Coming Together as the Church

By The Rev. Rick Swenson


ECMN faith community cooperation and joint efforts of worship and ministry are blossoming on the Eastern Iron Range of Minnesota. Members from the faith communities of St. John's, Eveleth; St. Paul's, Virginia; St. James, Hibbing and St. Mary's, Ely joined together for an outdoor celebration of the Eucharist followed by a potluck dinner at Veteran's Park, Eveleth on Sunday, September 11th. The occasion served as an opportunity not only to join in Eucharistic celebration, but also to remember, reflect on and pray for all those who lost their lives and those who continue to suffer as a result of the horrific events of the September 11th tragedy 15 years ago. Special prayers were offered for all victims of violence and terrorism around the world who continue to face devastating suffering and loss.

The gathering on Sunday September 11th at Veterans' Park also represented another in a growing number of occasions when the ECMN faith communities on the Eastern Range have been gathering together for worship and fellowship. St. John's, St. Paul's and St. James jointly celebrated the Feast of the Ascension in Hibbing last May, and additional opportunities for joint celebrations of other "non-Sunday" Feast Days are being discussed among these churches. The late summer outdoor Eucharist and potluck supper is also planned to become and annual event.

In addition to opportunities to gather in worship and fellowship, the churches of the Eastern Range are also exploring ways of pursuing joint ministry efforts and are attempting to resurrect a quarterly newsletter dedicated to the ministry and activities of all of these communities. Discussions are taking place to strengthen and create new joint ministry outreach opportunities and will hopefully expand to include a broader circle of rural Northeastern Minnesota faith communities as these cooperative joint efforts grow in "strength of numbers."

All of these efforts illustrate both the challenges and the promises of small rural Episcopal Churches in Minnesota and beyond. Each of these faith communities on the Eastern Range differs significantly in how they have accepted the challenges of life and ministry as small parish communities. St. Mary's, Ely is a "Team Ministry" faith community guided by a team of varied leaders and includes two ordained priests and a deacon. St. James, Hibbing has called a part-time bi-vocational priest who commutes from Duluth to serve their worship life and pastoral needs, together with their local outreach ministries. St John's, Eveleth and St. Paul's, Virginia, under the care of a priest serving as ministry developer, are in the final stages of their journey together to merge their two faith communities into one parish.

Each one of these experiences and journeys, although different, are guided by the same commitment to live as followers of Christ, living out our baptismal covenant and building God's Kingdom here on earth - one small but meaningful, spirit-filled effort at a time. The seeming simplicity of the efforts of these faith communities gives pause and reflection as to the real meaning of what it means to be "the Church" in today's world.