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Six Lutheran congregations discuss sharing services, leadership

Six area churches are looking at the possibility of joining forces.

It’s called LAMP, which stands for Lakes Area Ministry Partners, and it has the potential to bring some significant changes to its Lutheran members.

Congregations in Eksjo Lutheran in Lake Park, Strandvik Lutheran in Lake Park, Grace Lutheran in Detroit Lakes, Immanuel Lutheran at Shell Lake, St. Peter’s Lutheran in Audubon and Augustana Lutheran in Detroit Lakes are studying the possibility of entering into a three-year agreement that would transform them into a multi-point parish.

Although the congregations aren’t set to cast the final votes on whether or not to join LAMP until June, pastors and representatives from the churches are in discussions.

According to Pastor Rob Nelson of Grace Lutheran Church, LAMP will likely happen, what isn’t known for sure is which congregations will say ‘yes.’

Those that do will become part of a system that shares its staff, including pastors.

“So for instance, if all six say yes, there might be two pastors and an intern,” said Nelson, who himself is set to retire from his job at Grace before the changes would take effect.

This means no more after-church coffee time with the pastors, as they will likely have to be heading over to the next church for another sermon.

The idea of multi-point parishes isn’t new; it’s been a popular way for smaller churches to survive, as significant money can be saved in staff salaries and in time management.

Out of the six contemplating LAMP, Grace and Eksjo are the largest, strongest churches and would be required to donate more funds into a budget that will be set according to each church’s revenue.

Smaller churches required to put forth much less are the obvious financial winners in situation like this, but according to Nelson, a multi-point parish can enhance all churches involved.

“I see it as a real sense of mission with everybody working together and coming up with new ideas to do ministry,” said Nelson, whose congregation said ‘yes’ to allowing him to continue with talks.

Out of 54 voting members, 38 said ‘yes,’ 16 said ‘no.’

“There is some concern that they will lose their contact with the pastor,” said Nelson. “I know some will worry about who will come to see me or how do I keep it straight or who is going to be doing worship, but on the other hand, if you have more than one pastor, just think of the differences in style they’ll be able to experience because we all come with different missions and different ideas for ministry.”

Kristin Osborne, a lay pastor who belongs to Augustana Lutheran in Detroit Lakes, has been trying to coordinate a cooperative since 2005.

She says although Augustana is doing fine financially, she sees a decline in membership for churches across the board and believes joining forces can help strengthen them all.

“This model that is being proposed could have the benefits that a larger church can offer such as more diverse programs, multiple spiritual leaders and cost efficiency all while keeping the independent and family feel of a smaller church,” said Osborne. “I’ve come to see it as a win-win situation.”

Osborne says it makes more sense that instead of three different pastors going to a Fargo hospital to see three different people that just one would go and visit all three.

“And then the other two could spent that time visiting more people around Detroit Lakes or Frazee,” added Osborne, who says usually the demand for pastoral visits and spiritual leadership is more than the time each pastor actually has.

Nelson says another benefit to a cooperative is that youth programs would be enhanced as many events and trips will also be cooperative.

“I think it’ll give kids that bigger sense of the faith community,” said Nelson, “and so whether you have a lock in or ski party, fun is greater in greater numbers.”

A task force between the churches has been formed with two representatives from each church.

It will begin hammering out details on how things would work, as right now each church has its own way of doing things.

“And when those things are finalized by the group, I’ll assume they’ll take it back to each church for tweaking and then in June everybody will vote on the same document,” said Nelson.

Once the vote comes through, it is expected to be implemented by fall.