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Friday, January 29

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Presbytery of Southeastern Illinois

Chicken ‘n’ dumplings, homemade ice cream, three-point parishes and other ‘firsts’

Presbytery of Southeastern Illinois tries a new model in partnership with Small Church Residency Program

If the early Israelites journeyed to Egypt in search of sustenance and opportunity, Nathan Mochizuki and Elizabeth Moses went to “Little Egypt” for similar reasons.

Southern Illinois, that is.

Because Mochizuki and Moses—two seminary graduates who were seeking their first call to ministry in 2013—were ready to follow God’s call wherever it might lead them, they entered the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Small Church Residency Program.

Established in 2009, the program seeks to pair small, underserved congregations in rural, small-town, and urban settings with recent seminary graduates in a two-year pastoral-residency relationship, during which they are supported and guided by a cluster of pastor-mentors. 

“We all became part of the Small Church Residency Program with the sense that we were going to try something new,” says Mochizuki, a member of the program’s Class of 2013. “We didn’t know exactly what it would look like. We didn’t know that it would work. But part of having a sense of call is saying, ‘I want to go where I can serve,’ and so, wherever that is, I’m willing to go.”

Although Mochizuki and Moses applied to the program individually, they were installed in their first call—together—in October 2013 as copastors of the “Little Egypt Parish” in the Presbytery of Southeastern Illinois, a three-point model comprising the First Presbyterian Churches of Carmi, Eldorado, and Harrisburg, Illinois.

The three congregations, located within 30 miles of each other, had never worked cooperatively before. But the timing—and this particular program—seemed just right, according to the Rev. Wade Halva, a primary architect of the Little Egypt Parish.

“What we had [previously] was a unique situation where all of the churches were transitioning at the same time,” says the Rev. Wade Halva, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Marion, Illinois, who became a co-mentor with the Rev. Janice West for Mochizuki and Moses.

“Eldorado’s pastor of 17 years had just retired, as had Harrisburg’s pastor of 11 years,” he says. “Then when Carmi’s stated supply pastor left, there were three simultaneous vacancies. That’s about the only way to try to do a new thing because otherwise somebody might have felt like they were losing their pastor, and somebody else might have felt like they were having someone else’s pastor stuck on them.”

Halva says that the while the Small Church Residency Program wasn’t part of the original plan for the three-point parish, as soon as the program was recommended by the Rev. Anne Jones, then transitional executive presbyter for congregational care, it became integral to realizing the presbytery’s vision for Little Egypt.

“The program gave us a lot,” Halva says. “It gave us timelines and deadlines since I’m not sure we would have gotten anything done without a deadline. It gave us a much smaller pool of candidates to look at so that we could actually do something on a relatively quick timeline. It also gave us a more official support structure for what would happen after we got the pastors here as well as a little bit of financial support.”

Congregations who participate in the program receive a small salary support grant in the amount of $4,000 for each year of the residency, a financial commitment from their presbytery of membership, and other benefits.

“One of the things we’ve learned over the last few years is that there is something about the two-year timeframe of the residency program that opens people up to the possibility of trying something new,” says the Rev. Cindy Cushman, the program’s coordinator. “Ministry candidates who look at some of our more remote sites will often say, ‘I could live there for two years,’ and, many times, in the course of the two years, they fall in love with it and decide to stay longer.”

The same is also true of the participating churches.

“One of the reasons the churches in the Little Egypt project were willing to step out and try this new model for ministry was because we were able to say to them, ‘Try it for two years and if it doesn’t work, then at the end of the two-year program you can go back to the old model or try something else,’” Cushman adds. “Then, even if they don’t decide to stick with it, there still is no sense of failure, because they succeeded in completing the two-year program, and invariably they learned something new about themselves in the process. It’s exciting to see these new ministers and their congregations step out together into new experiences, broadening their understanding of what God might be doing through them.”

“It’s working,” Halva says. “Many of the members found some exuberance again, and for some of the folks in the congregations it was interesting to have the roles reversed, where they educated their pastors about the people, the personalities, and what’s really important in the community.”

Like chicken ‘n’ dumplings and homemade ice cream, neither of which Mochizuki had ever tried before.

“I had never had those things before and I loved them,” says Mochizuki. “For the members to be able to share those tastes and experiences with me and for me to get to share my delight with them was wonderful. It was a gift to be able to be enfolded into their church family and for them to get to know me and Elizabeth.”

“As we look to the future, more and more presbyteries are getting involved,” Cushman says. “It’s exciting to see the word spread and to witness more lives being transformed by the power of the Spirit through the work of this program.”

Emily Enders Odom

Let us join in prayer for:

Presbytery Staff

Bill McLean, Presbyter for Congregational Care
Cindy Bean, Stated Clerk 

 PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Stephanie Caudill, PMA                                              
Nancy Cavalcante, PMA                                              
Perry Chang, EDO     

Let us pray

Gracious God, we give you thanks for your glorious creation and the ministry of camps and conference centers. Amen.

Daily Lectionary

Morning Psalms 88; 148
First Reading Genesis 17:15-27
Second Reading Hebrews 10:11-25
Gospel Reading John 6:1-15
Evening Psalms 6; 20