Stronger together: Three African-American churches form teaching parish

“A pastoral charge may be designated by the bishop and cabinet as a “teaching parish” when either a local church with a pastor or cooperative parish with a director is available to serve as a counseling elder for a provisional, local, or student pastor appointed or assigned to the teaching parish. A teaching parish shall have a demonstrable commitment to a cooperative or team ministry style and the training of pastors.” —Paragraph 205.3, 2012 Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church

Members and leaders of a campus ministry and two churches gathered March 29 at Wesley Chapel UMC Little Rock, on the campus of Philander Smith College, to mark the official beginning of the the South Little Rock Teaching Parish (SLRTP).

Members of Wesley Chapel, White Memorial and Duncan UMCs, as well as students active in religious life at Philander Smith College, gathered at Wesley Chapel to mark the formation of the South Little Rock Teaching Parish. PHOTO BY BRENNEN BOOSE

Members of Wesley Chapel, White Memorial and Duncan UMCs, as well as students active in religious life at Philander Smith College, gathered at Wesley Chapel to mark the formation of the South Little Rock Teaching Parish.
PHOTO BY BRENNEN BOOSE

Two years of discussions and discernment among church members and clergy have culminated in a plan to open the way for identifying more young African-American United Methodists as potential candidates for ministry. The SLRTP will mentor college students through a process of discernment, encouraging them to discover and use their gifts to the glory of God. The intent is to continue that mentoring relationship all the way through completion of the candidacy process for United Methodist clergy.

The SLRTP directly aligns with Next Step 9 of the Bishop’s Mission Plan: Create Vital African-American Congregations.

The Rev. Ronnie Miller-Yow, chaplain of Philander Smith College and senior pastor of Wesley Chapel and Duncan UMCs, serves as the parish director. Other key partners in the teaching parish are the people of Duncan and White Memorial UMCs.

Yow had already begun using this ministry model in cooperation with Duncan UMC, and since Danita Waller-Paige’s appointment in August 2014 to White Memorial UMC as a lay supply pastor, the churches have participated in joint services during Advent and Lent. Students regularly lead worship in all three congregations.

At Duncan UMC, Philander Smith College students lead praise and worship as singers and liturgists, as well as through preaching. At White Memorial UMC, a student musician serves each Sunday, and other students participate in the choir and as liturgists. In addition, a student preaches once every six weeks.

The Philander Smith College Chaplain’s Office/Office of Religious Life provides group mentoring for ministry and leads weekly chapel worship services.

“This is an innovative idea specific to this mission field,” said the Rev. Maxine Allen, Arkansas Conference associate director for mission and ministry for mission field engagement. “With Duncan and White Memorial about a mile apart, they are well positioned to work with students, be in relationship with each other and help raise up a new generation of leaders.”

Plans for the SLRTP’s future include a full-time parish administrative assistant; a part-time bookkeeper; five student interns working in the areas of preaching/administration, worship/music, outreach/mission; and either a seminary intern or local pastor.

In addition to eventually sharing staffing, the parish sites already share a common mission: to provide a teaching and learning community that extends the love of God through worship, witness and outreach.