The Rev. John Prenger credits a vision for leading him four years ago to “a little white country church in a grove of trees — a real fixer-upper.”
With two assistants, Prenger preaches at Saints Francis and Clare Church in Hatton Chapel and presides over about 25 members. Prenger said the church, which is just northwest of Columbia off Route E on Hatton Chapel Road, is one of three Charismatic Episcopal Churches in Missouri. This type of church embodies a convergence of liturgical, charismatic and evangelical components of the Christian church.
On Saturday, the former Roman Catholic priest marked 30 years of ordained service with a celebration at Broadway Christian Church. Prenger asked the local church to host the event because of the small size of Hatton Chapel, which has only one room.
“It is an absolute joy to see people from these various seasons of my life — so many people I’ve counted on in one way or another,” Prenger said.
While some looked at photos and memorabilia scattered on various tables, others reminisced about experiences with Prenger.
“One thing about John — he always preaches from the Bible — and that is very refreshing,” said the Rev. Warren G. Hansen, associate minister at Saints Francis and Clare. “He’s very loving. I look at him as my brother.”
Prenger left the Catholic priesthood in 1995 after 22 years when he married his wife, Sharon. Leaving the priesthood after a lifetime of devotion was painful. “It was a year of being internally broken up,” he said. “For me, (celibacy) was always an issue.”
Prenger spent the next several years exploring various spiritual paths before finding the Charismatic Episcopal Church, which he greeted with considerable skepticism when a friend learned about it on the Internet and thought he might be interested in it.
“I thought, ‘They’re fruitcakes — they started in 1992,’” he said.
But as Prenger learned more, he was intrigued by the fact that the church combined three different tributaries within the Christian church. “I found that with the CEC, I stayed Catholic,” he said.
Prenger eventually formed a congregation in November 1998, which initially met in the basement of his house. Although it has grown somewhat, it remains an intimate group.
“Because it’s smaller, we’re close knit,” said Judy Pauli, who has been a church member for about two and a half years. “He tries, I think, in his own way, to help you and take care of you the way Jesus would.”
Pauli said she is grateful for the support Prenger gave her family when her mother was severely ill. “John was there with us at my mom’s bedside,” she said. “I don’t know how we would have done it without him.”
The most significant thing Prenger has learned during the past 30 years of ministry is “how broad and wide is the community of believers of the church,” he said. “We have many brothers and sisters in faith.”