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Theater an outreach into community for Manning pastor

The Rev. Ernest Shipe, who plays the ship's captain for the mystery-dinner performance "Murder on the Lust Boat," considers theater an outreach for his ministry.

Shipe, who is pastor of the Manning Community Church, is as comfortable on the stage as he is in the pulpit.

"I've been on stage since I was 3 years old," said Shipe. "I've always loved being in the spotlight, but it's an outlet that I don't do professionally."

He likens the performances to his career as a military chaplain.

"I stand before a group of people, convincing them of something," he said. "It's the same with the little kids. On Wednesdays, I lead games for the AWANA program."

Shipe came to Manning 2 1/2 years ago through Village Missions.

"Village Missions is a non-denominational organization that has as its purpose to bring full-time leadership to small struggling country churches that either are ready to close or just can't afford a full-time pastor," Shipe said.

Manning is his first assignment with Village Missions, after spending the last 18 years as a veterans' hospital chaplain.

The Manning Community Church is on Highway 22, where 6,000 trucks drive by each day, he said.

Believing there were unmet spiritual needs in the region, Shipe said the church committed itself to reach into the oil patch.

The church started the Thursday Night Jo program in November. From 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., the church offers free coffee and snacks to anyone who drives by.

"The reason we chose the program is between Dickinson and Williston after 10 p.m., nothing is open," Shipe said. "It's cold out there and we wanted to provide a cup of coffee. You can't miss us, we have a big lighted sign on the church."

The outreach fills the motto of Village Missions -- to preach the Word and love the people, Shipe said.

"My whole job is getting to love the people anywhere in the community, find something and get involved," he added. "That's why I do theater. It's part of my ministry -- to get involved."

The church recently launched a second program -- showing family-friendly movies at 7 p.m. Tuesdays at the church.

"Anything that gets people to ask what's going on over here," he said.

Sunday school starts at 9:30 a.m., followed by worship services at 11 a.m. Sunday.

A native of Hawaii, Shipe has traveled around the country as a chaplain. While living in Alabama, he performed with "South Pacific and "Fiddler on the Roof." He's done "Camelot" in Wisconsin and "the HMS Pinafore" in North Carolina.

While Shipe sings opera, he relies on Kevin Kirsch to head the musical ministry.

Shipe and his wife, Linda, have six children and eight grandchildren. Their son, Derek, lives at Manning, while the others are scattered around the country.

"I came to Manning with no expectations, but it's been a great ministry and a real blessing," Shipe said. "I have found wonderful people -- it's a great place and I love North Dakota."

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