StJB in Focus: Living in Transition

Ironically, change is about the only constant in life. Most people don’t like change as it is often difficult, disruptive, uncomfortable and a painful amount of work. Change typically requires us to think, explore, expand and adapt; it challenges our set routines and comfort zones. There is also the vital flip side to change: opportunity and growth; a chance to modify, refine and strengthen. The act of becoming offers life, vitality, and hope, while remaining the same is to stagnate and perish.

As our Bishop, Rob Hirschfeld, recently cited in News From the Vine, “The presiding Bishop (Michael Curry) speaks of our God as ‘loving, liberating, and life-giving.’ These words describe a God who is not fixed or stuck, but constantly calling us beyond the status quo.” Simply put, God wants us to embrace change and evolve.

For more than 140 years, the Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist (StJB) has well served the seven villages of Wakefield, NH and beyond. Through the vision, donations, and efforts of several prominent families (the Dows, Sanborns and Lows) the church was built ‘up on the hill’ in the Village of Wolfeborough Junction (now Sanbornville) in 1876-77, under architect Charles Haight. The ‘Carpenter Gothic’ architecture of our church is further enhanced by its 14 stained glass windows, a unique bidding bell, and the only pipe organ in the area. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Far more importantly, StJB is known as a warm, open and inclusive church – one that welcomes ALL people in worship, fellowship and outreach.

Today, our church is in a time of transition. St John’s former rector for the last 11 years, the Reverend Sue Poulin, was called to serve St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Dover, NH in March, 2018. Among the smallest parishes of the 46 Episcopal churches in New Hampshire, StJB is at the start of its search for a new minister. During this transitional work period of reflection and discernment, we are blessed to have the guidance of Interim Rector, the Reverend Dr. Janet Lombardo. Not only has Janet served as an Episcopal priest in the NH diocese for more than 20 years, she is currently a consultant to the Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) specializing in Congregational Development.

“I specialize in helping congregations in transition,” explained Pastor Janet, “a crucial first step in this process is to re-envision each church’s mission or purpose. Ultimately, we work on congregational strength and vitality.”

StJB’s Warden, Tina Firicano, shared, “the hardest part is the unknowing and uncertainty of our future,” but she also sees “enormous opportunity and excitement” for the parish to “seek God’s path of what St. John’s is meant to be.” Tina added, “We may be small but we’re a feisty, sustainable church with a whole lot of love to give.”

Pastor Janet largely echoed, “St John’s is entering a period of re-envisioning of who we are and what we are doing.” While she admits transformation can be an anxious and difficult time, she assured, “we are not alone in this process – God and the diocese are there to help support us.”

Bishop Hirschfeld’s recent visit to StJB reiterated the importance of this process and encouraged the parish to “take its time” to explore and discern “who we are” and “what we want to be.” He also reminded us to keep faith, work together and trust in God to guide us.

St John’s will navigate a delicate balance to re-imagine its current mission and purpose – in essence its congregational vitality -- while also preserving its rich history within the Wakefield community.

Pastor Janet challenges us to go beyond our historic legacy to revitalize our purpose and pertinence today. “It is not enough to show up in our beautiful little church each week and support ourselves,” she stated, “individually and collectively, we must seek to serve others in our community in faith and love.”