Pastor answers the call

June 01, 1995|By Heather Reese | Heather Reese,Contributing Writer

The Rev. John S. Douglas knew he would be treading in revered footsteps when he took over at Trinity Lutheran Church in Taneytown. He also knew he was needed.

"We were called here," he said. "The church had had a pretty tough time. My predecessor had died in January 1993 and they were really in need of someone."

The congregation was still coping with the loss of the Rev. Arthur L. Mentzer, who died suddenly in his office at the church. For 10 years, Mr. Mentzer had led the 400-member congregation. An interim pastor served the church until Mr. Douglas' appointment last fall.

"It is difficult for a congregation to adjust, after a long and happy pastorate," said Mr. Douglas, 44, who had worked for several years with Mr. Mentzer in the internship program at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg.

His new pastorate would be a change, but Mr. Douglas said he felt he was ready for the challenge. He also thought his family was ready for a change of scenery.

The pastor, his wife, Susan, and two daughters, Jennifer, 5, and Natalie, 3, moved from Anne Arundel County to Taneytown.

Mr. Douglas served for seven years at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Pasadena. Although the family is happy with the relocation, there are some adjustments, he said.

"We have had quite a transition from the suburbs to the country," he said. "There is quite a difference living in a town. The town has a real center, a mayor and Town Council we can go to for help."

Mr. Douglas also is offering help. He is putting his background in social services to work with a counseling service.

He said he wanted to give area residents an opportunity for counseling close to home. His service means residents do not have to drive to Westminster or Hanover for assistance.

He is joined in the counseling service by Pastor David Bare, a licensed pastoral counselor.

"We are building slowly," he said. "That is what I expected for the first year."

While the service is his only change so far, Mr. Douglas said he plans to do more.

"It's a fairly large congregation," he said. "Right now I am just trying to get to know people and then we'll figure out what our mission will be."

Mr. Douglas is still an intern adviser to third-year seminary students, who often work in his church.

Like the pastor, the interns, called vicars, teach, preach and make home visits.

Stephen Jones, whose two-year internship ends this month, has also helped the church adjust to the changes that occurred after the death of the former pastor.

Mr. Jones feels that Mr. Douglas will be a good pastor for the congregation.

"I think that he and Trinity will do well together," he said.

Mr. Jones also feels that Mr. Douglas must fill a very large pair of shoes -- "Pastor Mentzer was loved and revered," he said -- but he knows Mr. Douglas will be able to handle the challenge.

"He [Mr. Douglas] is confident in what he does and rightly so," Mr. Jones said. "He will never be Pastor Mentzer, but no one will ever be Pastor Douglas."

Mr. Douglas was not always sure that he wanted to become a minister.

Before joining the seminary in 1979, he graduated from Franklin and Marshall College with a degree in English/journalism, then spent six years working as a social worker.

"I wasn't sure that I wanted to go into journalism so I moved to sociology and got involved in volunteer work. I got into helping people," he said.

It wasn't until he was in graduate school at the University of Maryland pursuing a master's in social work that Mr. Douglas, who had been told that he should consider becoming a pastor, joined the Gettysburg Seminary.

Although he felt drawn to the ministry in high school, Mr. Douglas ignored his feelings because at that age he did not think it was what he wanted to do.

"I had felt called to do this and I didn't want to. I kept saying 'no,' but it kept coming back," the pastor said.

When he did acknowledge his calling he had just returned to the church after a brief time of sporadic attendance.

As he became more involved by being in the choir, teaching Sunday school and being on the church counsel, Mr. Douglas began to seriously consider joining the ministry.

"I realized that I don't look forward to work anymore, but I look forward to church. I got more fulfillment from the little things that I was doing at the church," he said.

Mr. Douglas graduated at the top of his seminary class in 1983 with a master's in divinity and was ordained the same year.

In the Lutheran religion, a seminary graduate must wait until he is called to a congregation before he can be ordained.

Some men and women graduate and never get ordained, Mr. Douglas said.

Mr. Douglas was called to St. John's Lutheran Church in Sparrows Point and was ordained in June 1983.

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