On Sunday, April 19, the two parishes I serve came together for my official installation as rector. This celebration represented more than just the start of a new rectorate; it marked a major milestone in the collaborative relationship that began several years ago between Christ Church (Port Tobacco Parish) in La Plata, Maryland, and Christ Church (Wayside) in Newburg, Maryland. In the years leading up to my call as rector in the spring of 2013, the leadership of both parishes recognized the current and future challenges facing their respective congregations. The long-time rector of Christ Church, La Plata was nearing retirement and the vestry knew the financial resources did not exist to call another full-time rector. Christ Church, Wayside had been without a rector for several years, relying primarily on part-time interims and supply priests for pastoral leadership.
Rather than despair, parish leaders seized on the opportunity to join resources and create a collaborative ministry. Initially, the collaboration focused on planning joint worship services and parish events such as dinners and picnics. As the relationship between both parishes and parishioners deepened, plans were laid to call a full-time rector who would serve both parishes. Indeed, this did involve some sacrifice on the part of both congregations, the most visible of which involved each parish having to move from two services to one on Sunday mornings. The benefits of the collaborative relationship, however, go well beyond the financial and economic and they have far outweighed the sacrifices.
The collaborative approach to ministry has revitalized both parishes through increased energy and creativity. Both parishes have retained their respective cultures and autonomy, but there is a tremendous sharing of new ideas and vision between both congregations. The collaborative relationship has given us the critical mass needed to plan new parish events and outreach opportunities. This year, for example, we participated in Ashes-to-Go for the first time, and plans are now underway for increasing the number of Ashes-to-Go locations throughout the county next year. Members of both parishes have also expressed a decreased sense of isolation that is far too common in many parishes, especially in those churches in smaller communities.
The sense of connection between the two parishes has begun to extend beyond Christ Church, La Plata and Christ Church, Wayside. This collaborative relationship has deepened our understanding of what it means to be part of a connectional church. Both parishes have begun collaborating with the other Episcopal parishes in Charles County to plan new ministries and to advertise these ministries to the larger community. When parish lay leaders speak about ministry, they no longer use the pronouns “we” and “us” to refer to the members of their respective parish only; rather, the “we” and “us” often refer to both parishes and even to our sisters and brothers in other Episcopal parishes throughout the region. What started out as a relationship born of necessity has become a relationship that is bearing rich fruit. Through collaborative ministry, we have come to appreciate more fully St. Pauls’ words to the Corinthian church, “Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.” (I Cor. 12:14, NRSV)