Every Sunday morning the Rev. John Boyles snatches up his sermon notes from the pulpit of Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church, follows the recessional out of the sanctuary, then jumps into his car to drive a dozen blocks across town for the 11:30 service at the Westminster Presbyterian Church.
This updated version of the old circuit-riding preacher began formally last Sunday with Mr. Boyles' installation as interim pastor of the Capitol Hill church. He has been pastor of the Westminster congregation, located among the high-rises of Waterside Mall in the Southwest, for two years.
The new arrangement will enable the two long-established but now struggling congregations to survive, the pastor explained, without going through the trauma of merger.
"We believe that doesn't have to happen," he said, adding that the hope is that "within a few years, each church can call a full-time minister."
Both churches have long histories. Capitol Hill Presbyterian at 4th Street and Independence Avenue SE, was begun in a schoolhouse near the Capitol in 1864. Its building, constructed in 1869, is the oldest sanctuary of the denomination in the city.
Westminster has served its chaning neighborhood in the Southwest since 1853, though it constructed a new building 12 years ago.
According to Mr. Boyles, Westminster has about 100 members and Capitol Hill has 150. Both congregations include families who lived in their respective area before the redevelopment and restoration of recent years. In addition, Mr. Boyles said, new residents to the areas have developed ties to the churches.
Under the shared pastor plan, to which both churches are committed through May of next year, regular Sunday worship will be conducted separately, but there will be some activities shared by the two congregations.
For instance, Mr. Boyles pointed out, the Capitol Hill congregation has a chapter of the Mariners organization, a spiritual fellowship for adults, to which Westminster members will be invited.
Westminster, in turn, holds Wednesday night suppers, for which "we'll say to Capitol Hill, 'Come on over,'" Mr. Boyles said.
Each congregation will maintain its own Sunday School, it's own Sunday morning worship, it's own choir. But they share a choir director, Maaja Roos, who sometimes holds joint choir practices.
There also will be some joint worship services, Mr. Boyles said, such as on Christmas Eve and Thanksgiving.
The two congregations are splitting the pastor's salary down the middle.
"So far," Mr. Boyles reported, "it's a little hectic, but surprisingly everything seems to mesh."
There's one time-saver built into the arrangement, he pointed out: "I cangive the same sermon to both congregations."