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Reflections from the Rector

My Personal history from The Rev. John Beach,  Rector of St. Paul’s Church, Nantucket 

I write a personal history for this parish website not because I am so arrogant as to think that anyone is interested in my life. Rather, I write so that those who stumble upon this might be encouraged to consider their own sacred journey and what has brought you to this point in your life.

I find inspiration from the recent words of Samuel Wells, the vicar of St. Martin’s in the Field in London, England. His congregation is an ethnically diverse urban Christian community where extreme expressions of anti-immigrant sentiments create much anxiety, and in that I perceive certain similarities to the current environment in the United States. In a recent pastoral letter to his congregation (and you could substitute St. Paul’s for St. Martin’s) he wrote:

 “I believe it's possible to build a community of humility, generosity, gratitude, grace, truth, and compassion-- for which the only word I know is ‘church’. A church like St. Martin’s is called upon to be a living example of what the reconciling, liberating and transforming love of God can do. It may be that a witness like ours can begin to heal our country and inspire it to take a different, more inclusive and hopeful direction.

But even if it doesn’t, we are going to do it anyway”

My life journey has brought me to accept and embrace his objective

The journey that has brought me to Nantucket has been most circuitous.  My father was an Episcopal priest in Western Massachusetts where I spent my early childhood.  Now, after nearly 50 years I find myself returning to this state and am reminded of the haunting words of T.S. Elliott “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

I have always been an active member of the Episcopal Church.  After leaving Massachusetts, my parents brought my four sisters and me for a brief period to Indiana (where I was confirmed), then we returned to the east coast thereby enabling me to go to high school in the New York Hudson Valley region. After graduating, I began a very restless period in which I studied mathematics, physics, and music in New York and Washington State. In my late teens and early twenties I held a number of strange jobs - I worked for: an actuarial department of a an insurance company in New York, the U.S. Forest service on a fire suppression crew in Oregon, and in several National Parks in the western United State - ending up in the late 1970s in Montreal, Quebec where my wanderings halted.

It was in Montreal that I studied History and Philosophy of Science at McGill University.  My interest in the history of science was inspired, in part, by my yearning to know how religion and science are both instrumental in our search for truth and wisdom.  I am particularly interested in the reflections of Albert Einstein who stated, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a world that honors the servant, but has forgotten the gift.”  My academic pursuits have been informed by my desire to listen to both the intuitive mind and the rational mind.

There were two forces which prompted me to set down roots in Montreal: I met Denise Beneteau, a wonderful French Canadian woman who agreed to marry me, and it was there that I felt called to be a priest.

In times of restlessness I have found rooting in two things:  

  • My family (both the family from which I come and the family Denise and I created with our two children, Jeremy and Laura)
  • The Church

These two wonderful institutions have made it possible for me to be led by the observation of St. Augustine “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

I attended seminary at McGill University and was ordained a deacon in the Anglican Church of Canada in 1983 and a priest in 1984.  I served in the Diocese of Montreal for 14 years in several ministries: two urban parishes, and as the chaplain at my alma mater.  One parish at which I served was housed in a huge building that created an enormous and costly burden for the small congregation to bear that became an obstacle to the spread of the Gospel.  After several years of prayerful discernment, we decided to sell the building and start a new center for ministering to the changing needs of this community and started the Mile End Community Mission, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

After this time in Montreal, I accepted an invitation to be the Episcopal Chaplain at Florida State University in Tallahassee.  The move from Quebec to the Deep South was an exciting and transforming experience for my family and me and I was grateful for the opportunity to spend six years in this prayerful and intellectually stimulating community.

In 2001 I accepted an invitation to become the chaplain at Trinity College at the University of Toronto. Trinity is the Anglican college of that University, comprised of undergraduates and students studying Divinity.  Toronto is a growing, vibrant, and diverse city and being part of the ministry of the church in that context has been a major part of my spiritual formation.

In 2006 I was invited to be the rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Geneva, Switzerland.  For the past 150 years, the U.S. Episcopal Church has maintained congregations in a dozen European centers that comprise the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe.  The congregation in Geneva is comprised largely of persons working for the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations.  During our ten years in that multi-cultural Christian community, we were inspired and challenged by those from around the world who are working hard to insure peace, justice, and economic development.  The spiritual obstacles to such lofty endeavors are great.  The church has been a place of sustenance and prayer to those committed to such work.  Denise (though French) had grown up in Milan, Italy.  During our time in Europe she was able to show me those places that are part of her own history.  For this, we are very grateful.

In the fall of 2015 I was invited to come to St. Paul’s Church in Nantucket to be its priest and pastor.  I am grateful to be closer to our mothers (both of whom live in New England) and to our children (who remain in Southern Ontario).  I am also grateful to share in the ministry of those who have made this church their spiritual home.  This includes both those who seek refreshment in the balmy summer months as well as those who know the special community that emerges through our winter storms.  

While living in Geneva I saw that the church can be a source of sustenance and inspiration to those who have devoted their lives to pursuing peace and economic development.  I have seen how souls trapped in adversarial circumstances can find hope when sharing in the word and sacrament of Christian community.  I have come to see upon my return to the U.S. that we live in a very polarized time.  I am grateful that we can offer a place of refuge where persons with opposing views can find common ground.