The Rev. Beth Palmer retiring as rector at Holy Trinity

Published 6:38 pm Friday, May 25, 2018

July 31, the Rev. Beth Palmer retires as rector of the Church of the Holy Trinity, ending a six-year tenure as the church’s pastor and entering a new phase of her ministry.

“As someone just said recently to me, ‘And then your ministry will actually begin,’” she said.

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Palmer came to Holy Trinity from West Point, Virginia, where she was rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church for nine years.

“I believe it was a call from God,” she said of her decision to become a priest.

“I was a lifetime Episcopalian; I grew up in the Episcopal Church. I served in many capacities as a member of the laity, and I felt God was calling me to do more. I went to Virginia Theological Seminary; I graduated with the class of 2003.”

It was a major career change. At the time she received her calling, Palmer had been a software consultant for 18 years and was working in the Washington, D.C., area. Her call to join the ministry, she said, occurred between 1997 and the summer of 2000.

Palmer said serving as a priest “has been probably the most rewarding work I’ve done, and in some sense, the most challenging. Our culture has changed dramatically, even in the 15 years I’ve been in the ministry. I’ve seen changes that can affect the mission and the ministry of the church and the role of the clergy.

“It’s a humbling experience to be invited into someone’s life when they’re going through major life transitions: the birth and baptism of a child or a grandchild, engagements and marriage and illness and death; those are very holy moments, and to be invited to walk along with someone is a very wonderful experience.”

Palmer started at St. John’s “right out of seminary as a deacon.” She was named rector after her ordination.

She came to Vicksburg because she was yearning for a more challenging assignment in a large church in a larger community. West Point, she said, had a population of 3,000.

“In the Episcopal Church, the search process is similar to what happens in the business world,” she said. “The clergy has resumes, and when there’s a position open, provided the parish is self-sustaining financially, the parish assembles a search committee that surveys the parish about what they want and puts together a profile and clergy apply and submit a letter of interest.”

The process, she said, can involve written questions, phone interviews and visits, and the bishops of both dioceses have to agree with the move.

In some ways, she said, being at Holy Trinity was like being at St. John’s.

“The way the Episcopal Church functions is similar in both places, and I think some of the challenges the church faces today are similar in both places.

“We like to think that we’re unique and unusual, but I’m not sure that’s always true. The population here is aging, just as it was at St. John’s in West Point. Families are busier than they used to be, and so volunteer roles go unfilled.

“Our children and young people are extremely busy and very, very programmed. They’re doing volunteer hours after school, activities that spill over into the weekends, and even if the schools don’t have sports programs that are active on Sundays, many of the kids are active in district or regional or special leagues that are active on Sundays.

“The sense of the congregations that we have to attract young families is very similar, and at the same time, certainly Mississippi is the deep south and there are traditions here that I had to learn.”

Palmer said she will most miss her relationship with people. And though she and her husband are staying in Vicksburg and she will see parishioners at the supermarket or the dog park, “Our relationship will be different; I will no longer be their pastor. I hope we will continue to be friends, but I will no longer have that special role being their pastor.”

She will miss the responsibility of caring for such a large facility.

“The church is beautiful, and it’s also large and also 150 years old, and thanks be to God, things have been pretty good as far as the church building,” she said. The parish hall was built in the 1920s, and not in good shape when she arrived, has been renovated, “But it’s still a generally older building, and I’m responsible for the Cashman Building; that’s a lot of systems to take care of.”

Palmer said she has a lot of ideas how she will use her free time. Traveling with her husband is in the plan, so are plans to do more spinning, knitting and weaving.

And she will still be a priest, though her duties will be different.

“I will be serving one Sunday a month at St. Mary’s Episcopal, I’ll be serving as a supply priest for some of my colleagues who want to have a Sunday off. I hope the flexibility of time being retired will allow me to take on some other priestly roles.

“When one is ordained a priest, it’s a lifetime commitment.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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