PENDLETON
Fledgling church meets in home

Father Vincent Varnas swings a thurible to release incense during worship recently at the home of Merle and Linda Johnson in Pendleton.

“For where two or three gather in my name, I am there with them.”

Father Vincent Varnas, dressed in the vestments of an Anglican priest, processed to the altar, paused and bowed his head toward a wooden cross.

The two worshipers in the room joined him in a hymn.

“Oh, God of earth and altar,

bow down and hear our cry.”

Around them, instead of pews, were a sofa with fluffy pillows and a couple of love seats. So far, Father Vince, as he is known, shepherds a congregation of two: Merle and Linda Johnson. They will worship in the Johnson’s living room until the fledgling congregation of St. Paul’s Anglican Church grows. The brand-new home church at 119 S.W. Quinney Place is one of only three Anglican Province of America churches in the state, along with those in Wilsonville and Jacksonville. Merle assists Varnas by reading from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. Linda leads the hymns.

On this recent Sunday, they sang, knelt, prayed and praised God together. Occasionally, Linda tapped laptop keys to unleash piano accompaniment for worship songs. The music flowed from tiny speakers.

Varnas spoke in a voice worthy of a radio announcer. Indeed, the Air Force veteran once worked as a newscaster for Armed Forces Radio and Television Service at Sondrestrom Air Base in Greenland. The 72-year-old comes late to the ministry after a career as a labor relations manager with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In a backhanded sort of way, his radio voice provided a path to the priesthood.

“My wife said, ‘You have a good speaking voice. Why don’t you volunteer to be a lector?’” said Varnas.

Varnas, “a cradle Roman Catholic,” attended a Catholic church with his wife at the time. He decided to give lay reading a try and became a lector at their parish. Patricia later encouraged him to become a deacon and he enrolled at the Mt. Angel Seminary to earn a master’s in theology.

Sadly, Patricia died of lung cancer two weeks before Vincent graduated.

Varnas said his plans to become a deacon derailed shortly thereafter. Not wanting to leave his ailing wife on weekends, he had failed to attend a weekend program required by the Archdiocese. His bid to become a deacon was denied. An Anglican bishop encouraged him to pursue priesthood with the Anglican Church instead. Varnas prayed about the idea and ultimately made the switch.

“I believe God was calling me to do it,” he said. “How could I say no to God?”

Varnas previously served as one of the priests at St. Michael’s Anglican Church in Wilsonville. That’s where he met the Johnsons. Eventually, Merle and Linda moved to Pendleton to be near family and operate their business, the Johnson Insurance Agency. Though they once worshiped as Baptists, something clicked for them when they ventured inside the Anglican Church.

Varnas, who now divides his time between Wilsonville and Pendleton, agreed to help them start an Anglican Church in Pendleton, which had no church of that denomination.

“We just wanted to worship as Anglicans,” Linda said.

Merle said he loves the formal book of prayer which addresses a multitude of life’s concerns.

The Anglican Church, historically known as the Church of England, bears a close resemblance to the Roman Catholic Church.

They will continue to meet each Sunday at 10 a.m. in their living room until the space becomes too crowded.

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Contact Kathy Aney at kaney@eastoregonian.com or call 541-966-0810.

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