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Miracle on San Fernando Street

When Alain Quellaien came to us at La Esperanza we were told that he had no close family, only two half-brothers who lived outside Chile.

Photo by Carlos Lira

 Shana Harrison and Alain Quellaien.

But while doing an online search, one of Alain’s nieces who lives in Luxembourg came across the Divinity article “La Esperanza: Ordinary Moments Made Worshipful,” (Fall 2004) and phoned her mother, who is Alain’s sister Rosemarie. After looking at the photos in your online edition, she confirmed that indeed Alain is her long lost brother!

Using contact information from the magazine, Rosemarie then e-mailed me to explain that Alain not only has a family, but has a rather large one who loves him very much. For his recent birthday, she called him from her house in Sweden! It was phenomenal to watch him respond to her voice, to laugh a laugh like none of us had heard from him. I think in that moment I discovered what joyous laughter means.

We are now looking forward to possible visits from Alain’s family within the next year.

Thank you for helping reunite Alain and his family in what we are calling “The Miracle of San Fernando Street.”

Shana Harrison D’97
Director, Sheltered Workshop La Esperanza
Santiago, Chile

More on Small Churches

With all its good facts and figures, and general assess-ment of the great value of rural churches, the very fine article from the Winter 2005 issue, “Small Churches: A Force to be Reckoned With” does not include other important information concerning the serious decline in membership in rural churches across the nation.

Here are some realities I have learned while serving rural churches for 17 years:

Both rural population and one-family farms have been declining for decades.

Rural high school graduates seek education and employment in city and suburban areas. A serious, high percentage of rural church members are seniors. Rural churches are hard pressed to pay apportionments and assessments.

A high percentage of rural churches are closing each year.

When appointments are made at Annual Conference time, most districts have churches and charges listed as “to be supplied.”

Every district has rural churches receiving minimum salary support from the Conference.

Every district has rural churches being served by“retired supplies” and certified lay speakers or students.

Seminary-trained ministers, while starting out serving rural churches, are more inclined to work toward the higher paying churches in the suburbs and cities (except the older, declining inner-city churches).

While serving suburban and inner-city churches I learned that young people coming out of rural areas and churches, and who are interested in church attendance and participation, usually “church shop” before joining a new church. Their main concern is to find a church that meets their spiritual, sermonic and fellowship needs, whether United Methodist or not.

Rev. A. J. Schrader D’50
Minister of Visitation
River Road United Methodist Church

As the pastor of a small urban church, and a product of a small rural church, I read “Small Churches: A Force to be Reckoned With” by Bob Wells with special interest. I know the challenges of a small church first-hand, but I also know the joys.

I agree with Rev. Chrostek that small churches are faithful and strong. I also believe, however, that these small churches are often overlooked as more and more emphasis is placed on growing larger churches. I believe that small churches are as important to God as large churches, a belief affirmed by Bishop Kenneth Carder.

I have given a copy of this article to my Administrative Council as a way to encourage them, as an affirmation of their worth as a small church, and as a challenge to the future as we look beyond ourselves into the community. It is a real privilege to serve as the pastor of a small church.

Peggy D. Bridgers D’94
Pastor, Commonwealth UMC
Charlotte, N.C.

The article on “Small Churches” in the Winter ’05 issue raised two issues that are worth follow-up. Some large membership churches are more like religious clubs than Christian churches, while some small membership churches are large in heart, vision, and community care. “Small” is a posture which a church assumes in living out its mission.

Fornearly 100 years the “Town and Country” move-ment among Protestant denominations tried to do what Bishop Carder is calling for. The movement dwindled, and no seminary faculty now espouses its conviction that small churches should bond in larger parishes, with each local church a “small group ministry” within the larger connectional faith community.

The concept is still tenaciously practiced by British Methodism with its “circuit stewards” and “circuit super-intendent pastors” who rotate preaching assignments each Sunday! Alas, Methodism is declining more rapidly in Britain than in the U.S. The bishop is not basing his recommendations on empirical data, but on his commit-ment to connectional polity. This deserves in-depth study based on accurate research, not ecclesiology.

Data shows that congregational polity churches have grown, in spite of a very narrow, rigid and obscurantist theology. This has happened in communities where Methodists were once the strongest and most influential church. Sadly, the bishop’s observation about connec-tionalism does not square with history—connectional linkage is no longer the asset it once was. The asset is on-site parish ministry that has long tenure.

United Methodism has seen the rural and small mem-bership church as an apprentice appointment for the person “on one’s way up.” Laity in small membership churches have long known that they are used as an interim means of income until a pastor can be granted a promotion by the connectional system.

The article touches a great need. With 73 percent of United Methodist churches having less than 100 in wor-ship, the denomination’s future lies with its ability to re-vision, re-mission, and revitalize these faith communities.

Donald W. Haynes, Ph.D. D’58
Director of United Methodist Studies
Hood Theological Seminary
Salisbury, N.C.

Bishop Carder responds:

Although the “cooperative parish” and British circuits Donald Haynes mentions are similar to the plan I envision, there are also radical differences. A more appropriate comparison would be the early class meetings, Societies, and the parish church under Wesley’s leadership. Rather than looking to England or to the U.S. experiment with cooperative parishes, I am learning from United Methodists in Africa, where class meetings, lay leadership, and strong connections are flourishing in villages and towns. Rather than return to an earlier strategy for small churches, I am pleading for creative re-appropriating of our Wesleyan heritage of connection-alism rooted in a missional ecclesiology, a stronger role for laity as pastoral leaders in partnership with the ordained, and the inextricable renewal of churches and communities.

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