Married Clerics Leave Local Churches for Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation
Christ Church in Easton is searching for a new priest following the departure of the Rev. Ellen Huber. Mother Ellen, as she is affectionately known to parishioners, and her husband, the Rev. Kurt Huber, now lead 11 Episcopal churches on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota.
Mother Ellen served Christ Church for 16 years. Her husband served St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Monroe for 18 years.
“My wife and I will minister together,” Huber said during an interview for The Monroe Sun, as movers loaded trucks with furniture and other belongings on Aug. 26 outside the rectory on Old Tannery Road in Monroe. “The idea of us serving in the same place excited us.”
Tracy Carlucci, music director at Christ Church, worked with Mother Ellen since 2007 and described her as “a fantastic preacher who wants to do so much in the community. … It’s certainly a loss for us and Easton but exciting for them to work together with the people on the reservation. Mother Ellen felt it was a calling.
“The rectory on the reservation was a double-wide trailer, which wasn’t going to work for the Hubers’ large family,” she said. “They were able to find a house nearby, which was the only house for sale. They are going to move their horse into one of the barn-like structures.”
Three of the couple’s youngest five children made the trip to South Dakota with their parents. The reservation town is called Eagle Butte and it is served by the Cheyenne River Episcopal Mission, which has 11 congregations, though eight meet regularly. The Hubers will serve all of the churches together.
“These are much smaller congregations, smaller churches — some with no electricity,” Kurt Huber said. “It’s a community in need and the idea of serving in the same place together. … We’re excited about the opportunity.”
The landmass of the reservation is nearly as large as Connecticut, 4,266 square miles compared to 4,849 in the Nutmeg State. Its population of 8,090 Native Americans is slightly larger than Easton’s roughly 7,500 residents, but smaller than the neighboring town of Monroe, which has around 20,000 people. South Dakota, which ranks 46th among the states for population density, is one of the most rural states in the U.S.
“My wife grew up in rural Pennsylvania, so the idea of being somewhere rural appealed to her,” Huber said. “She would laugh when people would call Monroe rural.”
There is a longstanding relationship between the Episcopal church and the Lakotas, according to Huber, who said a prayer book is printed in the tribe’s language. He looks forward to becoming immersed in the Sioux culture. Before moving to the reservation, he bought books on Native Americans from Turning the Page, a bookstore in Clock Tower Square in Monroe, to brush up on the history.
“We’re excited to walk with them on their new journey and celebrate who they are, as well as their proud past,” Huber said.
The Hubers were interviewed by Bishop Jonathan Folts in South Dakota before being chosen to run the church there. “The people were very warm and welcoming,” Huber said of a previous visit.
Christ Church Easton has been “putting love first since 1762,” according to its website. “During this pandemic, we continue to put love first by staying home, and staying safe.” Instead of hugs, parishioners had to settle for a going away car parade for Mother Ellen. The Diocese is in charge of the search for a new priest, according to Vicky Barcello, the parish administrator.
Services had been virtual since the pandemic, but outdoor services have recently been added. They will be lay-led until a new priest is found. Carlucci, who owns and runs the Fairfield-Trumbull Music School with her husband, Dan Carlucci, supplies the music for services. She had led the choir, but singing has been largely curtailed by the pandemic.
The Hubers used to bring their Easton and Monroe parishes together for Maundy Thursday services and potluck dinners, but now they are working at the same mission, something they always wanted to do, according to Carlucci.
Huber said he was about the 30th rector to serve at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church since its founding in 1802. The Monroe church will not have a new reverend until later this fall, according to Huber, who gave his last service there on July 26.
“It was hard because you can’t hug everybody and have those rituals,” he said, alluding to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We had it on the green. There were around 80 people. It was nice.”
Huber said he’ll miss Easton and Monroe’s community spirit most, from the church fish fries to the apple festivals and outreach to those in need.
“This community had a great spirit,” he said, “so it’s been fun to be part of that.”
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story was posted on Sept. 11 on The Monroe Sun.