After the church was left without a priest in August of 2015, the congregation at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church felt it was fitting for Sharon Patterson to become their new priest.
“I was previously a teacher and had three more years until my retirement age of 55, and I jumped early, retired at the end of that year and went into ministry study full time,” said Patterson, who’s been a member at St. Stephen for the past 12 years. “Three years later in December of 2018, I was ordained as a priest and St. Stephens is my church.”
Patterson said when she was interviewing for deacon school, she said her relationship with God was a “tug-of-war” in her wanting to go in her own direction, and him pulling her in his direction, then seeing everything fit well together.
She added the one struggle she had in getting the specialized education was taking the classes and still keeping up with everything else in her life such as her job, family and the church itself.
“It was quite arduous because I was working for the church, even though I was retired from teaching, I was working full time, going to school full time and trying to balance all of that,” said Patterson. “We didn’t have a priest, so there wasn’t anyone running things at the church. Vestry and I worked together to keep things moving here.”
The support she received from the clergy helped her learn along the way and allowed for the church operations to continue.
In her time as a priest, Patterson hopes to continue the church’s mission of being open and welcoming to people from “all walks of life,” especially with the church’s opening prayer being “let this be an affirming place of love.”
“I happen to be from the LGBTQ+ community, and half of our vestry is also from that community, and I think there’s a population that needs to be affirmed, and this church is willing to do that,” she said. “That’s who we are.”
She added the church “feels the pain” of how much some rulings from other churches may affect those within the LGBTQ+ community, and she wants to bring that idea to the larger Mullica Hill community.
“This is a place of rest for those who want to get away from the stressors of the world, no matter what those stressors are for them,” she said.
While the church is open and progressive, Patterson said, they don’t put it at the forefront of teachings, but instead they embrace people for who they are and that they’re “walking together in God’s love, bringing God’s love to the people.”
Patterson said she wants to continue with the church’s mission of accepting people “whether you’re angry, sad or happy” and to be who they are and hear the church’s gospel.
“Episcopalians are questioners,” she said. “We live on questions, and part of it that’s hard for some people to understand is that it’s OK to question and we find those answers together.”
To find out when services are held at the church, or where it’s located, visit www.StStephensOfMullicaHill.com.