GREENWICH — The delicate chimes of handbells signaled the beginning of the Rite of Installment at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on Saturday morning.
White-gloved women rang the bells, a 30-year tradition, and ushered in 11 Lutheran clergymen in white robes tied with white ropes. Cubist-style stained glass windows diffused the noon light in jewel tones.
After seven vacant months without a pastor to lead the congregations of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in central Greenwich and First Lutheran Church in Byram, parishioners from both churches welcomed the Rev. Evan Scamman with excitement and relief. Pastoring two churches is already uncommon, but his churches represent two districts of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a traditional denomination of the Lutheran Church.
“I’m relieved,” St. Paul’s congregation vice president Laura Dianis said. “I’m excited for what lies ahead.”
Only 2 miles separate the two parishes — with one on Delavan Avenue and the other across the street from Greenwich Town Hall. But they represent the New England District and the Slovak Evangelical Lutheran Church, a nongeographical district of formerly Slovakian churches.
As Eastern Europeans settled in American mill towns, they formed churches and held Slovakian services. Three generations later, English unites the churches while the district lines separate them. Scamman will split his time between the churches, celebrating an early service at St. Paul and a late service at First Lutheran.
For the service, he sat in a chair, chocolate brown wood and velvet the color of wine, where his five predecessors sat for their installation rites since the church’s founding in 1902. The Rev. James Douthwaite, pastor of Saint Athanasius in Virginia, read from the Old and New Testaments and the gospel, each passage a reflection on the role and work of a pastor.
“The readings are actually part of the historic lectionary,” Scamman said. “For 1,500 years, those scriptures have been read the eighth Sunday after Trinity, so it just kind of fortuitously were perfect readings for an installation. I couldn’t have picked better ones if I had chosen them myself.”
His wife, Lena, and the couple’s daughter, Katie, an incoming freshman at Greenwich High, sat up front.
The family moved to Greenwich a week ago after four years in the Midwest — three in Fort Wayne, Ind., and one in Lincoln, Neb., where he completed his vicarage, a kind of internship. The trio is excited to be near water again, Lena said. Both she and her husband of nearly 16 years grew up near the other coast, along the shore of Washington’s Puget Sound.
“It’s nice living next to beaches and mountains,” Katie said.
Her dad agreed: “Even driving through town and going up a little hill, it’s like ‘Oh yeah, this is great.’”
Greenwich was a complete surprise, Lena Scamman said. Evan Scamman learned of his assignment on “call night,” when the placement coordinator announces the destination church of every graduating minister.
The congregation of St. Paul’s gathered that same “call night” to watch a live-stream of the service, waiting to catch a glimpse of their new pastor. Dianis prepared for the Scamman family’s arrival, even planning a pantry party.
Without a pastor, the lay people had been leading the services themselves, reading from sermons that pastors posted on the synod’s website and receiving communion once a month from a visiting minister, Dianis said.
“It’s a lot of work,” she said.
Dianis understated the effort the parishioners made, so Lena Scamman jumped in.
“It is a ton of work, that a few key people have done for a very long time, and they’ve done a very good job of it, a very good job of it,” she said.
Dianis conceded: “We all pitched in.”
When a church is vacant, attendance drops off, Scamman said. St. Paul’s hasn’t experienced the decline because of the parishioners’ work and dedication, she said.
“The leadership of the church stepped forward, and everyone got involved,” Dianis said. “It pulled us together, actually.”
The Rev. Ben Loos served St. Paul’s in addition to First Lutheran, Dianis said. Loos came to First Lutheran six years ago, and when St. Paul’s pastor left three years into Loos’ ministry, he started serving as the church’s interim pastor.
For the congregation and the new pastor, the transition is similar to a new relationship, said Benjamin Mayes of Concordia Theological Seminary who was Scamman’s church history professor.
“There’s a time when you’re getting to know the other person, and figuring out how to work together best, and figuring out what annoys this other person, and what might annoy me, and there’s a time of finding how we’re going to live together well,” Mayes said. “But I’m confident that things are going to go great.”
He drove to Connecticut for this rite with his family in support of his friend and former student, making a road trip out of it. Mayes knew Evan Scamman before he taught him, through his wife’s friendship with Lena Scamman, who co-led a support group for barren women.
Evan Scamman was a non-traditional student, Mayes said.
“I don’t think he went through four years of college, but he went through our master’s program and was able to do everything very well,” he said, praising Scamman as smart and inquisitive.
Scamman was homeschooled and earned a GED at 16. He went to work as a fabricator at a local sign company in Washington state, where he stayed for 20 years. Then he and his wife started discussing the possibility of seminary.
“It seemed like a crazy idea, but as soon as we started talking about it, it seemed right,” Scamman said. “We took the first step, we took the second. We waited to see if there was a brick wall, and there wasn’t.”
He quit his job and earned an associate’s degree from Grays Harbor College in Washington in eight months. He and his wife sold their house and moved to Indiana, where he enrolled in the four-year program at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne and graduated in May with a master’s of divinity.
Taking those steps was risky — completing the seminary and receiving an assignment are not guaranteed, Scamman said.
“You don’t know until today, or until three months ago, you don’t know if God is going to send you,” he said.
Seminarians and their family members don’t have a home for four years, Scamman said. He helped at a local church for a while at Concordia, then he interned (seminarians call it a vicarage) at a church in Lincoln and spent one more year in Indiana before getting his assignment and graduating.
“We are way too good at moving,” Scamman said. “We threw away all our boxes.”
Hopefully, they will stay in Greenwich for the next 40 years, he said. For his wife, the promise of decades in one spot means having a church family for the first time in six years.
“I think the best part will be getting to know our church family,” she said. “It’s been a long time.”
Cousins and second-cousins of the Scammans populate the Northeast, so the three moved closer to family though they swapped coasts.
“It’s like moving back home to a home we never lived at,” he said.