BY AMY FLOWERS UMBLE
The Rev. Milan Sturgis started his ministry in rural Pennsylvania in 1986 and thought he'd retire a country priest surrounded by 100 idyllic acres and a peaceful cemetery.
A dozen years later, he had an AK-47 pointed at his chest in war-torn Yugoslavia, where he wound up after a stint with the Navy and the U.S. Department of State.
Today, the priest with Serbian roots finds himself leading a Greek Orthodox church in Spotsylvania County, teaching in Boston and running an energy consulting company in Alexandria.
"I've really been blessed with some extraordinary experiences," Sturgis said. "Not things that I've done extraordinary, but some extraordinary experiences."
He became the part-time priest of the Nativity of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church in the Chancellor area after the congregation lost its full-time priest, the Rev. Matthew Streett last summer.
Elizabeth Skinner, president of the church, said the bishop decided to move the full-time priest to a larger church.
Kiki Giannopoulos has been a member of the Greek church for nearly 20 years and said the congregation usually has a part-time priest, mainly because of its size. There are about 120 families in the congregation, Skinner said.CALLED TO CHAPLAINCY
Sturgis began his priesthood in Morgantown, Pa., in the 1980s and imagined staying there for the rest of his life. But then he decided to become a chaplain, joining the Navy, which meant he could be assigned to any of the sea services. He ministered to the Marine Corps.
He learned to jump out of planes and took a rigorous course on surviving as a prisoner of war, experiences he didn't need as a chaplain but felt would give him credibility with the Marines he counseled.
"These young men ended up coming in and talking to me about some very personal problems. They respected me, and they opened up to me," Sturgis said. "It was what I had hoped, that they would accept me into their world, so that they would step into mine when they had a problem."
And the training came in handy later. Sturgis went to work for a State Department office devoted to religious freedom in the late '90s, when the Balkans erupted in conflict.
He also worked in that region trying to find a peaceful solution to problems in Kosovo.
Sturgis negotiated for prisoners, oversaw NATO responses to insurgencies and worked to reintegrate Albanians into Yugoslav society.
There, he was taken hostage "for a very short period of time." He said his Marine training and Serbian sense of humor saved his life.
While Sturgis worked in Bucharest, he realized that he and his wife and three children rarely lived on the same continent. He decided to come back to America and open his own business.BUSY WEEKS
He runs Blue Oceans Strategies LLC, an energy consulting group that works with international natural gas and oil companies.
On Mondays, Sturgis hops a 6:30 a.m. plane to Boston, where he teaches international relations and religion courses at Boston University and Harvard. He's home around 8:30 p.m. and spends the rest of the week working on his business and his sermons for Sundays at the Greek Orthodox church.
Sturgis writes his sermons--just like his book on petro-nationalism that will be published next year--whenever he can find the time.
Church members said that whatever the writing method, it works.
"His sermons are just excellent," said Fredericksburg resident Maria Manolis.
Sturgis uses analogies from his students, TV shows like "The Sopranos" and Bible stories in his sermons.
"They're very easy to relate to, with real-life situations," Christine Fulmore of Stafford said.
This year is also packed with celebrations for Sturgises: his children have a college graduation, a wedding and a high school graduation ahead.
But no matter how busy he is, he finds the time to come whenever a church member needs him or when there's a wedding, funeral or Baptism.
"He's always an e-mail away," Manolis said.