Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Ordination of the Rev. Stephen Morse:
A Life of Humble & Faithful Service to God and His people
Written by Marsha MacKinnon/Webmaster Presbytery of Lake Erie
Not everyone has the opportunity to do what he or she loves for more than 50 years. Yet Rev. Stephen Morse has achieved that milestone. He gives all the glory to God. He is the first to tell you being a pastor is never just a job. He heard God’s call to him as a teenager in high school and has offered faithful service ever since.
On June 17, 2018, Rev. Morse received recognition from family and friends and special recognition from the Presbytery of Lake Erie marking the 50th Anniversary of his Ordination as a pastor. This celebration took place at Eastminster Presbyterian in Erie where Rev. Morse currently serves as pastor. In the Presbytery of Lake Erie, there are 62 minister members and 33 are honorably retired. There are eleven who have been ordained for more than 50 years. Rev. Morse now joins this select group.
In 2006, Rev. Morse officially retired after serving as pastor of Westminster church for 13 years. He thought he would look forward to retirement. He said, “after two days at home and watching daytime TV, I decided that wasn’t for me.” He went back to ‘work;’ serving as Pastoral Minister for the First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in Erie for eleven years, then as pastor in Westfield, New York for five years and now at Eastminster. Retirement is not on the agenda.
When asked about Rev. Morse, Dr. Dave Oyler, Head Presbyter, of the Presbytery of Lake Erie said, “Pastor Steve Morse has a passion for the Gospel and a love of the church! He has lived nearly half of his 50 years of ordained ministry in Erie County (Pennsylvania). Called to serve the Westminster Presbyterian Church, he began his ministry there on September 1, 1993. In those intervening years, he has served at Westminster, First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, Westfield, NY, and Eastminster Churches. In every situation, I have found Steve to be a wise churchman in the very best sense of the word. He has the heart of a pastor, and it empathetic to those who are in need. He seeks to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel in his sermons and his actions. He deeply understands the covenantal connections of being bound together with other believers. Unceasingly Steve will extend his wisdom in the church he is currently serving and with brothers and sisters in neighboring congregations. He has served in this presbytery with great energy, intelligence, imagination and love.”
On the anniversary of his ordination, Rev. Morse delivered a sermon titled “Hearing God’s Call.” He described this phenomenon as ‘a person to person call from God.’ He said this has nothing to do with logic or reason, convenience or practicality. It is a direct call to the unknown. It requires action, going from predictability to taking a risk. There are no guarantees of success or reward; it is a mission of perseverance. After 25 years in Erie, Pennsylvania, Rev. Morse said, “I ended up being in the place God wanted me to be.” He describes God’s call as getting up off the couch and moving forward to do new things and all along the way – and to trust in God.
On June 16, 1968, Stephen Morse was ordained in his home church in Midland, Michigan – Memorial Presbyterian. Then he answered God’s call to Albia, Iowa, and then to Ottumwa, Iowa. In 1973, he moved to Marshall, Minnesota and in 1978, he served as pastor in Rogers City, Michigan. In 1987, he answered a call to Birmingham, Alabama. Then in 1993, he accepted a call to Westminster in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Over the last fifty years, our church culture and the secular world has dramatically changed. We now live in a post-Christian world. How difficult is it today to pursue a call to be a pastor? What will it take our newest pastors to achieve 50 years of service? I presented those questions to Dr. Oyler who replied, “Rev. Steve Morse has lived in a whirlwind of change. He was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament just a few days after the assassination of Robert Kennedy and a few weeks after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. It was also at about that time that mainline churches (including Presbyterian) reached their highest membership numbers. Since then he has sought to be faithful in a post-Christian world – engaging dialogue to re-claim the core of the Gospel. The example Rev. Morse has set serves quite well for those who are called to future pastoral leadership. His core pastoral qualities are still needed – faithful commitment to the study of Scripture, prayer, listening to the Holy Spirit, building bridges of understanding to those who are called to be the church. At the same time, pastors in this next half century will also need to be entrepreneurs, connecting with new people groups and with people who have not grown up within a Christendom culture. Pastoral leadership will require being outside the doors of the church building in ways less necessary in recent generations. Pastoral leadership will demand flexibility in relating to systems and expectations, while remaining committed to the foundational message of the Gospel. The work Rev. Morse has engaged across these past 50 years serves as a foundation for pastors who will served in the next 50 years.”
When asked about his 50 years of faithful service, Rev. Morse offered this reflection: “I just wanted to serve the Lord and I felt a sense of call to serve the church and to be as faithful as possible. All the people I have met along the way have taught me many lessons. I think the greatest lesson I have learned is humility. To be humble and demonstrate humble leadership as a pastor. It is not about me.”
Rev. Morse has also made it his mission to be a life-long learner, to travel and to learn more about the world and the people in it. “I had a mentor who challenged me to get involved in continuing education, to go somewhere, do something, and take a class – every year. It was the best advice I ever got. I was renewed and I still do it,” Rev. Morse said.
Rev. Morse gives all the glory to God. He believes God has kept him rooted in faith and being a faithful servant. Declining church membership in a post-Christian world presents many challenges for church leaders today. Considering this reality and looking toward the future, Rev. Morse offered this observation, “Leadership in the church needs to be open to new ways of doing things, and a new way of doing church because what we are doing is not working.” There are no easy answers but we need to be thinking about them, and trying new avenues and I am all for that. I don’t know what we have to do to re-invent ourselves but we’ve got to do it if the church is going to have a future.”