August 12, 2007
Mother and Rector Woman Brings in New Era for Historic Bangor Church
By JUDY HARRISON; OF THE NEWS STAFF
The Rev. Marguerite "Rita" A.H. Steadman stepped into the pulpit of Saint John's Episcopal Church in Bangor last Sunday and made history.
The 38-year-old mother of two young children is the first woman to serve as rector of the congregation since its founding in 1835.
Steadman, however, has been a first before. She was the first woman ordained a deacon more than a decade ago at St. Mary the Virgin Episcopal Church in Times Square after she completed her studies at General Theological Seminary in New York City.
Saint John's new rector is known to her flock as "Mother Rita" or "Mother Steadman." Members of the search committee said she was hired because her skills and experience match the congregation's current needs.
"She is deeply spiritual but very easy to talk to," Hal Wheeler, who visited Steadman at her previous church in Washington, D.C., said recently. "Watching her celebrate the Eucharist, I was very deeply moved. She also has a great ability to relate to people one on one and in groups."
Wheeler also said that St. John's needed to increase and enhance its youth programs. Steadman worked with young Episcopalians for many years at Christ Episcopal Church in Georgetown and filled in as rector for nine months last year when the rector was mobilized as a chaplain to serve in the war in Iraq.
Steadman and her family moved to Bangor in July and live within walking distance of the church. Her husband, Eric Steadman, 39, plans to care for their daughter, 31/2, and son, 1, while tutoring math. He is a former high school math teacher.
Eric Steadman's family has a camp at Pine Point in southern Cumberland County and has vacationed in Maine.
A cradle Episcopalian, Steadman was born in Toronto to American parents and spent much of her childhood in Pasadena, Calif. The rector said that she first felt called to the ministry when she was 11 or 12.
While a student at Brown University in Providence, R.I., she taught Sunday school and was a member of an Anglo-Catholic parish on campus. While studying abroad in the former Soviet Union during her junior year she experienced a deep spiritual stirring.
"The churches were just reopening and I began attending Russian Orthodox services," she said. "I was deeply drawn to the Eucharist during worship."
She also helped reopen an Episcopal church in Obninsk, Russia, and develop social outreach programs such as a soup kitchen that had been forbidden for years under Soviet rule. Those experiences led her to the diaconate and, a few years go, to ordination as a priest.
Steadman replaced the Rev. Kevin Holsapple, 51, at Saint John's who left Bangor in September after nearly eight years as rector to serve a congregation in Crystal River, Fla. A native of Dexter, Holsapple is rector of St. Anne's Episcopal Church in the Gulf Coast town about 85 miles north of St. Petersburg, Fla.
Episcopalian churches hire interim clergy to serve congregations that are seeking new rectors. The interim clergy may not be candidates for the permanent positions. The Rev. John Wingert of Cazenovia, N.Y., served as the interim rector in Bangor.
Nancy Marks' children are the third generation of her family to attend St. John's. She spent 18 months on the discernment committee that determined what the congregation was looking for in a new minister and wrote the church profile to which job applicants responded.
"It was an amazing process to see who we are as individuals, as a community and as a parish," the 38-year-old mother of three said Sunday, "and to determine where we wanted to go. We set out to find a person who would not take us there, but help us get there together."
Steadman is that person, Marks said.
"We didn't set out to find a woman," she added. "The right person for the job turned out to be a woman."
Bruce Mallonee, 51, of Bangor was on the search committee that hired Steadman and her predecessor.
He described his new minister as "having a dense and powerful set of skills from liturgy to homiletics to
"She has beautiful liturgical style that fits with our history," he said Sunday. "She has skills in church growth that fit our needs for the future."
One of things that attracted Steadman to the church is the way it described itself in literature made available to job candidates and the logo LeeAnne Mallonee, a Bangor artist and member of the congregation, created for the church.
"The church profile spoke of a diversity in the congregation held together by a common identity found in the Eucharist and the presence of Jesus Christ found in the Eucharist," Steadman said. "It was very clear that this is what held them together."
The logo shows the outline of three fish - a symbol for Christ - in red, green and blue. They share one eye and look a bit like an upside-down cross.
"In seeing that, I saw a beautiful Trinitarian picture that expresses the unity founded in Jesus Christ amidst diversity," Steadman said.
That diversity at Saint John's and the Episcopal Diocese of the United States includes differing opinions on the blessing of same- sex unions and the ordination of noncelibate homosexual clergy. That controversy continues to ripple around the world in the Anglican Communion and speculation about a possible schism dominates news coverage about the denomination.
Steadman declined to discuss her views on the subjects before making them known to the congregation.
For information on Saint John's Episcopal Church, visit www.stjohnsbangor.org, or
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