My relationship with the small church has been an on-again, off-again relationship. I grew up in a small congregation where my faith was formed, I was confirmed, served as a junior elder and as a youth leader. In my young adult years, however, I became disillusioned when the congregation refused to have anything to do with the Vietnamese refugees settling in the neighborhoods around the church.
That’s when I moved my membership to a mega church that had a robust community ministry. I spent the next 25 years in that worshiping community working on local mission projects, serving as chair of the newly formed global missions committee, teaching Sunday School and serving on the session. It was in the life of this congregation that I heard the call to ministry and where I was sponsored as a seminarian.
In seminary, I rediscovered the small church when I served an internship in a tiny congregation that had a ministry to a community of men and women who live with chronic mental disability. Holy Comforter Episcopal Church had been on her death bed not too many years before I arrived. But a priest in the diocesan office had asked, “Isn’t the church about being the visible presence of Christ in the neighborhood?” From that question, Holy Comforter rediscovered her calling and found new life. She is still small, but you wouldn’t know it by the kingdom-building work she is doing.
At the time I was serving at Holy Comforter, the congregation of my childhood closed her doors. Not because there was no longer a community in which to minister, or a call to minister in that place, but because she was not able to see the calling that would bring her life. As I thought about the contrast between these two congregations, I realized that, in God’s economy, small is not a liability. The church who is the visible presence of Christ in the neighborhood, who has died to self and been reborn in Jesus is a church who finds life.
I am now in my fifth year of serving a small congregation. We are working hard to ask the right questions. The community around the church is a mill town that was devastated when the mill closed about a dozen years ago. Five generations of some families had worked in the mill and the once thriving community now has high rates of drug addiction, fractured families, low graduation rates, high teen pregnancy rates.
In the midst of this kind of trauma, it is difficult to know what one tiny congregation can do. But we started by looking at the gifts of those gathered by the Holy Spirit, confident that would give us some clues. There are a lot of educators in the congregation so we began to look at the needs of children in the community. This is where we are finding our calling in this season of our life together.
Camille Josey is a bi-vocational pastor who serves as part-time solo pastor to the Silver Creek Presbyterian Church (FB @SilverCreekPCUSA) in Silver Creek, Georgia and as Small Church Mission Catalyst for The Outreach Foundation. Camille’s faith was shaped and nurtured in a small congregation. Through her travels in Cuba, Pakistan and Israel/Palestine, she has witnessed the ways in which God is using small churches to turn the world upside down.
Camille spent more than two decades in the business world before answering a call to ministry. She has served on the staff of Peachtree Presbyterian Church, Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary, Kairos Church Atlanta and five years at Silver Creek Presbyterian Church.
Rev. Camille Josey will be co-facilitator, with Jonathan Davis, of our Colloquy for Rural Church Pastors (two sessions: August 6-8, 2018 and February 11-13, 2019). Click here for the application. Join us!