By MaryAnn Kromer, firstname.lastname@example.org
A Celebration of Shared Ministry is planned for 7 p.m. Monday at Old Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Tiffin. The Rev. Amy Fallon is to be installed as the congregation's first female pastor at the event. In the Christian calendar, Nov. 1 is the Feast of All Saints.
"Since we are doing ministry with the saints, it seemed like a good day," Fallon said.
As it happened, the bishop was available that day to conduct the installation. Fallon compared the Celebration of Ministry to a "coming out party" because it recognizes the responsibility of church members to do ministry in conjunction with the pastor. In addition to church members, Fallon has invited the mayor of Tiffin, representatives from the two universities and from St. Francis. The Tiffin University Gospel Choir will provide music for the ceremony.
"A celebration of new ministry recognizes that it's not just the clergyperson who does ministry, but the whole congregation does. When a clergyperson comes, it's not just an event for the church but an event for the whole community," Fallon said.
Ministry is a career that came as "a complete surprise" for Fallon. A native of New Hampshire, she earned an undergraduate degree in archaeology at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. At 21, she was accepted for graduate school at the University of Michigan. During her first year in the program, she had second thoughts.
"Something just did not feel right, and I didn't know what it was," Fallon said. "I had a five-year free ride and I was doing work that I thought I wanted to do."
Having grown up in a religious family, Fallon turned to prayer to help her sort out what she needed to do. "Something about God" kept recurring, but the path was not clear. Then she spotted an ad for a seminary in Cambridge, Mass., offering a master's degree in church history. The idea to focus on church history seemed to be an extension of her studies in ancient history. About six weeks after she enrolled at the seminary, she realized that she was being called to be a priest.
"Never considered it, never thought about it, but there it was," Fallon said.
She said her gender was not an obstacle to becoming a priest. The Episcopal Church has been ordaining women since the late 1970s. Fallon estimated about one-third of Episcopal clergy are women, including the presiding bishop. Her first assignment was at a church in downtown Hartford. After three years as an assistant rector, she became the campus minister at the University of Connecticut for eight years. Although she enjoyed the work, funding cuts reduced her salary.
"I needed a full-time job, so I decided it was God nudging me to think about doing something else. ... As I thought about it, in a perfect world, I would end up in a parish in a town that had some academic institutions, and the parish would be interested in doing some kind of outreach to that."
In the Episcopal church, clergy are free to move as they see fit. Fallon said she filled out paperwork and sent it to the placement office at the church's national headquarters in New York. That office helps to place priests in new locations. Every diocese has a person who monitors the applications that come in.
"In some ways, it's kind of like computer dating," Fallon said. "I got this letter from the Diocese of Ohio saying, 'We have a position that you might be interested in."
The opening was at Old Trinity Episcopal Church in Tiffin, a community with two universities. Fallon decided to explore the position and did an interview last November. She accepted the job in December, visited in January and agreed to start in March. Since her arrival, she has joined the board at St. Francis Spirituality Center. She volunteers as a success coach for Tiffin University students who are in academic crisis, and she also works with Heidelberg University chaplain, Paul Stark.
"When I came here, I was delighted to discover that you have fall foliage, because that was one of the things I thought I was going to miss," Fallon said. "That first Saturday I was in town, I went to the library and got a library card, and I went to the Y and joined the Y."
Biking and running are Fallon's favorite athletic endeavors. Last summer, she participated in two days of a five-day annual bicycle ride to raise money for youth mission programs in the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio. She also has completed 11 marathons, but Fallon said an injury caused her to take a two-year hiatus from running.
"I trained for my first marathon during the worst winter on record in New Hampshire ... I always say to people, it's not hard to run a marathon. It's hard to get ready to run a marathon," Fallon said.
For now, she is looking forward to her first experience with the Victorian Tea and Lessons and Carols going on at Old Trinity for Victorian Weekend. Although she is not a singer, Fallon said she will help with the readings and any other tasks that may be needed. She praised the congregation for keeping the doors open in spite of financial hardships. Her new position seems to be a good fit with many possibilities.
"Old Trinity is a great congregation with a long history in this town," Fallon said. "They were looking for a clergyperson for three years, which is a pretty long time. They did a great job of keeping themselves together and focused. Now they are really excited about where we can go together."