How to make “cluster ministry” work? Call in the coach!

By Laureen Maurizio

Finding common ground can be a distinct challenge when you seek to open mandated discussion!  How does one even begin to grasp concepts that have come from what appears to be ‘left field’?

In March 2019, the Bishop’s Commission Report was published, outlining suggested actions to be seriously considered.  The purpose of the Commission was to explore sustainability of all of our churches going into the future.  The one clear direction was that we should form Cluster Ministries, sharing ministerial, lay and financial resources in order to keep all of our doors open.  Those who would not embrace this direction would receive ‘palliative care’ for a term of three years.

So many questions, unrest and upheaval arose!  “How could we ever agree?”;  “What is ‘palliative care’?”;  “Who’s going to pay for all of this?”;  “It’s already costing us more to be a multi-point parish than we can afford and we aren’t getting enough of the minister’s time as it is!” ; “How did we get mixed up in this!?!”

With so many questions, where would we begin?  Who was responsible for coordinating any communication?  Someone had to start the ball rolling!

When the wardens of one church in Lambton County sent out an invitation to the ministry, wardens and lay readers to gather to discuss the Report together, they also invited Ven. Archdeacon Tanya Phibbs and then Dean of Lambton,  Ven. Kristen Aikman.  The Bishop’s Office responded with a suggestion that a congregational coach could be invited to facilitate the meeting.  Who could have predicted what that gesture would come to mean to us?

Of course, we had no experience with a congregational coach and had no idea what to expect.  I did a brief Google search to get a sense of what this meant.  I found the following:

  • Coaching is helping someone to unlock their personal potential.
  • Coaching builds awareness empowers choice and leads to change … Mentoring is when a senior colleague, seen as more knowledgeable and worldly wise gives advice and provides a role model.
  • Coaching is a form of development in which an experienced person, called a coach, supports a learner or client in achieving a specific personal or professional goal by providing training and guidance.


The host church laid out a brief outline of what they hoped to achieve during the meeting and then handed it all over to Shirley Sewell, trusting that God would lead us in the best direction for all of us.  God couldn’t have chosen a better solution to our needs!

Our initial meeting turned into two meetings, both led by Shirley, who not only came prepared to break the ice, but had intimate experience as a member of a twelve-point parish here in Ontario!  She was able to help us get over the ‘fear’ of meeting new people who may become part of our Church ‘family’ some day.  She drew out our goals and objectives for each of our Churches; eased our fears by helping us to deal with an unknown future; made us laugh, despite the difficulty of our discussion; shared best and worst practices; a possible shared budget outline and was very skilled at keeping us on topic without diminishing the importance of recognizing our mutual anxiety.

Our congregational coach brought along a friend, Linda DeBurger, who assisted in many ways.  Linda was more integral in explaining the concept of a ‘shared budget’ for certain expense items (ie: ministry & supply ministry costs, travel expenses for ministry, joint Admin charges, joint fundraising, etc.) Linda also kept notes of answers to questions that Shirley posed, allowing us to see our common fears, goals and concerns.

We’ve developed a contact list of all of the churches in our “cluster”.  This has been especially helpful in sharing the minutes of our Cluster meetings, collecting input and sharing ideas and concerns as we move forward.  Shirley Sewell was added to our contact list as a valuable resource.

We may not yet know all the answers, nor what our churches will look like next year.  However, our experience of change has been made all the richer for having met Shirley.  We couldn’t have achieved the progress we have made to date without her help.  It was an extremely beneficial experience!  We are so grateful that Bishop Linda recommending we seek the services of a congregational coach and that Shirley Sewell answer the call!

Our congregational coach gave us insight on how to make ‘cluster ministry’ work by listening and working together with respect for one another.  Thank you Shirley!

Laureen Maurizio is a lay reader in the Parish of North Lambton (Christ Church Forest & St. John’s Kettle Point); and a deputy warden at Christ Church Forest.