By David Fleet
Ortonville — An historical local church has a new name and pastor.
On Aug. 1, Sean Barton was appointed pastor of the renamed Ortonville Village Church formally the Ortonville United Methodist Church.
Change is nothing new to Pastor Barton.
Barton, a Denville, NJ, native and a 1987 graduate of Huntington Station High School, Long Island, N.Y. will bring a background of missionary work grounded in a communist country.
In the early 1990s, Barton met and married Andrea a Jackson Mich., native while attending Minneapolis based Bethany Global University. Barton then continued his studies at the Lutheran Brethren Seminary, Fergus Fall, Minn.
“In my first semester at the seminary I received a call from a mission organization that was looking for missionaries to go to Moscow,” he said. “So my wife and I went to Moscow in the Spring of 1993.”
The mission phone call was from a small church where Sean’s father was a pastor. A member of that church was former Detroit Tiger and then New York Met Howard Johnson. At that time, Johnson tithed 10 percent of salary along with an additional 10 percent to missions for the small church with a congregation of about 30 parishioners. As a result, the church had about $1 million for missions and created the Evangelical Mission Society of America or EMSA.
“My wife had just given birth to our first son in January, and I decided this is where I’m going to go,” he said.
So, in 1993 following the fall of Communism in 1991 Barton worked in orphanages, where youth who lived after the state decided their parents were unfit to care for them.
“These children came from a rough home life,” he said. “We taught English and bible stories.”
“Moscow had a population of about 10 million, cold, rough and they’d drank vodka by the gallon,” said Barton, who recalls limited hours of electricity and food shortages.
The first McDonald’s in Russian had a grand opening on Moscow’s Pushkin Square on Jan. 31, 1990 with approximately 38,000 customers waiting in hours long lines, according to news sources.
“It was the largest McDonald’s in the world, with 30 cashiers,” he said. We Americans would come in there in our T-shirts and shorts to get a Big Mac, a taste of home. But for Russians, that was American cuisine and they would come in limousines, ladies in furs and men is suits.”
They were rough on foreigners in Moscow, he said.
“You’d stand in line to get to counter to look at all the kielbasa,” he said. “All different types. I just wanted one pound of a particular kind, unsure of the name. I’d point at it, but the lady behind the counter did not understand and would send me to the back of the line. I’d have to have someone order for me and say the name.”
Going to the Republic of Georgia was completely different, where they considered themselves Christian, he said.
The lived in the capitol city of Tbilisi where they’d shop at the open market for daily food.
“The electricity (and refrigeration) was iffy so you’d look for the freshest kill,” he said. “You’d identify what the meat was by the head (of the animal) on the counter. Is it pig or beef? We have much to be grateful here in this nation.”
“During the wintertime in Tbilisi we’d have six hours of electricity during the day, three hours in the morning and three hours at night. They were fighting with Russian and they’d turn off power.”
Barton and family left EMSA due to budget cuts after Howard Johnson was traded from the NY Mets and joined the Salvation Army where he continued to serve as a missionary.
“They were distributing 300 metric tons of food in the nation through the Department of Agriculture,” he said.
The Barton’s returned home in 1995 and was trained to be an officer in the Salvation Army, Suffern, NY. They returned to the Republic of Georgia for about three years. They came back to the United States in 2000.
Barton stepped out of the ministry for a few years and returned as pastor of the Grawn Methodist Church, Traverse City where he served for six years prior to arriving in Ortonville.
“There is such pride in this village,” he said. “The renaming of this church from the Ortonville United Methodist Church to the Village Church of Ortonville makes the people of this church feel like this is the church of the village. This building was built in 1879 but the Methodist connection to Ortonville dates back to 1850. In two years we are celebrating 175 years of Methodism. They want to be a part of this village and their pride.”
Sean and Andrea have three children Sam, Benjamin and Gabriella.
By David Fleet