By Sasha Terry

A new vision of churches learning and collaborating first surfaced when First United Methodist Church (UMC) of Olympia staff attended the Northwest Leadership Institute in 2017. A few months later, they began to test it by contacting several churches in their area including Tumwater UMC, Saint Andrews UMC, and an emerging church start in the Steamboat Island neighborhood. They then held a laity meeting with representatives from each church agreeing to start the partnership which became the South Sound Cooperative Ministry.

While the South Sound Cooperative Ministry is made up of the aforementioned faith communities in the Olympia area, three other churches—the Shelton, Rochester, and Oakville UMCs— are beginning to relate more closely as their ministry grows.

Earlier this year, the Crest to Coast Missional District held a Clergy Day Apart in Chehalis with the theme “Crossing Over from Competition to Collaboration.” This event allowed pastoral leaders to engage in conversation with one another about collaboration in ministry. They were also able to participate in activities around cooperation and collaboration. The South Sound Cooperative Ministry is one example of how churches can come together to collaborate.

Crest to Coast District Superintendent Rev. Kathleen Weber believes that each church in the co-op strengthens and builds their congregation through working together on shared visions.

“They are better able to reach the greater [Olympia] community because as they meet folks who are looking for a church community, they can best direct them to the church that fits the inquiring person’s desires and needs.”

People gathered for a joint charge conference in 2018 for First Olympia, Tumwater, and Steamboat Island where they celebrated the newly created cooperative appointments.

The South Sound Cooperative Ministry’s main objective is to connect people to Christ and build the abundant life of God’s kingdom in the greater Olympia area. To accomplish this, member churches agree to support one another and work together rather than competing.

Leaders in the South Sound Cooperative Ministry commit to weekly gatherings at a member’s home to run down three tasks. They begin these meetings by inviting members to pray for one another, their ministry, and their congregations. Then they share their ministry vision and projects. Finally, they dig into the details and collaborate on how they will work together to carry out projects.

Rev. Peter Perry has been a part of the First United Methodist Church (UMC) for five years and the South Sound cooperative since its inception three years ago. He believes the Cooperative is still living into its potential as the clergy and churches learn how to transition into life together.

“We still have speed bumps, but instead of working independently, we are working together as a team,” Rev. Perry said. “Finding out how to weave pastoral appointment changes into the teamwork of the co-op will be a new challenge for us this summer. Discovering our gifts and graces and passions and how best we can all work together will be a place of exciting growth in the coming months.”

Youth ministry is one area where collaboration has begun to take root. There is a co-op youth group that allows for large group connections and activities. The youth from all the churches meet a couple of times a month and plan special events such as skating, movie nights, hikes, and more.

“By uniting our youth and their leaders, we have gained great momentum and excitement,” Rev. Weber said. “Each church is thrilled to be able to provide a quality youth program for their youth.”

Members from the four South Sound Cooperative churches enjoyed a picnic together last summer.

The members of the South Sound Cooperative Ministry believe that the Holy Spirit is inviting them to share their story with other geographic regions so that those churches can create groups like the South Sound Cooperative Ministry to strengthen and empower their ministry. The South Sound Cooperative Ministry members are hopeful in building relationships and discovering new ways to serve their communities.

Sasha Terry is serving as a communications intern for the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference this summer. She is a student at Biola University majoring in journalism with an emphasis in broadcast and minoring in Biblical and Theological Studies. 

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