MANCHESTER — The Rev. Mark Schlichter may have left the pulpit, but he didn't leave the Christian ministry altogether.
Schlichter, who had preachedto congregations from three churches since 1983, left last October to pursue his original career -- physical therapy.
His decision came after members of his three-church parish decided they needed individual pastors.
Schlichter, who served as pastorfor St. Mark's United Church of Christ in Snydersburg, Lazarus UCC in Lineboro and Trinity UCC in Manchester said, "I had served as an ordained minister of the parish for eight years and I oversaw the parish while the dissolution took place.
"My dad (Harvey Schlichter) had served the parish since 1951 all by himself, and then when I becameordained in 1984, we served together," Schlichter said.
"What I do now is a satisfying and rewarding form of ministry in the Christiancontext," he said of his new position as a physical therapist at St.Joseph's Hospital in Towson, Baltimore County.
"I see my service at St. Joe's as an extension of the healing ministry of Christ."
Since last September, Schlichter, 38, has been working to rehabilitatepatients whose movements are hampered as a result of illness, accident or surgery.
"I mostly work in the areas of physical medicine, rehabilitation, orthopedics and neurology," he said. "The neurologicalpatients are typically those who suffer from strokes. Many of the orthopedic patients are older people who have had hip fractures or hip replacement."
Schlichter returned to physical therapy after leading his congregations through nearly 18 months of decision-making aboutthe dissolution of the parish. The parish was dissolved last September.
"This was a major decision in the life of this historic parish. It was a positive and progressive step," Schlichter said. "We decided that each church should have its own full-time pastor.
"This would be a more effective way of serving the congregations."
Even though members of his congregation asked Schlichter to continue his ministry at Trinity UCC in Manchester, he decided to make what he calleda "lateral move" to St. Joseph's and work as a physical therapist.
Last summer, during a visit to the hospital, Schlichter discovered an opening in the physical therapy department.
"I stopped to see the personnel folks and ask what things were like," he recalled. "I found out that they had a position open, and I pursued it."
Schlichter said his return to physical therapy is "an exercise of my faith. Iintentionally sought out a Christian hospital so that I could live out my faith and my spiritual service."
Schlichter still has the opportunity to work with congregations, as he often fills in for pastors throughout the area.
Born and raised in Manchester, Schlichter graduated from North Carroll High in 1972 and the University of Maryland School of Physical Therapy in 1976.
After graduation, he becamea physical therapist in the Baltimore area.
Several years later, Schlichter realized what God wanted for him.
"I had left my physical therapy practice in June 1980 and experienced a call to the ministry," he said. "I struggled with it for a period of time, but finally decided that was what I wanted to do."
Schlichter attended the Lancaster Theological Seminary from 1981 to 1984 and returned home on weekends to serve as a student pastor at the Manchester parish.
Whenhe became ordained in 1984, he joined his father as an associate pastor at the Manchester UCC Parish. Schlichter's father retired from full-time duties in 1990.
Schlichter, who lives in Manchester with his wife, Judi, and children, Sarah, 9, and Luke, 6, said: "I don't know what the long-term future holds. I try to keep open to see how Godmay be calling or leading me to serve."