SARAH STANTON AS A TEENAGER DREAMED OF BECOMING AN EPISCOPAL PRIEST
It wasn't until years later after the church rules had changed to allow women to pursue the priesthood that Stanton entered seminary. After 19 years of training and experience, Stanton in June assumed her duties as the new rector at La Grande's St. Peter's Church.
By Dave Stave
Observer Staff Writer
The new minister at St. Peter's Episcopal Church started training for the ministry when she was 39.
But Sarah Stanton, who this spring left her 9-year term as rector of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Covington, Ky., to move to La Grande, can trace her interest in church ministry to a conversation she had with a boy while she was in high school.
"I grew up in the Episcopal Church. Women were not ordained for ministry in the '50s," said Stanton, 58.
Her friend, Mark Volk, told her he was going to study to become an Episcopal priest, she said.
"I thought, If I was a boy, that's what I would want do to,' " she said.
Stanton didn't pick up on that dream until two decades later, when the Episcopal Church had dropped its requirement that only men be ordained and she already had pursued careers in counseling and accounting.
Born in Abilene, Kan., Stanton grew up in Wisconsin, graduating from high school in Milwaukee.
She earned a bachelor's degree at Mount Mary College, a Roman Catholic school in Milwaukee.
In 1967, she followed her mother's footsteps by joining the U.S. Air Force, but six months later she left the service. Her mother had served in the Army Air Corps during World War II.
Stanton and her husband learned she was expecting a baby, and Air Force rules then would not allow her to continue to serve.
Five years later she earned a master's degree in counseling and went to work as a counselor at an alternative high school in Dover, N.H.
She and her family moved on to Fort Worth, Texas, where Stanton served as a social worker and counselor in a residential home for teenage girls.
Stanton decided she wanted to broaden her career path and completed 21 credit hours in accounting and business law.
The training served her well when she and her family moved to Albuquerque, N.M. In 1978 she went to work for the U.S. Department of Energy as an accountant.
It was while in Albuquerque that Stanton became involved in a church and began to have a renewed interest in becoming a priest.
"I received training to know more about my faith. I wanted to become a better teacher (of the faith)," she said.
Finally, in 1984, she left her government accounting position in New Mexico and enrolled at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, Calif., to study for the ministry.
After three years, she earned a master's of divinity degree and worked as an assistant for Episcopal rectors in Oakland, Calif., and Bozeman, Mont., before taking the position in Covington.
Several months ago she began to explore the possibility of leaving Kentucky and coming to La Grande.
"I was ready to leave Covington and get out to the Northwest to be near my parents, who are elderly."
Stanton, who has not been married for several years, explained that her parents, Fil and Shirley Lusk, live in a retirement community in Lacey Wash., near Olympia.
Stanton said she already has been able to experience family connections since taking her church assignment last month.
On Father's Day, June 15, four generations were present at St. Peter's.
Stanton was joined by her parents, her son and daughter-in-law, Sean and Trico Welton, and the couple's four children, Stanton's grandchildren.
The Weltons live in Maine, as does Stanton's daughter and son-in-law, Elizabeth and Donnie Leeman.
The new rector said she has a couple of goals as she assumes her responsibilities.
"I'd like to see St. Peter's come together as a community of faith. I'd also like to continue and expand the many ministries done here at the church and in the community."
Stanton explained that her position at St. Peter's is that of "priest in charge" or "rector without tenure."
She said she has a three-year contract with St. Peter's. After that period, she may leave the church or decide to stay.
Stanton said the arrangement gives the church an immediate sense of stability, while allowing the congregation to decide who will serve them over a longer period.
It gives her some security as well.
"We'll come to know one another," she said. "We'll pray together and see how we work together."
Stanton said her main passion in ministry is preaching, but she also enjoys pastoral care, which involves visiting people in their homes, care facilities, work places or at the hospital.
She admits La Grande is one of many stops she's made along her life's journey, which has brought her three careers.
"I've been in all 50 states, except for three: Alabama, Mississippi and Hawaii."