For Eric Murray and Pauline Farrington, life is good — they have moved into new jobs, are working with a terrific community and they both love their closest colleague. Literally.
That’s because Farrington and Murray are wife and husband to each other as well as the new co-lead pastors with Saint Andrew Lutheran Church in Franklin.
Although it’s rare for a clergy couple to have the opportunity to lead a congregation together, it made sense to the call committee and congregational council at Saint Andrew after the retirement of longtime pastor Reverend Michael Lippard.
“They’re deeply spiritual people, but also fun to be around,” said congregational council President Ken Cockerham. “They know their theology very well and also have terrific interpersonal skills.”
Although acknowledging that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it harder than usual to meet everybody, they have found, as Murray put it, “a vibrant community with people who are generous with their time and talent. They want to be effective in the community.” The pastors pointed to the active service ministry, which helps homeless people, provides monthly breakfasts for a women’s shelter and “flood buckets” for victims of the area’s recent record rainfall.
“It’s been fantastic,” Murray said. “The congregation is a lovely, gifted, faithful group of people.” “We are really loving being here and are grateful to be working together,” Farrington added.
Few Lutheran churches have clergy couples as co-pastoral leaders, since most congregations aren’t large enough to support two full-time pastors. With approximately 700 members, the 46-year-old Saint Andrew is bigger than most, not surprising given the rapid growth of Franklin, which has grown from approximately 42,000 residents in 2000 to 84,000 today.
While emphasizing that there is plenty of collaboration, Farrington’s and Murray’s skillsets complement each other. He focuses on worship and service ministry and sharing of the good news of God’s unconditional, restorative love for all people, while she specializes in faith formation as well as fellowship and pastoral care.
Both come to their new positions with serious theological backgrounds and significant life experiences. After graduating from Georgia State University, Murray, an Atlanta native, was a physical therapist, while Farrington focused on motherhood and also attended culinary school.
Before coming to Franklin, Murray was a senior pastor with a Lutheran congregation in Birmingham, Alabama and served as chairperson of the ELCA-Southeastern Synod's Worship Team.
An honors graduate of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary class of 2009, Farrington served with congregations in Chattanooga and Knoxville. She has also served the Southeastern Synod for 12 years with the Synod Worship Team and has done extensive writing of liturgical prayers and prayers of intercession for Synodical and Churchwide worship.
Both are students in The Living School, a contemplative and experiential learning cohort from Franciscan wisdom teacher Richard Rohr and his Center for Action and Contemplation.
Given Saint Andrew’s effectiveness, both pastors are expecting to build on the church’s current strengths.
“We hope the congregation will continue to grow as a community partner outside the walls of the church,” Murray said.
The new pastors said the best part of their job is sharing what Murray called “holy moments” with people.
“We have the privilege of being a part of events like births, baptisms, deaths and illnesses, weddings and divorces,” he said.
While some of these moments are painful, the pastors believe ministry calls them to share in solidarity with those who are in need.
They are well aware that life is often difficult. Just prior to attending seminary, Farrington lost her 18-year-old daughter to leukemia. Her pastoral formation took place within profound grief following her daughter’s death.
Farrington’s faith, worldview and life perspective were shaped by these parallel experiences. She said she feels privileged to offer hope and model how to integrate faith and pain in times of grief, as she points others to the promises of Christ's healing embrace and restoration of joy in living.
“We believe that in his death, Christ overcame all the violence and hurtful things that humans can do to one another,” she said. “Christ forgave every single person, even while on the cross. The Bible is the whole story of God as loving and restoring creator.”
The new pastors hope to spread that good news to their congregational community and beyond.