; a choir was formed made up of members of both congregations, and the musician who had received the higher pay was given responsibility as choirmaster)
- how the congregations’ social ministries and various traditions will be blended (both maintained what they had been doing while inviting members of the other congregation to join)
- how the two church councils will function (they meet jointly on a monthly basis handling Episcopal business, Lutheran business, and shared business together, with votes taken by one or the other or both together depending on the agenda item)
In the nearly one year of negotiations and mutual learning, we truly hit zero roadblocks. The entire process has been smooth and exciting. Our success has been made possible by the good attitude, confidence, and charity of each individual member of the two congregations with the support of the hard work of those involved in the process. Our bishops have been excited along with us, and supportive of all that we set out to do. Over twenty pages devised over the months of detailed notes, topics of discussion, and suggested resolutions finally came down to two simple pages which we call A Plan for Common Mission. Approved and signed by both bishops and the leaders of both congregations, it sets forth what it means for our two congregations to live as one.
Most of all, I believe that our success is the work of our Lord and God. The Holy Spirit has manifested himself in us to make it possible for us to respond to Jesus’ prayer, “That we all may be one, so that the world may believe.” The joy and excitement on each Sunday morning is palpable, the singing is robust, and the fellowship warm and rich. I trust that all have been blessed, and that no one lost anything of value. I am personally pleased and proud to be able to tell others who have inquired about our process, “This is the way it should be.” Now we are moving forward with new, God-given energy and vision to be more and more the people of God by grace, in joy, for mission, and to serve.