Yoked congregations find joy

In a season where fear has become increasingly abundant as congregations are challenged to sustain ministries and meet financial obligations, two NC Synod congregations have faithfully stepped outside of their comfort zones to participate in a Holy Innovation.

Recognizing the need for vital, vibrant congregations, the synod staff encouraged the congregations of St. John’s, Hudson, and St. Stephen’s, Lenoir, to consider partnering together in a process known as yoking. Yoking enables struggling congregations to become vibrant congregations by sharing pastoral leadership and congregational ministries with each other.

On Friday afternoon of assembly, the synod’s associate director for evangelical mission, Pastor CeCee Mills, facilitated a conversation with Skip Downs (St. John’s) and Christy Williams (St. Stephen’s) in which they shared their experiences as members of yoked congregations. Both congregations were invited into the experience of yoking together after expressing concerns regarding attendance decline, financial stress, and the ability to afford and keep a pastor. Although fear often inhibits movement, these two congregations took a huge step forward to trust in synod staff, in Pastor Daniel Duke and in each other. Concerned about worship times, pastoral care availability, and growth in congregational ministry, the leaders of St. Stephen’s and St. John’s worked together to create a plan that would allow each congregation to retain its separate Sunday morning worship but also join together for fellowship, Bible Study, and community outreach.

Both congregations have a renewed sense of mission filled with joy as they continue to learn what it means to be the church together. Joy is found as each congregation gathers together for Sunday School and Bible Study taught by lay leaders. Joy is found in members willing to be flexible as Pastor Duke navigates the challenges of serving two congregations. Joy is found as relationships have strengthened through fellowship events, service in the community, and combined worship. Joy is found because the members of St. John’s, Hudson, and St. Stephen’s, Lenoir, are willing to be in relationship with each other so that they can continue to proclaim God’s word in their communities. Joy is found because the leaders of each congregation follow the model of First Thessalonians 5: 16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

How will you joyfully live out your ministry and be church together? Are you ready to enter into a Holy Innovation and try something outside of your comfort zone? We are the church together and we are better together! Cast aside fear, take that leap of faith into the future, pray without ceasing, and prepare to find joy.

Story: Deacon Susan Jackson serves as the Youth and Family Coordinator at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Wilmington.
Photograph: Ray Sipe–pastor, chaplain, and techno-geek.