Unpaid co-pastors make perfect team for lay-driven church

By Amy Forbus

Two co-pastors. Ten Certified Lay Servants. An administrative assistant and a finance assistant. Eighty worshippers on an average Sunday.

No paid staff.

Hardy United Methodist Church may be on to something.

“They have pulled together to lead, grow and adapt,” said the Rev. Susan Ledbetter, superintendent of the Northeast District. “This could be an emerging model for our smaller congregations.”

A unique arrangement

Kay Brogdon and Nancy Cameron go way back. They taught at the same high school: English classes for Brogdon, music for Cameron.

Kay Brogdon, left, bows her head in prayer as Nancy Cameron gives the benediction Nov. 23 at Hardy UMC. Brogdon, a part-time lay pastor, and Cameron, a licensed local pastor, began sharing pastoral duties at the church earlier this year. PHOTO COURTESY HARDY UMC

Kay Brogdon, left, bows her head in prayer as Nancy Cameron gives the benediction Nov. 23 at Hardy UMC. Brogdon, a part-time lay pastor, and Cameron, a licensed local pastor, began sharing pastoral duties at the church earlier this year.

Brogdon had become a Certified Lay Speaker several years ago, before the title changed to Lay Servant and before she retired from teaching in 2009.

In her retirement, she served occasionally as a supply preacher for Hardy United Methodist Church. When the pastor at that time left, the district superintendent asked Brogdon to take on regular preaching duties to provide some stability during a time of transition.

“Susan knew that we were trying to be a laity-driven church,” she said. That goal, combined with the financial hardships the congregation had faced in previous years, led the district superintendent to allow Brogdon to take on the role the way Brogdon wished: with no salary.

Not long after Brogdon’s appointment to Hardy became official, the church’s pianist retired.

Brogdon soon thought of her musician friend Cameron, who had become a licensed local pastor after her retirement. Cameron had served at Horseshoe Bend UMC, but when her husband died, she retired from that role, too, and eventually moved to Iowa to be closer to family.

But the house in Horseshoe Bend never found a buyer.

While in Iowa, Cameron found herself engaged in a study on hearing the voice of God. One morning she woke up with the thought, “You have to go back to Arkansas.” She heeded that voice.

Within a week of her return to the area, she was playing piano for the Hardy church’s worship services.

In Cameron, Brogdon gained not only a church pianist, but also a backup for the pulpit—which comes in handy when Brogdon and her husband need to travel on weekends to help care for some family matters.

As they traded off various pastoral duties, the women discovered how well they worked as a team.

“Nancy and I have just sort of said, ‘Tag, you’re it,’” says Brogdon.

“Suddenly Nancy appeared. God sent her; that’s all,” said Marilyn Lynn, the chair of Hardy UMC’s Staff-Parish Relations committee. She’s quick to add that God sent Brogdon, too.

Lynn approached district superintendent Ledbetter about changing the appointment to a co-pastoring setup. On Oct. 12, it became official.

A typical Sunday at Hardy UMC involves Brogdon preaching, Cameron at the piano and a layperson serving as liturgist. At the close of the service, Brogdon summarizes the lesson of that day’s worship, then steps back for Cameron to give the benediction.

The Northeast District has reinstated Cameron’s local pastor’s license, meaning she has officially come out of retirement. The license enables her to preside over baptisms and marriages, so she takes care of those particular duties in the division of responsibility.

Lay Servant leadership

Much of the credit for Hardy UMC’s vitality belongs to the people in the pews—or more accurately, the work they do when they’re not sitting in the pews.

Cindy Holland is a night nurse at St. Bernard Medical Center in Jonesboro. When Lay Speaking Ministries changed to Lay Servant Ministries, it got her attention; she had never considered lay speaking as something she was called to do, but serving was another matter. She started by taking the Basic Lay Servant course.

“It focused me a little bit more,” Holland said. “It was a class that helped me target in on what my talents were.” She has since become involved in teaching Sunday school, and when she retires from nursing next year, she plans to focus on leading a Bible study. She also makes pastoral care visits on behalf of the church to those who are hospitalized or in nursing homes in Jonesboro.

Holland believes the co-pastoring arrangement has been good for the whole church, and it helps parishioners see how different people can use their gifts in different ways.

Jonathan Rhodes, another Certified Lay Servant, has left his membership with his childhood church, Cherokee Village UMC, but became active in the Hardy church after a move back to Arkansas. He serves as a liturgist, and hopes to use his training to help Hardy and other area UMCs collaborate for youth ministry activities.

He believes the co-pastoring model is working well for the congregation.

“In a small community that struggles financially anyway, for us to be able to have a full-fledged minister is not a financial reality,” he said. “What is unique about our church is that it’s small, but it is so dedicated. They believe in the role of that church in the community and are determined to keep it going.”

Rhodes sees the value of laity doing ministry in areas where they are passionate about something, so no one person gets overwhelmed. “Let’s find out where people have a passion or a strength and try to really encourage them,” he says.

Cameron agrees.

“I think small churches really need to look at the laity they have and empower them to take responsibility for their churches,” she says. “There’s responsibility, but there’s also the joy that goes along with that.”

Plans for the future

Hardy UMC hosted the Basic Lay Servant Course where their members received training, and they hope to host it again in 2015.

“We love the new aspect of Lay Servant instead of Lay Speaker,” Brogdon said. “They all do different things. Some are good at administration, others at leading in other ways.” She said that the new title has attracted some folks who had previously stayed away because they weren’t interested in preaching.

“Nancy and I have really stressed to the church how service-oriented we need to be for our community, and to let our community know that we’re a viable, working, serving church,” she said.

To that end, Hardy UMC is launching two new ministries: Compassion Sunday and Souper Wednesdays.

In every month with five Sundays, that fifth Sunday will be Compassion Sunday. After a community breakfast and a brief devotional time, teams will go out to be the hands and feet of Christ in their community, helping others with chores, errands or other particular needs. Then they will return to the church for lunch—if possible, bringing those they helped that morning to join them for the meal.

And this winter, the church will host Souper Wednesdays, offering a weekly hot meal during the cold winter months. The free lunch will include homemade soup, bread, tea, cookies and coffee. “It’s not a soup kitchen,” Brogdon stressed, nor will it be used to prod people to attend worship, though there will be information on the church within easy reach. It’s simply an extension of Christian hospitality.

Lay Servants will play key roles in both of these ministries.

“They feel so needed and useful. And they are! They are needed, and they are useful,” Brogdon said.

“We keep saying that we are going, glowing, and growing in Christ.”