“They also preached” – Assistants and Associates St. George’s Part 4- Rev. Nathan Ferrell, 2002-2003

The Rev. Nathan Ferrell was the assistant for a short time, May 2002 until September 2003. His time here was punctuated by Charles Sydnor’s wife brain aneurism which forced into retirement by May, 2003 and the beginning of the Rev. John Seville’s interim ministry in August, 2003. He received a bonus from the Vestry for carrying the workload alone from May, 2003 until August, 2003, which was longer than expected. He was young, 29 years of age.  

Nathan served during a short but turbulent time in the history of St. George’s in dealing with a series of changes. Adding fuel to the fire was a series of sniper attacks that gripped the community in November, 2002. This led to a consideration of capital punishment by the clergy and Vestry.  Charles wrote that he wanted to make his position clear that both he and Nathan opposed it and would work for its abolishment.  Both signed a “Declaration of Life” statement that should their deaths come by homicide they request that the prosecutor not file an action for capital punishment for the accused.

Ferrell was from New Jersey. He grew up in the Episcopal Church. At the University of Vermont, he studied he studied German and Environmental Education.  Nathan is an avid runner, weight-lifter, Nordic skier, mountain climber, kayaker and Environmental Education fit his proclivities as an outdoors person.

During college, he found that he had a call for the ministry. However, he attended Baptist Theological Seminary and once he became a Master in Divinity in 1998, he was ordained at Ginter Park Baptist Church and then moved on to First Baptist Church in Winchester. It was at that time he decided to return to the church on his birth. After attending classes at The Virginia Theological Seminary and Trinity School for Ministry, Nathan was ordained as a deacon in 2002. So, he came to St. George’s as a deacon and was later ordained into the priesthood in December, 2002.

Nathan’s spiritual journey was heavily influenced by his experiences with Young Life, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Saint Francis of Assisi and the Franciscan movement, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and the writings of Dallas Willard.  Hurley Bogardus noted that in the interviews they found him “dynamic and energetic.” He would encourage at advent a full round of spiritual activities from “fasting, prayer, meditation and confession.”  “Make and extra effort to keep Advent this year as a time of spiritual preparation.” Timing was important to make it a real spiritual process to not to rush Christmas but when it comes celebrate it completely.

What was different about Nathan’s arrival was that it was the beginning of the “permanent” assistant minister. St. George’s had not had an associate since Jack Sutor left early in 1993.  The change was due to the process of a Mutual Ministry Review which absorbed St. George’s for 11 months from 2000-2001. It was a review of Charles ministry and in the process sampled the goals and attitudes of parishioners through a survey, small-group forums. Leaders of established church groups were interviewed.  The final report was presented to the Vestry in April, 2001.  The first idea was direct – “St. George’s Church should hire an assistant rector.”  As the review stated, it was up to the Vestry to implement the program.

The Personnel and Operations committee began working on it through 2001. 41 names were taken from the national church’s database and 25 letters were sent to provide resumes.  Dec., 2001 was set as the deadline for applications. After this the process was more intense with written and videotapes interviews based on five questions to six of the candidates. Face-to-Face interviews were held with three persons.  Hurley Bogardus wrote in the newsletter that they found Nathan “dynamic and energetic.”  The focus included envisioning the future. Charles wrote that he hoped Nathan would “make connections to Generation X, those children of the Baby Boomers in the general age of 30 and under.” He added “But I also believe he brings the ability to engage people of any age with a deep transforming experience of God in their lives because of his own spiritual depth and personal experience.” Nathan also brought a family to St. George’s with two children and one on the way.

As time went on this process was even more timely as Charles Sydnor was preoccupied with his wife’s broken hip and brain aneurism as well as twin grandsons who were undergoing a feeding therapy program.  

Ferrell was very much involved in the fall program planning schedule discussing it with the Vestry in July, 2002.  He wrote early on that ministry includes all the people in the church and not just the clergy. The new program also included “Pilgrimage”, “Sunday evening worship of a different style held in Faulkner Hall” which they said included people “exploring a connection to God and Church.”  This was a use of Taize worship styles and Celtic Christianity which would become part of the Celtic Service in 2008.

They also planned a series of mini-retreat led by Nathan who had experience in conducting them.  Planned were retreats for St. Francis, Sister Elaine, an Episcopal Nun in Philadelphia “Developing a Personal Rule of Life.” Included in the fall schedule was also a series of theme dinners for St. Michael and All Angels (Michaelmas) on Sept 30 or St. Luke on Oct. 18. Integrity first came to St. Georges at that time with a Eucharist on third Fridays. Integrity was an organization dedicated to churches become opening and welcome to gay and lesbian peoples.

Ferrell also functioned resource person as had earlier assistants. Of note was his work for Congregational Care.  He called upon people to help with hospital visits.  He was involved in Outreach working with the process to save the Thurman Brisben Shelter due to the inability to find a new location and with Micah in the process to buy 400 sleeping bags for the homeless.

Charles Sydnor retired in May, 2003 during his ministry and Ferrell wrote that change while being constant is a time that involves fear, bewilderment but also opportunity though we don’t know what lies on the other side of change. The important part is the attitude we greet change.

His most profound work was in the role of change. His words fit into an important staffing memo he presented to the Vestry in August, 2003.  He said we would need a full-time youth minister, an education director, and an Outreach Director, as well as dividing the organist position from that of the Music Director.  He also said we needed a part-time receptionist.  He also said the primary issue facing St. George’s is space which could be approached by building and buying more space, and by planting new parishes with current members.   

His words were prophetic.  Fletcher Wells in 2007 became a full-time youth minister. Jan Saylor became a full-time Outreach Director in 2005.  For a time, the organist was separate from the Music Director in 2004 after Patricia Parker left though 10 years later a second music person was added.  We have also moved to part time receptionist though it is a volunteer position.  The space need is a challenge in our current time in 2017.

Ferrell left in September, 2003 to become the rector of Trinity Episcopal in Topsfield MA. He recognized it was poor timing and would cause another round of change.  He saw that God was calling him to a new ministry.  In a sermon, he wrote “The key in the midst of all these changes is to remember to remember the faithfulness and changelessness of God, and to remember our true identity as a people who had been bought with a precious price, people who live in order to be united with God in a ceaseless relationship of love and intimacy.  These things, my friends, will never change. God has never left you and God never will.”

Ferrell in 2017 is the rector of the Episcopal Church of St. Mary of Falmouth Maine.

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