Peterborough churches sign covenant

Clergy at the front of a church.
Anglican and Lutheran clergy take part in a joint Blessing of the Animals service at St. John the Evangelist in Peterborough on Oct. 5. From left: the Rev. Geoff Howson, priest-in-charge of All Saints, Peterborough; the Rev. Mary Bell-Plouffe, incumbent of St. Barnabas, Peterborough; and the Rev. Scott Schellenberger, pastor of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church, Peterborough.
 on November 1, 2014

Clergy work as team

The clergy and congregations of five Peterborough churches have signed the Anglican-Lutheran Covenant, a formal agreement of mutual ministry in the city. The signatories to the agreement are Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Anglican congregations of All Saints, St. Barnabas, St. John the Evangelist and St. Luke the Evangelist.

The covenant was inspired by a similar arrangement between two congregations in Rochester, N.Y. The Peterborough churches also drew inspiration from team ministry work in the Church of England and from the fresh expressions movement. The covenant was developed in consultation with Bishop Linda Nicholls, the area bishop of Trent-Durham.

The Rev. Geoff Howson, the priest-in-charge at All Saints, explains that all five churches are facing challenging times, with smaller congregations and tighter budgets. “Doing this forces us to ask how we can be creative and find a new way of being the church, so we can use our resources and not get hung up on being maintenance-oriented,” he says.

A major benefit has been that the five clergy are able to work as a team, rather than as “Lone Rangers,” he says. They meet weekly and offer support to each other. As trust builds, they discuss difficult situations and seek insight and advice from each other.

The five churches will remain distinct, governed by their own corporations and annual vestries, and will worship in their own locations. However, they hope the covenant will open the door to opportunities to better serve the needs of Peterborough.

As an example, says Mr. Howson, on issues of social justice such as poverty and homelessness, the five voices representing a large part of Peterborough can be powerful. “By joining together, we’re able to have a more profound voice in a city that does have a fair number of social issues it needs to confront,” he says.

The churches will share programs and worship as well. A Covenant Choir has been formed from 28 singers drawn from the five churches, and they are singing at special events. As well, there was a joint outdoor worship service in September and a joint Blessing of the Animals service in October.

The churches may also band together to sponsor a refugee family. “All five churches are trying to be missional, becoming more aware of our neighbourhoods,” says Mr. Howson. “How can we reach out and be a presence there?”

A covenant council has been established, with equal representation from each church, comprising the incumbent, churchwarden and two members of each congregation. The council will advise incumbents on worship, pastoral care and Christian education, and make recommendations to the churchwardens on shared opportunities in administration and property management. The council has also established several working groups that will focus on family ministry, education and training, worship, health, communications and shared events.

Peterborough is in the midst of significant change, and Mr. Howson believes the covenant offers an opportunity to be a new kind of church in the city. What that church will look like, no one knows, he says. “Maybe this will become the Anglican-Lutheran parish of Peterborough, where you have a team ministry,” he says. “I think that’s a possibility.”


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