For more than 30 years, Jamie and Steve Williams have shared their challenges and joys as they led separate parishes and raised their family.
But now, the couple is happy to be working together, serving as co-pastors at United Methodist Church of Libertyville and its 15,000 members.
While the couple never worked at the same church, they always talked church.
“We have the opportunity at a wonderful church to join our energies and try to focus on stability at this already remarkable faith community,” Steve said.
Jamie says when the opportunity came to work together in Libertyville, it seemed natural.
For the couple it's not hard to divide their work at a church with 15,000 members. They already have found a rhythm, entering together to greet the parish and offer announcements and alternating to preach. Jamie says they are beginning to know committees within the church.
“It is important to us that the staff and laypeople sense we are all coming together to lead the church,” she said.
The couple is committed to help the church get a sense of what is their vision, dreams and goals. As the church celebrates its 175th anniversary, Jamie says it is important to bring as many voices as possible into the planning process.
“We want to lead the process to help them imagine their dreams and to plan for the next one to five years,” she said. “We want to know what is it that God wants United Methodist Church to be doing in this community and in this world.”
The couple met as students at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where Steve was earning his master’s of divinity. At first, Jamie planned to join a missionary program to Latin America. But she was influenced by the discussion and need for more women to seek ordination. She sensed that was her calling, pursuing an adventure that was not common then.
“It has been an opportunity to be a role model, particularly for girls to go into the ministry,” she said. “It’s more common now than when I started. It’s a great thing for the church.”
New Leadership Model
When the couple married, Jamie stayed home with their children as Steve led a parish in Pennsylvania. After moving to Illinois in 1983, the roles switched where Steve stayed home three years while Jamie served as pastor at a Wheaton church, taking the parish through a building campaign followed by work in Deerfield and Bolingbrook. Steve served as senior pastor in Lombard, where the parish operated one of the largest food pantries, distributing 130 tons of food.
Now at the United Methodist Church, the couple says it's important to continue the service parish members devotes to the community, such as supporting PADS and Habitat for Humanity and recently joining the Appalachia Service Project for the fifth year to help repair homes in Kentucky.
“When people are energized, we can be a Spirit-led, Spirit-filled community,” Steve said. “Good things can and will happen.”
The couple realizes being co-pastors and married is an uncommon leadership model. But as they look to share the joys and carry burdens together, Steve hopes the parish realizes the value of this male-female partnership.
“We want to try to empower all of us to use what we have for the common good,” he said.