Kittaning pastor does more than just preach
KITTANNING -- Not many pastors are welcomed to a new church by a congregation of 14 unhappy and mistrustful people, but that's exactly the situation the Rev. David Wilson and his wife Gale found themselves in 1997.
Now more than a decade later, St. Paul's Episcopal Church has almost 100 members and Wilson says it's time for a change. Earlier this month, Wilson resigned as rector to accept a position as pastor at St. David's Episcopalian Church in Peters Township, Washington County.
"I arrived to what I would describe as a 'wounded' parish," Wilson said. "There had been a lot of problems here and because of certain situations the church's reputation was damaged. There was a lot of mistrust of clergy by the parishioners. There were only 14 members of the parish left when I held my first Sunday service here.
"There was no Sunday School, no youth ministry and only four, very elderly people made up the choir. By elderly I mean that they could all remember the events of Pearl Harbor and World War II. Those were difficult times, but my wife Gale and I rose to the challenge."
Wilson said rebuilding the church was a slow and difficult process. To rekindle interest in the church Wilson said he knew he had to gain people's confidence as a pastor. He became active in community affairs by joining the Kittanning Ministerium, and later, the Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs. He also became active with a Cub Scout troop.
"We realized the need for outreach and the need to become an effective force in the community. I asked members to support the local food bank and to do what we could to help alleviate poverty by aiding the local chapter of The Salvation Army."
While looking to temporal needs of the community, Wilson also had a concern for the community's and his parish's spiritual life. He was instrumental in establishing a community-wide marriage policy that was agreed to by many Kittanning area churches.
"Basically, the marriage policy defines marriage as a life long union in the traditional role of man and woman." he said. "It does not recognize same-sex marriage. As a church we also upheld a pro-life position. We supported Life Choices, a pro-life organization that counsels and aids expectant mothers. We also supported HAVIN, the local shelter for victims of spousal abuse. These things helped pull the church together and win back members who had left and attract new members."
While problems in his local parish have faded into history, Wilson said there are other and greater issues affecting the Episcopalian community in the United States. However, he said those issues have nothing to do with his resignation from St. Paul's.
Wilson was referring to what he believes is a coming split in the American church over the issue of homosexuality. Wilson said the issue came to the forefront when national Episcopalian leaders consecrated the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay member of the clergy, as bishop in Durham, N.H., in November 2003. About the same time Wilson said the church recognized same-sex marriages.
The Rev. Robert Duncan, Bishop of the Pittsburgh Episcopalian Diocese, vehemently opposed Robinson's consecration and the church's stand on gay marriages. Wilson said he and many members of St. Paul's are ardent supporters of Duncan's stand. Wilson said he feels the matter will divide the church in the near future.
"In October or November a vote will be taken on this issue," he said. "What is likely to happen is that the Pittsburgh Diocese will leave the Episcopal Church of the USA."
Wilson said what may come about as a result of a split is an affiliation with the Province of the Southern Curve, meaning a union of a number of Episcopalian churches in the U.S. with churches in the southern half of South America.
"I'm leaving St. Paul's" Wilson said, "but I'm not leaving serving the Lord. If a split happens, and it's likely that it will, our diocese will leave the Episcopal church but not the Anglican Community. We'll be faithful to a more biblical stance, that's all."
However, Wilson added that the divisive issue is not clear cut in every parish. He said many parishes will have people who want to remain with the present Episcopal church while others may vote to leave.
"The big issue will be property," he said. "The matter of who owns the churches will be settled in the courts and I can see the lawyers lining up already. All we can do in the meantime is pray and remain committed to what we believe the Bible teaches, and continue to preach the Gospel."
Wilson said one regret he has is that he missed an opportunity for fame and fortune in Hollywood.
"During the filming of the 'Mothman Prophecies' the film crew shot several scenes in our church,"' he said. "In one scene I actually shook hands with Richard Gere. As it turned out, those scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. We have a good chuckle about that even today."
Wilson, a native of the Philadelphia area, said he has worked full time in the Episcopalian ministry for the past 22 years. He and his wife Gale have two grown children, a son Greg, 30, who is teacher in the Butler School District, and a daughter, Hannah, 28, a fashion designer, living in New York City. The Wilsons will celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary in November.
During the past several days, Wilson spent several hours each morning at St. Paul's Church bidding farewells to members of his parish. His final service at St. Paul's is at 8 a.m. tomorrow.