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Lutheran minister lends a hand

January 28, 2012
Meg Alexander - Staff Writer , Fairmont Sentinel

FAIRMONT - The Rev. Jackie Ziemer was ordained at Immanuel Lutheran Church, but she fits in well at St. Martin's Episcopal Church.

Ziemer recently was appointed transition priest at the church, filling in for the congregation until an Episcopalian priest is found.

Priests in the Episcopal Church are not assigned. Instead, a committee at St. Martin's put together a profile describing their church and community. Candidates, likewise, put out a personal profile. Ideally, a match is made.

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WILLING?TO?SERVE?— The Rev. Jackie Ziemer has been appointed transition priest at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Fairmont. Ziemer was ordained a Lutheran but is able to serve the St. Martin’s congregation thanks to a sharing agreement between the Episcopal Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

But finding a priest willing to move to a rural area isn't always easy. Just like rural medical centers have difficulty recruiting physicians, small congregations can have a tough time recruiting spiritual leaders.

About 12 years ago, the Episcopal Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America reached a ministerial sharing agreement that acknowledges their common missions.

"Part of the reason was for situations like this," Ziemer said. "Not a lot of Episcopal churches are in close proximity to share clergy."

The two denominations might seem to an outsider like they don't have much in common, but there is such diversity within individual congregations of each church that labels like "conservative" and "liberal" are hard to apply, Ziemer said. "It's so hard to generalize - the breadth of worship expressions are so broad anymore."

What Lutherans and Episcopals do share, she noted, is their liturgical background.

St. Martin's has been without a priest in charge since May, when the Rev. Winnie Mitchell left. Ziemer was called in at that time for "pulpit supply," which mostly entailed leading Sunday morning worship. As the appointed transition priest, her hours and duties have expanded.

Ziemer lives with her husband, daughter and herd of 50 goats on an acreage west of Ceylon. She was ordained at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Dunnell in 2000, but she continues to work at STEP with adults with disabilities.

"In some areas, dual-career clergy are becoming more common," Ziemer said, "especially for congregations that cannot afford a full-time clergy."

She relates her job with STEP to her work as a minister: "St. Martin's ministers to people on the edge, people who are considered 'marginal.' The folks I work with at STEP are the same. It's good to make them feel at home and welcome - just as they are.

"Other churches might say they are willing to embrace everyone, but here at St. Martin's, people are willing to have intense conversations about what that really means."

Serving at an Episcopal church, particularly at St. Martin's, isn't a stretch for Ziemer.

"I've always had a broad ecumenical perspective ... it's helpful in situations to ask what do we have in common, what can we share that allows us to work together?" she said. "Maybe it's about what unifies us but doesn't make us uniform. That's kind of been my focus.

"I think in our culture - even our church culture - so much of our rhetoric is polarizing. If the church can be a model for finding common ground that will benefit our culture and our communities."

Ziemer holds St. Martin's up as an excellent example of that ideal. It's one thing to pen a sharing agreement between denominations, but it's another thing to carry through with it.

St. Martin's has proven its willingness to accept diversity, she said, "because I'm part of that diversity."



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