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`CIRCUIT’ MINISTERS HELPING HUNDREDS OF UTAHNS KEEP THE FAITH

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The Rev. Robert Two Bulls is rarely accused of being long-winded.

The Episcopalian minister chooses his words carefully and, even in the pulpit, keeps his comments to the point.

But every Sunday, the Rev. Two Bulls becomes one of the more talkative citizens of Duchesne County when he conducts two worship services for separate congregations in Whiterocks and Randlett."It's rewarding. It's a good feeling," the Rev. Two Bulls said of serving the two small, rural churches. "I know there are people out there who are hungry for the spiritual side of life, and that's how I see my ministry. I'd like to see everybody coming to church, and I know eventually they will."

Giving two sermons each Sunday is nothing unusual for the Rev. Two Bulls, who served as pastor for nine churches at the same time on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation in the 1980s. He is what is commonly referred to as a circuit rider - a minister who serves more than one church and often has to travel extensively to do so.

Circuit riding has been popular among Protestant faiths since the early days of European settlement in America and still flourishes. It is especially strong wherever a number of small churches of the same, or similar, denomination are clustered in reasonably close proximity to one another.

In Utah, the practice has been less common, primarily because the state's Protestant churches are more spread out, according to Dr. Max Glenn of Shared Ministry in Utah.

The state's Catholic clergy, however, have traditionally been called upon to serve a number of communities, especially priests working outside of the Salt Lake area. About 60,000 of the state's 76,000 Catholics live in the Salt Lake area, according to Silvio Mayo, chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake. The rest are scattered, mostly in the southern part of the state, he said.

"They're pretty well reconciled to it and they enjoy it," Mayo said of Utah's circuit-riding Catholic priests. "We have small churches in a lot of those areas now where before they would have services in someone's home."

Only about 20 miles separate the Rev. Two Bulls, an Oglala Lakota Indian, from his current congregations. But he'd gladly drive hundreds of miles a week, as he did in South Dakota, if more Episcopalians were in need.

"It's a different setup here: there's only two Episcopal churches. In South Dakota, there's 29," he said. "There, I was pretty much going all day."

The Rev. Thomas Culleton knows the feeling. He currently serves three Catholic parishes and is about to add a fourth in Millard and Beaver counties.

On a typical weekend, the Rev. Culleton drives 275 miles to deliver Mass in Milford, Delta and Fillmore. His 3-year-old Chevy Blazer just topped the 100,000-mile mark.

"There's plenty of time to think crossing the deserts. It's lonely at times, but I'm at an age now where I can handle that part of life," said the 68-year-old former monk. "There's something very contemplative about the whole thing, which I have a lean toward."

The travel is rough, and getting up at 6 a.m. on Sunday is especially hard for the Rev. Two Bulls. But the most difficult aspect of circuit riding, the men agreed, is that they can't give all their parishioners the full attention they deserve.

"It's sort of like defensive warfare," the Rev. Culleton said. "There's no offensive. There's nothing much over and above the line of duty. It's just maintenance, keeping things going. I really don't have the acquaintances I should."

It may not be ideal, but circuit ministry is helping hundreds of Utahns keep the faith.