Church congregations are aging and uncertain about the future, and as a result many shrink and slow down, and some even have to shut their doors permanently.
But not all clergy are discouraged by these daunting challenges. Some are inspired to reinvigorate these houses of worship.
Experimental models in the United Methodist Church are currently being developed in both the Woodstock and Sellwood-Westmoreland neighborhoods.
The changes at Trinity United Methodist Church, at the corner of S.E. Steele and Cesar Chavez Boulevard (formerly 39th), are the result of the departure of Rev. Sandy Storment, who retired at the end of June after five years. Now the church has two young women as co-pastors – Eilidh Lowery [her first name is pronounced "AY- lee"] and Amanda Bollman. Their innovative model is to partner and share resources with the Methodist Church in Sellwood.
Before transitioning to Trinity United, both young pastors were employed at the location of the former Sellwood United Methodist Church Parish. The church building at S.E. 15th and Tacoma in Sellwood was sold five years ago to a Russian congregation, and the Sellwood Methodists began using the parish house, which the church retained, as their place of worship.
The Sellwood Methodist church became an experimental house of worship. In this case, the sanctuary is literally a house, and Lowery and Bollman report that many call it the "house church". Its formal name is the Sellwood Faith Community (SFC).
For four years Lowery was the minister of this non-traditional church, which continues to hold services in the house's living room or on its shaded driveway during scorching weather.
People gather for a potluck and pray, sing, take communion, and have baptisms over a meal. Lowery's husband, Rev. Jeff Lowery now heads up this "house church". The Lowerys also live there, with their twelve-year old daughter.
Dick Swanson, longtime Trinity United church member, is optimistic about the experiment of having co-pastors and of being a partner church with the Sellwood Faith Community. "I am excited about anything innovative. The focus should always be how we serve ourselves and reach out to others."
Swanson observes, "Trinity United will maintain its name; but together, the Sellwood and Woodstock churches are called the 'Southeast Portland Parish'."
Commenting on the partnership between the Woodstock and Sellwood churches, Lowery says, "We are coming together under a big umbrella. It is an old Methodist tradition for clergy to ride from church to church to share resources. We want to reclaim some of that model."
Lowery and Bollman have just started their ministry at Trinity United, having begun in the first week of July. Lowery is full time, and Bollman works fifteen hours a week. Both women are very enthusiastic about their experiment. "People are spiritually hungry," says Lowery. "People in the neighborhood are seeking to have conversations about the big things in life."
In addition to being part-time co-pastor at Trinity United, Bollman will also be youth minister at the "house church" in Sellwood, and Jeff Lowery will be Minister of Music there.
Swanson remarks that Trinity United in Woodstock will maintain its long tradition of service to the community. He says the church is a safe and very welcoming place for everyone. The church is well-used for outside groups, such as multiple recovery groups as well as the site for special events and community gatherings.
A Vietnamese congregation meets at 2:30 Sunday afternoons, and it is the longtime site of an Indoor Park for children, and the home of the Blooming Garden Preschool.
For more information, and to read Eilidh Lowery's blog, go to www.sellwoodfaithcommunity.org