Father Tom White celebrates 50 years in ministry

Priest’s journey takes him from Gettysburg to Milton
May 29, 2020

When the Rev. Tom White was ordained 50 years ago, he had no idea he would still be in the ministry all these years later.

“I didn’t really think about it. I always took things day by day. Where did these 50 years go?” he said.

White was ordained on a Sunday, May 31, and he’ll celebrate his 50th year in ministry on a Sunday, May 31. 

For the past six years, White has served as the part-time minister at the Episcopal Church of St. John The Baptist in Milton. He spent most of his career working near Washington, D.C. and in western Maryland. He had retired before moving to Rehoboth Beach. 

White was born on Cape Cod, where his father was from, but soon moved to the Washington, D.C. area; his mother was from Arlington, Va. He was raised Lutheran and attended St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in D.C. White said he was active in church, taking part in prayer groups and youth ministry. 

He said he became interested in the ministry during college when he attended a weekend retreat at St. Peter’s. At the time, White said, the Lutheran Church and the Episcopal Church had merged and could share clergy. His original plan was to be a lawyer.

“I had feelings of being called to the priesthood,” White said. 

He discussed these feelings with his priest at St. Peter’s, and the priest advised that if White was interested, he should take a trip to Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pa. 

At the seminary, White said, he was inspired by the services, recalling the singing was uplifting and the hymns were powerful.

“It was an exciting service to be a part of,” he said.

White graduated from University of Maryland and applied for and was accepted at the Lutheran seminary. After graduating, he was ordained May 31, 1970. He recalled the moment when he kneeled, and the bishop and all the other priests laid their hands on him as he joined the priesthood.

“That was just a special moment,” White said.

His first two parishes were in congregations in small towns near Frederick, Md., Utica and Creagerstown. He spent a combined eight years at those two churches before being called to Epiphany Lutheran Church in Burtonsville, Md., where he spent 18 years and helped build a new church building. His final call was to the National Lutheran Home for the Aged in Rockville, Md., where he spent 12 years. 

White decided to move to Rehoboth, where he had vacationed for years, after his retirement from the Lutheran home. He said his mother had died, the last link holding him in D.C. 

In Rehoboth, he attended All Saints’ Episcopal Church, and when it was learned that he was a priest, members of the congregation recommended he meet with the bishop for the Lutheran/Episcopal church in Delaware. White said the bishop asked him to get his license, which he did, and then nothing happened until St. John The Baptist in Milton, whose pastor had recently left,  gave him a call about coming in for a one-time deal. 

But the congregation liked him, and he was asked to come back for Lent, Holy Week, Ash Wednesday and two Easter services. That morphed into doing mass twice a month, and in September 2019, he was asked to become the pastor on a part-time basis. 

It’s a job he has quickly grown to love.

“I’m blessed to serve this group of people. They’re great people,” White said, getting emotional. “They’re so loving and faithful. It’s just a great parish. I’m blessed to serve them.”

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