CHURCH WITHOUT PASTOR
By Lisa Britton
For The Observer
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church has been without a full-time priest since January, and isn't likely to get one soon.
But members of this small congregation haven't hesitated to help fill the gaps.
"It is a church of many people being involved. We all wear several hats," said the Rev. Connie Boone, deacon at St. Stephen's.
The church membership is between 30 and 40.
St. Stephen's is part of the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Oregon, which is based in The Dalles and encompasses Oregon from the Cascade Mountains to the state boundaries of Washington, Idaho and Nevada.
The diocese is overseen by the bishop, the Rt. Rev. William O. Gregg.
Previously, St. Stephen's was served by the Revs. Doug and Patti Hale, who lived in Ontario and led services at Baker City and Sumpter.
The Hales, who had ministered in La Grande, moved to the East in January 2003.
Now a supply priest the Rev. Dick Thew of Cove travels to Baker City twice a month to deliver a sermon and serve Holy Communion.
For the remaining two Sundays, worship is in the hands of the congregation.
"When we realized that we didn't have the funds to hire a full-time priest, we started dividing up the duties among ourselves," said Aletha Bonebrake. "Our administration is done by the senior warden (Joel Bigelow) and secretary (Sylvia Bowers). The rest is done by the people."
Clergy has three offices
The clergy of the Episcopal Church consists of a bishop, priests and deacons.
The priests are the individuals who lead the service, which includes delivering the sermon and Holy Communion, providing pastoral care and taking care of all administrative duties.
"They're like an administrator, a CEO," Bonebrake said.
Women have been ordained as Episcopal priests since 1979, and there is no rule against marriage in the priesthood.
"Ideally, each church has a priest," Boone said. "There are quite a few churches in the diocese that don't have one."
Boone was ordained as a deacon in January 2002.
The role of a deacon is to assist the priest during the services by leading prayers, setting up the table for Holy Communion and assisting with communion.
Deacons also visit homebound or sick church members to pray with them and serve communion.
"A deacon can choose a ministry, like going to the prison and ministering there," Boone said.
Several St. Stephen's parishioners are also preachers who lead the morning prayer services, which are those not conducted by a priest.
These include Bonebrake, Mike Chase, Mike Durgan and Doug Boone.
Elaine Joseph is currently in training to be a lay reader, which enables her to help the priest with Holy Communion, and lead the service but not deliver the sermon at morning prayer.
Chase and Bonebrake are currently studying to be ordained as priests, using their Saturdays to attend classes around the state.
"It's wherever there's a seminary-trained priest," Bonebrake said.
After their training is complete, Bonebrake and Chase will be ordained by the bishop, which will allow them to deliver the sacraments at St. Stephen's, a helpful backup when the supply priest is unable to make it to town for the service.
Locally trained clergy is becoming more and more common, Connie Boone said. "There are not that many people who want to go to seminary and become priests."
Of the 23 churches in the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Oregon, about half have locally trained clergy in addition to seminary-trained priests, said Diane Adams, secretary for the diocese.
Sermons now pertain to Baker City
In addition to the licensed preachers, the Episcopal service includes other readers from the congregation.
"People from the congregation are what they call lectors. They read from the Old and New Testament," Boone said.
The preacher's Sunday messages were sermons provided on the Episcopal Church Web site, Bonebrake said.
"They supply sermons that are written by clergy people," she said.
About a year ago, they decided to skip the pre-written talks and create their own.
"The canned ones were very literate, but kind of irrelevant," Bonebrake said. "The ones we do are related to our community and who we are," she said, adding that the preaching helps the people interpret the lessons for their lives.
Worship services are held each Sunday at 9 a.m.
Lisa Britton is a reporter for the Baker City Herald.