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A pastor from America 

Struggling to afford a full-time minister? Benefitting from pastors across the Atlantic is one option for UK churches, as Angela Smith and Patrick Davis of Ringstead Baptist Church explain


Ringstead Baptist Church is a rural church in Northamptonshire with a long history. In 2014 we had about 20 members with a number of other ‘attenders’ (mostly aged 45-75) and an active church life. Three successive Ministers-in-Training had kept us up-to-date with new ideas and current thinking. The last of these ministries was due to end in the summer of 2015 and in the autumn of 2014 we knew that Patrick Barker would be seeking full time ministry. We could only afford part-time and realising there was now a need for greater depth of teaching and experience in order to consolidate we thought about part-time ministry or lay ministry.  

It was at this point we remembered a Baptist Times article about American Interim Pastor Ministries (AIPM). (Does your church have a vacant pulpit? July 2014) 
AIPM offers volunteers, usually retired ministers with considerable experience, to come on placement for six months. No stipend is paid but the church must provide furnished accommodation with all bills paid and a taxed and insured car and reimburse air fares and some other costs. The legal aspects of having foreign volunteers are overseen in UK by Gateshead International Ministries, so there is no chance of breaking the law. Police checks are carried out in the USA (and in the case of our wonderful couple, in France and the French West Indies where they had also served).

We contacted organisers Chris Mepham (in UK) and Chuck McComb (in USA) for more information. A church meeting decided to seek a volunteer from AIPM. The process is very similar to the settlement process in UK. Names and profiles are sent, video interviews and sermons are provided, and Skype conversations take place with those shortlisted.  
As a result the church decided to call Robert and Carel Shehane, a Texas couple with 32 years service with the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board.


They came across as people who understood cross-cultural working, seemed genuinely humble and gracious and they seemed to "fit" with us. Robert was a very skilled communicator, with a depth and style that seemed to fit here very well (as it proved).  Similarly, Carel's giftings of easy friendship and hospitality with a desire to generally "muck in" fitted well with what we were looking for.
As for the couple’s decision to seek this ministry, they “still wanted to have an impact.” “We don’t like being spectators. Going to England just seemed natural to us,” Robert explained to The Baptist Standard.
On arrival they immediately settled into church and village life. Indeed, the match was so perfect that they quickly agreed to remain with us for an additional six months. Carel quickly found her niche getting involved in helping to lead the two ladies Bible Study groups and getting to know people through the various activities in the church.

As well as regular preaching Robert led twice-daily Bible studies throughout Lent and Advent. He spoke at the Anglican parish school chapel at least once a month, and the invitations to speak at various community events increased significantly during their last few months in England.
Robert’s ministry and Carel’s friendship were also instrumental in Lindsay finally seeking the baptism she had considered for so long (below). It was the first baptism at the church in three years.

AIPM Robert baptising Lindsay

Members of the church were in no doubt about their impact:

Agnes and Alan: “Robert's bible teaching and preaching is inspiring and Carel is very much part of this ministry. We have always been a supportive, caring congregation but somehow Robert and Carel united us to deeper fellowship with one another. Robert and Carel's ministry is one of love and, almost without us realising it, we seemed to be brought closer to one another.”

Paul: “I was not at all sure about the value of our taking part in the scheme - the difficulty of getting a proper 'match' at a distance, and whether an American couple would fit in well  with the culture of an English village. In fact the Shehanes, both in personality and experience, proved ideal for our situation. We appreciated Robert's quiet and thoughtful ministry, building on the contributions of our previous ministers in training with experience-based teaching. Carel entered fully into the life of church and village.

“We have welcomed new members in church and congregation, including an addition to our small and stretched leadership team, and with a very acceptable moderator in David Shaw we are in a good position for the future.”

Michelle and Matthew with three young children:  “We transferred our membership to Ringstead Shared Church during Robert and Carel’s ministry because we could see how the church was looking forward and daring greatly to try new things. We felt we could assist with this. We could see how their ministry had changed the outlook of the church and the new enthusiasm for growth and change.”

Where is the church now? Our membership has increased. We have a Sunday School (started by Carel) and an eagerness to share the Gospel. For the future, before taking further steps into ministry, we are seeking how to balance the needs of our existing congregation with newer pioneering models of church.  We are actively considering visiting the houses on a large new estate nearby very soon.  

We are full of hope and optimism and thankful for the blessings God has poured out on us.

Since American Interim Pastors launched in 2000, 38 volunteer interim pastors have served 18 British churches, baptising 38 people.  

For more information visit: http://americaninterimpastors.com/

Pictures | Ringstead Baptist Church
Baptist Times, 09/09/2017
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