The Rev. Leandra Anderson offers communion to a resident at Prairie Manor Nursing Home during worship last week. Anderson, the called pastor at Red Oak Grove Lutheran Church south of Blooming Prairie, now also preaches at Community Lutheran Church in Geneva. The new role is part of a ‘Holy Experiment’ by the Lutheran Synod.
The Rev. Leandra Anderson figured it was some kind of sign when she and some members of Red Oak Grove Lutheran Church visited the Community Lutheran Church of Geneva.
“We walked into the basement, and there were quilts everywhere – and it’s exactly what our (church) basement looked like,” she laughed.
Since that day earlier this summer, there have been other opportunities to find similarities between the two congregations, not the least of which is their shared minister.
Anderson, who has been pastor at Red Oak Grove since 2020, is now also leading services in Geneva.
“It’s not a traditional two-point parish right now,” she said. “The Southeast Minnesota Synod is doing what’s called a ‘Holy Experiment.’ When Geneva’s pastor retired, I got a call from the synod office, asking if I could do it.”
The congregational leaders of the two churches began meeting in May “to see if it’s something we wanted to do,” Anderson said, “to share me, for a set amount of time, under a contract.”
It made sense, really: The two churches are about 13 miles apart, and both have smaller congregations.
“In a lot of ways, for smaller churches, sharing a pastor makes a lot of sense, even beyond financially,” she said. “It works, just in the amount of time you need to spend, too.”
Anderson devotes 60% of her time to Red Oak Grove; since August, 40% of her time is spent with Community Lutheran.
“For the first month, I’d say it’s been going very well,” she said.
Compromise was in order immediately: Both churches have traditionally held worship at 9 a.m.
Red Oak Grove now meets at 8:30 a.m., then Anderson drives to Geneva for the 10 a.m. service. The times will flip in January.
“There’s give and take on both sides,” she said.
And yes, she can use the same sermon at both churches, Anderson said, “but when you have a second community to keep in mind, you might consider a story that would connect with both communities, or one that I can tweak between the two.”
Though they worship separately for the most part, Anderson has combined the confirmation classes from both churches.
Contracts like hers are typically six months long, “but I asked for 10, so I could be with them for the whole year.”
The kids have classes together but will be confirmed at their own churches in May.
That’s when Anderson’s contract ends, at which time a few options will be on the table: The churches can continue the contract with adjustments as necessary; the contract can simply end, “no harm, no foul,” she said; or the two churches can pursue a long-term yoked congregation, approved through the church constitution.
“That’s what the Holy Experiment is for,” Anderson said, figuring out the best path for both churches while continuing to keep them moving forward.
While the two congregations are in “different places in the lifecycle of the church,” she said both seemed excited to give it a try.
“There are different personalities, but they have a lot of the same values,” Anderson said, including a strong sense of community, being together and wanting to see their churches continue to do well.
And, of course, quilting groups.
“It’s really wonderful; I’ve been met with nothing but kindness,” she said. “For me, it’s been a lot of fun to get to know more people, and to connect more faithfully with another community.”
As for the congregations themselves, “the (ROG) ladies have invited (Geneva ladies) to their meetings,” Anderson said. “They’re excited – it’s more friends, and they’re finding ways to share spaces together.”
A native of North Carolina, she said even the call to Red Oak Grove was divine intervention.
Her husband, Jesse, is from southeast Minnesota, but the couple lived on the East Coast as Anderson completed her education and internship.
“The spirit called me here for a reason,” she said. “The odds of having a call to this area is …” She trailed off.
“The light that they see in me, whatever that is that brings them joy – we’re here for a reason,” she said.
Now, Anderson is finding her joy in “celebrating the individual things each congregation has – the knowledge, the resources, what they’re good at.
“As the body of Christ, we’re stronger together,” she said, “so to be able to do that in an intentional way – in just my little small slice – is a really beautiful thing, I think.”