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Mon Valley Lutheran churches welcome new pastor

Joe Napsha
| Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, 4:09 p.m.

Lutheran parishioners in the mid-Mon Valley have a new minister who will be working with the six-church parish that stretches from Monongahela to Smithton to West Newton.

The Rev. Matthew Stabe, 53, of Scottdale, the former pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Ministry in Scottdale, joins two other pastors serving the Mid Mon Valley Lutheran Parish. Stabe, who began his new assignment on Dec. 1, replaces the Rev. Kenneth H. Thompson, who retired in May.

“It's been a challenge. I did not anticipate the time spent commuting,” from his home in Scottdale to churches in Charleroi, Monessen and Monongahela, Stabe said.

Stabe, a native of Cleveland, had been pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church since 2003 and a minister since 1997.

Stabe joins the Rev. Allen Riethmiller of Christ Lutheran Church in West Newton and the Rev. Jack E. Hernstrom at Lynnwood Lutheran Church in Washington Township in the pulpit. The trio are serving Christ Lutheran in West Newton, Christ Lutheran in Charleroi, St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran in Monessen, Grace Lutheran in Monongahela, Hope Memorial Lutheran in Smithton and Lynnwood Lutheran.

Stabe was elected by the members of the six area churches in October. At the same time, Grace Lutheran Church voted to join the cooperative ministry, effective in December.

The pastors are accustomed to doing two services in two different churches on Sunday, Riethmiller said. The parish also has a Saturday evening service in Monessen, Riethmiller said.

“In essence, each church has three ministers. We have shared pastoral duties during the week,” Riethmiller said.

Before entering Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, Stabe served from 1979 to 1983 in the U.S. Navy. He was aboard the guided missile armed destroyer U.S.S. Sellers, which sailed in Europe and the Middle East as far as Singapore,

The cooperative ministry that area Lutheran churches have formed has allowed some churches to remain open and that model is not unusual among some Lutheran churches, said the Rev. John R. Spangler, executive assistant to the president for communications at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg.

The Mon Valley Lutheran churches formed into a parish in January 2011 to accommodate churches that did not have full-time ministers, such as Hope Memorial Lutheran Church. St. Andrew's Lutheran Church in Brownsville considered joining the cooperative parish, but Riethmiller said that parishioners in Brownsville voted against the proposal.

“We're seeing a lot of congregations combining into a parish model ... because of difficulties in sustaining full-time ministers,” Spangler said.

“There is a whole lot more they can do together than they can do separately,” said the Rev. Sarah Lee-Faulkner, assistant to the bishop of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. The synod is based in McCandless, Allegheny County.

The Lutheran church also is in a period where there is a shortage of pastors because of retirements, Spangler said. That differs from 2008, when senior ministers returned to the pulpit because their pensions suffered from the plunge in the stock market.

“We currently have a number of pastors who are retiring, and the congregations can't afford (full-time) pastors,” Lee-Faulkner said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jnapsha@tribweb.com or 724-836-5252.

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