I spent the weekend before Thanksgiving in Miami with my family and my sister-in-law’s family to celebrate the upcoming birth of my nephew. We had a shower for Baby Hart and were able to spend some time together as a family before they become parents. I was fortunate enough to fly in on Thursday afternoon before everyone arrived so that I could spend some time with Ray and Alli, just the three of us, well the five of us if you include their two dogs, my four-legged nephew and niece. Of all the family on both sides, it is very unlikely I will see both of them before the baby is born, although Ray will be here for the ordination.
Over dinner on Thursday night, Ray and I had an interesting exchange. I asked him if he was ready to be a father and in turn, he asked me if I was ready to be a priest. We both answered something like, as ready as I can be, and it is coming no matter what. I can’t exactly slow down time or tell Bishop Waldo to wait. Ray and Alli can’t keep Baby Hart from coming, even if it means he ends up coming early. I heard him tell several people over the weekend that they are not nervous about things as much as anticipating the arrival. I thought it was perfect for both of our situations. As much of control freaks as Ray and I both can be, we trust God and God’s timing.
Ray and Alli are in a time of preparation for Baby Hart to arrive. Their guest room is being converted to a nursery. Alli had her baby shower at work as well as the shower with her family and close friends. Alli is almost to the point where she will not be able to travel, in fact they switched their holidays, so they were with our family for Thanksgiving and will remain close to Miami with her family for Christmas. They have virtually toured the birthing suites at the hospital and have been taking virtual classes in preparation for the arrival of this precious child. Alli sends us updates on a regular basis on how big the baby is and what is going on with his growth. They have taken all the precautions necessary. She is taking her prenatal vitamins and getting as much rest as possible. They are waiting for Baby Hart to be born and wondering what parenthood will be like.
During the season of Advent, we wait and hope for the Christ Child. We look forward to hearing the stories again and hope we will hear something new and different. We prepare our homes as we decorate with trees and mangers. We celebrate with friends and family. We may send out Christmas cards. At the same time, we are also waiting and hoping for the return of Christ at the end of time.
May we await with joy and expectation the coming of the Christ Child and Christ’s second coming.
I want to thank you all again for the warm welcome I have received over the past few months. The luncheon to officially “Meet & Greet our New Curate” was fabulous. I have appreciated everyone who has included me in smaller group meetings and dinners. Small group settings are truly the best way I can get to know people better. I am grateful to everyone who has continued to wear their nametag and/or continued to introduce themselves to me. I only had two Sundays in which you all could see my face and I could see your faces without the mask, so having a chance to really put faces with names has been hard and opportunities to see everyone’s smiling faces are greatly appreciated.
Several months ago, Father Stephen announced that I had been approved for Ordination to the Priesthood. One of the comments he made was something like, we will no longer have Deacon Lathrop. That caused a bit of confusion, with several people asking me if I would be leaving after I was ordained a priest. I think there may also be a bit of confusion because I am a Transitional Deacon, which means that I am transitioning to the priesthood and will be staying at St. James (not that I am transitioning and moving away from St. James as I become a priest).
Y’all, I just got settled (OK, I still have about 12-14 boxes to unpack and all the boxes in the basement to slowly sort through) and Beau and JJ (my dogs) have recently joined me. I have so much to learn from and with you all and so much to learn from and with Father Stephen, especially if you think in terms of the title of “Curate” as really being more like a “priest-in-training.” Even once Bishop Waldo lays hands on me on December 15, that does not mean all this knowledge is automatically transferred to my brain. It simply means I will have authority to do all the things a priest can do in addition to all the things a deacon can do. Take for example, learning to do all the priest things for a Sunday morning (which is one of the most visible things a priest does). Father Stephen and I have started working through everything for a Sunday morning. Even as we work on those things and I prepare for ordination on December 15 and to celebrate the Eucharist for the first time on December 19 (which is a big deal for a newly ordained priest), I will still be learning, and I will still be honing my skills as a priest. Just like any job, the more you do something the more comfortable you become and the better you become at it (I am really hoping that is the case for chanting!).
We also have so much work to do to rebuild after COVID and I am invested in that rebuilding process, not only for the Children’ Ministry, Youth Ministry, and Canterbury (college-aged ministry at Furman), but also for St. James as a whole. This re-building process is not just a 6-month or a one-year or even a several year process, it is going to take time. At times it can be scary, and I have to remind myself about the exciting opportunities we have to re-build and re-think things. I plan to be with you all every step of the way as we figure out what all the various ministries at St. James are going to look like going forward. That will take creative thinking, patience, being willing to build the airplane as we fly it and re-evaluate things as we are going along. Also, being willing to take baby steps and realize that some things might be worth really focusing on while letting go of other things for the time being. My hope is that we will re-envision and re-build St. James together.
We all have that place that we consider holy ground. Now, I am not talking about our wonderful church, St. James, although indeed, it is holy ground. I am talking about a place that is special to you or your family, and when you are there, you feel the presence of God. It may be the beach house your family has gone to every year since you can remember or the mountain house that your family has owned or a beautiful garden, or even the serenity of your own backyard. That place you can go to in the midst of everything going on in the world and know you will experience God and be wrapped in God’s presence. Some people call them thin spaces, a place in which the space between heaven and earth becomes so thin, and you feel you can almost reach out and touch heaven and the heavenly realm, where the distance between heaven and earth collapses.
While I have several spaces that I consider holy ground, the most special of these and the most precious to me is Sewanee. Sewanee has been in my blood since before I was born. Both my grandfather and my father attended undergraduate there. And I always knew I was destined to carry on the family legacy. The first time I set foot on the campus, in my ninth-grade year, I fell in love. And while I did apply and was accepted to enter the freshman class in the fall of 1992, I decided to attend Converse College. I knew then, if not for my undergraduate degree, I was meant to attend seminary there. I knew I was meant to continue the family legacy. And in the Fall of 2018, I had that chance. I have always talked about continuing the family legacy with a bit of a twist. You see, I am the third generation to attend Sewanee, but the first female to attend in my family and the first to attend The School of Theology.
Words cannot describe how I feel when I enter the gates of The Domain. In my first letter to Bishop Waldo after I started seminary and almost every letter afterward, I talked about having to pinch myself getting to drive by All Saints’ Chapel every day, often multiple times a day. For three years, I had the amazing experience of walking on the sidewalks my father and grandfather walked and sat in All Saints’ Chapel as they did. Sewanee, in so many ways, is holy ground for me. A place where even in all the midst of my studies and preparations to become a deacon and then a priest, that I felt God’s presence, not only Chapel of the Apostles or All Saints, but in the very ground on which I stood, walked, and hiked. As I sat in Abbo’s Alley and watched the fish in the pond. I had the amazing experience of watching the fog roll up the mountain at Green’s View. As I hiked the Perimeter Trail, first in sections and then as a whole with classmates. As I sat out at Memorial Cross and felt the breeze and sunshine on my face. As I watched the leaves change and experienced how much like Narnia certain places on campus can become with enough snow under the right conditions. As I watched the baby goats be born and grown up. As I gathered and fellowshipped with my classmates and friends. As we shared our hopes and dreams and prayed for one another as we made our transitions off the Holy Mountain.
This week, I am in Sewanee for the School of Theology’s Alumni lectures. As soon as I entered the gates, I realized how much I missed it, even after only being away for three months. Unfortunately, I do not have much extra time to hike or even just sit on this trip. This is a quick trip. I realized that this place is where I need to come back often for rest, rejuvenation, prayer, and retreat. It is a profoundly spiritual and grounding place. A thin space where you feel like you can reach out and touch the heavens.
I am excited to finally officially be in Greenville and at St. James. As much as I loved my three years at Sewanee, it is good to be home, back in the Upstate of South Carolina. My first couple of weeks and my first couple of Sundays have been wonderful. I cannot thank you all enough for the warm welcome over the past couple of months. I have appreciated all the emails and people taking time to introduce themselves to me. I look forward to continuing to meet people and I am sure there will be many ways that we will be able to do that outside of Sunday morning.
When I visited on June 6, the first thing Father Stephen said to me was, “Welcome home!” I truly felt like I have come home, which is an amazing feeling considering June 6 was the first time I met Father Stephen in person, the first time I met you all in person, and the first time I walked into the building. Seminary is an interesting time, even though I still had my sponsoring parish, I really felt like I did not have a church home. It is unsettling, as it is supposed to be so I could begin to move on from my sponsoring parish. But as someone who has only had a handful of church homes in her life, it was a challenge. It is fun and a great experience to worship at different Episcopal churches, but it is hard not to have that anchor to keep me grounded.
Many of you have asked questions to get to know me better and I welcome them as a chance to share my story with you all. I was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. I grew up at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. My mom still is a member there, so when I go and visit, that is where I attend church. My earliest memory of church is sitting in the balcony with my parents, my brother, godparents, and godbrothers and sisters. I also have very distinct memories of singing in the Children’s Choir, especially for Feast Days. I was an acolyte from 7th to 12th grades. The cross I wear most often was given to me my Senior Year in high school on Baccalaureate Sunday for my service as an acolyte. I was also very involved in EYC all throughout junior high and high school. My youth years were incredibly formative and important in my call to the priesthood, so much so that my clergy presenter at my ordination to the Transitional Diaconate was the priest who oversaw the Youth Group, Rev. Eric Kahl.
I have been in South Carolina (minus the three years at Sewanee) since the Fall of 1992, when I went to college at Converse. I majored in Psychology and Religion and loved my four years of college. I have a wonderful group of friends and we have been with each other through thick and thin, through the joys and challenges of life. During college, I was involved in Canterbury Club, which was a joint effort between Wofford, Converse, and USC Upstate. I attended The Episcopal Church of the Advent and helped with their Jr. EYC group. While at Converse I met Matt, who was attended Wofford at the time. We married right after I graduated from Converse. We first lived in Anderson for a couple of years while Matt was completing his PhD in Analytical Chemistry. We then moving back to Spartanburg. I taught preschool, did Youth Ministry for a while at two different United Methodist Churches, and eventually settled down into higher education, working at Converse in Institutional Advancement and then Admissions, and then Admissions at Wofford.
Aside from spending some time in the United Methodist Church, we also took some time to explore other denominations, eventually landing back in The Episcopal Church at St. Christopher’s in Spartanburg. Although I had long felt the call to ordained ministry, I also wrested with my call. While it took a while for me to get fully engaged at St. Christopher’s and much of it happened in phases, I eventually ended up ringing in the Bell Choir, Lectoring, Chalicing, Verging, Chairing the Worship Committee, being elected Senior Warden, and Chairing a Search Committee. Each of those ministries would fill the hole for a while and I would be satisfied for a while, but God and my call kept pulling at me. At the same time, I also began to realize that while although I loved my job at Wofford, I loved the people I worked with, and I loved working on a college campus, I wasn’t really using all my God given gifts and talents. The closest I would come to it is calming a parent, a student, or a guidance counselor, letting them know things were going to be OK, we would work with them, if they were making to effort to get things for the application file to us in a timely manner.
God must of have gotten tired of my struggling and decided it was time to send me an engraved invitation in the form of two priests. Rev. Jim Trimble, who St. Christopher’s called as Vicar in May of 2015. I was on the team that made the visit to Kentucky to see him, hear him preach, and meet his family. I realized from that moment on, if we called Father Jim, I would be challenged merely by his presence. The second one is Rev. Eric Kahl. I had not seen him in 15 years when we saw each other in June of 2015 in Jacksonville when I was visiting shortly after we called Father Jim. One of the last conversations we had, Father Eric looked at me and asked me why I wasn’t a priest yet and then told me that he always knew I had been called and that as soon as Father Jim was officially on board at St. Christopher’s, I needed to have a conversation with him.
I began discernment at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in the Fall of 2015. I applied to enter the formal discernment process through The Diocese of Upper South Carolina in September of 2016. After being married 21 years, Matt unexpectedly died, and I had to put my discernment process on hold for a little while. In January of 2018, I was given permission by Bishop Waldo to attend seminary. Shortly afterward, I applied to and then visited The School of Theology at The University of the South (Sewanee) and was accepted into the Class of 2021.
My time at Sewanee was amazing. I not only soaked up the academics and the spiritual life, but the time of fellowship with my classmates, fellow seminarians, and professors. I also took advantage of being in such a beautiful and sacred space and did a good bit of hiking. While I checked off many Sewanee bucket list items, my favorite by far was hiking the 21-mile Perimeter Trail with classmates right before graduation. Sewanee was a wonderfully supportive environment to complete my Master of Divinity degree, begin preparing for ordination and ordained ministry, and continue to heal and work through the grief process. I graduated from The School of Theology on May 16 and was ordained as a Transitional Deacon on June 9 at Trinity Cathedral in Columbia.
inI moved from Sewanee to Greenville at the beginning of July and am in the slow process of getting settled in. While my home office is still a mess as all the unpacked boxes are in there, my kitchen, dining area, living room, and bedrooms are pretty much settled. So, I can cook a meal, I have a place to sit and eat, I have TV and internet, I have a place to sleep, and I know where most of my clothes are. I am grateful to Father Stephen for giving me the time and space to settle and make sure I could find everything I needed for my first day in the office and more importantly my first Sunday (and yes there's a story there). My dogs, Beau and JJ have not yet joined me, but I am hoping they will very soon.
I am thrilled to be a part of the St. James family and I look forward to sharing more of my story as well as hearing your stories and the story of St. James. I look forward to serving in ministry with you all.