New Template Expands Possibilities for Alternative Ministry Models in Vermont
By Maurice L. Harris
UNDERHILL, VT – The vestry of Calvary Episcopal Church recently announced that the Rev. Bob Stuhlmann has accepted a call as the parish’s new Priest-in-Partnership. Bob’s first day in his new role was May 1. Specially tailored to the needs and resources of the Calvary congregation, Bob’s new role represents an exciting possibility for alternative ministry models in small congregations.
Senior Warden Jack Manning explained, “Calvary has managed to structure a flexible model where 40 to 45 of our Sundays can be covered supply clergy, one of whom is our new priest-in-partnership and the remainder of Sundays covered by lay ministers.” This arrangement alleviates the financial and administrative challenges small congregations often face when trying to create and maintain a regular staff position.
“The priest is not tasked with administrative responsibilities,” Jack continued. “The congregation takes that on. We also provide a stipend for pastoral care and additional funding for local outreach, such as furthering our partnership with Good Shepherd Lutheran Church or acting on future outreach opportunities.”
Bob, who is currently retired from full-time work, said the arrangement is working well for him.
“I developed a relationship with Calvary over a number of years while serving as supply clergy,” he said. “This new template for ministry enables me to get involved with the congregation on a deeper level and grow with them in areas that I may be uniquely called to fill.”
One example, Bob explained, is the congregation’s ongoing partnership with the Rev. Dr. Arnold Thomas, pastor of the nearby Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, who has been hosting a Racism in America lecture series at his home church and partnering with Calvary on the Way Cool Summer Service.
“Things have evolved in this country so much in terms of race, and I have wanted to dedicate much more of my time to issues of white privilege,” Bob said. “My prior experience—born and raised in Boston, serving with interracial groups—really formed an early sense of my call. My stories could be useful in helping white people think of themselves in relationship with people of color—getting to know people of color.”
Bob is pleased with some of the work the Diocesan Racial Reconciliation and Racial Healing Network has been doing, as well. He noted that he recently viewed an episode of the Where Do We Go From Here? video series that featured Rebecca Flewelling, a member of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, who Bob remembers as his camp counselor from years ago.
Bob added, “One advantage of accepting the call at Calvary during my retirement is that I can develop my inner life more than was possible when I was constantly at work in the parish.”
To that end, Bob has been singing with the Burlington Choral Society Since 2010, enjoys reading (and re-reading) the works of Richard Rohr and Cynthia Bourgeault, and looks forward to farming his community garden plot at Rock Point.
“The plot is bigger than I thought, but I’ll see what happens,” he laughed.
Bob and his wife Jena Guenther reside in Burlington.