We Are Not So Small When We Are Together
by Camille Josey
My relationship with the small church has been an on again, off again relationship. I grew up in a small congregation where my faith was formed, I was confirmed, served as a junior elder and as a youth leader. In my young adult years, however, I became disillusioned when the congregation refused to have anything to do with the Vietnamese refugees settling in the neighborhoods around the church.
That’s when I moved my membership to a mega church that had a robust community ministry. I spent the next 25 years in that worshiping community working on local mission projects, serving as chair of the newly formed global missions committee, teaching Sunday School and serving on the session. It was in the life of this congregation that I heard the call to ministry and where I was sponsored as a seminarian.
In seminary, I rediscovered the small church when I served an internship in a tiny congregation that had a ministry to a community of men and women who live with chronic mental disability. Holy Comforter Episcopal Church had been on her death bed not too many years before I arrived. But a priest in the diocesan office had asked, "Isn’t the church about being the visible presence of Christ in the neighborhood?" From that question, Holy Comforter discovered her calling and found new life. She is still small, but you wouldn’t know it by the kingdom building work she is doing.
At the time I was serving at Holy Comforter, the congregation of my childhood closed her doors. Not because there was no longer a community in which to minister, but because she was not able to see the calling that would bring her life. As I thought about the contrast between these two congregations, I realized that, in God’s economy, small is not a liability. The church who is the visible presence of Christ in the neighborhood, who has died to self and been reborn in Jesus is a church who finds life.
I am now in my fifth year of serving a small congregation. We are working hard to ask the right questions. The community around the church is a mill town that was devastated when the mill closed about a dozen years ago. Five generations of some families had worked in the mill and the once thriving community now has high rates of drug addiction, fractured families, low graduation rates, high teen pregnancy rates.
In the midst of this kind of trauma, it is difficult to know what one tiny congregation can do. But we started by looking at the gifts of those gathered by the Holy Spirit, confident that would give us some clues. There are a lot of educators in the congregation so we began to look at the needs of children in the community. This is where we are finding our calling in this season of our life together.
I am excited to be a part of The Outreach Foundation Small Church Initiative! The map above representing many small congregations (100 or less) shows that we are not so small when we are together. My prayer is that we will be able to encourage one another, collaborate with one another and learn from our brothers and sisters all over the globe.
If you know small church leaders who ought to be a part of our conversation, we hope that you will direct them to the Small Church Initiative FaceBook group.
Rev. Camille Josey
Small Church Mission Catalyst