Father Jay Weldon of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church talks with acolyte Ovie Patani and Barbara Danzer of the Lutheran Church of Our Savior following a Sunday service.
ALBANY, Ga. -- Churches have often been known to share ministers, buildings in temporary emergency circumstances or services for special events.
In Albany, however, two congregations have come together in an alliance that joins them in an ongoing arrangement, sharing not just a building but an "open communion" that invites members of each to participate in services and outreach in a joint ministry.
Members of the Lutheran Church of Our Savior, formerly located on Gillionville Road, are now joining St. Patrick's Episcopal Church for services at 9 a.m. each Sunday in the St. Patrick's sanctuary on Old Dawson Road.
This has been the practice since Sept.1 of last year in what was initially a trial period to determine whether it would be a good fit to combine the congregations. To accommodate the earlier worship, St. Patrick's shifted its regular 10:30 a.m. worship service to 10:45.
Both churches have long histories of service to the community, with more than 100 years between them. According to St. Patrick's rector, Father Jay Weldon, both are known as being loving places of grace and community outreach.
"Each (church's) identity will continue going forward," Weldon said.
However, Weldon continued, "Pastor (Bill) Diamond and I will work together, serving both Episcopalians and Lutherans alike."
Diamond has been officially designated Lutheran pastor-in-residence at St. Patrick's. In joint services, the clergymen have shared sacramental duties. The banners of both denominations now adorn the St. Patrick's altar.
Both Lutherans and Episcopalians are encouraged to attend either or both of the Sunday services. According to Weldon, "The 9 a.m. service uses a Lutheran liturgy and hymnal, and 10:45 uses the Book of Common Prayer and Episcopal hymnal. But both services are done in a way that is meant to include everyone. Indeed, all of the sacraments are made available to all baptized Christians at St. Patrick's."
While the joint ministry may be new in Albany, it is not unprecedented within the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, with which the Lutheran Church of Our Savior is affiliated. The denominations actually joined nationally in open communion a dozen years ago.
According to Diamond, the idea for the joint ministry here wasn't a sudden epiphany, but instead "evolved over time." Diamond started serving LCOS as a supply minister after the departure of the Rev. Connie Bramlett and after he had already retired from full-time ministry. After doing that for about a year, he met Weldon.
"We met, and we started having coffee together at Starbucks some Sunday afternoons," Diamond said. "One thing led to another, and we both came across this (the joint ministry) as kind of an idea that just might work. Apparently so far it seems to have worked, and that's great.
"Really, when you talk about what makes it successful, I think it's the clergy involved. I know the synod had asked me if I would move in this direction, and at the same time Father Jay was very open and very responsive to the idea."
According to Diamond, Lutheran-Episcopal ministries are common elsewhere, particularly in the Northeast, but, "I think it's very unique in the Episcopal diocese here as well as in our own Southeastern synod."
An Episcopal visit by Bishop Julian Gordy, Lutheran Bishop of the Southeast Synod, will take place in a joint service at St. Patrick's on Sunday at 10:45 a.m. Today at 6:30 p.m., there will be a celebration reception of the mutual ministry at St. Patrick's.
David E. Shivers is a former community journalist in Georgia and South Carolina and current free-lance writer now living in Terrell County.