Sunday, August 05, 2007
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Roanoke's St. John's Episcopal chooses new rector

The Rev. Barkley Thompson is scheduled to lead his first service Sept. 16.

The Reverend Barkley Thompson, RectorChurch of the Holy Apostles (Episcopal)

Courtesy of Rev. Barkley Thompson

The Reverend Barkley Thompson, RectorChurch of the Holy Apostles (Episcopal)

After an eight-month search, St. John's Episcopal Church in downtown Roanoke has chosen a new rector for the flagship parish in the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia.

The Rev. Barkley Thompson, 34, accepted the position July 23. He was one of three finalists selected by the vestry, or the lay leadership, at the 150-year-old church.

Thompson, his wife, Jill, and their two children are expected to be in Roanoke by Sept. 9. He will officiate at his first service Sept. 16. He will succeed the interim rector, the Rev. C. Anne Hallmark, who steered the church for two years after the departure of the Rev. Bob Beasley, said Barbara Johnson, chairwoman of the 11-person search committee.

While he wasn't seeking a new position, Thompson said his interest was piqued when he heard about St. John's search from a colleague in West Tennessee.

"My hope for St. John's is to build on its strengths as a parish and a presence in the community," Thompson wrote in an e-mail. "I have a heart for building community and church growth and a love for Episcopal liturgy."

Thompson has steered the Church of the Holy Apostles in the Memphis suburb of Collierville, Tenn., since 2003. It was the first post for the young seminarian, who had wrapped up his studies at the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest.

He launched several innovative ventures at the Collierville church, including a Bluegrass Mass last year and a book club with readings from Annie Proulx, C.S. Lewis, Marcus Borg and Philip Yancey, according to a parish publication.

"The idea is to allow the Christ who is incarnate in all things to speak through the indigenous music of our area," he said of the Bluegrass Mass in the parish publication. "It is amazing how prayerful and moving the sound of the dobro, guitar and mandolin can be."

It's unclear if he will bring those new ideas to Roanoke when he moves here.

"Every parish is distinctive, and outlets for ministry and fellowship at some aren't always the best fit for others," he replied by e-mail. "That being said, I love both the Bluegrass Mass and book club where I serve now, and I hope that similar offerings at St. John's could become part of parish life!"

Unlike other mainline churches with aging populations, St. John's doesn't have a regular contemporary service aimed at recruiting younger parishioners. At times, the church has held special events for younger churchgoers.

Sam Darby, senior warden on the vestry, said worship services are likely to move to the parish hall in 2008, when church leaders use about $3 million pledged in a capital campaign to help rebuild a historic Aeolian Skinner organ, refurbish the sanctuary and do other repairs.

"If you take them out of the old worship halls, then that is an opportunity for innovative services," Darby said.

A native of Arkansas, Thompson received his bachelor's degree in 1995 from Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., and a master's in religion from the University of Chicago in 1998.

He has been admitted into a doctorate program at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill., and anticipates completing the program in 2010.

He had an unusual path to the Episcopal faith. While there might have been a small Episcopal church in his hometown of Paragould, Ark., he wasn't sure he knew of its existence.

During his high school years, Thompson said he attended Roman Catholic services on Saturday nights and United Methodist services on Sunday mornings.

"In the Roman Catholic Church I experienced liturgy and sacraments that seemed to breathe God to me. In the United Methodist Church I experienced a theology of hospitality and grace that formed me," he wrote in an e-mail.

Thompson said he knew he would become an Episcopalian from the first moment he stepped into an Episcopal church during his freshman year in college in 1991.

St. John's parishioners will be led until Aug. 19 by Hallmark, the interim rector. The Rev. Bob Hamner, a St. John's staffer, will bridge the gap between Hallmark's departure and Thompson's arrival as the "interim interim" rector, Darby said.

Hallmark, 61, said St. John's was her 10th interim position after posts elsewhere in Virginia as well as in Chicago, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia.

Hallmark said she wasn't involved in picking a candidate but did guide the congregation in writing its profile seeking a new rector.

"I have found it just a tremendous privilege to be here," said Hallmark, who plans to travel with her husband for a while. "People are committed to being here and are excited about its future possibilities."

Both Darby and Johnson remarked on the positive influence Hallmark had on St. John's congregation.

"Her ministry with us was extremely positive," Darby said. "She was very supportive of us and recognized our gifts. We're sorry to see her leave, but in one sense she has completed her walk."

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