BRATTLEBORO — At a recent Sunday service, the Rev. Mary Lindquist was honored for her first 10 years as rector of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church. In his comments, Sr. Warden Ricky Davidson said, “[Ten years ago], we took on a major building project and we called a new rector. Mary and her entire family came to us from so far away and Mary hit the ground running. We watched her just roll with the unexpected [as] she made us better — in small ways and in big ways. She added to our community and church family things I don’t think we knew we were missing. We cannot thank you enough for all you give us, Mary: your gentle leadership and your strength to face everything that comes with a smile and the question, “how can this make us better?”
At the September 26 recognition, Lindquist’s congregation presented her with three books of poetry and a stole hand-crafted by parishioner Lori Palmer.
Lindquist, 52, holds degrees from Brown University and both Princeton and General Theological Seminaries; she studied as well at University of Tuebingen in Germany and at the School for International Training through which she immersed in religious studies in India, Nepal, and Tibet. She moved to Brattleboro from a parish on the island of Kauai with her husband Kurt Johnson — head of the foreign language department at Brattleboro Union High School — and their three children, Bibi, Ori and Jonah. Lindquist quickly embraced the St. Michael’s community which she sees as “deeply prayerful, serious about a life of faith and about joining faith to action in community and in the world.” St. Michael’s, she reflects, is “graciously imperfect, authentic, spontaneous, joyfully inclusive and Christ-centered. Its inwardness, prayerfulness, and contemplative faith partner with an inclination toward social action that addresses challenges we face in our culture here and now.” The congregation, she adds, is “a good balance of inward and outward.”
Lindquist has a fondness for the greater Brattleboro community, as well. “I love this community, though it’s not particularly religious…; those who live here are so intentional about what they value — about the natural world, compassion, community: I respect those values.” The area, she adds, is rich in socially active people. “It’s not a materialist community — it’s more value driven than money driven with a sense of stewardship about land, humanity, and community.”
On the role that St. Michael’s plays in the greater community Lindquist says, “we hope to be a beacon of hope, healing, courage, and faith as we participate in community efforts through and outside of the church. One thing feeds another: people experience being nurtured and fed and then have the strength to go forth and serve in community.” Deeply involved, St. Michael’s volunteers serve through Groundworks, Loaves and Fishes, Everyone Eats, refugee resettlement efforts, among others. Through annual tag sales the parish helps fund local, national, and international organizations to support concerns in the community and well-beyond that are “close to the heart.”
Over the last decade, Lindquist has helped to shepherd several through the process of being called to the ministry. “People seem to come to us who then feel inspired to find a calling — sometimes to ministry, sometimes to other service,” Lindquist observes.
Duncan Hilton served as a deacon at St. Michael’s on his way to ordination. “I actively mentored him as to what it means to be a priest and I enjoyed that,” Lindquist recalls.
Hilton offers: “I’m grateful for how Mary supported me as an assistant priest. She gave me space to experiment and learn, encouraged me to trust my intuition, and modeled the importance of prayer.”
Because of Hilton, Adwoa Lewis-Wilson sought St. Michael’s out and, “sponsored by a church in Cambridge, MA, she became our seminarian. It’s been a joy to accompany her,” Lindquist says. Lewis-Wilson has been responsible for a few key initiatives at the church since she began her internship, including work aimed at grappling with racism. “I never set out to be a trainer of new priests — but I do enjoy it. I like to help and support people in thinking about their calling — about discerning who God created them to be,” Lindquist adds.
Reflecting on the last decade, Lindquist says: “One of the greatest challenges for any faith community is … how to convey what it is to be a person of faith; how do we continue to share; how do we translate what we’re doing to the next generation?” Wrestling with the pandemic was exhausting: “It was hard to get a sense of where people are at when we’re not together on a weekly basis. It was hard to know how are people doing. How do we stay connected?”
Of Lindquist, parishioner and Vestry member Judy Davidson says, “Being a rector is such a demanding role in ‘ordinary’ times but COVID created so many new challenges. With Mary’s leadership, we stayed connected with each other through Zoom services, then fundraised to install video equipment in the church itself and even connected personally in our quarantine days through neighborhood pods delivering packets for Christmas and Lenten seasons. Her longing to be connected to all of us mirrored our own longings and helped us find ways to remain a parish community grounded in faith, hope, and love.”
Parishioner Janet Brocklehurst adds, “Through this time of pandemic, I’ve been particularly impressed with how Mary has held us together as a church. She always seems calm and goes with the flow even in the midst of uncertainty. I’ve loved her comment: ‘you are loved, you are missed, you are a blessing.’ As is she.”
In pondering the joys of the last 10 years, Lindquist notes: “I am very pleased with the number of non-ordained ministers we have — with the energy and attention devoted to their calling in the church and in the world. These are people not afraid to lead, to offer initiative, to follow a call knowing they can join with friends and neighbors to accomplish things.”
In her time, the congregation has been joined by more people of color while the LGBTQI community continues to be a large portion of the parish base. “We have people coming from far away and the immediate area” and in her time, the number of children involved has grown significantly through Christian education programs and the establishment of a choir school under the direction of Susan Dedell. “I love working with the children.”
Parishioner Wylene Woods comments: “Mary has a wonderful empathy, especially with children. She has created a rich and loving environment at St. Michael’s for families and for people of diverse backgrounds. She listens well and thoughtfully responds to the needs of others.”
Moving forward, Lindquist commits to ongoing stewardship of the earth; to working toward economic and racial equality; to seeing her church carry on as a place of prayer, healing, and rest — all needed in order to find “anchoring in God’s love.” And she’s clearly the right leader for that work. Susan Dedell says, “Mary is a true visionary. She follows the promptings of a larger universe and, as a result, the church has made some extraordinary leaps of faith. These leaps have not only benefited us as a parish, but they’ve led to a wider involvement in the community and world.”