Longtime Dickinson Press contributing faith columnist and local lay leader Jeffery Morton announced his retirement last week, and addressed his forthcoming departure from Dickinson — calling it, “painful.”
Morton, the ecclesiastic leader at the Hillside Baptist Church, is an atypical clergyman. A self declared introvert with hobbies consisting of reading, writing and seclusion, Morton is still widely known in Dickinson as a respectful man whose faith has served as inspiration for many.
Morton and his wife, Debbie, have lived in Dickinson for eight years, following his assuming the role of clergyman at Hillside Baptist Church. While working with Hillside, Morton was a widely popular columnist with The Dickinson Press, producing articles each week centered on faith.
Morton said he would always cherish the memories he created at Hillside and in Dickinson.
“These past eight years have been some of the best in my life,” Morton said. “I really like the people at the church, good solid, salt of the earth kind of people. The job I had, the history I have, the elders I get to work with, all good folks. I just love North Dakota, coming from where we lived in the suburbs of Southern California, the hustle and bustle of cars, dirt, people everywhere and come here and experience the slower taste of life, that’s actually one of the hardest things I’ve had to do is slow down. Now the thought of actually leaving is pretty painful.”
Morton continued, “And the town of Dickinson itself, it’s just such a great city, it has a lot of great people who have lived here all their life, they don’t know how good Dickinson is, how safe it is, the community spirit, the lifestyle, it’s just such a great place to live .… If we could stay here and retire instead of moving, it’d be great, it’s just marvelous here.”
After graduating from seminary school in the 90’s, Morton and his wife moved into missionary work in isolated and poverty stricken areas of Africa. Upon returning to the United States, Morton got his doctorate and began teaching part-time at seminary schools in Southern California, his hometown area. From there, Morton received a call from Hillside Baptist Church in 2012 and decided to come to Dickinson.
“I would never say I was inspired to be a pastor, I would say I believe that God opened the door and said ‘I want you to go to North Dakota and I want you to do this,’” Morton said. “I didn’t hear a voice, it was just all the opportunities opened themselves upward … I don’t think I was inspired, there was a need and I believe God wanted me to do it so we jumped at the opportunity, never regretted it.”
While working at Hillside Baptist Church in 2015, Morton was offered a chance to write an 800-word column on whatever he wanted to write about as part of the paper’s reintroduction of a faith page. Morton began writing columns once or twice a month, before eventually being asked to write an article at least once a week.
“I always love to write,” he said. “It’s just one of my strengths, more so than speaking …The [Dickinson] Press has really been good to me and good for me. To be able to write about certain topics … it’s a good way to process your thoughts, and to communicate your thoughts and then when I got feedback I really appreciated it, it’s been a blast, I really enjoyed it, it’s really been a privilege.”
As to why the well respected lay leader has opted to retire now, rather than in the future, Morton said the decision comes down to family.
“I’m 67, I don’t feel like I want to retire, I don’t feel like I need to retire, but that’s what we’re doing, we’re retiring,” he said. “Mainly because of my 90-year-old mother. She’s in great health, but she won’t live out here, she didn’t want to move out here because she doesn’t like the winters. If we could get her to move here we have the perfect house … but she doesn’t so we’re going to move to Southern Oregon.”
As the final days for Morton and his wife in Dickinson fast approach, the jovial lay leader shared what he expects retirement to look like.
“I know the way a lot of people live their retirement is by retiring from church believing ‘you don’t retire from a relationship with God, you kind of retire from Church,’ my wife and I are not like that,” he said. “We’re going to find a good church, get involved, I won’t become their pastor but I want to teach at the church. If I can find a bible school or college up there I would love to teach. I also got a 10-acre river front property and I got a tractor. I want to raise some goats, chickens, I want to raise large guard dogs. Essentially, I’m going to stay busy.”
Morton stated he will continue to pray for the people and the city of Dickinson with his fellow pastors and will always have a special place for Dickinson, its people and its faithfulness in his heart.
The Dickinson Press will continue to host columns by Morton, where his tenured readership can continue enjoying the Pastor’s deep delve into faith with humor and grace.