BLOOMFIELD – At the end of a winding road in the north end of Bloomfield, is a classic New England Church, with a historic graveyard and a tall steeple.
Who’s inside though, might not be so archetypical – a pastor who for nearly a decade, found church in the forests of Maine, where he lived on a farm with no running water, and no electricity.
God was there, next to fallen pine trees, next to the wildflowers. The Rev. Erl “Puck” Purnell didn’t go to church; it was in his backyard.
Today he draws on those moments to feed his congregation at Old St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, where he’s served for 13 years.
Purnell doesn’t spend a lot of time preaching about the Old and New Testaments; he focuses on telling what he calls, “The Jesus Story.” He tells that story in his book, where he invites readers to walk the dusty roads with Jesus and experience it through Mark’s eyes (hence the title).
Purnell, who holds a master of arts in religion from Yale Divinity School, and a Certificate of Anglican Studies from Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, believes the Bible is filled with metaphors that we can learn from – like the one about Jesus calming the storm, or the one about Jesus walking on water.
Parishioner Patricia Penney said she’s fascinated by Purnell’s curious mind.
“I find him super intelligent, full of energy, vulnerable, not afraid to state that he still has questions, and, most importantly, very human with all of our strengths and weaknesses,” she said.
She added that Purnell, who is a grandfather of four, is a caring and loving man who is able to lead both liberals and conservatives within the congregation.
Purnell tries to keep his congregation educated on pressing issues – like ethical eating. After working as a farmer for eight years, Purnell thinks it’s crucial people know where their food comes from, where their clothes come from and how exactly their homes are heated.
“All the dots have got to connect,” he said.
That’s why he shows movies like Food Inc. in the church’s adult education classes. He hopes to install solar panels on the roof of the church, but isn’t sure if it’s financially feasible right now.
“It would make a statement,” he said about the panels, “We have to take action… we’re responsible for this place…all the other critters are doing their jobs, and they’re doing it perfectly.”
Nature is an evident passion of Purnell’s. He considers himself an avid long distance sea kayaker, and sculpts his own paddles and builds his own wooden kayaks.
However, don’t think of this pastor as a country bumpkin. He served as a naval officer for four years, where he worked as a maintenance test pilot and flew search and rescue missions in the Kaman UH-2 Seasprite helicopter on board the USS Lexington. He also flew helicopters for the 112th Medivac Company of the Maine Army National Guard and before moving to Connecticut, opened Oberon, Small Business Computing.
Purnell creates the church newsletter and serves as the Webmaster of Old Saint Andrew’s Web site.
He recently wrote a screenplay to accompany his book and hopes to see it one day on the silver screen.