September 16, 2014
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Starting with music, churches collaborate to fund associate pastor

Next weekend, Warwick Central Baptist Church will host a performance of Magical Strings to raise funds for the new Pastoral Residency Program, which the church is starting in partnership with East Greenwich First Baptist Church.

Magical Strings, a musical duo consisting of Philip and Pam Boulding, will perform at Warwick Central Baptist at 3270 Post Road on Friday, April 25 at 7:30 p.m. Together since 1978, Magical Strings offers a blend of Celtic harps and hammered dulcimers, featuring pennywhistles, concertina and storytelling.

Tickets are $12 in advanced, $15 at the door. Call Warwick Central Baptist for tickets and more information at 739-2828. Proceeds from the event will go towards funding the new Pastoral Residency Program, a joint ministry project between Central Baptist and First Baptist aimed at giving real world experience and advanced training to recent seminary graduates.

Rev. John Houlker of Central Baptist explained that Rev. Dr. Jonathan Malone of First Baptist contacted him about the program.

“What we’re noticing is seminary covers most of the academic process. With that, the interpersonal end is really 90 percent of the job,” said Houlker.

This program would operate similar to medical residency one might have following medical school. The two churches will act as “teaching churches.”

The individual hired will be a recently or soon-to-be ordained pastor looking for their first job. They will split their time between the two churches, working in all areas of the ministry.

“We’re opening up an opportunity for someone to come out of seminary and, for a few years, hone their skills,” said Houlker. “They will operate as a staff person at the two churches.”

According to Malone, the pastoral resident will be able to perform all of the duties of a pastor including weddings, funerals, baptisms, preaching, teaching activities, learning administrative duties and visiting the sick, among others.

“It’s really to get a wide breadth of experience,” said Malone. “That’s the reality of ministry. You have to be doing a lot of different things at the same time.”

The position is planned for two years and will be a paid position. Houlker said the financial package, which includes salary, housing and benefits, is comparable to that of an entry-level pastor.

While Houlker and Central Baptist agreed to the partnership, the program is the brainchild of Malone at First Baptist.

“In part, it came out of my own experience of doing ministry,” said Malone, who has been in ministry for 15 years. “There’s an awareness that the preparation we get in seminary just isn’t enough, and there is no way you could get the amount of training needed in three or four years.”

He truly felt that those leaving seminary and preparing for the ministry needed more. Malone began exploring the idea of having an associate pastor on staff but was having difficulty deciding if there was enough need.

“We’re a size church where we don’t need a full-time associate pastor, but we could use a part-time one,” said Malone.

So he thought of mirroring medical residencies to design a pastoral residency and began looking for another local Baptist church to partner with to make the position a full-time experience.

Last June, during annual meetings, both churches voted to enter into the partnership.

“It was a very healthy vote, a healthy dialogue. The people are behind it,” said Houlker.

Currently, a team with representation from both churches is ironing out the details, and is currently in the recruitment process for candidates.

Both pastors feel this experience will allow for training that is not provided during their education. It is an opportunity to put their education to use, while still receiving guidance from those with a great deal of experience. Then, when they have the opportunity to work at a different parish on their own, they will have two years of experience under their belt.

“We feel as though it will help us help other churches get healthy leadership over the years,” said Houlker.

Malone hopes that this experience will fill in the holes and give hands-on experience not provided in seminary. The idea of having an associate pastor was quite common in the 1960s and 1970s at larger Baptist churches. Malone said most Baptist churches are smaller in today’s world and cannot afford to hire a full-time associate pastor for three years.

“This program will provide support to the church,” added Malone.

An addition, unexpected benefit of the program is that the churches have developed a great working relationship that could expand beyond the residency.

“We found when we began to have this interaction that we were very compatible together,” said Houlker.

Malone said the partnership was one of the most exciting and scariest parts of creating the new program.

“Every church has its own traditions and way of doing things. But it’s exciting because we can start to share on our traditions,” he said.

And that had already started. First Baptist holds an annual trip to Washington, D.C. and members of Central Baptist will be joining the trip this year. With this successful partnership, Houlker wonders if the idea will spread.

“We also feel it sets an example for other churches. Maybe they will be able to partner, not necessarily to do a residency program but partner for other things,” he said.


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