Detail from “No Congregation Is an Island” cover

Do you and your congregation prefer to “go it alone,” or do you have intentional ways of connecting with other leaders and organizations for support and collaboration? That’s the question behind an insightful new book by Jennifer McClure Haraway, “No Congregation is an Island.” This book is a timely resource for leaders and congregations who feel overwhelmed or unprepared for the cultural shifts that have taken place within and around faith communities in recent years. Readers will discover concrete ideas to help churches explore how they can be better when they work together than when they work in isolation. 

Haraway uses her expertise as a sociologist of religion to provide qualitative and quantitative data from in-depth interviews she conducted with 50 ministers from 19 denominations and traditions located in eight counties in central Alabama. Two questions shaped Haraway’s research: What impact do relationships have on leaders and congregations? And what kind of relationships exist?  

Taking her cue from Thomas Merton’s “No Man Is an Island,” Haraway explores congregations and discusses five types of institutional relationships: relationships primarily within religious groups, relationships exclusively within distinctive religious groups, relationships between religious groups, relationships within racial groups and relationships among racial groups. Although the data was collected from a unique population in the South, the author makes a good argument that the findings of her study can offer guidance beyond the geographic borders of central Alabama.  

“No Congregation is an Island” will benefit any clergyperson who understands the mental, physical and emotional stresses of ministry. As congregations seek new ways of meeting current challenges, many will discover new approaches through informal and formal partnerships with other congregations.

Resources

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A partnership rooted in God’s love builds affordable housing in New York City

The Trinity-Rev. William M. James Senior Apartments is a collaboration offering affordable housing with wraparound services for seniors, intentionally including the formerly incarcerated.

By Genine Babakian

When the pandemic closed schools, an existing network of congregations and others jumped in to offer meals — and more

Churches, government agencies and nonprofits that already served struggling families responded to the pandemic by ramping up their shared mission beyond providing children with summer meals.

By Dan Holly

Interfaith advocacy groups collaborate to help the nation’s vulnerable

Partisan divides may mark politics in Washington, D.C., but faith-based lobbyists there find ways to work together for the greater good.

By Edie Gross

A city’s PCUSA churches band together in the face of ongoing decline

A decade ago, two Rochester, New York, pastors wondered: What would happen if the city’s PCUSA congregations moved into an uncertain future together, instead of separately and alone? The answer: Life, death and resurrection.

By Robin L. Flanigan


Before you go…

In 1 Thessalonians 3:2, Paul describes Timothy as a brother and “co-worker” for God. The apostle Paul, as brilliant and talented as he was, did not think of ministry as a solo expedition. He relied on Timothy as a co-worker. We can also read the text as saying that Timothy is God’s co-worker, too.

Haraway’s book is a great reminder to all of us who are on the ground doing ministry week after week. We need co-workers. The needs are too great for most individual congregations to make an impact going it alone. To address complex problems — affordable housing, epidemic substance abuse, extreme political partisanship, public education — we need to work together. There are like-minded ministers and congregations in your community. Who knows what might happen if you worked together for God’s glory?

You can always reach me and the Alban Weekly team at alban@duke.edu. Until next week, keep leading!

Prince Rivers

Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity

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