Risen Lord Lutheran Church and St. Laurence Episcopal Church have come to an historic agreement to share the same worship facility at 26812 Barkley Road in Conifer, CO – a rural mountain bedroom community west of Denver. Both congregations agreed that it made sense to combine physical resources; however, the two denominations are not merging as one religious entity.
When Intentional Interim Pastor Teri Hermsmeyer arrived at Risen Lord (congregation is 10 years old), the Council informed her of their financial condition that could see the church closing if they didn’t make changes soon. One change was going from a full-time pastor (3/4 his last year) to half time. Also, the rent in their storefront building was too much for this congregation of 32 average worship; so they held a brainstorming session with the congregation, on all the commercial sites the Council could look into for the next year. Unfortunately, none of them were viable, and staying where they were (landlord agreed to a lower rent increase) could see them potentially closing in 3 years. Pastor Teri gave Rev. Nancy at St. Laurence Episcopal Church a call about sharing space, and found they were very willing to look into this and make it work.
Once both congregations agreed this idea was worth pursuing, a Synergy Committee (self-titled) was formed with pastor/priest and president/senior warden and three members of both churches to explore the feasibility of sharing a worship space. Their first meeting established a “synergy prayer” they and their congregations would pray over the coming months: Holy and gracious God, help us to be receptive to your Holy Spirit and listen to the divine in each other, giving us the hunger to find our way together for the sake of the Gospel. The committee met every Thursday for five months to identify needs, potential issues, re-arranging service times, logistics of space-sharing and other key details.
The groups officially began sharing the St. Laurence facility the end of July 2017 with both congregations celebrating the accomplishment with a joint full communion* service (Lutheran music, Episcopal wording, shared paraments, banners and communion ware) officiated by Rocky Mountain Synod Lutheran Bishop James Gonia , with a BBQ potluck following, on the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 13, 2017.
*Full Communion is when two denominations develop a relationship based on a common confessing of the Christian faith and mutual recognition of baptism and sharing the Lord’s Supper. This does not mean the two denominations merge; rather, in reaching agreements, denominations also respect differences. Each entity agrees that even with differences, there is nothing that is church-dividing.
An agreement between The Episcopal Church (ECUSA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), named Called to Common Mission, establishes full communion between them. It was ratified by the two churches in 1999. Under the agreement, they recognize the validity of each other’s baptisms and ordinations. These denominations worship together and may exchange clergy.