RIDGWAY — After finding doors closing on what he expected to be his career in college, Bethlehem Lutheran Church Pastor Erik Hart decided to walk through one that had been open for years. That door led him to 15 years serving the same community.
“This is actually my first call,” Hart noted. “I have two churches: Bethlehem Lutheran and Maria Lutheran. It’ll be going on 15 years in June.”
Originally from Youngstown, Ohio, Hart was first asked about joining the clergy when he was a teenager.
“When I was about 16, my confirmation pastor asked me if I was interested in going into the ministry,” he recalled. “I said, ‘No way.’ I was very shy and didn’t think I could speak in front of a large crowd.”
It would not be the last time he was asked. According to Hart, a few years later, another pastor asked him the same thing.
“I gave him the same reply,” he said.
It would happen a third time, with similar results, before Hart reconsidered.
“In my late 20s or early 30s, a third pastor asked me if I ever thought about going into the ministry,” he said. “Although, I gave him the same excuse. At the same time, everything I was going to college for was going nowhere.”
He recalled he was in school for nursing and not doing well in a required biology course. Hart said he considered going into physical therapy, but there was a three-year wait to get into the program.
“So the door was shut there too,” he said. “Finally, I thought about the three pastors leading me into ministry. I went back to Youngstown State to get my bachelor’s degree in psychology, then went on to Trinity Lutheran Seminary to receive my master’s degree and this is still me first call here at Bethlehem and Maria (Lutheran churches).”
According to Hart, his decision hasn’t disappointed him and –with his wife, Julie, and daughters, Jamie and Rachel –he fell into a community that he could recognize.
“Both of these churches are loving churches,” he said. “It’s easy to be in a place where people are like that. I’m half Swedish, so these two churches were started mainly by the Swedish populations. I was very familiar with the traditions that they celebrate.”