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WV cleric lives out ecumenism in three congregations

WV cleric lives out ecumenism in three congregations

In Harper’s Ferry, WV, the Rev John Unger an ordained Lutheran (ELCA) pastor leads the local Episcopal, Lutheran and Methodist churches in town, leading worship each Sunday at all three.

From Religion and Ethics Newsweekly

ABERNETHY: When the 8 am Episcopal service is over, John walks a block to his Lutheran church to lead the 9:30 service there. John talks his sermons, which are slightly different at each church. Cara Unger, John’s wife, is a school teacher who also teaches at the Sunday school here.

Unger thinks the interaction between his three churches can be a model for what could be done around the country: individual congregations working together but still keeping each one’s distinctive traditions. He also thinks the example here would be great for national politics.

UNGER: If these three denominations can sit down and have Bible study and dialogue and communion and still go back to their respective positions and doctrines and traditions, surely we ought to be able to do the same thing in our political realm. You are not going to be any less a Republican or a Democrat if you two start talking.

ABERNETHY: When Unger talks politics he is on familiar ground. He is not only the pastor of three churches he is also a state senator, indeed, a Democrat who has been the majority leader of the West Virginia Senate.

Unger says he is careful to not bring his politics into church, but does bring his faith into politics and his role as a legislator. Unger has long sought to integrate his faith into his work;

after graduation from West Virginia University he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. He spent a year with Mother Teresa in India. He was a missionary in Hong Kong. He helped boat people fleeing Vietnam and Kurdish refugees in Iraq.


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Gary Paul Gilbert

You are welcome, John! It all recalls Jim Wallis’s approach of bringing Christians together to help the poor, while sidestepping women and LGBTs. At least Wallis now supports civil marriage equality–now that other people have done the work.

Gary Paul Gilbert

John B. Chilton

Thank you, Gary, that answers my question.

Gary Paul Gilbert

I would like to know what John Unger means by bringing his faith into his job of legislator. West Virginians for Life has endorsed him as a pro-life (anti-abortion) candidate. Here is a list of their approved candidates:


He is listed in District 16.

He can’t be committed to reproductive rights if he has had their endorsement.

The discussion about his record on the well-regarded blog West Virginia Blue said that he would not support adding sexual orientation to Virginia hate crimes law in 2007.

He is described as a conservative Democrat, though some have called him a progressive.

On abortion he is said to believe it should remain legal but be restricted, whatever that means.

Who knows what his current position is?

(But he surely has a conservative streak which may come from his religious background. The National Rifle Association gave him an A plus.)

At the very least, on social issues he is conservative.

On April 8, 2014 Unger voted to outlaw abortions after twenty weeks. The bill is supposed to

“protect unborn children who are capable of experiencing pain.”

The bill was HB 4741. The link is


Fortunately, the Governor vetoed that one.

Moreover, I question the model of church provided in the news story of the good minister who goes to three different congregations every Sunday, as if the congregations in themselves are merely passive recipients of the services of a clergy person.

Gary Paul Gilbert

John B. Chilton

@Gary, please provide evidence for your statement on Unger’s record so readers can decide.

His link at the WV legislature is:

A Democrat in the WV Senate, Unger is, among other things, chair of the Select Committee on Children and Poverty.

The link above includes legislation he sponsored in 2014 and media coverage.

Gary Gilbert

Unger saying he takes his faith into the state legislature may explain why his record on LGBT rights and women’s reproductive rights is awful. This is not good.

Gary Paul Gilbert

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