#Yoked: Co-Pastors

Yoked magnet

This is part of a series on clergy couples and their stories. Andy and I wrote a book about being a clergy couple and all the insanity that goes along with it called Yoked: Stories of a Clergy Couple in Marriage, Family, and Ministry.

My husband and I were given an incredible gift before we ever began our ministry together in our first church. Even though it isn’t anything I can hold in my hands or look at, this gift has had a profoundly positive impact on my ministry.

Almost eight years ago, my husband Jeff and I were in our last semester of seminary. We had been in conversations with a lovely church in rural Iowa, and we were hoping to be their co-pastors. As first-time ministers, we had no idea what ministry would look like in an actual church. As first-time co-pastors, we had no idea what it meant to share a ministry (apart from the idealized way we pictured it in our heads). As soon-to-be first-time parents, we had no idea what it meant to be parents at all, let alone what it meant to be co-pastors with a newborn child.

Our congregation had never had a clergy couple before. In fact, the entire region of our denomination where we serve had never had a female minister, or a clergy couple in their history. How would compensation work? Who would oversee which ministries? When things got tough, who was in charge?

The search committee came to talk to the congregation about the necessary next steps before extending a call to us. During the course of the meeting, the moderator of the church (someone who had been brought in to help with the search) said, “The most important thing you can do is be flexible. They are new to this. They are discovering their individual gifts and how they work as a team. You are learning how to have co-pastors and shared authority. Be flexible, and it will all work itself out.”

Be flexible. I can’t even begin to tell you how much of a gift that has been to me. And my church has lived it out. For the first three years of our ministry here, we needed that flexibility desperately. We were finding our voices, our gifts, and how we worked together. We were learning that things we once thought were weaknesses were places of great joy and energy. Some areas that we thought would be strengths, weren’t nearly as strong as we had thought. Other things needed to be a team effort, and we had to learn to communicate often and openly with each other in order for the whole thing to work.

My classis (regional governing body) has given us this gift, too, by listening to our voices, not making assumptions about how our team ministry works, and by including us in important conversations. I am grateful beyond words for this flexibility and generosity. It has enabled my husband and I to minister with joy in the same ministry context for the past 7+ years.

Just a couple of years ago, I had a phone call from a church that was considering extending a call to a new clergy couple. The person excitedly talked about how they loved these two candidates. They told us that even though they didn’t know how co-pastoring would work, they saw that it was working in our church. When he asked me how it would all work out if they called a couple, too, I was so thankful for the opportunity to pay it forward.

“Be flexible. Give them the opportunity to discover their strengths individually and as a team. When they find their balance, your church will be greatly blessed to have them.”

As a type-A, perfectionist who loves to have straight forward answers for how things work, I’ve had to let go of my neat and tidy hopes and dreams for co-pastoring. No two clergy couples function in the same way. No two co-ministries are divided the same. No two churches considering a clergy couple are in the same boat. Flexibility is a gift that has given me the opportunity to find my voice as part of a clergy team and to serve with a joyful heart.

If you are considering a clergy couple, give them the opportunity to be flexible. If you are part of a clergy couple looking at your first ministry placement, give yourselves the flexibility to learn who you are once you are in your first call. Flexibility provides the space for growth, discovery, and unified vision. And when those things are in place, amazing things will happen.

008April Fiet serves as co-pastor of a congregation in rural Iowa alongside her husband Jeff. Together they are raising two fantastic, school-age children, which keeps life fresh, fun, and a bit chaotic at times. April enjoys running (at a snail’s pace), karate, baking bread, reading (theology and children’s books), crocheting, and taking pictures of nearly everything.
#Yoked: Parenting and Planting

#Yoked: Parenting and Planting

Yoked magnet

This is part of a series on clergy couples and their stories. Andy and I wrote a book about being a clergy couple and all the insanity that goes along with it called Yoked: Stories of a Clergy Couple in Marriage, Family, and Ministry.

Back in the days when we were newlyweds, I was serving as a pastor and my husband was in seminary, and we dreamed big dreams. We dreamed of a larger family (though my husband wanted many more kids than I did), we dreamed of moving across the country, and we dreamed of starting a new church.

Fast forward a few years, and we have lived into the dream of planting a new church but it hasn’t been easy. It has been nothing like we imagined it would be. Neither has the journey for our family been anything like we dreamed at the time.

We have one child, our son AJ, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. We are planting a church, but serving two other churches part-time in addition to planting this new church. We did move across the country, but with a two-and-a-half year stop in Oklahoma in which we bought a house, then felt called a year later to move, after our son’s diagnosis and discovery that the resources for our son were few and far between where we lived.

When we moved to the Seattle area, we naturally began connecting with other families that had children with disabilities. We found that we shared similar experiences in terms of church—not all churches are welcoming of people with disabilities. Sometimes our children are too loud, too mobile, and too disruptive. We have been asked to take our child (who was four at the time) to the nursery where the babies were. We have also been told our child was not welcome in childcare because the workers were not trained for autism (we always answer, “Neither are we”). So many families of children with disabilities have also not found church to be a welcoming place.

We also found families of typically developing children that had another family member or friend that had a disability and knew some of the challenges we faced. We also found adults with disabilities, their families and friends, and the vision of Open Gathering, our church, came to be—a worshipping community that gathered together, where a child running around and yelling, or another child dancing, or an adult asking serious questions that might seem silly to others would all be welcome, and not only welcomed but included and valued. As we prayed about the vision for our church and who we might be, we know that our own experience helped to shape that vision and continues to frame its future.

We still don’t have it right all the time. We have had times where one of us is wrangling our child while the other is leading the music or prayers. Several times this fall our son has slept through Open Gathering because we meet on Sunday late afternoons and he didn’t sleep well the night before.  One of the common issues for individuals with autism is sleep disruption. Our son AJ has not slept well for the past few months, and because he is a PK (pastor’s kid) of course he often does not sleep well Saturday night into Sunday morning.

Parenting is tough. Pastoring is tough. Planting a church is tough. Combine it all together, and throw in sleep disorder and autism and we struggle at times. But I don’t see how we could follow this call to this particular community without us both being clergy, both understanding what we are doing and why we are doing it, and feeling called by God to this work. We believe in this vision for our church because we are both clergy, because we are both parents of a child with a disability. The dream has changed, but it is still there.

Family portraitRev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell is an ordained American Baptist minister serving in the Seattle area along with her husband, Rev. JC Mitchell who is ordained Disciples of Christ. Together, they have begun Open Gathering, a new church community in Bellevue, WA that seeks to be welcoming and inclusive of people of different abilities. They have one child, AJ, who has autism. Mindi blogs at http://rev-o-lution.org and has recently launched autismandchurch.com with another clergy colleague.