To a person not familiar with the Episcopal Church, Rev.
Suzanne Wade’s recent title change from “priest in charge” to “rector” may not
seem that significant. But to parishioners at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in
Westford, it is a milestone that reflects stability, control and excitement for
the future. A months-long discernment process, led by a committee with input
from all members of the parish, first established the core values and goals for
St. Mark’s, and then affirmed the fit and effectiveness of Wade’s spiritual
leadership of the past three years.
“The difference in the titles is that the people of St. Mark’s are making this decision, rather than the bishop,” said Rev. Wade, who will continue in a part-time capacity. “A priest in charge is appointed for a set number of years and is considered a temporary bridge to a permanent leader. I am happy St. Mark’s parishioners called me themselves to lead this church and I am excited to build on what we’ve started.”
Some of Rev. Wade’s accomplishments over the past three years include:
Local outreach: In her first year, Rev. Wade successfully challenged the congregation to a year-long “Feeding 5,000” outreach campaign, inspired by the story of Jesus using five loaves and two fishes to feed a crowd of 5,000 people. The ambitious goal, set in August 2011, was met ahead of schedule through a variety of outreach efforts, including feeding between 100 and 125 people each month through St. Paul’s Soup Kitchen at the Elliot Presbyterian Church in Lowell, and donating thousands of dollars each year to the Westford and Lowell food pantries through proceeds from the annual Chocolate Festival held each February.
International outreach: In June 2012 Rev. Wade traveled to the town of Tom Gato, Haiti, to facilitate an outreach partnership with the primary school there. Because 95 percent of the students can’t afford the modest tuition, St. Mark’s parishioners will begin the partnership by establishing a scholarship fund.
Creativity in worship: One of Rev. Wade’s signature endeavors is her creative take on traditional worship services. She invites family pets to church for a popular Blessing of the Animals to celebrate St. Francis in October; honors military service members on Veteran’s Day with Prayers for the Nation; and encourages students and student-athletes to have their backpacks and athletic gear blessed at the beginning of each school year.
Successful capital campaign: In conjunction with the Episcopal Dioceses of Massachusetts, St. Mark’s recently raised more than $300,000 through the Together Now capital campaign, money that will enable structural upgrades to the church, including a new wood floor in the parish hall, new energy efficient windows and other improvements to the facilities.
Rev. Wade hopes to build on these successes even as she challenges the traditional concept of “church” in a modern world.
“We need to think creatively about ourselves as a church. How do we support young families in their formation and growth when the stresses of life don’t allow them to be with us physically at church every Sunday? Some families are coming to us without a background or familiarity with the Christian faith, and we need to be able to articulate what that means, and introduce them to this loving and supportive community,” said Rev. Wade. “The core of what we do is always about the Gospel and Jesus and sharing that way with others. Otherwise we’re just a social club.”
One immediate project is the expansion of St. Mark’s participation in the St. Paul’s Soup Kitchen at the Elliot Presbyterian Church in Lowell to include a social aspect where parishioners sit and talk to participants in order to build relationships, in addition to feeding them food. To help with this effort, a workshop on spiritual companioning, cosponsored by the Mission Institute, is planned for the fall and will be open to the entire local community.
Rev. Wade’s official installation, called an “institution” in the Episcopal nomenclature, will take place the fall and will be coordinated with the bishop’s office.
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church is located at 75 Cold Spring Road, Westford. For more information, call 978-692-7849, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us on Facebook.
Submitted by St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.