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One pastor, two churches

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Posted: Sunday, January 2, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 9:27 pm, Sun Mar 27, 2011.

SULLIVAN – Even though she’s new to town, Sullivan feels a lot like home to Rev. Kaileen Hogan-Brink, who recently took the helm as pastor of First Presbyterian and Peace Lutheran churches.

Hogan-Brink, who has a Standard Poodle service dog that follows her wherever she goes, was born in Ohio and grew up in a small farming town near Lake Erie. Although she most recently lived in South Carolina where temperatures tend to be much milder than in the Midwest, she says: “Sullivan feels very much like home.”

At one time, she had relatives here. “My grandmother grew up in Ferguson so she had family here,” she said.

The mother of two grown children, Hogan-Brink is excited about serving as the pastor of both churches, which formed a partnership in 2008. First Presbyterian Church could no longer afford to pay a full-time pastor, so the congregations joined and paid one full-time pastor to split time between First Presbyterian Church and Peace Lutheran Church. Rev. Zac Sturm was the pastor serving the churches at the beginning of the process, followed by Peter Rupprecht, who served as interim pastor. The joint ministry was not simply an outreach project or a program, but a commitment of the churches to walk together with one shared pastor while still maintaining their individual denominational identities.

“The joint-denomination opportunity is terrific,” said the recently ordained Hogan-Brink. “I think it says a lot about the congregations that they have an open community of faith. It’s an exciting opportunity and I wanted to be part of that.”

Hogan-Brink previously spent several years as a hospice chaplain, as well as a youth group leader at various churches. She was a licensed mental health counselor, but always felt called to ministry. “I always worked in the church, but I wanted to be a pastor,” she said.

That’s when she went to seminary and got her master’s degree in divinity. Hogan-Brink was then ordained Dec. 5 after moving to Sullivan. The fact that a Lutheran pastor was ordained in a Presbyterian church is rare – especially in Sullivan – and pays tribute to the strong partnership between the churches, she said.

Since being ordained, Hogan-Brink has been busy dividing her time between First Presbyterian Church and Peace Lutheran Church. And so far, she loves it. “For two congregations to have a joint venture is unusual, but they’ve made a commitment to support the partnership,” she said. “It’s a testament to the fact that they’re open to learning the things that are unique and different (about their respective congregations) and sharing the things that are the same.”

Hogan-Brink says she’s looking forward to getting to know the Sullivan community better and learning how both churches can serve the needs to the community. She’s especially excited about continuing and expanding several outreach programs for Sullivan youth and families.

The new pastor whose hobbies include painting and photography is upfront about her four-legged friend. Tique, which is short for Sweet Mystique, is Hogan-Brink’s mobility service dog who can open doors, turn off lights and more. “She helps me balance and walk,” said Hogan-Brink, who walks with a cane. “She’s a working dog, but she’s for mobility not sight.”

Hogan-Brink is grateful everyone in both congregations have made her feel welcome. Members at both churches are glad she’s here. “We’ve very happy to have her,” said Tonette Barnes, who serves as clerk of session at First Presbyterian Church. “She comes with a very good background and she’s very easy to get along with. We’re all just really anxious to start our new church life together.”

Peace Lutheran Church member Bob Anderson, who served on the search committee for the new pastor, said Hogan-Brink’s personality and ministry training made her a great candidate for the job. “She’s very dynamic, she’s a real people-person and she’s well-trained in the ministry,” he said. “She was just ordained as an official Lutheran pastor, but she has the willingness to learn and take on two congregations.”

(Jaime Mowers can be reached at 860-NEWS or by e-mail at editor@sullivanjournal.com)

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