- Associated Press - Monday, November 28, 2016

BEULAH, Mich. (AP) - Jodi Baron looks at the portraits lining the wall of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church showing a long line of male rectors. Soon her face, along with her husband’s, will hang beside them.

The church hired Jodi, from Traverse City, and her husband Christian, from Allendale, as co-rectors of the 60-year-old parish.

They’re the church’s first co-rectors, and Jodi, is its first female ordained priest.

“People don’t always know how to address me,” Jodi said, of when people see her white tab collar on her black clerical shirt. “But they’re excited. We have a great community here that wants to grow with us.”

The Record-Eagle (https://bit.ly/2geFt9e ) reports that the search process took almost a year to replace the vacancy left by Rev. Harold Comer, who’d led the church for 17 years.

“We were drawn to their youth, their enthusiasm, and their commitment to their community in terms of serving all the people, not just parishioners,” said search committee head Judy Macey. Of having two rectors instead of one, she said, “Being the pastor of a church is a hard job and having two people who can share their ideas and concerns seemed like a really good idea to us.”

They worked it out so the couple splits a full-and-a-half time position, with each getting three-quarter time. Both do everything, but Jodi is the point person for administrative and vestry duties; Christian heads up the spiritual formation, education and outreach programs.

“It’s always easier to stay in old patterns, but we think this will help us to move forward in good ways that are meaningful to the larger population,” Macey said.

Jodi, 39, likes to run, sew, read and hike. Christian, 40, likes hunting, fishing and coaching J.V. basketball. They both love cooking and home brewing and have three daughters ages 11, 9 and 8. They graduated together in the Masters of Divinity program from Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas.

The couple ventured on their spiritual journey together, though not always at the same step at the same time, Jodi said. Both had been raised in different churches but sought something that fit them as a couple and family.

“We gleaned goodness and truth in all of the churches we experienced,” Jodi said. But the Episcopal Church’s inclusiveness and ancient liturgies attracted them, Jodi said. Plus the church ordains women and LGBT students to the priesthood, the diaconate and the episcopate.

“There’s an interesting complexity of Christianity in America. You can’t just say ‘Christian’ and know what that means,” Jodi said. “I think the diversity of our voices are the thing that makes us all stronger.”

They share this seeking experience with many churchgoers today.

Cindy Niswonger was raised Catholic, her husband Baptist, and they were looking for a church where they and their two children felt “at home,” she said. They found St. Philip’s in August, right after the Barons started their on-the-job training.

“Everyone in the church is so welcoming,” Niswonger said. “(The Barons) provide a unique experience that adds a level that interests us - plus they have a family and we have young children, too. We felt we can really relate to them,” Niswonger said.

Jodi said that the parishioners of today exercise choice in their churchgoing more than ever before.

“I don’t think people come out of habit anymore - that’s not the social norm. People are making a conscious choice to be here, to practice, to sing and pray together.”

The couple will be formally installed Dec. 8 in a blessing and union celebration at 7 p.m. in the St. Philip’s sanctuary.


Information from: Traverse City Record-Eagle, https://www.record-eagle.com

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