Conflict in churches leads to splits so often as to make them commonplace, though no less sad. This makes the story of church unification all the more compelling—as in the case of two PCA churches in Ackley, Iowa.

West Friesland Presbyterian Church was more than 140 years old when Shawn Willis (MDiv ’10) first applied to become its solo pastor. The church replied to his application with a unique invitation.

“They told me that there were two churches—West Friesland and Faith—that were actually seeking a pastor together,” Shawn remembers. “They asked me if I still wanted to apply knowing I would pastor both.”

The two churches are located in Ackley, Iowa. “You can actually see one church building from the other,” Shawn says. Ackley itself is an old farming community, with a population of roughly 1,500 people. So how does a small town end up with two PCA churches within sight of one another?

Shawn laughs, and says, “That’s the question isn’t it?” West Friesland was originally organized as The Second German Presbyterian Church of Grundy County, a Swiss-German congregation, in 1873. The congregation became part of the United Presbyterian Church in the USA. It later transferred membership into the PCA. By comparison, Faith Presbyterian Church is young. It was started by a group that left East Friesland Presbyterian Church (USA) because of the increasingly liberal leanings of that denomination.

“I suppose the people who started Faith could have joined West Friesland,” Shawn muses, “but at that point both congregations were large for this area. Combined, they were certainly too big for the West Friesland church building. In the end, Faith ended up forming its own church and building its own building.” In 2001, West Friesland had 117 members, with an average weekly attendance of 70, while Faith had 146 members, with 100 in attendance. By 2010, however, the churches together had a combined weekly attendance of 90.

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