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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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'We feel blessed'

Episcopal priest is a godsend to Lutherans without a pastor

When they were without a pastor for about a year, members of Trinity Lutheran Church, Stockholm, Maine (population 250), prayed for a minister to lead them.

The New England Synod's northernmost church — just miles from the Canadian border — is isolated at the edge of a rural state that has just 17 ELCA congregations. Finding a pastor has always been a struggle. With limited resources, Trinity generally shared a pastor with another church.

But God answered Trinity's prayers in 1997 when James Morgan, a retired Navy chaplain, moved to nearby Caribou, hometown of his wife, Julie. He was happy to serve as pastor of the church founded by Swedish immigrants 83 years ago.

There was just one little problem. Trinity's members neglected to specify a denomination in their prayers: Morgan is an Episcopal priest.

But members say he's a godsend. "We feel blessed," says Shirley Sjostedt, past church council president. "This is the first pastor we have had all to ourselves."

It's possible because the retired chaplain has a military pension and medical benefits. "We pay him a stipend, far below what we would pay a part-time pastor figuring in salary, medical benefits, housing, travel, etc.," Sjostedt says.

Morgan is equally pleased. When he moved to northern Maine, the Episcopal churches had no pastoral vacancies. Serving Trinity enables him to live where he wants and stay active in ministry.

"It's going extremely well," says Morgan, whose "part-time" work averages 35 hours a week. "The congregation is growing." More families with children are joining, and for two years in a row, Morgan boasts, Trinity has seven students in confirmation class.

The cross-denominational arrangement also sparked ecumenical outreach. "We have joint services with Episcopal churches in neighboring towns," Morgan says. "The Lutheran-Episcopal dialogue continues unabated. There's a high level of energy here on both sides of the ecclesiastical fence."


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