By Jim Sullivan
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Growing up the son of a foreign services officer, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church assistant rector, the Rev. Oliver Jones, 59, has led an eclectic life — and that is a good thing both for him and his flock, since he is an ordained Lutheran minister.
“The Mass will always seem the same really, whether you go to a Catholic or an Episcopal or a Lutheran church,” Jones said. “In my perspective, I don’t really care. The niceties of theology are something that somebody else can deal with. That’s my attitude on that.”
Ordained as a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 2008, Jones began serving as the assistant rector to the Rev. Martha Hubbard at St. Paul’s in 2011.
“A lot of churches have part-time clergy,” Jones said. “We’re blessed to have one and a half.”
Jones was brought to the North Shore working in the high-tech business in the 1980s and settled with his wife, Carolyn, in Andover for a number of years. Always a man of faith, Jones was moved to join Carolyn in her Lutheran faith in 1997. When the two decided to make their then-summer home in Newburyport into their permanent address, Jones found the opportunity to do his pastoral work at St. Paul’s.
“I do weddings, I do funerals, I clean the toilets when they need it sometimes,” Jones said, laughing, of his part-time position. “I really like working with the young people. At this time, we’re planning some efforts for the young people for the churches in Newburyport, Groveland and Amesbury. We’re going to do some stuff together this summer and that kind of stuff is just terrific. Our young people get to know other people.”
Jones and his congregation have also been involved in a more ambitious outreach program of late, conducting an annual mission to El Salvador.
“I went there with a group of our people last July and we’re going there again, I think, in February,” Jones said. “We work with an organization there called Cristosal, and they work with communities that have problems getting support from the government. It’s both an economic and human rights approach to developing the human potential of the people in these villages. The last time we took about eight (people) and this time I expect to take about the same number.”
While helping those in need is a part of Jones’ calling, that last trip to El Salvador also provided him with a memorable moment he never saw coming.
“We went to the church where (Bishop) Oscar Romero was assassinated while saying Mass,” said Jones. He stood at the altar where Romero was assassinated. “Someone asked me, ‘Why do you think, when he saw that guy with the rifle come in, why didn’t he run away?’ And I said, ‘I can’t speak for him but for me, when I’m doing Mass, it’s like it’s not me.’ Romero must’ve been in a place where he didn’t rely on his own personal courage. He must’ve been relying on the courage of Jesus, and I get that.”
Jones said he has gotten to know the city of Newburyport well, and from a different perspective than most.
“Newburyport is a fascinating place,” Jones said. “The people in my flock are really generous and they are really interested in trying new things. There are just some of the greatest imaginations among them. To the visitors who come in from out of town, Newburyport seems like it’s a great place to visit.
“But I think that it’s also a great place to live because it’s got all this economic diversity. It’s got jobs, it’s got people in need and it’s got generous people who give. It’s not your typical type of suburb and that makes it a terrific place to work in a ministry.”