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A Passion for the Smaller-Membership Church

Updated: Feb 21, 2021

I am the Minister of (Old) Rehoboth Presbyterian Church. Rehoboth takes its name from the location of a well dug by Isaac in Genesis 26:20. It means, “There is room”.

In 1666 the plantation bearing that name was constructed here and, when it was up and running, hundreds and hundreds of people lived and worked on and around it. Today, still tucked on the bank of a river and less than a dozen miles from the Atlantic Ocean in one direction and the Chesapeake Bay in the other, there remains teeming marshland and fertile farmland, but far fewer people. The population is roughly 50.

I am in my 10th year as pastor to this smaller, rural church. It is my second call to small-church ministry, the previous being my first ordained call to a pair of yoked congregations in South Georgia. I am passionate about the smaller-membership church.

I had been a pretty regular participant at the Association for Smaller Congregations annual conference on Saint Simons Island throughout my tenure as a pastor in Georgia. Even upon relocating to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I continued to return pretty regularly for the event, for it was one of the very few places I had experienced a gathering of ministers, officers, and members of “really” small churches (under 100 members). This Association and this conference were created just for such folks and I felt a great kinship with them.

When I had become a familiar-enough face, the Board of the Association did a remarkable thing—they changed their by-laws to allow for membership to the board for those who resided outside the bounds of the Synod of the South Atlantic.

When established over a quarter of a century ago, the charter of the organization was to serve as a resource to smaller member Presbyterian (PCUSA) congregations throughout the Synod of the South Atlantic. Over the years, however, the scope of the organization has gradually been expanding. Recently, there have been a growing number of attendees to the conference from the “alphabet soup” of Presbyterianism—and beyond. Participants have begun checking out the conference from other denominations, as well. And that’s just the sort of collegiality the ASC is now dedicated to fostering among the smaller-member churches. We desire to reach beyond the denominational and geographical bounds of our origins and, paradoxically, in an era when it is harder for us to connect with our own church members, we are finding it less difficult than before to connect with our brothers and sisters in Christ across greater divides.

The annual conference has long been about informative and educational presentations, providing helpful resources and practical help for the smaller church and her people. But perhaps more importantly it has been a source of mutual encouragement. The smaller member church is a unique animal and those who have presented to and participated in this conference are aware of that. The shared experiences and common ministry settings engender a bond of camaraderie and support which we are seeking to facilitate even as the conference transitions from in-person to on-line in format.

I hope you join us!

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