September 22, 2012 in Washington Voices

New priest a great listener

Episcopal church leader spent eight years in NYC
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Tyler Tjomsland photoBuy this photo

The Rev. Linda Bartholomew, the new priest at the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, poses for a photo Wednesday at the church.
(Full-size photo)

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The road the Rev. Linda Bartholomew has taken to reach the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Spokane Valley has been long and winding. It started in the Catholic Church and took a turn 15 years ago when she converted to the Episcopal Church and became a priest.

Bartholomew, 61, grew up in a Catholic family, the oldest of seven girls. She earned a Master of Divinity in a Catholic seminary. She worked for many years as a pastoral associate in Catholic churches, meaning she did everything but the sacraments. “I love the Catholic Church dearly,” she said.

But Bartholomew found herself unhappy with the role of women in the Catholic Church and that marriage annulments were used as a legal tool. “It really doesn’t address the larger pastoral pain,” she said of the annulment process. “Sometimes marriages die.”

Along the way Bartholomew came to know an Episcopal priest. One day he suggested that she might find a good fit in the Episcopal Church. Bartholomew initially dismissed his suggestion. “He had planted a seed,” she said.

Eventually she made the decision to leave the Catholic Church.

“After a while I did ask myself if it was more faithful to stay or to go,” she said. “For me it was a difficult decision. It was really tantamount to a divorce.”

Since then Bartholomew has acquired a reputation as someone who helps churches dealing with difficult transitions. Most recently she spent eight years as the associate rector at Grace Church in New York City. The large, ornate church is visited by thousands of tourists and was having leadership problems when she arrived. “It was in horrible shape,” she said. “Churches are like people and marriages. They go through death and resurrection.”

The church is on strong footing now, she said. Bartholomew said a lot of what she does is just listen. “At Grace, I bet I listened for three years to war stories about what had happened before,” she said. Gradually, however, people stopped talking about the past and began getting excited for the future, she said.

Bartholomew said she thinks her past struggles with her faith allow her to do the work she does.

“I think I’d be pretty empty in my words” without that experience, she said. “It’s important in our lives to go through death and resurrection.”

The Episcopal Church of the Resurrection has been without a permanent priest since 2009. Bartholomew said she was approached about the job by someone who had heard of her reputation. The request came at a time when Bartholomew was considering whether to move closer to her parents, who live in Post Falls, after her father had a health scare.

She’s already looking forward to expanding the church’s community garden and focusing on community outreach. “We have many talented people here with a vision for outreach,” she said.

She has been settling in to her new job since the end of August. Her husband of 15 years, Adam, is a retired Episcopal priest. He’s working on a commentary on the Gospel of John, Bartholomew said.

Since she arrived Bartholomew has been working to assimilate to the area. She got a Costco membership, bought a Subaru and got an REI card. An introduction she would have been happy to postpone, however, was to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center. Her husband, a runner who appeared to be in good health, had a heart attack shortly after they arrived. He was in surgery within 20 minutes, Bartholomew said, something that probably wouldn’t have been possible if they were still in New York. “It saved his life.”

She reports that he is recovering well and both of them have already fallen in love with the Spokane area.

“We traded the skyscrapers for the mountains,” she said. “Not a bad trade.”

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