by Emily Ralph, firstname.lastname@example.org
When Larry Moyer, pastor of Rockhill congregation, was seriously injured after falling off of the roof of his home in 2011, Randy Heacock, pastor of Doylestown congregation, filled in to preach. Moyer’s recovery was long and difficult, but throughout the following year he was supported by Heacock and the other pastors in his Learning Community—Bruce Eglinton-Woods, pastor of Salem congregation, and Walter Sawatzky, a member of Plains.
“I valued the support of these pastors,” reflected Moyer, “the prayer support from their congregations, and Walter’s ongoing care of me personally and my family. Randy made personal visits to my home as I was not able to attend our monthly meetings and on one occasion, the group met at my house. I felt cared-for during my recovery journey.”
This care and prayer support is only one aspect of the Learning Community that these pastors formed in 2006 in response to conference encouragement to form pastoral support teams. They invited Sawatzky, who was a Conference Minister at that time, to join them for insight and encouragement.
This team of four has met monthly ever since, sharing their challenges and joys of ministry, introducing one another to new resources, and supporting one another with advice and prayer. “We wanted to meet together as we sensed our churches were on similar journeys and we wanted to share in mutual learning and encouragement,” Heacock remembered. “Though each of us are different and have our unique emphasis, we share a common vision for a future church that is about being real with who we are in Jesus Christ before one another.”
Small groups of like-minded pastors is not a new concept in Franconia Conference, Sawatzky observed; support, study, and prayer groups have existed in various forms for years. What has made this particular group successful has been both a commitment to one another and shared vision for what church could be. “They have organized their activities around their immediate shared concerns,” Sawatzky said. “[Then their activities] come out of relationship as these pastors have bonded as friends and in spiritual relationship with one another.”
Their congregations have also benefited from their relationship, both directly and through their growth as leaders, Eglinton-Woods said. “I have greater confidence and ability to lead transformation in our congregation as a result of being with other pastors who are doing the same thing. Continuing to teach, preach, encourage, and lead transformation in the face of comfortable Christianity has a cost but it has become an easier cost to bear [because of] being a part of this group.”
Soon after they formed their Learning Community, the group began working together to provide equipping events for their congregational leadership. These workshops eventually developed into joint worship services where the congregations met to share stories of transformation, including one in February in which the congregations worshiped, shared testimonies of God’s joy, and prayed for each other. This mutual prayer has always been a pivotal part of the pastors’ and congregations’ relationship, Heacock pointed out, because it keeps them from experiencing envy or from developing a sense of competition.
After six years, this Learning Community is still an important support for all three pastors—they rarely miss a meeting. “I look forward to them and receive encouragement, insight, and new life every time,” reflected Eglinton-Woods.
“I am grateful for our learning community,” added Heacock. “I believe God has brought us together…. Larry, Bruce, and Walter are men that are being transformed by and used by God. I am honored to walk and learn with them.”