At the end of the online worship service on Reformation Sunday, Oct. 25, Atonement Lutheran’s Council President Pete Kraack offered a prayer for Pastor Ed Milliken and his wife, Lucy, on the conclusion of their call to the church. “Help Pastor Ed and Lucy and all of us to live with courage and gladness in the future,” Kraack said. “As they have been a blessing to us, we now send them forth to be a blessing to others.”
At noon that day, Pastor Ed and Lucy greeted an hour-long procession of cars — stretching through the church parking lot and out onto the highway — as masked members of Atonement, including children and pets, drove by. They brought gifts cards, and words of gratitude for the Millikens’ ministry. The caravan was the first time church members were together since mid–March, when COVID-19 closed the church. Many reflected that the virtual celebration made them realize not only how much they miss each other, but also how grateful they are for the church family with Pastor Ed’s leadership and support.
Describing the pain of having to “serve a congregation you love but never have a chance to see or touch,” Pastor Ed recently talked about his last months before retiring. Since COVID–19 shuttered the church, worship has been online. Pastor Ed stood in an empty sanctuary each Thursday to record his reflections, lessons and prayers for Sunday’s worship. No choir sang, no church members appeared. A pianist provided a prelude and postlude. Volunteers added musical solos to the services. But worship through a website — at home, without communion or community — is difficult and frustrating, he said. “Easter broke my heart, and Christmas is going to be even worse.”
Although Pastor Ed is taking November as vacation and officially ends his ministry Dec. 1, he has recorded several additional services to ease the transition to an interim pastor.
A native of Iowa, Pastor Ed’s major field of study was history. After college, he worked in teaching. He began attending a Lutheran church when dating Lucy, a college classmate who he married after graduation. Partly inspired by her pastor, he began seminary near Boston and lived in Manchester by the Sea, a wealthy local community. As a poor student trudging home from his internship, he recalls seeing red-coated horsemen going “off to the hounds” from palatial estates in the countryside.
Pastor Ed completed his training in St. Paul and then interned in Ritzville, Wash. His first call was to Poplar, Mont., followed by seven years in Spokane, Wash., and then 14 years at Trinity Lutheran Church in Silverton. In early 2008, after Atonement’s pastor became Bishop of the Oregon Synod, Ed applied to replace him. After a trial service, he fielded questions from the congregation. When asked his “strengths and weaknesses,” he bashfully admitted, “I hate seafood.” Despite this egregious shortcoming, the people of Atonement issued a call to him, and he has spent the last third of his ministry in Newport.
The couple plans to move to the valley, with easier access to their twin sons in Eugene and Beaverton and their daughter in northern California. They expect to travel, both to family and, perhaps, to Europe for a river cruise.
When asked what he would miss about his time here, Pastor Ed listed, first, the people. Then, there were summer barbecues, the men’s prayer breakfasts, singing in the choir (with post-rehearsal pints at Nana’s). There were challenging discussions in the adult forum, laughter with the children’s sermons, weddings, baptisms, festivals of Christmas and Easter. Finally, Pastor Ed reflected, the celebration of his 30th anniversary in ministry six years ago was a high point.
The church’s “drive by send-off” was no match for those gala festivities, but the Millikens still cherish that memory, among many others, of their blessed Newport adventure.