T.J. Azar says Calvary Episcopal Church is a small congregation that “could have easily withered on the vine died.” Instead, a dedicated group of church members recommitted themselves to rebuilding the church and “continuing its work for Christ and his people in this community.”
On Saturday, Azar, 55, will be formally installed as the first full-time minister of the downtown church at the corner of Winchester Avenue and 14th Street since former rector Mann “Chip” Valentine resigned in 2009. And Azar, a native of southeastern Ohio, is the first female rector for the church.
Azar has been at Calvary since Nov. 2. She called Saturday’s event “a celebration of new ministry” which will be presided over by the Right Rev. Douglas Hahn of Lexington, the Episcopal bishop for this region.
Azar called the installation “a lot like a wedding” with both members of the congregation and herself making vows to serve one another and to serve the church.
“It’s a big deal for this church because we don’t believe our church leaders are hired. They are called by God, and we take that calling seriously.”
The installation will be at 4 p.m. in the church’s sanctuary.
Azar, the mother of two adult children, lived most of her life in Marietta and Athens, Ohio, and taught writing for 20 years at Hocking College in Nelsonville, Ohio. She is a graduate of Bexley Hall Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, and was rector of an Episcopal church in Westchester, Ohio, for three years before coming to Calvary.
During the three years in which Calvary was without a full-time pastor, it was served by two interim pastors. Father Jeff Queen divided his time between Calvary and an Episcopal church in Portsmouth. “He did a great deal of healing while he was here and helped this church get through a difficult period,” the new rector said of Queen.
Queen was followed by Father Ron Pogue, who served as interim pastor from February through October of 2012. “He was an administrative genius who worked closely with the leaders of the chuch in preparing the way for my arrival,” Azar said of her immediate predecessor.
Azar is called “Mother T.J.” by members of Calvary, and she admits that the name throws some people off.
“I have been asked if I am a nun, and I say, ‘No, I’m not a nun.’ Members of this church had no problem calling (former rector) Jack Weis Father Jack and Chip Valentine Father Chip, but we are uncomfortable with Mother T.J. because we have never had a female rector. When you look at the photos of all the rectors this church has had, one of the first things you will notice is that they have all been men,” Azar said. “That’s why it sounds a bit strange to call me Mother T.J., but they are getting used to it.”
Calvary currently averages about 60 for Sunday morning services, but Azar said she has great expectations for the church.
“We have a great group of people here who are committed to doing God’s work,” she said. “This church has a long tradition of doing good things in this community and we are going to build on that tradition.”
Azar called preparing her Sunday sermons the most difficult and awe-inspiring job she has ever had.
“I taught English for many years, and if you make a mistake conjugating a verb, it is really not all that important,” she said. “But if you make a mistake in interpreting the word of God, well, that is really, really important. That’s why I am constantly praying for God’s guidance in everything I do and asking that he give me direction in every step I take. This is an awesome responsibility and I don’t take it lightly. I am a servant of God.”
JOHN CANNON can be reached at jcannon@dailyindependent.
com or at (606) 326-2649.