Since the beginning of the year, I've been filling in on Sundays at two churches in Norwood, a village 6 miles north of Potsdam. The Methodist church and the Congregational church have been worshiping together for the past 4 years, alternating between their 2 buildings month by month. They're both small churches, and finding one person to fill in on any given week is hard. Finding 2 is nearly impossible.

We have experienced this first hand. There have been 2 Sundays we would have liked to be away, but finding 2 people to fill in, one for Brooke in Potsdam and another for me in Norwood, has not worked out. At best, we found 1, so we had to cancel.

Not that there aren't plenty of whack-O people who would do it, if we gave them the opportunity. There are lots of small churches around with fundamentalists in charge. But we try not to give them the keys to any more buildings than they already have.

The Norwood churches have had this odd yoked arrangement. The Methodists have had opportunities to receive a pastor from their conference, but have in the past balked, preferring their week-to-week arrangement to risking an inexperienced "lay pastor".

The week-to-week thing, though, hasn't been completely satisfactory either. You can't plan much when you're never sure who is going to be around. And people have a hard time inviting others into a church when they can't be sure there's something worth coming to. As one of them said recently, "We've been a long time in a situation of negative recruitment." Which is to say, they've been hanging on, but not doing so well.

Last spring, it became clear that the Congregational building needs major repairs, and they can't afford to make them. The Methodists also lost two long-timers that struck a major blow to morale.

So, last April they decided together that they'd start calling themselves "The Norwood United Church" rather than trying to explain that they were actually 2 churches. And, while forming an actual new corporate entity is still a long way off, over the summer they started taking some real steps toward presenting a more united picture of themselves.

This past week, we agreed that the new "United Church" needed a real pastor -- someone who could actually hold the title and represent the new thing they're trying to do. So I agreed to do it.

It's still very much a part-time gig, and I'm not giving up my website business. There are still a few technical hurdles to get over to make it official. But for all intents and purposes, I'm back from pastoral retirement for the duration of our time in Potsdam.