Examples of a dependent-mission church structure

It didn’t take a lot to start a Universalist society in the early days; that is, even as late as 1866, and perhaps a bit later. There aren’t many accounts of how they got started, but reading between the lines, you can tell they organized around a core, perhaps an individual, who discovered the faint by reading, and organized to “have preaching” from a minister, often on a large circuit.

They rose up, and many failed. In time, those that survived built buildings and established ministries, but the ministerial shortage was chronic and — given that so many of those volunteer churches organized in remote rural areas — unsolvable. Financially vulnerable, most of them perished by the end of the Great Depression, though rural depopulation would have surely accomplished much the same.

But it’s easy to be romantic about this easy-going start-up culture. At least they organized churches — the papers had constant announcements — and that’s not what we have today.

It’s possible to do better — since we’re essentially starting missions from scratch — with an estabished model; that is, dependent missions, that I think get lumped in with the current rave, multi-site ministry. The model is old (think: minster) but I keep running into it, particularly among traditions that are only a generation or two old in the United States.

In each case, the dependent community receives services — paricularly worship and ceremonial leadership from clergy — from an established parish, rather than from a more central body. They are geographically clustered. I’ve runinto two lately.

  1. Most of the Christian Communities (the North American branch of the Christengemeinschaft) have “affiliate communities”

    Affiliate Communities do not have a priest working full time, however the sacraments are celebrated at a somewhat regular interval by a priest visiting from one of the established communites. The link is to the community from whence the priest visits.

  2. The Coptic Orthodox Church has had a church presence in the United States only about fifty years, but Diocese (one of three) of the Southern States has thirty-eight churches and twenty-eight communities.