Editor’s. This article covers the Rev. Gay Rahn from 2005 through 2011. Another article may consider the years after that
Gay Rahn is originally from Savannah and grew up in a large family with a Methodist mother and Roman Catholic Father. Gay originally was trained as a nurse in Grady Hospital in Atlanta but she never practiced it. Opportunities for girls were limited to a career after college – either teaching or nursing.
She felt the calling to ministry through one of her daughters. The daughter asked “why couldn’t girls be acolytes?” Gay told her to approach her priest who was waiting on girl to ask for that opportunity. That led Gay to thinking about the priesthood, and she was ordained in 1989. She served originally at her home church, St. Thomas Episcopal, Savannah.
Since that time she has served Calvary Church in Memphis, Church of the Good Shepherd in Jacksonville, St. Mark’s Church in Dalton, St. Stephens in Pittsfield, MA. She got to know Jim Dannals who also served in the Jacksonville and Pittsfield churches.
Her hobbies include reading, poetry and beekeeping and apitherapist, or “bee therapist.” When she came to St. George’s she was even driving a motorcyle! She is married to Tommy Rahn, a retired large machinery part salesman and they have three daughters.
She called to St. George’s in December, 2005, at the same time as Joani Peacock departed. As of 2017, she was the 3rd longest serving priest in the last 100 years.
Gay’s strengths lie in education and welcome ministries (newcomers, fellowship) and more recently in interfaith ministries. Her responsibilities at St. George’s would include oversight of Adult formation, Children’s spiritual formation, newcomers, fellowships and new initiatives to reach the unchurched. Jim would have oversight with the Vestry, Stewardship, worship, finances, facilities, communications and support staff. She saw their interaction as complementary. Their strengths are opposite so when they work together is a wonderful combination. In any case, they would each support each other in the decision that were made
One of the most important contributions she brought to St. George’s is that she came as a leader in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for children’s formation. Catechesis of the Good Shepherd came about through the work of two Roman Catholic laywomen in Rome: Sofia Cavalletti and Gianna Gobbi. They were inspired by the educational principles of Maria Montessori, also a Catholic. The materials they prepared for children, since 1954, were based on the Bible, the Roman Catholic liturgy and sacraments, Tradition, and Church teachings. In an memo to introduce the program in April, 2006 she wrote, “In this approach there are rooms prepared for children in which every object is a help to knowing God. They are places of simplicity and order, prayer and work and community. These places allow children to come into contact with sculpture, the liturgy of the church and for older children, the whole of sacred history.” During her time the program expanded from Level 1 to Level 3 which required a significant investment in education both at St. George’s and Northern Virginia. By 2017, they were running out of space with the existing facility, particularly from ages 8 to 12.
In April, 2010, Gay has received a $1,400 gift from a parishioner to be used according to her discretion. She requested to the Vestryh the creation of an education fund to make St. George’s a center of Christian education for the Diocese. It became the basis for the Lenten Weekend, usually the first weekend in Lent. Prominent theologian Marcus Borg in 2011 was the keynote in 2011. He spoke at the Sunday forum, preaching that day and doing a public address that evening. On Monday, there was Diocese event for clergy as well as an event at the University of Mary Washington and finally another public presentation.
The Lenten weekends would lead to other ministries. In 2015,Sr. Maureen Fiedler, creator and host of public radio’s “Interfaith Voices,” was the featured presenter for St. George’s Lenten weekend “Listening Across the Lines.” Her environmental comments led to the creation of the Environmental Group at St. George’s.
Likewise a year later, Natalie Finsted echoed Martin Luther King’s writings from “The Role of the Church in Facing the Nation’s Chief Moral Dilemma,” 1957. “But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends.” A group was formed in Fredericksburg with St. Georgians meeting in many locations to apply these concepts to politics.
Gay describes herself as one who “loves to have a party.” She is an extrovert who loves to interact with people. She stresses welcoming, particularly with those who had had a bad experience with churches in their lives. She prides herself on getting the re-introduction of greeters going at St. George’s. She wrote the following about greeting – “To have the heart of Christ means to be truly present to each person we meet, especially strangers God brings across our path. To ignore strangers renders us dead to the possibility that God may use us in that person’s life or that God may speak to us through this person. This Advent I invite you to accept the challenge in our Baptismal covenant to “seek and serve Christ in all persons.” As we prepare to welcome the infant Christ into our hearts at Christmas let us practice welcoming Christ in the person we do not know.” She recognized people were doing this. In Nov., 2008 she mentioned that the Newcomers Commission has been revitalized with the work of Sandy Seaton. She challenged the Vestry to introduce themselves to four people they did not know each Sunday. By 2009, the newcomers commission was offering bags for newcomers which would include information on the Church, commissions, and opportunities and contain a supply of Hershey kisses. The greeters would escort them to coffee hour.
She also prides herself on her focus on social justice. In March, 2008 it was a vigil in honor of Lawrence King, an eighth grader in California who it is believed was murdered because he was gay. Many of the speakers on Sunday echoed this point. In the fall of 2008 she welcomed Bernie Cohen as part of a three week series on racism and discrimination. He litigated the Loving case (Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967)) where the US Supreme Court declared the Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law unconstitutional ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the US. During 2006, she got the church involved in the One Campaign, rally Americans one by one to fight global AIDS and poverty. From 2015 onward much of social justice has revolved around interfaith ministries and her example brought the church to embrace it, particular with the Muslims.
In all of this life is about developing and cultivating relationships. She wrote this about relationships for the 2008 Shrine Mont retreat.
“Friendship colors the very air we breathe. We can see it in the eyes of old women in the kitchens of the women they love. We can hear it in the voices of young children giggling as they play or a group of teenagers laughing and playing ball.
“It is our nature as human beings to need relationship. Created in love and for love, we yearn for relationship, we yearn to belong. We need one another, the joy and laughter that we experience in the company of friends, the energy that comes from feeling that our hearts are connected to the hearts of others. When we are deeply known and accepted by friends, we are better able to know and accept ourselves honestly, humbly, simply, and lovingly.
“In friendship, we share the stories of our lives. Reflecting upon our stories reveals the common threads that tie us together. The love of true friendship is also the context in which we heal. It is in the midst of friends that we become who God calls us to be.”
Gay was on sabbatical in 2011. During that time the youth director Anna Black resigned and Gay would assume responsibilities as the staff person for both youth and world mission. For the former, She recruited a new set of adult volunteers to power St. George’s Rite 13 and JTA programs. At the beginning of the program year she had 13 in the middle school and 6 in the high school in the morning plus 34 youth in the afternoon in addition to adults. Mac Smith wrote for the Vestry in September, 2011 that “The Committee appears to have new life, new energy and a new outlook.”
She also began focusing attention on small group ministry at St. George’s beginning in August 2011, compiling existing groups to date and considering different venues for small group ministry as well as variety of content, not just books but film also. They also considered ways to make people aware of small group, particularly online.
Having reached retirement age, Gay retired to Savannah in June, 2018. Donations poured in both to her farewell purse as well as a renamed Lenten Weekend account in her honor. The Lenten Weekend event was renamed to “The Gay Rahn Lenten Weekend.”