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The Rev. Milton Cram held the communion wafer above his head.

"The lamb of God for the people of God," he said. He sat in a wheelchair, dressed in white vestments with a red priest's stole. Oxygen hissed quietly into his nostrils.A group of 50 friends and family spilled into the hallway outside the tiny Veterans Hospital chapel in Boise recently to see the Rev. Cram's ordination as an Episcopal priest and celebrate Holy Communion. He is hospitalized with a terminal illness.

For 56 years, the Rev. Cram has been part of St. David's Episcopal Church in Caldwell, the last 10 as a deacon.

The Rev. Cram was ordained by Episcopal Bishop John W. Thornton before completing his priesthood training. It is an unusual, but not unprecedented, move in the church.

"It has been his dream to be a priest, and it's within my power to do this," Bishop Thornton said. St. David's does not have a full-time priest.

"I've buried, married and baptized," said the Rev. Cram, 76.

But he was unable to perform the sacraments, such as Holy Communion, that come with the priesthood. Until Friday.

Heads were bowed and eyes were wiped as Bishop Thornton told the congregation, "Milt is a sick man. He may not serve the church on Earth very long. We come to make sure death doesn't have a victory. He is a priest forever."

The Rev. Cram, in characteristic bluntness, tried to play down his ordination. "In material things, it doesn't mean a thing," he said. "It's just a continuation of my ministry."

But pushed a bit further, he added, "It gives me a warm feeling all over that people have put their trust in me, their confidence in me."

"He's the glue at St. David's," said Sandy Roth, one of the 35 members at the congregation.

All of the Rev. Cram's work has been voluntary. He gets no money. His start in life wasn't close to a church.

"I was on the bum in 1932," he said. "I was knocking on doors for something to eat and splitting wood for breakfast."

It was a time, he laments, "when people helped people. I needed that to carry over into my ministry."

The Rev. Cram opened Milt's Market in the 1950s. It was a small grocery in Middleton where he once served as mayor. It was transformed into a place where people in need could come and be accepted, friends say.

"I've fed more people," the Rev. Cram recalled. "Mothers with a baby on their hip, dragging one and pregnant at the same time. You can't refuse them. You let your heart overrule your judgment. I know, I've been hungry."