Vicksburg the ‘perfect fit’ for new Holy Cross priest|[03/29/08]

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 28, 2008

After going six months without a resident priest, Holy Cross Anglican Church has found not only a new leader, but also a new affiliation with the Reformed Episcopal Church.

“I immediately fell in love with this place,” said the Rev. Mark Bleakley, sitting inside the historic convent chapel of the Sisters of Mercy, at the Southern Cultural Heritage Center. “This is my first calling to be a rector, and they were looking for someone who really wanted to learn how to be a parish priest. It seems like such a perfect fit.”

Though the Pittsburgh, Penn.-native had never been to Vicksburg prior to interviewing for his new position, Bleakley is not new to Southern ways. He attended seminary in Houston and has lived in Atlanta and Shreveport. He brings with him to Vicksburg his wife, Michelle, and their three children — 4-year-old Hugh, 2-year-old Olivia and 3-month-old Sophia.

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From the time he was about 10 years old, Bleakley said, he knew he wanted to be a minister. However, being raised in a fundamentalist Christian household left him uncertain where his beliefs fit. For a time, Bleakley said, he searched through many denominations of the Christian faith, until he attended an Anglican and Episcopalian service in Pittsburgh.

“By the time the service was over, it was as if my calling was renewed,” he said. “I knew where I belonged.”

Shortly thereafter, Bleakley joined the Reformed Episcopal Church and was ordained in September 2007. He was a deacon in Pittsburgh prior to moving his family to Vicksburg in late February.

Jo Wilson, senior warden at Holy Cross Anglican, said she and others in charge of selecting a new priest were instantly drawn to Bleakley’s devotion and energy.

“We really hit it off and were really excited about Mark because of his strong beliefs and background,” said Wilson. “He has a wonderful family, and his heart is truly devout. Having just gone through Holy Week, it was very heartwarming to be led by someone so spiritual.”

The current congregation at Holy Cross Anglican is comprised of about 20 people, and Bleakley said he couldn’t have been more pleased when he and his family were introduced.

“They’re a very warm group of people,” he said. “That’s really one of the things that drew us down. We felt immediately at home with them.”

Bleakley’s immediate goals include getting to know the Vicksburg community and his new congregation better, as well as advancing Holy Cross Anglican’s message of community strength through service and faith.

Bleakley formerly worked in restoration construction, and his hobbies include making stained-glass windows. Those skills and interests should come in handy, as Holy Cross Anglican is currently doing some interior restoration work and hopes to start some exterior restoration next year. Bleakley has already been working on putting a small studio together inside the church where he hopes to teach stained-glass classes.

Holy Cross Anglican became affiliated with the Reformed Episcopal Church — which has 13,422 members in 137 parishes and missions — prior to Bleakley’s arrival.

“They’re very proud about being affiliated with a church that has a 135-year history of consistent worship and a highly respected reputation,” Bleakley said. “I’m proud to have been chosen to lead them. It’s an exciting time for us.”

Meeting in the convent chapel of the Sisters of Mercy at 1021 Crawford St., Holy Cross Anglican’s Sunday services begin with Bible study at 9:30 a.m., followed by Communion at 10:30.