St. James, Spidahl form new union [UPDATED]Published 9:57am Thursday, March 14, 2013 Updated 12:00pm Thursday, March 14, 2013
By Rian Bosse
It’s the little church by the lake, but after the Reverend Dr. Rod Spidahl’s first service last Sunday at St. James Episcopal church, it will be known for a little more in the Fergus Falls’ community.
Spidahl is the new leader of St. James, having been approved by its leadership committee to fill an open priest position. Spidahl, however, is not an Episcopalian.
“I feel like it’s groundbreaking,” said Spidahl. “I feel that there’s this new sense of hospitality and collaboration. It’s a fascinating sharing with a lot of cooperation. And I see that as exciting.”
Ordained as a minister in the Lutheran ELCA church, Spidahl will be taking over at St. James thanks to an agreement between the two denominations several years ago. Known as the Called to Common Mission agreement, the two established full communion together in 2000.
With the agreement, both the ELCA and Episcopal church recognized the other’s baptisms and ordinations, which means Spidahl will still be recognized and rostered by the Lutheran ELCA but will fulfill the full duty of an Episcopal priest.
Spidahl grew up in Fergus Falls and graduated from the University of Idaho for his undergraduate degree. He then returned home to attend the Lutheran Brethren Seminary. After, he traveled around the world teaching and preaching. His trips included an extended stay in Africa for five years, where he lived and learned from the local population and culture.
“There’s an African proverb that says if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together. And it struck me that this is a great place for that to be lived out,” said Spidahl. “I think all my life I have been on a journey of trying to find that community.”
Spidahl plans to use his background in teaching to expand the learning possibilities for the parishioners at St. James. While there may be differences, he hopes the church’s focus on building community will extend to the wider area. So far, he said he has had a solid backing from both Lutheran ELCA and Episcopal leadership in the area and state.
“I’ve felt nothing but support from leaders in the ELCA and friends in other Lutherans traditions,” said Spidahl. “I’ve had a lot of help and encouragement and that has been part of this joy, seeing all the support.”
But even with the similarities between the two churches, Spidahl said it will take a while before he is totally used to the new way of doing things.
“It’s a large learning curve,” said Spidahl. “Honestly, I was nervous, but there’s been a lot of help.”
Most of all, Spidahl hopes that the St. James community will be a model for the continued growth of Christianity towards unity of all those who practice within the faith.
“People want this,” said Spidahl. “Underneath people want to be together. They don’t want a lot of differences imposed along certain lines. They really want to be one.”