The answer was obvious, but how do we get there?

“The answer was obvious, but how do we get there?”

All Shepherds and St. Mark’s Lutheran Church Build a Partnership in Delaware County

St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church has been a downtown presence in Delaware, Ohio for two hundred years. In its long life, it has seen growth, change, long-term pastorates, short-term pastorates, and more recently, an aging congregation which nevertheless remains deeply rooted and active in the community. Its contrast, All Shepherds, just seven miles south of Delaware in Lewis Center, is a young congregation in almost every respect—it was organized in only 1989, and its membership consists largely of young families. Pastors Wendy and Craig Richter arrived at All Shepherds in 2012 during a time of rapid population growth in Southern Delaware County, and have helped the congregation reach the new families moving into the community. They also quickly began working with the former pastor of St. Mark’s to do a joint catechism program, establishing a connection that became important recently.

When that pastor left St. Mark’s to accept a different call in 2019, right before the pandemic, Bishop Suzanne Darcy Dillahunt wondered: could the two congregations work together during the interim period, with All Shepherds sharing its pastors with St. Mark’s? Dale Barringer, president of the council at St. Mark’s said, “we have a good relationship with All Shepherds, so it was a welcome idea.”  Rich Gross, president at All Shepherds was of the same mind: “the answer was obvious – we have to help. But how do we get there? That was the question.” Pr. Bob Abrams, Assistant to the Bishop who has ties to both congregations, added, “All Shepherds knew they could help, but it just needed some time, trust, and conversation between them.”  Rich Gross shared, “because the information provided by the synod to us was clear and easy to pass on, we were able to use it in our conversations in the congregation and to focus on the ‘how’ part.” Once those mechanics were worked out, Pr. Craig and Pr. Wendy began their interim ministry at St. Mark’s in late 2019.

Not only did the congregations agree to work together in the interim, something more has developed—a long-term ministry partnership where the pastors now minister in both congregations. “It was an answer to prayer,” said Pr. Wendy. “Craig and I knew that God was moving us to something more, but we didn’t know what yet.  But the Spirit really worked here—the people of both congregations have been faithful in the entire process.”  Pr. Craig agreed, “it is the relationships that are making this work.  The relationship with the wider church, the relationships between the congregations, and our relationship with God.  It is refreshing how seamless this process has been.” The pastors and both presidents reiterated the same hope, that this partnership will continue long into the future, where the strengths of each congregation can complement the other for the sake of the gospel. “We hope that the impact of the gospel will be multiplied by our partnership together,” said Pr. Wendy. Pastor Craig noted, “this is a young, vibrant county, and in this digital age as we come out of the pandemic, the opportunities are enormous. We are stronger together.”

“I think God has something more in store.  I have a good feeling,” said Gross.  It seems that the people of both congregations, and the wider church, agree.

Interview with Mr. Rich Gross (All Shepherds), Mr. Dale Barringer (St. Mark’s), and Pastors Wendy and Craig Richter with Pr. Bob Abrams, April 18, 2021