WESTMINSTER — At a corner desk, amid the Salvation Army's supply of canned vegetables, wearable clothing and still-usable toys, the Rev. Mark Lancasterspends hours on the phone.
He talks with people who need assistance and those who can provide aid, contacts social service agencies and helps the needy.
Since April, the 38-year-old former pastor of Emory Methodist Church near Finksburg has been Western Maryland regional manager for theMaryland Food Committee, a 22-year-old, non-profit organization engaged in food and nutritional programs statewide.
"It was an opportunity at a good time," he said of the job change. "God opened a door."
His wife, too, spends a great deal of her time in commitment to others. In a manner of speaking, Marianne, too, had a door opened by God.
The 34-year-old Altoona, Pa., native had earned a biochemistrydegree at Penn State and planned to engage in cancer research.
"But the last year of college, I was struggling," she said. "I wanted amore people-oriented career and felt a strong call to explore the ministry."
She entered Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington and, after earning a master of divinity degree in 1983, served the United Methodist congregations of Bethesda in Sykesville and Zion in Westminster.
Since 1989, the Rev. Marianne Sickles has served as associate pastor of Wesley Freedom United Methodist Church in Sykesville, sharing responsibility for the 1,000-member congregation with the Rev.Perry Miller.
Balancing the heavy demands of career and family has not been easy. The couple recently moved to Westminster with Joel, their 6-year-old son who attends kindergarten in Hampstead, and Barney, their mixed-breed female dog.
"We juggle, similar to a lot of families that work evenings and weekends," said Lancaster. "We make a schedule so someone is with Joel."
Sickles agreed. "It's a major hurdle to work through with no predictable schedule. I have to balancemy prayer life with family."
"I've never regretted it," she said of her religious calling.
For Lancaster, experiences he had while growing up in Allegany County pointed the direction his later path would take. At 15, he went to the coal-mining region of Kentucky to help in a work camp. In 1973, he traveled to Ghana,
West Africa, under the auspices of Church World Service to build agricultural storehouses.
After graduating from Frostburg State with a double major in sociology and social science education, he became a fund-raiser for the Church World Service, taught middle school and high school historyin Washington County, and worked in Cumberland for the Sheltered Workshop, which helps developmentally disabled adults.
He earned a master's degree in counseling and psychology from Frostburg and met Sickles while pursuing a master of divinity degree at Wesley TheologicalSeminary. They married in 1981.
He served as pastor of AldersgateUnited Methodist in Baltimore and was an associate pastor at Westminster and Emory. He was director of the Northeast Social Action Program, a church organization that provides food, clothing and fuel assistance to the needy.
Lancaster said his goal is "to respond to the needs in the community and help agencies respond to clients' needs."
Lancaster envisions starting banks to finance small businesses and self-employment programs throughout the state to reduce people's dependence on entitlement programs.
In addition to her 50-hour work week, Sickles is enrolled in a master's program in pastoral counseling and hopes to earn a doctorate.
"God speaks in many ways," said Sickles.