In January 2007, John Best, pastor of the Community Church here, received a call to become a general presbyter—a counselor to pastors—of the Presbytery of Lake Michigan, and decided to leave an active congregation he had served for 11 years. At that time, he was reported to have said that it gave him pause to reflect on this “major life change,” as well as on himself, his ministry and the Montauk community.
Not coincidentally, the Reverend Anne Stewart Miller, the church’s interim pastor, has reported many of the same responses to a recent inquiry regarding her experience since she arrived here in June from Portland, Oregon.
Trained as a social studies teacher, Anne, as she prefers to be called, eventually chose another path, graduating with an MBA from Portland State University. For seven years thereafter, she worked for the Bell System doing marketing and public relations. It was there she met her husband of 27 years, Ken. They soon adopted a son, Tom, now 23, and later a daughter, Julia, now 19. She and Ken agreed to her becoming a “stay-at-home” mom.
A daughter, niece and granddaughter of Presbyterian pastors, Ann had little interest in becoming a minister of the sacrament, as it is called, though she was ordained a deacon and was a church elder.
“But I was sitting in church one day when my children were little, and all of a sudden I felt this feeling come over me, and that was my call,” she said recently. “I think it was a long time in coming. My dad was ill, and when Julia was born, he was coming close to the last of his life. He was invited by my pastor to come up and baptize my daughter. It was a very tender moment when … he stood up to do the baptism with both my sisters holding him up …. I handed Julia to him and his eyes teared up and he could not remember the words to say.” She whispered the baptismal words to him, and he said them.
Anne believes that moment marked the real beginning of her call. “I denied it for the longest time,” she said, but she talked about it with her husband, who was most supportive. San Francisco had the closest divinity school, and so, when Julia started first grade, Anne went there with her daughter. She commuted for three years, eventually receiving her master of divinity degree from San Francisco Theological Seminary.
During that period, Ken and Tom stayed in Portland. “We made it work,” she said, characterizing her marriage as a strong one. While Anne worked for seven years as an associate in a downtown Portland church, Ken retired early to be the one to stay at home with the children. Her family is still in Oregon because of the needs of Ken’s aging parents. Both children are in college there.
The nature of Anne’s call changed to a newly specialized ministry as an interim pastor, for which she underwent intense training. She explained that, in the past, retired pastors would fill in at a church when the pastor left. Now, a trained interim pastor is called to help the congregation work through a frequently difficult process of transition.
“You wear a hat as a pastor and you wear a hat as a consultant,” she said of the role. To put her new skills to use, Anne began to explore available possibilities and discovered Montauk needed someone like her. She came out to be interviewed early in May. “Trusting the signals in my head, I knew it was a good match,” she said. Also, working in a small town on the East Coast, a part of the country that had always intrigued her, satisfied a lifelong desire for adventure.
“I never had any hesitation that it wouldn’t work,” she said, “especially because the most important thing was that, spiritually and theologically, the church and I were a good fit.”
“I find this congregation to be very healthy. It has been a joy for me,” she added.
Anne points to the congregation’s love and care for one another and “their wonderful spirit.” She recalled that when her 85-year-old mother suddenly died in November, the congregation was very supportive.
As for the church’s near future, she speaks of the need to help as Montauk is affected by the economy. She thinks the hospitality and fishing industries will see changes, and the church may be required to help. There will be a matter of greater need of both material and also spiritual resources.
Anne notes that she previously worked and lived only in large cities on the West Coast, and she enjoys living in a small town that retains a “pioneer spirit.” She views it as a friendly place and takes pleasure in the politeness and sociability she senses picking up the mail at the post office. “I’ve fallen in love with Montauk,” she said.
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Remember some of those resolutions for the New Year? For those who pledged themselves more healthy activities, there’s a cost-free possibility right in your neighborhood. A Trails Preservation Society hike will be led by Eva Moore (238-5134) on Saturday. She will lead a 3-mile moderate hike on the Ocean View trail. Meet her at Hither Hills West overlook on Rt. 27 at 10 a.m.
Did you know that every Tuesday night from 7:30 to 9 p.m. there’s a free basketball scrimmage at the Montauk Playhouse for all men age 18 and over? A women’s game will be starting on Monday nights. Check with the town Parks and Recreation Department at 324-2417.
Thursday night’s library film at 7 p.m. is “Appaloosa,” a Western co-written, directed and starring Ed Harris. Jeremy Irons and Renee Zellweger co-star.