Joseph Ekeberg is not shy — which probably why he has enjoyed such a long career in the clergy.
But this gregarious pastor is known for far more than just spreading the word of the Lord on Sunday mornings. He has a reputation for taking his love of ministry on the road, and very soon he might well be in your neighborhood.
Ekeberg spent some 30 years in the Lutheran ministries, most notably starting the parish in Tolland in the 1980s, a religious endeavor that continues to thrive to this day, as well as time at parishes in Glastonbury and Bristol before retiring nearly three years ago.
"But retirement did not mean Ekeberg was hanging up his collar. He is now interim minister at Trinity Lutheran Church off Howe Avenue, a neighborhood with homes closely grouped together, and a perfect location for Ekeberg to return to his traveling roots.
It was during his work creating and building the Lutheran parish in Tolland that Ekeberg used an unusual technique in attracting interest. He rode his 10-speed door to door, talking to residents about the new parish, and religion in general. It might be decades later, and the 10-speed may have truly been retired, but Ekeberg sees a piece of his past could help energize Trinity Lutheran Church’s future.
“We all have gifts, mine is I am not be shy,” said Ekeberg, with a laugh, as he talked of meeting residents, door-to-door, beginning later this month.
Ekeberg said he has been with Trinity Lutheran Church for the past three months, and he has made numerous connections in the surrounding neighborhood and the community in general. But getting to know more of the city’s residents face to face is more Ekeberg’s style.
“The numbers not what they used to be … the number of participating of young families is not what used to be, and Trinity, in that respect, is not much different from other places,” said Ekeberg. “So I decided to do what I do best, talk to people.”
Ekeberg said while walking door to door makes sense for a start-up parish, not a long-established ministry such as Trinity, he felt, “Why not give it a shot.” While he rode alone in Tolland, Ekeberg said he will be joined for his walk by church member Kris Bourret as the pair tried to drum up interest in a church which has a strong church leadership system, but only some 30 regular attendees Sundays.
“I started canvassing the community in Tolland on my 10-speed,” recalled Ekeberg. “Tolland back then was pretty rural, no sidewalks, and I went exclusively, for the first three months, door to door. It helped develop that church, which still thrives to this day.
“Low participation is not a good thing for any church,” added Ekeberg. “The church still offers some things. We certainly need to grow to survive. This (door-to-door) is something I did before, and it also me to get to know the community better. I also want people to know, I am not here to take them away from other parishes. That is something I never want to do.”
Ekeberg, while retired and living in West Hartford with his wife, who is still working full-time, decided that simply appearing on Sunday mornings was not enough and informed church laypeople that he would be around two days a week as well.
Trinity Lutheran Church, located at 183 Howe Ave., was founded in 1899 and is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Ekeberg hopes his latest treks get the word of Trinity Lutheran Church to the community, so if there is a need or interest, those people will have a point of contact.
“I think there is a need for people to talk about the importance of church life and what faith can bring to people,” said Ekeberg, who admits not knowing what his future holds at Trinity, saying only that he could remain interim for at least a year.
“I will introduce myself and Kris, and let people know about our church and see what interest there is in our parish,” said Ekeberg. “There are good things going on here, and in churches all over. This is a chance to meet people, have conversations, and maybe along the way develop the size of our parish and make people understand the importance of church life.”
brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com