Bruce United Church Co-operative

July 1, 2014 – June 30, 2017

History, Background
As a response to concerns raised by Pastoral Charges in Hamilton Conference about dwindling and aging congregations, as well as a shortage of ministers, a meeting was held at Alma in April, 2012 with the theme “Business as Usual is not an option”.

The meeting was attended by both clergy and lay members, and was facilitated and led by staff from Hamilton Conference. There were more than a few meetings over the next two years with a similar theme, but the Alma meeting was the catalyst that led to the formation of the Bruce United Church Co-operative on July 1, 2014, created as a 3 year experiment.

Nuts and Bolts
Six congregations from Bruce Presbytery made up the Co-operative: (Dobbinton United, St. John’s United in Chesley, St. Paul’s United in Mildmay, McIntosh United, Salem United, and Teeswater United).

The churches listed above, were each part of two point charges before the Co-operative was formed. The ministry staff was composed of two full time ministers, one ordained, and one a DLM.

On any given Sunday, each of the ministers (referred to as “Pastors”) led worship in two of the congregations, while the Co-operative Worship Committee arranged for Pulpit Supply for the remaining two churches.

As best they could, the two Pastors took holiday and Continuing Education time apart from each other, so there would always be a minister available for the Co-operative.

Congregations maintained their own Board/Council structure to deal with unique concerns. The Co-operative Management Board with committees for Co-operative issues, was made up of representatives from each congregation, financially supported by contributions from the 6 congregations.

Opportunities, Positives
On a regular basis, we held combined worship services with all six congregations participating. We were reminded of what church used to be like! A full congregation, robust hymn singing, often a joint choir, worship led by two pastors, celebration of Holy Communion, and food, always food.

Members discovered that many already knew each other. On one World Wide Communion Sunday, a congregation of 80 joined hands, stood around the sanctuary, and sang “Draw the Circle Wide”.

To mark the first Anniversary of the Co-op, in June of 2015 we celebrated with a Sunday bus trip to all 6 churches, where we heard stories of local history, shared a short worship service complete with singing, and ended the day with a supper provided by one of the congregations.

We were blessed to have good leadership for the Co-operative Board of Management. Our Chairperson held a vision of what the church could be, and shared that with the Board members, encouraging them to vision with her. We were also fortunate to have a member who knew enough about technology to keep a website up, running, and current. Co-operative events were posted, as well as blogs by both Pastors, and…the Chair of the Board.

We invited a ministry intern to join us for 8 months in the second year of the Co-operative. Although there was some opposition to the cost involved, the intern was a real blessing to all six congregations. What an amazing learning experience! 6 rural congregations, and two experienced clergy to supervise and mentor.

When it appeared that the Co-operative would end after 3 years, it might be suggested the experiment was a failure. Far from it! The Co-operative provided its members with opportunities that would not have happened without the energy and vision that birthed the Co-operative in the first place.

In the end, it was agreed to end the 3 year experiment because of a number of factors, the ones listed here arguably being the most significant ones: financial concerns (two of the 6 congregations were in financial difficulty, and one has now ceased to exist); different visions of what the church should be; and the 60 km significant distance between the congregation furthest north (Dobbinton) to the one furthest south (Teeswater). Add to that the retirement of both pastors at the end of June, 2017, one for health concerns, and one, an age related decision.

The Bruce United Church Co-operative provided six unique congregations with an opportunity to think creatively about how to “do” church differently. Concerns about aging congregations, and a shortage of clergy have not disappeared since the 3 years that the BUCC existed. We will need to continue exploring new visions as we move into the future. Perhaps these words from the prophet Isaiah are worth quoting here:
“Do not cling to events of the past, or dwell on what happened long ago.
Watch for the new thing I am going to do.
It is happening already – you can see it now! “ (Isaiah 43:18)

Submitted by Doug Brown, DLM (retired)