Celebrating 40 years, Milford pastor relies on faith for recovery

Pastor John Ranney and son Drew stand near a cake made in Pastor Ranney’s honor. (Delaware State News/Jennifer Antonik)

MILFORD — Cheers and tears of happiness are memories Pastor John Ranney holds dear as he recalls years of volunteering in the arts community and leading Reformation Lutheran Church in Milford.

In recent years, however, Pastor Ranney has received the same response for a much different reason.

In 2012, he suffered a stroke that left him in a coma for four weeks and paralyzed for life. Time stood still for the Ranney family and the community as they waited with bated breath for him to recover.

“The doctors said I may never come out of it. I may never walk again, have a conversation again,” Pastor Ranney said recently after being honored by Reformation Lutheran Church and the Delaware-Maryland Synod for 40 years of ordained ministry.

“But now when people tell me, ‘It’s good to see you,’ I always say, ‘It’s good to be seen,’ because that almost wasn’t going to happen.”

Setting the tone

Pastor Ranney graduated from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in history and religion. He also received a Master of Divinity degree from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and was later ordained at The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Wilmington.

Pastor John Ranney and Margo Ranney during a reception at Reformation Lutheran Church in Milford honoring his 40th year of ordination. (Delaware State News/Jennifer Antonik)

He worked for a decade there before receiving the call to pastor in Milford at Reformation Lutheran Church where he stayed for 30 years.

“You have a very bright mission field here in Milford. And for a long time, it was served by a very faithful John Ranney,” said Bishop Bill Gohl of the Delaware-Maryland Synod as he recognized Pastor Ranney.

Pastoral work also led him to serve as dean of the Delmarva Conference several times and leader for the Mission Through Leadership Team within the Delaware-Maryland Synod for many years. He was the director of the Lutheran Office on Public Policy in Delaware for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for a time, as well.

Prior to his stroke, Pastor Ranney was also frequently seen volunteering his time in the arts community.

He served on the Delaware State Arts Council and became a founding member of the Southern Delaware Choral Society, eventually conducting the group. He helped co-found Second Street Players in Milford, was the assistant band director for Milford High School and choreographed school musicals and the marching band.

He retired from full-time parish work in 2008 and moved shortly after to Angola with his wife Margo. They have remained active at Reformation Lutheran Church.

The impromptu interlude

In his retirement years, Pastor Ranney filled in for churches when needed. In September and October 2012, he was the interim pastor for St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cordova, Md., while its pastor went on maternity leave.

Unbeknown to him, this appointment would be his last for a while.

“I preached in the morning. I went to McDonald’s for lunch before a meeting and ended up having a stroke,” he said. “I walked three miles every morning. I took medication for blood pressure, but that was under control. I see these signs that show people what to look for and I didn’t have any of them.”

His Sunday went from a typical day to a life or death situation in the matter of minutes. Pastor Ranney also suffered a fall while left alone in a Baltimore hospital, leaving him paralyzed.

Although he wasn’t near home, he said cards and well wishes filled his hospital room — and his heart — once he was able to view them.

“The prayers and love were so important,” he said.

It wasn’t long after he came out of a coma that Pastor Ranney was sent to rehabilitation at Bayhealth Milford Memorial Hospital, closer to his friends and family where he would be under the care of some of the very people he watched over and help grow.

“When they transferred me to the Milford rehab, Brie Willis was my speech therapist. She was in Second Street Kids with me and sang the song to me that we used to sing. That’s why I love this community,” he said.

Bishop Bill Gohl, right,, honors Pastor John Ranney, seated, for 40 years of ordination. (Delaware State News/Jennifer Antonik)

Rehabilitation hasn’t been physically easy. His faith and community kept him going.

“It is such a true honor and delight to have you and Margo as a part of this congregation,” current pastor Eric Evers said.

“And I’m going to look at the bishop for this one. But there’s not always a good [vibe] between pastors and their predecessors. But man, we’ve got a good one.”

Pastor Evers added other celebratory words throughout the Sunday service, giving honor to Pastor Ranney’s accomplishments.

“There’s a lot of numbers in the Bible. There’s the number three, which we think about when we think of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. There’s seven, which hints at completeness. But then there’s a number in the Bible that means a long, long time — 40,” he said during the children’s sermon.

A dynamic encore

He continues to work hard to walk again despite the paralysis in his left side and regain other skills lost. “I think it’s from all those years of dancing. The muscles remember,” he said.

He even returned to preaching, giving his first sermon in five years in 2017.

But last Sunday, he didn’t preach, nor did he choreograph entire musical numbers. Instead, he walked down the aisle at the church he led for most of his pastoral career in honor and celebration “of the work God has done,” he said.

Bishop Gohl said Pastor Ranney’s ministry in Milford was impressive at the time, much like his faith and determination to recover. When the bishop first met Pastor Ranney years ago, the reverend from Milford was introduced as a leader who took his work seriously and engaged the community in ways others hadn’t yet figured out.

“’This is John Ranney. And he’s doing it,’” Bishop Gohl recalled someone saying about Pastor Ranney when they first met. Years later, Bishop Gohl would say those same words when the reverend took 40 steps to accept a certificate honoring his 40th year of ordination.

Jennifer Antonik writes special reports for the Delaware State News

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