Former northern Albertan T. Murray Speer is one of the new ministers at Coaldale United, Trinity Picture Butte, Barons Memorial, St. Andrew’s Cardston and First United Lethbridge. Speer is in his fifth year of being in ministry in southern Alberta.
“They’re doing something really interesting here, which is a larger co-operation of congregations. I’m working with people ranging from Barons in the north to Cardston in the south. It’s a way of trying to harvest the resources of our congregations. Starting in January, there’s going to be two of us full-time working with four congregations. The hope of the project is by combining resources they can find some ways to maximize the benefit, so rather than just having one minister serving more and more churches — the idea is if you can get together to have two people then you can bring in some extra efficiency and some extra diversity and support,” said Speer, adding the cluster model or multiple congregation and multiple minister idea has been floating around for many years and is happening in this region of Alberta and in Saskatchewan.
Speer believes Coaldale is great and he said it is interesting to have been in a place that is supposed to have two full-time ministers taking care of business.
“I haven’t been able to really go into deep waters yet, in terms of getting things moving. It’s been dealing with the holiday season. I’m still in the shallow end. Hopefully, things will start moving along nicely once we’re staffed up,” he noted.
Last month, Speer divided his time between the various congregations and between three offices, which is something Speer wasn’t used to.
“I’ve been working with more than one congregation but there’s always been one office. I have my things here but I have three bags that I take with me when I go to the other offices,” he joked.
Speer was 18 years old when he was first called to ministry.
“I had friends in the Church and I went to church occasionally but I wasn’t active or didn’t belong until I was called,” said Speer.
Nowadays, it’s an interesting time for all United Churches in Canada and for churches in general around the world.
“As the society around us is shifting and changing — the role of the church in the community is shifting and changing. Our previous understandings of why we’re here and what we’re here to do aren’t really sustaining us anymore. These four communities are different enough that there isn’t going to be one answer that applies to all of them but they’re all in a place where they ask the most questions about what is our role and what’s our purpose,” said Speer.
For instance, in Coaldale, the United Church has a thrift store. “That brings a vitality to the congregation, which is very important. In Coaldale, we’ll be working to build on that. In some of our other communities we’re looking to identify where those opportunities for vital engagement and activity are,” he said.