The saying goes, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
Something along a similar nature ran through the mind of Dr. Dexter Moragne 30 years ago when he first ventured to St. Luke’s Church.
“I thought, ‘Lord, did you really mean for me to come to this church?’” Moragne said with a laugh. “I went from a church filled every Sunday in Memphis to a two-Sunday church in Covington.”
Moragne first came to St. Luke’s in May 1989 after one of its deacons, James Taylor, asked if he would preach on Sunday and lead bible class. Taylor’s aunt happened to be a member of Moragne’s home church where he taught Sunday school. Moragne agreed and by his fourth or fifth bible class, the church leaders held a meeting and extended an offer: Become the pastor of St. Luke’s.
“I was called to the ministry in 1984 but this was the first church I pastored at,” Moragne said. “This was no overnight process. I was so nervous.”
His faith and the support of his wife Rita gave Moragne the strength to overcome his fears. This did not mean the family remained reservation-free. It took time everyone, including the Moragnes’ sons, then 3 and 8, to adjust to their new surroundings.
“Our oldest told me just recently how horrible it was for him,” said Rita Moragne. “He thought we were going on a trip every Sunday because it took us an hour to get to church.” Now, though both are grown and no longer live in the area, the Moragne sons ask about their home church every time they call home.
Moragne first sought to change the bi-weekly service schedule offered at the time. To meet this goal, he needed find a way fill the pews. He knew that need could not be met within the walls of the church itself, so he carried the mission to the people.
Moragne and members of St. Luke’s set up tents in various locations throughout the county, knocked on doors, and shook hands in the parking lot just to introduce themselves. People would find themselves in conversation before they knew it, sometimes in the comfort of their own living rooms.
More than a few of them wound up in the pews on Sundays that followed.
“We started at Broad Meadows in Covington,” Moragne said, “and 15 years later, I ran into a young man who lived there at the time. He told me my coming into his home and taking the opportunity to speak with him changed his life. That made my mission a success.”
Now, as his 30th anniversary approaches, Moragne can see differences in the tactics of the church. Its reach is more ministerial than missionary now, aimed to raise the community’s spirit toward Heaven. And that community? It grew: Parishioners come from all across western Tennessee to attend services and broaden the reach and insights of the church as a whole.
St. Luke’s under Moragne did not and does not judge a person for past deeds. Instead, it hopes to bring each person who comes under its roof closer to the God it serves. It continues to follow an old slogan and moves from mediocrity to excellence. The first step to bridge that gap is to feel and show love for the people.
This love continues to be spread when Moragne carries his teachings to West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Mason, where he serves as chaplain. He sees his duties to the prisoners as a continuation of his ministry 1,200 strong whom he leads weekly in service.
The next step of the bridge is to meet the needs of the people through his sermons. During Palm Sunday, Moragne found himself at a crossroads: Should he perform the traditional service of Jesus on his ride through Jerusalem, or should he continue his current series, which focused on depression and how to incorporate faith into healing?
Moragne felt to change his message solely for the occasion would be just another sermon, not a message of outreach that might reach the ears of the needy. He chose to focus on the application of the word more than simply the word itself.
His choice helped him stay true to his mission as a pastor: He stays a watchman of the people and guards them against what he can. What he cannot, he walks alongside them with a comforting hand. To do any less, the blood would be on his hands.
St. Luke’s growth is far from done. The next phase is for even greater community involvement, both within the church and beyond its doors. Moragne would like to bring the missionary aspect back to prominence, especially with field work to serve both the surrounding areas and beyond.
Moragne sees no end of service but knows it will one day come. When that day arrives, he only hopes for two things: To leave St. Luke’s a better place, and to walk out a better man.
“As long as I’m able to bring my ministry,” he said with thick emotion in his voice, “as long as my mind is clear, and as long as I’m effective, I’ll be here.”
Moragne took a moment blink back tears that welled up and returned to lessons learned from the past, not thoughts of a future still some way off.
“My time at St. Luke’s has taught me so much. Humility, for one, and to love others no matter their feelings toward me. How awesome God is, for I’ve done nothing on my own. It’s been through His will and grace that I’ve done anything at all.”
St. Luke will hold a celebratory gala to honor the Moragnes and their service to the church tonight at 6:30 p.m. Tickets cost $50.