Ernest Russell Melbourne Parker, 80, Episcopal priest

May 04, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

The Rev. Ernest Russell Melbourne Parker, who attained his lifelong dream of becoming a priest in 1984 and had been vicar of Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Southwest Baltimore since 1994, died Saturday at St. Agnes HealthCare from complications of kidney failure. He was 80 and lived on Beechfield Road.

Mr. Parker retired as an installer for Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. of Maryland in 1979 and entered the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., paying for his studies with an inheritance his wife had received. He earned bachelor's and divinity degrees from the university and was ordained in 1984 at age 65.

After serving churches in North Carolina and England, he retired and returned to Baltimore in 1993, after being treated for a brain tumor.

"He couldn't stand being retired," said his daughter Anne D. Rice of Bradshaw.

Mr. Parker, then suffering with kidney disease, heard that the struggling Holy Cross Church was looking for a vicar. He approached the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and was appointed to the vacancy.

Holy Cross dates to 1871 -- it has been at Millington Avenue and Ashton Street since 1906 -- and its small congregation -- about 50 -- is mostly elderly and poor. Mr. Parker set about trying to attract new members and giving the church a presence in its community.

Despite the church's meager resources, he organized a food pantry to help the needy and other outreach programs.

"His work at Holy Cross gave him a purpose in life," Mrs. Rice said. "We always thought they would have to carry him out of there feet first."

The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland announced recently that the church will close this year.

"He only found out about its closing two weeks ago," said John Hain, senior warden at Holy Cross. "We all felt that he wanted to die in the church."

Mr. Parker refused to let his dialysis treatments three times a week interfere with running the church or his obligations to his parishioners. He preached his last sermon a week ago.

"He walked in the procession with a walker and sat on a bar stool behind the pulpit because he could no longer stand," Mrs. Rice said. "He was determined to keep the parish going."

Mr. Hain recalled that Mr. Parker left his hospital bed to marry a couple he had counseled.

"He felt he owed it to them, and he knew they were expecting him to marry them," he said.

"Near the end of the service, he collapsed, and I had to hold him up. But he continued, and it was only after he had finished marrying them that he returned to St. Agnes." The Rev. John E. Kitagawa of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland said of Mr. Parker: "He was a man who was dedicated to his ministry and the people under his care,and that love came through in many ways. His determination held that struggling congregation together."

"He was a light in a very dark corner of the world," Mrs. Rice said.

Born in Melbourne, Australia, Mr. Parker came to Baltimore in 1930 when his father, a supervisor with Carr-Lowery Glass Co., was transferred to the South Baltimore plant.

Because money was scarce during the Depression, he dropped out of Southern High School in 1938 and enlisted in the Navy. During World War II, he was an instructor in New York and joined C&P after the war ended.

In 1941, he married Audrey Porstmann, a schoolteacher. For years, they lived in Forest Hill, where he was a communicant, lay reader, vestryman and Sunday school superintendent at Christ Episcopal Church.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Christ Episcopal Church, Routes 23 and 24, Forest Hill.

In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by another daughter, Lynn C. Stiegler of Columbia; two brothers, Geoffrey K. Parker of Plant City, Fla., and Warren C. Parker of New Port Richey, Fla.; five grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

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