CARROLLTON - Earl E. Mills used to farm 560 acres and tend 180 cows in Washington County.
Now, he is shepherding souls and sowing the seeds of faith in Carroll.
In many ways, Mills, 37, said agriculture prepared him for the ministry.
"Once I decided to follow the Lord, it was a natural progression for me," he said. "I had already learned the discipline of hard work, of setting a tough schedule and sticking to it."
Growing up on the family farm near Sharpsburg, Mills spent his youth planning to follow in his father's footsteps and become the third generation of his family to till the soil.
After earning a degree in dairy science from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1974, he became a partner in the operation. His wife, Kimberly, whom he married in 1976, joined in the work. He said his father looked forward to the fourth generation of Mills farmers with the arrival of his three grandchildren.
Raised in the Church of God and well-read in Scripture, Mills said he had a gift for "pastoring." He often was asked to fill in as a lay preacher at the Pleasantville Church of God, near his home. The fill-ins later grew to weekly sermons at the Burnside Church of God.
While he remained content with his agricultural career, he said he felt "the Lord was leading me away and into another direction."
Prayer, deliberation and many sleepless nights preceded what was the hardest choice of the Mills' lives.
"We were leaving a life where we were financially secure to leap into unknown waters," he said.
The couple decided to "wind down" their work and sell the farm in 1986. A year later, they moved to Findlay, Ohio, where Mills entered Winebrenner Theological Seminary and prepared for the ministry.
After three years of study, Mills received a master of divinity degree in May.
"My father was terribly disappointed with our decision at first," he said. "Now, though, he understands it was the Lord's will."
George and Alice Mills sat among the congregation at the Carrollton Church of God last month, as their son was ordained in the church, where he had accepted the position of pastor.
Kim Mills has jumped right into the work of the church and become the "perfect pastor's wife," her husband said.
"She's extremely outgoing and has a cheerful, positive outlook," he added.
The Mills family filled a void in the Carrollton church, which was built in 1921.
For the past few years, a former pastor, Cronise H. Barr had ministered to the congregation on a part-time basis. The church elders wanted a full-time pastor and called on the seminary for help. They invited Mills to visit and preach here.
"Once we saw what an outstanding man he was, we knew he would be perfect for our church," said 68-year-old Holloday R. Blizzard, a life-time member.
"He's a great preacher, and his family is so nice."
Blizzard said he hopes the new pastor can help build up the church's enrollment, which now includes about 30 families.
Since his arrival, Mills said he has been trying to reach out to the people here, and has enjoyed his visits with the congregation. He hopes to get to know the surrounding community, also.
"A pastor doesn't do all the work," he said. "Rather, he equips the congregation to work through him."
While at the seminary, Mills had a part-time job as director of youth ministry. He said he would like to concentrate on youth here, too. He and his wife have instituted a youth program on Wednesday evenings in which 16 children, age 7 to 14, are involved.
He also plans to stay in place. Research has found that a pastor's most fruitful and effective years with a congregation occur after the fifth year, he said. Besides, he added, he feels at home. In Carroll, he's back in a rural atmosphere, close to the farms.