Small church, great mission

Leaders of small congregations called to expanded vision of ministry
December 5, 2007

When more than 135 people gathered for a conference to explore Creative Models of Sacramental Leadership in the Small Church, something happened that went beyond exploring those models. The focus expanded to explore how those who serve in, gather in and love small churches live out their special part in God's greater mission.

Through comments by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, New Zealand Archbishop David Moxon's stories of communities gathered around social justice issues and other presenters' theology and experience, participants left with increased enthusiasm, fresh ideas and a sense that they were not isolated in their ministry settings.

Participants at the October 7-10 gathering at the Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville, North Carolina, included small-church leaders from the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), as well as Anglican representatives from the provinces of Canada and New Zealand.

The Episcopal Church was represented by eight provinces and 44 dioceses, including Northern Michigan, Wyoming, Western Kansas, Texas, Easton, Western New York and Northern California. People from the Episcopal Divinity School, Virginia Seminary and organizations that serve the small church also attended.

An expanded understanding
The diverse group came together to address fresh expressions of how small congregations live out their part in God's greater mission. Jefferts Schori invited an expansive understanding of sacramental leadership to include all baptized people and the ministry they exercise in their daily lives.

While the first things that come to mind when thinking about sacramental leadership are preaching and presiding, she said, "the last time that I checked, none of those is exclusive to those of the ordained -- even presiding. We ask people to preside even at worship, and these are parts of the community that are not ordain."

"Are we just talking about leadership in a context where we distribute or effect sacraments, or are we talking about leadership that becomes sacrament in a community that becomes sacrament?" she asked. "I think that is where we are moving. I think that we are moving to a church where the community -- a forming community and a transformed community -- becomes sacrament."

"Effective sacramental leadership equips all in ministry and service to expansive understanding of God's mission," she said. "Sacramental leadership has both a specialized inside function and a general outside function. Every person has a charisma or a set of gifts or vocation for that mission."

She reminded the gathering about the Anglican Communion's Five Marks of Mission, which are to proclaim the good news of the kingdom; to teach, baptize and nurture new believers; to respond to human need by service; to seek to transform unjust structures of society; and to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

"It is an incredibly expansive understanding of mission, and I think that it is its great gift," she said. "We are all going to be challenged there. No one particular wing of the church will be able to proclaim that we've got it all. We are going to need the whole thing in order to do the whole work.

"I am struck in looking at those [five marks], and only one of them happens in what we call church, only one of them. I hope that you are hearing echoes of what I think that we are talking about lately. That it is baptismal ministry that it is our job to empower, because most of the work happens out there."

'Mission with a church'
Archbishop David Moxon of the New Zealand Dioceses invited to consider social-action groups that gather to break bread as a way to live out the gospel. He also encouraged increased understanding of the scope of small church mission by inviting participants to view our gathered communities as "a mission with a church, and not a church with a mission."

The life and ministry of the late Diocese of Northern Michigan Bishop Jim Kelsey, who had planned to attend, was remembered with a time of silence while the podium was left vacant, followed by a co-presentation on local collaborative ministry by his brother, the Rev. Steve Kelsey, and the Anglican Church of Canada Diocese of Rupert's Land Bishop Donald Phillips.

The conference closed with a Eucharist, where Moxon presided and Presiding Jefferts Schori preached.

Because of the overwhelming interest in this sold-out event, a DVD will be produced and available as a free download in early 2008. An initial planning meeting also was held to discuss the feasibility of a small-church best-practices summit in 2009.


The Small Church Strategy Handbook and other resources are downloadable from the Small Church portion of the Congregational Development website.

Organizations serving the small church:

Domestic Missionary Partnership
A group of dioceses engaged in diocesan and congregational development centered in missionary spirituality. For information, contact The Rev. Canon Karen Lewis at

Episcopal Appalachian Ministries
An organization working with Episcopal dioceses through Appalachia, providing training and work-camp experiences in the region. For information not found on their website, e-mail them at

Episcopal Health Ministries
A network with provincial representatives and a national coordinator, offering training in parish health ministries and parish nursing. For more information visit or contact the coordinator, Matthew Ellis at

Living Stones
A program that involves dioceses in an annual conference with case studies and models for total common ministry. For more information, visit or contact Kevin Thew Forrester at or Jo Gantzer at

Rural Ministries Network
A support and prayer ministry for people who work in rural areas. Quarterly publication Crossroads and prayer list are included with $20 annual membership. To become a member, contact Sandra Elledge, PO Box 51931, Knoxville, TN 37950-1931. 

Standing Commission for Small Congregations
Canon I.1.2(n)(2) states that it shall be the duty of the Standing Commission on Small Congregations to concern itself with plans for new directions for small congregations. For more information, contact Richard Graybill at