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This Week's Lead Story NicBay_F_300.jpg Home Page Last Updated: Feb 5, 2013 - 10:09:38 PM

Dawn Volpe Left City to Pastor Door County's Historic Ephraim Moravian Church
By Barbara Axelson
Apr 4, 2012 - 9:00:00 AM



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Pastor Dawn Volpe.
Pastoral – the thesaurus says it is rustic, countrified, rural, idyllic, green, and bucolic.
And its antonym is “urban.”

So how did a savvy New Yorker end up as a pastor in a pastoral setting, Ephraim, for instance? Well, in 2010, Dawn Volpe received a call to pastor Ephraim’s picturesque and historic Moravian Church, and she recalls that after living in Staten Island and pastoring one church in the Bronx and another near Washington DC, “I was willing to leave my much-loved pastorate of 19 years at Trinity Church in New Carrollton, Maryland, but I never dreamed of going this far West.”

So city and country met and mixed and the entire Volpe family, including husband Bob and their high-school-aged son Robert, answered the call of both a congregation and a country life. They were embraced in return. Pastor Dawn is a no-nonsense, let’s-get-it-done kind of person and so far, in a tenure of just 19 months, she has fulfilled the decade-old dream of extensive building refurbishment, initiated a wintertime monthly no-charge community luncheon so successful that the Sister Bay Moravian Church has emulated it, and, when not conducting Bible studies or participating in sunset Docks-ology services on the Anderson Pier, she’s gathering up members of her congregation to commemorate their special occasions at The White Gull Inn (“It’s important to be connected,” she explains)..

And of course she does the newsletter and her Sunday sermons, which the church regulars say you have to see to believe for the on-target preaching and applications for life in this “beautiful, but broken” world.

Ephraim Moravian Church on the right.
“When I saw Ephraim for the first time, it took my breath away;” she says. “The perception may be that I go at a hundred miles an hour to others’ 50.” She smiles, “I’m trying to slow down a bit and learning a lot of self control.”

The Moravians, a mainline Christian denomination that pre-dates the formation of the Lutheran church by 60 years, have a world membership of 985,000, with only about 22,500 in the U.S. Door County is well represented with additional congregations in Sturgeon Bay and Sister Bay.

It all began in the mid-1800s, when Andreas Iverson tromped across the ice from Green Bay to a wilderness on the shores of Eagle Harbor. That tough Norwegian, an ordained Lutheran minister who had gravitated to the Moravians, built the peninsula’s first church in 1853. Then, in 1883, Iverson’s successor, Pastor J. J. Groenfeldt, moved it from its original site on the lakeshore (up a hill no less, with the help of horses and logs) to its present address on Moravia Street.

The Sanctuary at Ephraim Moravian Church.
Although additions have been made, much of the sanctuary is original and the graceful white structure and its companion, Bethany Lutheran Church, at the foot of the hill (well, one hill, because it’s a pretty hilly neighborhood there), proudly raise their steeples in what has become a much-loved traditional view in the heart of the little town of almost 300 souls. Both buildings were listed on the National Historical Register in 1985.

A round of renovations, just completed with the able assistance of Forestville Builders, added accessibility features and beautifully rendered storage accoutrements, as well as uncovering a stunning plank floor. Colorful, often historic, pictures adorn the walls.

With a wintertime congregation from 60 to 80, and an influx of summer visitors that brings the number to around 110, the prevailing attitude is Can Do. A nursery, recently created in a spare room by Bob Volpe, accommodates, at this date, two very important little boys – six-year-old Logan and a young baby, Mylo. Pastor Dawn says, “It’s not about crowds. If you don’t have it, they won’t come,” referring to the younger people who will flesh out the demographics of older parishioners. Leap of faith? Maybe, but everyone’s on board with it.

Her previous church, a center of racial and ethnic diversity, abounded with urban challenges. Homeless people could sleep in the church, and, in a more personal instance, a young girl with a musical gift, who grew up in the church, was the recipient of a young artist’s scholarship to the famed Tanglewood Institute in Massachusetts, after the church held a fundraiser to raise half of her tuition and the institution matched the rest.

Summer Docks-ology services on the dock in Ephraim.
One Moravian principle is that of caring, and Pastor Dawn is on top of it. “I view the church as an extended family. Just as I’m a mother and I remember that first, so it is with the church.” It’s good to be a long-time pastor, she says, because you “really need to live with people and be there for them through ups and downs, joys and sorrows.” The message is a Christ-centered one, and the motto of the Moravians is appealing: “In essentials unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love.”

What next? Pastor Dawn, an ecumenical woman, is alive to opportunities. This is her third church and she thinks it may be her last “unless the Lord has other plans.”

Pies at the Moravian Women's Lunch & Sale.
There have been a number of pastors in recent times, and when queried about this, she mentions, “Well, I have a bit of a reputation as an organizer.” You can tell that, because as we sat in her office, full of books, there was no evidence of paperwork run amok. If the office could talk, it might have said, “Yes, ma’am.”

Finally, there’s Max, the family ambassador of good will. White and fluffy, the eight-year-old Samoyed wags his way into the hearts of visitors on the byways of Ephraim, and his walking partner Bob Volpe has been known to say, “My wife will give you a tour of the church, go on up the hill.”

© Copyright 2012 by


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