TANEYTOWN - Since the Rev. Victor E. Harner came to Messiah United Methodist Church last July, several things in his life have changed rather drastically.
For starters, he has to preach only one sermon at one church each week now.
Secondly, he can walk to work -- the parsonage is just across the street from the church.
Harner's first full appointment as a pastor included three rural churches in Washington County: Oldtown, Oliver's Grove and Mount Tabor.
"I preached at 9, 10 and 11 every Sunday," he said. "It was about a 16-mile circuit," conducting services at one church, "jump in the car and head to the next church."
Besides offering the same sermon three times in a row, he also had to sing with three different choirs.
"The biggest drawback was not getting to know the Sunday School or being able to really get involved with each church," he said.
Still, he enjoyed the work and had plans to stay at the Oldtown Charge until last February.
That's when the district superintendent approached him about coming to Taneytown, where there would be an opening July 1.
"When we (he and wife, Kimberly) sat and talked and prayed about it, we decided this was where God was leading us," Harner, 28, said. "It seemed right to come here, and it was a nice choice."
The move also forced a change for Harner's wife of almost three years, Kim, 26, who was attending Allegany Community College.
She has since transferred to Western Maryland College as a sophomore in the social work program.
And in the last three months, the couple has settled in and gotten used to a new life and home.
With summer over and many people back to a routine schedule of work and other activities, about 90 members of the congregation were able to attend an official welcoming dinner for their new pastor and his wife on Sept. 16.
"Everybody here has been very friendly and very accepting and helpful," Harner said. "We've really come to love the people and the area."
Although Harner is from Maryland, he is new to Carroll County. Born and raised in Williamsport, near Hagerstown, he left home in 1980 for nearby Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va.
After earning a bachelor's degree in social work in 1984, he went to United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, where he earned a master of divinity degree in 1987.
"In my freshman year of college, I started feeling this strong call to the ministry," Harner said. "I'd always wanted to do something in the church, so I went right into seminary."
It was while he was in Ohio that he met and married Kim.
While attending seminary, Harner served as a student associate pastor at John Wesley United Methodist Church in Cincinnati for two years and worked all three years at the Suicide Prevention Center Inc. in Dayton.
The associate pastorship, he said, was part of the requirement for graduation. He particularly enjoyed it, he said, because it involved working with youths and young adults.
"The Suicide Prevention Center was really good experience for me," he said. "It helped me learn a lot about myself and working with people. I learned what my strengths and weaknesses were, decision-making, determining a situation, handling crises and public speaking."
Upon graduating from the seminary, Harner was given the Oldtown Charge, where he continued to learn and gain experience.
Besides juggling three Sunday services, Harner baptized 60 children and adults, performed 33 weddings and officiated at 30 funerals.
"In a rural area you're kind of the community chaplain, so you do a lot of weddings and funerals," he noted.
He also realized the people's dedication to the church.
"In the three churches, I ministered to about 300," Harner said. "On any given Sunday, you could count on 150 and up being there. Church was very important to them, so if it was at all possible, they were there."
The last three months have given Harner a chance to start to get to know the congregation of Messiah and to review the church's programs and activities.
He already is starting to think about what he can do for the church, especially to make it more visible in the community.
"I hoped that we could focus more toward the future," he said. "I'm discovering a real growing, thriving area, and there's no reason this church can't grow. We're the only United Methodist Church in town."
One thing Harner would like to see is an expansion of community programs, such as more involvement in the Sharing and Caring group the church is a part of.
Messiah alternates with five other Taneytown churches in serving a community meal at noon on Wednesdays, he explained. Open to anybody who wants to come, the event attracts about 30 to 40 people each week.
Harner also is a strong believer in Christian education and hopes to expand youth and adult Bible studies. Last week, in fact, he started a Wednesday evening Bible study group and is teaching a Sunday School class.
He also would like to provide more social activities for teens to give them alternatives to going to the mall and movies.
But Harner won't do these things by himself.
"There's a real good core of leadership here that will be a real strong factor in the future of the church," he said. "I hope to convince people they have their own graces and skills and to use them.
"I see part of my role as equipping the laity to do the work of God and helping them recognize they are ministers of God, too."
The Harners are happy to be putting down some roots in a place where they can get to know the people and get involved in the life of the congregation and community.
They both are looking forward to staying at Messiah and maybe even starting their family here, the pastor said. So far, the couple's "children" consist of a cat, Star, and dog, Abby.
"I just want people to know our door is open," Harner said. "I like to be the kind of person who, if there's a problem or concern, I'll try to help where I can."
Copyright The Baltimore Sun 1990