Pastors as Partners

Amanda and Ross Baker, with son Charles, say they have been warmly welcomed to the Marion community.

Ross and Amanda Baker of Marion have developed a unique Sunday tradition. The couple have made the choice to participate in the life of two different churches in the same community.

Not so unusual, you say?

Perhaps not, except that Ross and Amanda are the pastors of those congregation: Ross at Eastmoor United Methodist Church and Amanda at Valley United Methodist Church.

As pastors of two congregations from the same denomination and in the same town, the couple downplays the possibility of competition. They prefer a different ?C? word.

?It?s all about collaboration,? Ross said. ?I think the beauty of being in the same town, there?s great opportunity for working together as churches.

Methodist upbringing

Both Amanda and Ross were raised in United Metho?dist households where church service was a given.

Ross grew up in the Wichita area and attended Woodland UMC during his growing-up years.

?But I didn?t get my call to ministry until I was in college,? he said.

Amanda, meanwhile, received a pastoral orientation early in life.

?I?m a preacher?s kid,? she said. ?I was about 7 years old when my dad went into ministry. Then, when I was about 11, my mom also went into ministry.?

Amanda and Ross met at South?western College, a UMC institution in Winfield.

?I became involved in campus ministries, theater and music department,? Ross said. ?I was kind of going back and forth about what I wanted to do. It wasn?t until my third year of college that I finally kind of nailed down.

?I had been involved in ministry since Day 1. That?s really where my passion was and where I was excelling.?

Amanda, referring to herself as ?the ornery senior in high school,? left Kansas to attend the University of Nebraska, her father?s alma mater.

?I really enjoyed my time there, but I decided I was too far from home and was ready to come back,? she said.

The twosome were pursuing similar pursuits at Southwestern and eventually connected.

?We were both involved in a fall homecoming musical my fourth year of college and started to hang out more,? Ross said. ?That led to dating.?

Early years

The couple were married the summer after they graduated in 2005, By then, pastoral ministry was more than a consideration.

?We were engaged and well on our way to our wedding when I realized I also was being called to ministry,? Amanda said.

They worked multiple jobs for a year to pay their bills, then decided to pursue seminary studies at Garrett-Evangeli?cal Semin?ary in Evanston, Ill.

Ross earned his degree there in 2009, while Amanda took one year longer after taking a break to welcome their first child, James, now 6. Charles, 3, and William, 1, have since joined the family.

The couple returned to Kansas. Amanda was appointed to serve Calgary UMC in Wichita while Ross began a year-long chaplaincy residency at Wesley Medical Center.

Ross simultaneously pastored congregations in Douglass and Rock, a mere six miles apart. In July of this year, the couple were appointed to the Marion congregations.

Not alone

The Bakers said in the UMC, it?s not all that unusual for marriage partners who also are pastors to serve different congregations at the same time.

?Typically, it?s not as common for clergy couples to be able to serve in the same church,? Ross said. ?It?s not completely unheard of, but most churches can?t support two full-time clergy, or even a full- and part-time clergy.

?That?s why you don?t find a lot of churches in smaller towns that have a senior pastor and an associate.?

The Bakers said they are excited about their ministry in Marion, and appreciate the strength of the local ministrerial alliance and a willingness to work together across denominational lines.

So what are the household challenges that come with pastoring different congregations?

?Scheduling is the No. 1 thing,? Amanda said. ?When we were co-pastors?of course, we didn?t have kids yet?we kind of alternated who was preaching, and when we would schedule things we tried not have two committees meeting at the same time.

?We sort of come home at the end of the day and hope we haven?t double-booked ourselves too much for the kids,? she added. ?Even when we do, both of our churches have been good about helping us accommodate when the kids need to be with us.?

The challenge increases when one or more of their kids are sick?especially on a Sunday morning.

?When we were co-pastors that would have been an easy fix,? Ross said. ?Who?ever was planning to preach that Sunday would go and the other one would stay home with the kid.

?When you serve in two different congregations, there?s not an option. In general, one of us is probably not going to be in the pulpit the next day.?

The Bakers said that?s the beauty of minstering in a small town: it?s so family centered.

?People certainly do connect?they kind of take claim on our kids just as much as we do, and our kids take claim of them,? Ross said.

?We build our village wherever we go,? Amanda added.

Complementary gifts

The Bakers feel they have complementary gifts when it comes to church ministry.

?Ross has a mind for the details?and that?s at home and at church,? Amanda said. ?He kind of keeps things rolling on a schedule.

?He also has a lot more experience working with a praise band. He?s the one who stays up on the contemporary Christian music. Those things are all kind of in his wheelhouse.?

Ross said Amanda is gifted in education.

?Her senior year, the pastor she worked under was quite open to allowing her to explore her gifts and graces in ministry,? he said. ?He wasn?t going to let her just sit back and observe. He had her quickly involved in working with the youth and teaching.?

Both pastors say they enjoy preaching, but while they agree on theology their delivery styles are very different.

?I like to have everything written out,? Ross said. ?I?m particular about what I want to say and how I want to say it. Whereas Amanda can jot down in a notebook or her iPhone some general points and just go from there.?

The human side

The Bakers know that churches are divine institutions comprised of very human people, and that helps them get through inevitable challenges in ministry.

?The thing I always remember is that the church is made up of people?and I?m one of them,? Ross said. ?I?m not perfect and I shouldn?t expect that the people in my congregation are going to be perfect?because we?re human. Without the grace of God we sure are out of luck in life.?

Added Amanda: ?To pastor, you have to be trying to reflect Jesus?s love, even toward people who are frustrating you. At home you can, and it?s safe space?and that?s true for people whose spouses aren?t clergy.?

Pastorates in the United Methodist Church are reviewed by the bishop on an annual basis.

?We hope that they?ll renew that appointment a number of times,? Amanda said. ?It?s OK with us if we stick around for awhile. That?s our hope.

?So far us, it?s panning out to be a good situation and are really excited about the possibility for ministry in both churches and together.?

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