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Former pastor helped fight homeless and promoted religious unity

July 05, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

Editor's note: Don Stevenson is one of many people in the Tri-State area who are making a difference in their communities. To read about more of them, go to www.herald-mail.com, click on the Special Publications link and select Making a Difference 2008.

HAGERSTOWN -- Before he retired in December as pastor of Christ's Reformed Church in Hagerstown, the Rev. Don Stevenson was active in programs that helped the homeless and promoted child safety.

But one of Stevenson's most important contributions to the community, he said, was helping create a series of interfaith sermons after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Stevenson, 69, said the sermons promoted tolerance and cultural exchange by featuring speakers from almost every faith, including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism.

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He said the sermons were created to show that the majority of Muslims are decent people rather than murdering extremists.

"We were able to talk across cultural and religious lines," Stevenson said. "We were able to build friendships with what we did."

He said the sermons were so popular that the Public Broadcasting Service took photographs at the events to include in a television program that showed how Americans were coping after Sept. 11.

Stevenson was ordained in 1966 after earning his master's degree in divinity from Wake Forest University. He preached for about 10 years, but grew weary of the ministry and accepted a secular job in communications.

It was in 1986 that Stevenson rejoined the church, taking a job as pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Waynesboro, Pa. After a 10-year stint there, he transferred to Christ's Reformed Church in Hagerstown, where he spent some of his fondest years as a clergyman.

Stevenson said he misses dealing with his congregation, especially the elderly. But a code of ethics deters retired ministers from keeping spiritual relationships, he said.

"I'll cease being your pastor," Stevenson said. "I won't cease being your friend."

Stevenson, who was raised Baptist, said he joined the United Church of Christ because the denomination is open to people of all walks of life.

In retirement, Stevenson said he remains on the go by teaching ethics and philosophy at Hagerstown Community College. He also tries to absorb other religions by attending local mosques and Jewish temples, among other houses of worship.

"I'm really not retired ... I'm about a fourth retired," he said.

Stevenson lives in Hagerstown with Deborah, his wife of 22 years, and their dogs, Otley and Spencer.

Q&A with the Rev. Don Stevenson



Name: The Rev. Don Stevenson

Hometown: Hagerstown

Occupation: Instructor of philosophy and ethics at Hagerstown Community College and retired pastor of Christ's Reformed Church in Hagerstown

What is your proudest moment? "When my family is connected with one another. Those times ... I feel good about that."

Whom do you most admire, and why? "Historically, I think Harry Truman. He's my favorite president. The object of my faith is Jesus Christ of Nazareth."

What is the best piece of advice you ever received, and who gave it to you? "Stay with life - be present to life." John Steely, Stevenson's former professor at Wake Forest University.

What is the next goal you would like to achieve? "I want to put together a book about the journey (of life)."

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