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Published: Saturday, 7/31/2004

'New Thought' church earns wings

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

Heaven's air traffic controllers must be working overtime at the suburban Toledo church called Angels Landing.

The independent "New Thought" church (not "New Age," the pastors assert), whose name triggers images of angels hovering overhead, is adding a co-pastor, Dr. Scott Sheperd, next week and will move into a larger facility in Toledo this fall.

The Rev. Gloria Moorehead, founder of the church that began in a one-room schoolhouse two years ago, has been involved in local ministry for more than 30 years until health problems forced her into hiatus four years ago. In 2002, a member of one of Mrs. Moorehead's former churches decided to coax her back into the pulpit by purchasing a 19th century brick schoolhouse at auction so she would have a place to preach.

Located a few miles north of Sylvania on Yankee Road in Ottawa Lake, Mich., the church opened in the spring of 2002, and Mrs. Moorehead said she was so weak that she preached from a rocking chair for the first six months.

The church's unusual name was inspired by a comment from a construction worker who, while renovating the building, commented that "it looks like a place where angels land," Mrs. Moorehead explained.

Attendance at Sunday morning services has been averaging between 40 and 50, peaking on Easter Sunday when 60 people crammed into its cozy confines.

With the building bursting at the seams, the same anonymous benefactor who bought the schoolhouse has purchased a former church on Monroe Street in West Toledo that easily seats 200 people.

Angels Landing will move into the Toledo facility this fall and will probably be renamed when it reopens.

Mrs. Moorehead, 70, grew up in Walbridge and then Toledo, graduating from Scott High School.

Her mother was a Pentecostal preacher who was strict in many ways, she said, including forbidding her daughter from wearing makeup or going to the movies.

When Mrs. Moorehead's only child, Parry, was born paralyzed, it caused her to re-examine her beliefs and her faith tradition.

"I was told that the sins of my forefathers was why Parry was born paralyzed, and I said, 'No! My God would not do that. My son is a gift, not a punishment.' "

She devoted her life to a broad study of spirituality, attending a Coptic Christian seminary in Michigan and being ordained in the Divine Science Church.

Parry's physical problems were many and the infant was admitted to the hospital 26 times during his first year of life, Mrs. Moorehead said.

When her son was 3, she said, he looked her in the eye and said: "I chose you for my Mom."

"He was such a gift. He never complained. He was my biggest cheerleader," said Mrs. Moorehead, who was divorced after 40 years of marriage.

Last January, Parry died of septicemia at age 46, and Mrs. Moorehead said she spent five dark months grieving before she was able to resume her ministry.

Dr. Sheperd's books and his grief counseling expertise helped her deal with the pain, Mrs. Moorehead said, and she is convinced that the psychologist's intellectual insights will be a perfect complement to her emotional preaching style at Angels Landing.

"We give people tools," Mrs. Moorehead said. "There's hardly anything in life I haven't experienced. I've been on my knees, but I rose again like a phoenix. I rose up and I never blamed God. "

An extrovert who is quick to smile, Mrs. Moorehead has collected many bumpersticker-like sayings in her "toolbox," which she takes out to inspire others.

Among the spiritual sayings she cited in an hour-long interview:

●"The guru lives within you."

●"Jesus is the great example, not the great exception."

●"If Jesus sent you to be a lemon cake, he sent you with all the ingredients."

●"We're here for completion, not competition."

●"Sin is missing the mark."

●"Spirituality starts in the mind and drops to the heart."

Dr. Sheperd, a Toledo native who graduated from Central Catholic High School in 1963, said his counseling and lectures as a psychologist are rewarding, but there are restrictions when it comes to sharing his faith.

"I give motivational talks, but I don't get spiritual in the corporate world," he said.

Preaching at Angels Landing will allow him to "sing the song I'm carrying within me," Dr. Sheperd said.

An accomplished pianist with a music degree from the University of Toledo, he has played piano at many area churches and performed with some of Toledo's premier jazz musicians, including Jimmy Cook and Gene Parker.

The 58-year-old psychologist, who has written six books and a musical drama, said he increasingly felt drawn into the ministry and is looking forward to sharing life's journey with the congregation.

Rather than "spoon feed" the flock, he said, he hopes to inspire people to think for themselves. "God is a mystery," Dr. Sheperd said. "There's a quote I like that says: 'Follow those who search for truth. Run from those who say they've found it.' "

Dr. Scott Sheperd will be installed as a co-pastor of Angels Landing at the 10:30 a.m. service Aug. 8. The church is located at 14029 Yankee Rd., Ottawa Lake, Mich. Information: 734-888-1602.

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.



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