Pastors have been serving more than one congregation probably since there were congregations.

Some may be familiar with the term “yoked” congregations.   This is when two congregations share the expenses of a pastor, but maybe not much else.  It is only one of many possibilities when it comes to shared ministry.  The Northeastern Iowa Synod vision of “geographical parish” encompasses much more.

Geographical parishes are mission centers where congregation members and leaders have come together to ask the question, “What can we do together better than we can alone?”

Usually, it is the challenge of coming up with the finances to pay a full-time pastor that brings congregations together.  But when the conversation and vision turn to mission things get exciting and amazing things start to happen.  People start to talk and share and realize the possibilities for mission go way beyond sharing the expenses of a pastor.  We have many geographical parishes in our synod who found working together with other congregations led to renewal and vitalization, leading to a much stronger Gospel witness than they ever had on their own.

“A geographical parish creates a larger communion of saints, with more gifts for the common good,” observes Pastor Randy Baldwin, Pastor of One in Christ Geographical Parish, in Lake Mills.

Factors that lead to successful partnership:

It is driven by the Gospel mission to share the Good News to all people.

Pastor Darrel who pioneered much of this work, used to say “Survival will get you to the table, but you need to move to mission if you are going to move forward.”

 The process is driven by the members, not synod staff, not clergy.

The members were here long before the synod staff or clergy and they will be here long after we have moved on.  This needs to be a workable arrangement for the folk who will work and live together day after day.

It takes as long as it takes.

Which can be up to a few years.   Long before there are formal votes there are bible studies and conversations at coffee and in the parking lot.   Sometimes after some conversations, it becomes clear this is not the right partnership.  That is not a failure.  It’s part of the process.

There is no one set partnership agreement.

This is why it takes as long as it takes.  Each parish needs to take the time to work out what kind of an agreement will work in their setting.  Every geo-parish in our synod has a different agreement.

Communication and transparency are key!

There needs to be communication within each congregation of what is taking place in the conversations and where everyone is in the process.  There needs to be frank and honest conversation between congregations about expectations, concerns, and dreams.  Everyone needs to be informed and encouraged to add their input and ask questions.  Trust is key.  Trust takes time and communication and transparency.

 And finally, the goal is to look forward, toward the future, not look back with a hope to restore past glories.

God is always moving us forward, never back.  “Behold, I am doing a new thing!”  Isaiah 43:19

For more information about Geographical Parishes see:

2010 Making a Difference

Or Call Pastor Joelle Colville-Hanson at the Northeastern Iowa Synod.



Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. God’s work in God’s way.This is the ministry we need.Moving is life,God asks Abraham to move.Holyspirit through Word will create renewal.inthe fellowship of prayer.Amen


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About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson

The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.




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