News and Views

Cooperative parishes connect churches in ministry

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If Pentecost Day were to come again tomorrow, and the Spirit were tasked to design a United Methodist church, there’s a good chance that the Cooperative Parish model would be one of the options.  

It allows people to live out the best of connectionalism, it opens the laity to a spirit of adventure, and draws people into new understandings of and engagement with their community.

“It’s really based on parishes already existent that are coming together to be the best missional community they can be. There is often an awakening when this happens,” said the Rev. Ann Laprade, superintendent of the Baltimore Suburban District.

On the Baltimore region, Laprade and Baltimore Metropolitan District Superintendent Wanda Duckett have been encouraging the creation of these cooperative parishes. Several of their churches are reaching for and beginning to experience new life through this model.

“They are reaching out for a sign of God and a light of Christ and a way to bring their light together so that it shines even more brightly to those who have yet to learn the story,” Laprade said.

Each of the parishes can be very different, but at their heart is partnering – two or more churches formally sharing appointed pastors and doing ministry and mission together that they could never accomplished if they remained separate and siloed.

Members of cooperative parishes report they are experiencing connectionalism and not just conceptualizing it. “We generate our life together by experiencing it,” said Laprade.

To give people a greater understanding of some of the creative ways cooperative parishes are being lived out in the Baltimore Region, the BWC’s New Faith Expressions Ministries is offering a summit on Jan. 27 at the Mission Center in Fulton. At the event, participants will hear first-hand from leaders of five cooperative parishes and have the opportunity to imagine and plan how they can explore starting a cooperative parish of their own.

 The event is being designed to help churches understand that this doesn’t require “beginning from the beginning” and that great learning can happen by listening to practitioners.

 The Rev. Melissa Rudolph is lead pastor of North Carroll Cooperative Parish, one of the denomination’s most successful cooperative parishes. “For us, being a parish has helped our people see that the whole community is our mission field and that the relationships we have at work and school and on the sports field overflow from worship and discipleship. We have had people who worship at a location with no children have the opportunity to be involved in camps and youth groups for hundreds of kids – their gifts now having an outlet. We’ve also been able to work together to partner with a church in Malawi to build a sanctuary and basketball court – none of our churches could have done that alone.”

The Rev. Laurel McNeal of Community Parish of Northern Baltimore County echoes these sentiments. One example of the strength of a cooperative parish was evidenced in the parish’s Bible studies, which used to draw three to four people and now have more than a dozen in attendance. “More ideas and perspectives are shared since there are more people around the table,” she said.

Whether the parish model allows churches to have enough choir members for a Christmas cantata or enables them to operate summer sports camps for the community, it often lessens anxiety about shrinking budgets, membership and other administrative angst.

“The greatest strength,” Rudolph said, “is the sharing of gifts and resources. So much is wasted in the church through duplication, but when we come together, we save time, energy and other assets.”

With cooperative parishes we are “reaching for an articulating heart of what we are as The United Methodist Church,” Laprade said. “This is an imaginative process. It takes us beyond our present circumstances. We need our church structures to support us in a quest for adventure and to live out of a sense of wonder. … I do believe something new is being born here. I see God’s hand is in this movement.”