In Cooperation

by Debra Ketcham
(reprinted with permission from the United Methodist (USA) Rural newsletter)

Well, most things come back around again. The 70’s styles I grew up with are the styles of young people today. Many young adults are drawn to the mid-century homes I and maybe you grew up in. Currently, our district in West Ohio Conference is putting the churches in circuits as a way to bring people to Christ for the transformation of the world.

From the beginning of Methodism, churches were in circuits. Churches shared pastors. Churches cooperated and collaborated together in mission and ministry. Cooperative ministries brought churches together in rural areas, around lakes, whole counties, and even crossing state lines, becoming Cooperative Parishes. Some of these groupings of churches encompassed 5, 7, 13, or more churches with a common focus for mission and ministry together, for others. Some have continued to thrive in Appalachia and other areas.

Yet over time, many churches wanted their own pastor, and eventually the cooperative mindset shifted to individual churches with their missions and ministry. As time went on, conference leadership reframed the cooperative model to form a pastor package, not a focus on cooperative mission and ministry. Once again, circuits with collaborative and cooperative foci may be our future, as large segments of our counties and country are void of UM churches. 

The underlying reason for the new focus on circuit ministry is to learn from each other’s strengths and giftedness. Together we can attain more than we can individually as believers, and as churches. Together we can continue or develop vital ministries. We learn together, grow together, bless more people together, and make Christ more visible in our communities, with the intention of introducing more people to Christ.

For far too long, churches in the same area have not operated as a body of Christ. We have become too independent in our thinking, and forgotten to invite others, and their giftedness, to join us in mission and ministry, so as to make a greater kingdom impact. 

I invite you to consider the blessing of working with other churches, in witness, service, shared pastors, shared space, shared programming, or shared congregational ministries. The re-formation of parishes and circuits will likely redefine mission and ministry. May we allow God to open our eyes to the possibilities; and may we have the mind of Christ and bring forth a harvest of believers, through the power of the Holy Spirit.