The couple that pastors together

When I have time, I browse the Newseum's front-page images from major newspapers across the nation. It's interesting to see how different papers play various stories, and from time to time, I run across stories that make perfect GetReligion fodder. A Page 1 story in The Charlotte Observer, profiling a husband-and-wife pastor team, caught my attention recently.

Here's the top of the story:

They met at Duke University, two graduate students at the divinity school, both in line for... basketball tickets.

Elizabeth Coppedge managed to score the hoops tix; Jonathan Henley did not. They married anyway, in 1994, and soon became United Methodist ministers.

Now they are Elizabeth Coppedge-Henley and Jonathan Coppedge-Henley. And this summer, after spreading the gospel in Alaska and co-pastoring in Western North Carolina, they started a new co-assignment: pastors at Charlotte's First United Methodist.

On Sunday, side by side, they led the 11 a.m. service at the historic uptown church, which is ripe, Methodist officials say, for the kind of commitment to inner-city outreach and nurturing of young families they expect from the couple. Some in the congregation already are calling them a dynamic duo.

Given its relatively short length -- about 650 words -- the story impressed me.

It's a compelling angle -- husband and wife serving as pastors at the same church. Reporter Tim Funk does a nice job explaining why Jonathan Coppedge-Henley was fine letting his wife take the senior minister position while he serves as minister of congregational development:

It's a role that will free him up for projects. Three examples: Reach out to inner-city residents with little experience of church, develop a contemporary worship service for younger members and tweak a "1st and 10" program designed to engage Panthers fans on their way to games.

After his bout with cancer, complete with chemo and radiation therapy treatments, "my perspective of ministry is different... I'm much more interested in knowing that we are giving people an encounter with Jesus."

His wife is more involved in denominational affairs, and more traditional. So when they were told that First United Methodist preferred that one of them be in charge, the couple agreed it should be her.

First United Methodist of Charlotte is described as a "historic uptown church," and Elizabeth Coppedge-Henley is not only its first female senior minister but also its first female minister in any role.

What would make the story better?

More background on the significance of a woman such as Coppedge-Henley serving as a senior female minister in the United Methodist Church would help. It would be nice to know what percentages of all United Methodist ministers -- and specifically senior ministers -- are women.

At the same time, the story hints strongly that this particular church has struggled -- and lost many members -- over the years, but it's short on specifics. The piece mentions that it will be a challenge to "grow a church that, with about 250 worshipers, is trending younger." But nowhere does the story say what the church's attendance was in its heyday or how many people the sanctuary seats. Do 250 worshipers look like a lot in the First United Methodist building? Or does the sanctuary engulf the remaining flock?

Similarly, the superintendent of the Charlotte district of the United Methodist Church is quoted. He voices the church's commitment to the inner city. Again, it would be interesting to know how United Methodist churches in general are doing -- numerically, that is -- in the Charlotte area.

Overall, though, the Observer deserves kudos for giving front-page play to an important religion profile that many papers might have buried in the back of the Metro section.

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