Ever wonder what it would be like to step into someone else's life – live in their home, drive their car, do their work?
The Rev. Robert Kolvik-Campbell and the Rev. David Flavell will have that opportunity for six weeks this summer as part of the World Methodist Council's Ministerial Exchange Program.
Rev. Kolvik-Campbell of Calvary United Methodist Church in Latham (Albany District) will take Rev. Flavell 's place serving the Hexham circuit of the Methodist Church of Great Britain; Rev. Flavell will serve in Latham.
Rev. Kolvik-Campbell, his wife, Nancy, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Anna, will live in the manse usually occupied by Rev. Flavell, his wife, Martha, and their two daughters. The Flavells will live in the parsonage in Latham.
"Ecstatic," was how Rev. Kolvik-Campbell described his family's feelings about the eight-week trip. They leave for England on July 4 and return to the U.S. on Aug. 30 (The family is taking a two-week vacation as well).
"We think we’re exchanging with people who are very like ourselves, but there will (probably be) differences as well," Rev. Kolvik-Campbell said, adding that in thinking about it recently he and his wife found themselves making a lot of assumptions.
"My wife and I caught each other, and asked, 'Why make assumptions?' Let's just go there and see what life is like."
And Rev. Kolvik-Campbell will get to jump right into it. He's preaching the Sunday before the family leaves and the Sunday after they arrive. But he's not concerned about it, he said.
"Summer is not the busiest time for churches," he said. "We'll have a chance to kick back and allow ourselves to assimilate into a different community for a short term."
The Flavell family won't leave until July 10, so they will be together for a few days; their 11-year-old daughters will have a chance to go to school together for a day, Rev. Kolvik-Campbell said.
"I'm really excited for us, as a family, to have this experience," he said. "As a clergy family, you don’t have this really special time bonding over ministry. This is something we can experience together outside the normal church stuff ..."
Rev. Kolvik-Campbell will serve a circuit that includes five churches in Hexham, which is in Northumberland, near the Scottish border.
Rev. Kolvik-Campbell said he was inspired to take the trip in part by the experiences of the Rev. John Phillippe, who serves as associate pastor at Calvary UMC. Rev. Phillippe went on exchanges in 1985 and 1996.
Rev. Phillippe described the exchanges as "just a really rich thing."
The Hexham circuit of the Methodist Church of Great Britain, includes five churches in Hexham, England, in Northumberland, near the Scottish border. This is Trinity Methodist Church. Rev. Bob Kolvik-Campbell serve the circuit during his ministerial exchange. Courtesy of Trinity Methodist Church in Hexham, England.
One aspect he appreciated, he said, was the chance to be in the midst of "very historic Methodist areas that go back to the roots ..."
"The British Methodist Church has maintained more of the original Wesleyan form in terms of how ministers are assigned and put on circuits," he said. "Their circuit system is like the old circuit rider system of this country, and lay preaching is much more involved there than here.
"You really get a much better feel for early Methodism," Rev. Phillippe said.
This history is one of the exciting aspects for Rev. Kolvik-Campbell, too.
"John Wesley came to Hexham nine years after the Aldersgate experience (1738), and goes back five times. He speaks about his reception in Hexham in glowing terms. I'm praying for the same thing," Rev. Kolvik-Campbell said with a laugh.
"One of the churches I will preach at is Wesley established; one of many continuously functioning Methodist chapels there. Wesley came and preached there and it never stopped ... " and, Rev. Kolvik-Campbell said, he's looking forward to connecting to that.
Rev. Kolvik-Campbell, whose given name is Robert Bruce, is also excited about being in the area where Robert Bruce "did all his conquering."
Robert the Bruce (born 1274) was a compatriot of William Wallace (Braveheart) and defied England's King Edward I to restore the Scottish monarchy. He reigned as King of Scots from 1306 until his death in 1329.
The ministerial exchange program has a long history itself; it turns 65 this year. Through it pastors have gone not only to England but to South Africa, Nigeria, Scotland, and as far away as Australia and New Zealand.
This year, Rev. Kolvik-Campbell is one of two pastors who will head to England. He originally applied in 2010, but changes in personnel in Great Britain prevented the exchange at that time.
Dr. David Schmuck, who has been director of the Ministerial Exchange for the last six years, said a weak economy has also made it difficult for British clergy to afford the trip, and seven American pastors who hoped to go on exchanges did not find partners this year.
In a good year, Schmuck said, as many as 15 to 20 pastors will go on exchange.
"It is not just a pulpit exchange," he said. "They are there during the week, caring for the people, leading the Bible study, whatever the minister does in his work.
"It's a tremendous experience of the gift of God's grace in people's lives; you're touching people's lives," said Schmuck, who has been on several exchanges.
Both Rev. Phillippe and Schmuck pointed to long-lasting friendships as one of the significant benefits of going on an exchange.
Schmuck said he has developed "true, lasting friendships," some that stretch back 40 years, with people he met during his exchange experiences. He has visited them and they him, and they "email all the time."
"We've become myopic in our world view ... we belong to a large family," Schmuck said. "This is a chance to develop our oneness that we talk about all the time ... to experience the oneness we have in Christ."
"You're not there as a tourist," Rev. Phillippe said. "You live in the parsonage, you drive the pastor's car, serve his people ... you're part of the people. You get a much better feel for the culture."
He also has built strong friendships, and hosted friends in the U.S. more than once, including a couple who visited while he was serving in Minnesota. When he asked what they would like to see, they said Yellowstone National Park and Niagara Falls. Both were 900 miles away in opposite directions, Rev. Phillippe said.
Rev. Kolvik-Campbell said both congregations have been "wonderfully supportive" of the exchange (the Latham congregation agreed to pay the $900 to help the Flavells with travel expenses; ministers in England make significantly lower salaries than in the U.S.) and both churches have expressed excitement about hosting a new pastor.
The congregations are not alike, however, Rev. Kolvik-Campbell said. Hexham is a "post-modern church; not very traditional like Calvary," he said, adding that "churches in Great Britain struggle for relevancy even more than in the United States."
He said Calvary UMC is seeking ways to renew itself, and perhaps the exchange can help them do that by bringing in someone with a different perspective. They would be able to explore that "safely, without feeling like they are buying into too much too quickly."
Rev. Kolvik-Campbell said he's not worried about his new congregation, saying, "It's not all that different from finding your way into a new parish (in the U.S.); every parish has a different culture," and there's less pressure since he'll only be there temporarily.
His biggest fear, he said, is driving on the opposite side of the road.
Schmuck said he did have a car accident during one of his exchanges, but Rev. Phillippe said he didn't find driving to be a problem.
His advice: "Don't play Scrabble."
"They don't spell the same way we do," he said with a laugh.
The World Methodist Council (WMC), representing Methodism in 132 countries of the world and 74 million people, designed the Ministerial Exchange Program (MEP) in 1947 to develop ties between Methodist clergy and churches in the United States and England. Its expansion now includes Methodist congregations in other countries and Methodist laity as well as clergy.
English speaking exchange opportunities avail in a number of countries, including Australia, Great Britain, India, New Zealand, South Africa and the Caribbean. Exchanges in Germany, Scandinavia, South America and other countries may require skills in the host church’s language.
To find out more about the World Methodist Council and the Ministerial Exchange Program, visit www.worldmethodistcouncil.org.
*Beth DiCocco is the writer/editor for the Upper New York Annual Conference.