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Growing congregation loses popular pastor


A minister who saw his congregation double in size at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Hampstead has left to become assistant pastor at a larger church in Lancaster, Pa.

The Rev. John M. Smaligo moved last week to Lancaster, where he will begin duties July 1 as associate pastor of the 1,800-member St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Church.

"St. Mark's was a real blessing in my life," Mr. Smaligo said. "I thoroughly enjoyed the Hampstead community."

Mr. Smaligo, 40, arrived in Hampstead six years ago from the Pittsburgh area, where he had attended school and took his first pastoral position. St. Mark's was drawing about 90 people a week for Sunday service when he got here. By the time he left, attendance was up to about 220. The membership is about 550.

"It was his charisma, his way of making people comfortable and happy," said secretary Nancy Klein. "He was in more than he was out, because he cared about a lot of people, visiting the sick and shut-ins."

Mr. Smaligo said he couldn't take credit for the increase in attendance.

"I'd say it was the people of the church," he said. "It's a very supportive congregation. I think when someone entered its doors, they felt comfortable and welcome."

By all accounts, Mr. Smaligo was a popular and accessible minister. His wife, Mary, was the church's music director, and she taught music at Spring Garden Elementary School. Both were active in community projects, in and out of the church. They have three young children.

NB "To me, his key word is 'joy,' " said Nancy Asendorf, a church

member. "I don't think I ever heard him deliver a sermon without using the words 'joy' or 'rejoice' about half a dozen times.

"That's what he's all about, is joy, and wherever he and his family go, they brighten up the place," said Mrs. Asendorf, whose husband, David, is vice president of the church council and a close friend of Mr. Smaligo's.

Mr. Smaligo was a member of the Lions Club, and organized the club's annual Halloween party and the Easter egg hunt. On Christmas, he dressed as Santa for the club's party for town children.

He also coordinated 180 North Carroll participants in the Crop Walk for the Hungry, a nationwide fund-raising effort. A quarter of the approximately $6,000 raised went to Northeast Social Action Program, a local charity; the rest was given to other organizations.

Vicar Melvina Stricklin is taking over some of the church's pastoral duties for six weeks, until the congregation can get an interim pastor while it searches for a permanent replacement for Mr. Smaligo.

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