From Borneo to Moorestown: New pastor spreads the word

Rev. Dr. Eric Trozzo is the new pastor at St. Matthew Lutheran Church.

Photo courtesy of Rev. Dr. Eric Trozzo.Rev. Dr. Eric Trozzo is the new pastor at St. Matthew Lutheran Church.

You could say Moorestown is quite the change of pace for the Rev. Dr. Eric Trozzo of St. Matthew Lutheran Church.

The church’s new pastor recently spent eight years in Borneo, where some days involved trekking in the rain forest to small villages. In 2012, Trozzo and his family departed for Malaysia, where Trozzo served as a professor and missionary at Sabah Theological Seminary. While at the inter-denominational seminary, he taught systematic theology and Christian ethics, and served as director of the Lutheran Studies program.

In December, nearly one year after returning from Borneo, Trozzo moved to Shamong and was officially installed as the pastor at St. Matthew. While Trozzo spent the last chunk of his life across the globe, Moorestown isn’t quite so far from his roots. He grew up in western Maryland, where his grandfather was a pastor. Church life was a part of the family, but Trozzo hadn’t given much consideration to it as his path.

When he got to college, the future pastor found himself confronting questions about the meaning of life and why religion is important. He attended Loyola University-Maryland, where he lived next door to a priest. Over time, Trozzo  found himself getting more and more involved in ministry events.

During his undergraduate years, Trozzo was a history major and had plans to attend graduate school, where he thought he might study history or anthropology. By his senior year, however, Trozzo had become actively involved in the church and was serving as president of the Lutheran Student Movement for the Baltimore area. He spent his summers as a counselor at Lutheran summer camps, and discovered he possessed gifts that lent themselves to religious life.

Before departing for seminary, Trozzo spent a year doing a national park ministry, living full time in the wilderness at Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas. The area is so remote, the nearest grocery store was about three hours away. 

Trozzo got there through the organization Christian Ministry in the National Parks. He spent his days running the camp store in the park, and in his free time,  he conducted Bible study for staff because there were no churches nearby.  

Trozzo went to seminary in Ohio, and it was there that he met his wife Wendolyn. The pair married before both going on to become pastors. From there, Trozzo was accepted to New Jersey’s Drew University in Madison, where he earned his Ph.D. While studying at Drew, both Trozzo and Wendolyn shared the pastor role at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Chatham. 

When he completed his Ph.D., Trozzo knew he wanted to teach at a seminary, and he and Wendolyn had always discussed the idea of serving globally. When he learned the church was looking for someone to teach at a seminary in Borneo, things fell into place. He and his wife had two little boys by this time, and they brought them along for the ride. 

Sabah Theological Seminary is located in Borneo’s lively, capital city of Sabah. While the seminary was located in the middle of town, the surrounding area was incredibly rural and remote. The multi-denominational facility was home to eight different branches, and Trozzo headed the Lutheran Studies program.

He taught classes preparing others to be pastors. Some days, Trozzo traveled to the more rainforest villages to support remote congregations. When he had mentored one of his students through two master’s degrees and knew he was ready to take over his spot, Trozzo and his family made their return to the United States. 

Coming from the tropics where it was 90 degrees nearly every day, the family found America in winter a bit of a shock. The Lutheran Church provided several months’ salary for the Trozzos to get readjusted to life at home; the pastor and his family lived on a parsonage at a Lutheran Church in his home state of  Maryland.

While the family could have gone practically anywhere in the world, when it came time to make the next move, the Trozzos decided New Jersey was where they wanted to be. They learned that congregations in Moorestown and Tabernacle were looking for pastors, so Trozzo found himself at Saint Matthew, while his wife will serve as pastor at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Tabernacle. 

“St. Matthew has a long history of engagement in the community, and that was exciting, as well as a strong sense of worship,” Trozzo noted. “And it’s a congregation that really loves to learn. With my background in education, it was a good match.”

Trozzo acknowledged that COVID-19 and virtual masses have made getting to know the congregation and surrounding community difficult. Normal relationship building isn’t possible right now, but despite that, the pastor is excited to work with the youth and families at Saint Matthew. 

“I’m looking forward to getting to know Moorestown – when we’re not in pandemic times,” he said.