By Rick Wolcott*
Paragraph 206.1 of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2016 states, “Local churches, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may enhance their witness to one another and to the world by showing forth the love of Jesus Christ through forms of mutual cooperation.”
On Sunday, July 11 the inaugural service of a new cooperative parish ministry was celebrated during worship at Crystal Park UMC in Canton. The cooperative is a partnership between two Tuscarawas District churches, Faith United UMC in North Canton and Crystal Park UMC.
Tuscarawas District Superintendent the Rev. Cara Stultz Costello was unable to be at the service because of another responsibility that morning but she shared during a phone conversation that the two congregations were the first ones she thought of last fall during the Cabinet retreat when Bishop Tracy S. Malone encouraged the superintendents to look for natural opportunities to create cooperative parishes in their respective districts.
“Immediately I thought of Faith and Crystal Park because they already have a missional match through their 20+ years of partnering for the Faith Kitchen ministry,” she said, referencing the last-Saturday-of-the-month ministry that provides meals, food, and clothes to those in need.
Stultz Costello has served on a Faith Kitchen team many times because prior to being appointed a district superintendent in 2020 she served as co-pastor of Faith UMC with her husband the Rev. Steve Stultz Costello, who is now lead pastor of the church. In addition to serving Faith UMC, Costello and Faith UMC Associate Pastor the Rev. Jake Heskett will also co-pastor Crystal Park UMC.
“I think the cooperative parish will be great. Our churches have worked together for years. We were afraid they were going to close our Crystal Park church but now we can partner to reach more people,” said Nancy Snodgrass, who has been a member of the church at 2219 Mahoning Road NE in Canton for more than 30 years.
“For the most part, the people here are excited about the cooperative parish and see it as an opportunity to hopefully provide a little more strength to this church as a small-membership church,” said the Rev. Paul White, a retired Elder affiliated with Crystal Park UMC. “I began my ministry in a cooperative parish of five churches. I started in a small church with 13 in attendance and what we were able to do with four other churches we, for the most part, couldn’t have done on our own. Instead of packing two flood buckets on our own we are able to make 50 buckets together. The cooperative parish enabled that church to expand its ministry and it is still in ministry today.”
Costello and Heskett will provide clergy leadership and will work with a team of laity from both churches that comprises a cooperative leadership team that will set a course for how the cooperative parish will work together to minister to the community.
“This first year we are focusing on prayer, worship, and discernment,” Heskett said. “Our leadership team is going to guide us through a process that will look at how are we praying together, how are we worshipping together, and will really help us discern moving forward what the role of the cooperative parish ministry is for both congregations.”
The leadership team was commissioned as part of the July 11 service, during which East Ohio Conference Director of Connectional Ministries the Rev. Ed Fashbaugh brought greetings and shared this written message from Bishop Malone: “I am prayerful and excited about how this cooperative ministry will expand our presence, witness and outreach in this region … reaching more people with the love of Christ and the gospel message.”
Teresa Purses, a member of Faith United and the cooperative leadership team, said, “I believe this cooperative parish is the next way that we can work together. Because of Faith Kitchen we have grown together as one family and we continue to share our time, talent, and treasures in new ways.”
She and White will play key roles in reaching out to clergy and laity to preach and lead worship the second and fourth Sundays of each month at Crystal Park in an intentional effort by the Bishop and Cabinet to create a culture of call through this cooperative parish. Costello will preach the first Sunday of each month, Heskett will preach the third Sunday, and White will preach the fifth Sundays.
“Developing a culture of call at the church is about giving folks an opportunity to consider and experience how Christ might be calling them in new ways. It’s invitational, but we don’t always think about inviting others to preach because it’s not part of our culture so we’re trying to shift that culture by inviting people to think about their ministry and the way they may be called to come and share their gifts here,” Purses said. “We’re hoping to be able to look back later and say that because of this culture of call ministry we now have new people who would not have thought about ministry had they not had the opportunity, and that’s what we’re excited about.”
“We’re not aware of any other church doing what we’re doing today which is launching a culture of call and the intentional plan to at least twice a month have guest preachers and at least half of those guest preachers will be lay persons with the idea that preaching is one of the means of grace,” Rev. Steve Costello said. “We’re excited to see how God will use this opportunity.”
“The culture of call actually spans the full spectrum of a life of ministry and that life of ministry isn’t just for ordained or licensed or formalized ministries. So as disciples of Christ we’re always keeping our eyes peeled and our ears perked up for what God is calling us to and how we can participate with God in God’s redemptive work,” said Rev. Cara Stultz Costello. “This cooperative parish will give people who are sensing a call to either formalized ministry or a different type of lay leadership to participate in God’s redemptive work through leading worship. That one-time opportunity may be fuel in the discernment process of a particular call.”
“I am so excited about the people I have talked to who are thinking about the ministry and are willing to come and share their music gifts or tell their faith stories and everyone is excited in new ways,” Purses said. “Now there is some hesitation among folks, and I understand that when you are accustomed to having one pastor who gets to know you deeply and connects with you so this is new, and it will take time and working together for everyone to feel comfortable.”
“I think it can work. It’s just going to take time,” shared Louise Howenstine who is staff parish committee chairperson at Crystal Park UMC. “We all want the same thing. We want to win people for Jesus. We don’t know when we might make an impression, so we have to make the most of every opportunity.”
Lisa Walker, a member of Crystal Park since she moved to the area from Florida in 2011, thinks the cooperative parish will be a positive experience for the small membership church.
“I was fortunate to find this church. The people are more than family, more than community. I think it’s wonderful you can never have too much love you can never have too much support,” she said. “Small member churches are just a piece of the puzzle were all part of the same fingerprint – God’s fingerprint – that makes a whole.”
“This cooperative parish is really a both/and, a symbiotic relationship that is meant to expand mission opportunities in the region of each congregation,” Rev. Steve Costello said.
White concurred and then said, “We want to send people out into ministry in various ways through this cooperative parish because they have gained some experience and feel they are ready to move their call forward.”
The Conference Communications team would like to share other stories that highlight ways that each of us is answering the call of Bishop Tracy S. Malone to reach out to our communities in creative ways. Please e-mail your ministry story to firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.