By Deborah Hogshead
For the Troy Daily News
TROY — The Rev. Donna Morton’s defining characteristics aren’t her hair color and tattoos. It’s her acceptance of other people and her high energy that set her apart.
“All of us want to be accepted, and church is one place where we should be able to come and be accepted and loved for who we are. That’s how Jesus loved,” said Morton, the newly designated pastor of St. John’s United Church of Christ.
When St. John’s previous pastor retired in December of last year, the church council decided to search for a designated pastor who, after a year, could be called to fill the pulpit long term if all parties agreed to a continued relationship.
“We are delighted that Rev. Donna and St. John’s have found each other,” said Ginny Beamish, church council president. “Choosing a designated pastor eliminates the need for an interim pastor, who could not become our long-term called pastor, no matter how much mutual admiration we might have had for each other.”
Morton’s first contact with St. John’s was through a telephone interview. She knew little about the church beforehand.
“To go in with that little bit of information, to have all the personalities just click, to feel the warmth of the group right through the phone and not having had a chance to research, when that kind of thing happens, there’s the feeling that God had his hand in this,” Morton said. “And I could see this wonderful greatness and potential in them. And the strength they showed to run their own church for nine months is just incredible and admirable. And as a pastor, to be with a group so self-motivated is truly a gift.”
“It was Rev. Donna’s high energy that really sparked our interest in her,” Beamish said. “Even though she was serving a small church in a small town, she had instituted a variety of programming for both her church and her community. Since she has been here, she has transferred that energy to our church and to our community. New ideas are taking shape, and new activities are underway.”
One new ministry already in the works since Morton’s arrival in August is “Faith, Food Family Fun Night.” Free and open to the public, this monthly event provides families with an evening meal and an opportunity to worship and play together.
“At our church, you don’t have to worry if your kids are noisy,” Morton said. “Kids-in-church-being-kids is a sign of a healthy church, a sign that your church is alive.”
Ordained in 2014, Morton served the Barneveld Congregational UCC in Barneveld, Wis., before moving to Troy. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University and a master’s of divinity degree from Ecumenical Theological Seminary, where she is currently working on a doctorate.
A mother of two adult children, Morton’s life experiences include work as a substitute teacher, teaching assistant for developmentally disabled children, university research assistant, and physical therapist assistant and clinical instructor.
And Morton knows what it’s like to be poor.
“I spent a significant amount of time living in poverty. I know what it’s like to have nothing and to spend a great deal of time to make something of yourself and do better for your family,” Morton said. “I’m in a unique position to understand what a lot of other people have gone through.”
Now about that hair color, which changes frequently.
“No matter what my hair color might be, it doesn’t change who I am as a person — that I’m delivering the message of God’s love,” Morton said. “And it tends to appeal to the younger kids. I can’t tell you how often the little ones thought I was some mythical creature. I’ve been asked if I was a fairy.”
Her tattoos play a role in her ministry, too.
“The ink is an expression of part of my belief system. My koi are representative of my children and my mission of making fishers of people,” Morton said. “All of my ink is representative of parts of my own life, my own challenges that I’ve overcome.”
Morton is excited to be in Troy.
“I love the vibe of the city itself,” Morton said. “This is probably one of the most friendly places I’ve ever been.”
On Oct. 9, members of St. John’s will celebrate their new relationship with Morton. The Rev. Kathryn Anadein, designated association minister for the Southwest Ohio Northern Kentucky Association of the United Church of Christ, will lead the celebration.
For more information about St. John’s UCC and its programs, visit http://stjohnsucctroyohio.org or call (937) 335-2028.
Deborah Hogshead is a resident of Troy