Newly Ordained Minister Already An Integral Part Of Trinity Episcopal Church
Trinity Episcopal Church now has two ordained ministers leading its congregation.
The Reverend Dr Jenny Montgomery has served as the priest-in-charge for the Main Street church since March 2017.
The Reverend Matt Babcock, who began serving as its curate in August, was formally ordained in his home parish last month.
“In this life of this church,” Rev Babcock said recently of his role within Trinity Church. “Nothing has changed. We have a defined structure in what we do.”
The curate is an associate position, he explained, “which means I work with Jenny, and support the parish under her direction. I get to serve as a priest, with training wheels on,” he added, laughing.
“My ordination means we now have two people here on any given Sunday who can offer any sacrament,” he said.
Rev Montgomery said this week that her colleague has quickly become an integral part of the historic church on Main Street.
“Matt’s eagerness and passion for ministry are contagious,” she said. “Our two-clergy team enables us to share preaching, which I believe benefits the congregation by hearing our distinct voices and generational perspectives.
“As Matt begins his ordained ministry as an Episcopal priest,” Rev Montgomery continued, “his one-year curacy is an enriching experience for him as well as for Trinity.”
A native of southwestern Louisiana, Rev Babcock is the youngest of three children. He and his siblings were raised in the southern Baptist faith.
On Saturday, December 14, however, the 35-year-old was formally ordained into the Episcopalian Church by the Right Reverend Robert Skirving, Bishop of the Diocese of East Carolina.
The importance of the date was not lost on those hosting the mid-afternoon ceremony.
“I was very touched that they included in the Prayers of the People and the Bishop’s Address, a time of remembrance for Newtown and for the victims of the Sandy Hook School shooting,” Rev Babcock said.
Rev Babcock and his husband, Joel Winer, traveled to Greenville, N.C., for the ceremony. The ordination took place in Rev Babcock’s home parish, St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Greenville.
“It’s this great big cathedral space, and it was full,” he said. “It was a beautiful ceremony.”
The ceremony also included the ordination of Nanette Woodworth, with whom Rev Babcock had become friends during his path toward becoming a priest.
One of the first things, once a priest is ordained, said Rev Babcock, is the new priest is vested.
“We are given garments that demonstrate that we are now priests,” Rev Babcock explained. Mr Winer had the honor of vesting the new priest, placing a stole onto his husband’s shoulders.
“That was a really wonderful moment,” Rev Babcock said.
The young priest also wore a white chasuble from Trinity Church, “so that the people of Trinity could be present in a way,” he said. “It was a lovely way for me to have Trinity present on that day.”
Rev Babcock described a chasuble as “an outward symbol of priestly ministry.”
The outermost liturgical vestment worn by clergy for the celebration of the Eucharist, chasubles are generally very old and ornate, and heavy.
“There was a moment after that was put on me where I felt the weight of the ministry,” said Rev Babcock of the satin-lined garment from the Newtown church. “It was a nice, quiet moment for me to remember the weight of that night, of that day for this town, but also for the ministry that I had said ‘Yes’ to. I felt all of that in addition to the literal weight of that beautiful garment.”
Waiting for him at home was a red chasuble that had been gifted to him by Trinity Church the previous weekend.
“The Sunday before my ordination, they completely surprised me with it,” Rev Babcock said. “It’s never a thing that I imagined I would own.
“It’s a strange, yet completely humbling, document,” he said. “It fully expresses being a priest. It’s really a cherished thing. It’s something we hold onto as a very precious item.”
On December 15, at the invitation of Father Andrew Cannan, rector of St Paul’s, Rev Babcock celebrated his first Eucharist as an ordained priest.
“To do that at my home parish was just amazing,” Rev Babcock shared.
The chasuble he wore that morning was “a very, very simple blue wool, a very understated garment.” It had belonged to Father Bob Hudak, “the rector who had started my process to discernment,” he pointed out.
Wearing that chasuble after watching a man he admired wear that item of clothing for years was “surreal,” said Rev Babcock.
“To put on this man’s mantel, to put on something that had belonged to this man who I admire so much, and stand in the space where I had started as a person walking through the door, that really had so much skepticism about church, was amazing.”
It was Father Hudak who, years earlier, had served Communion to Babcock for the first time in his life. When Babcock returned to the rail the following week to receive Communion, Father Hudak remembered him by name.
“That was the moment that I became Episcopalian,” he recalled. “It was a place where people asked who I was, and they remembered me. It was the moment of having an identity again, in a place that had caused me pain.”
“To wear his chasuble, in that same space, and now to have the opportunity to approach the rail” to serve Communion, he said, “was really something. To be surrounded by people who have become my friends and colleagues, as well, was just tremendous.”
Saying the prayer of Communion to his former mentor was another special moment.
“Saying those words to Father Bob, who was kneeling at the railing, and to give him the wafer, the circle really connected for me,” said Rev Babcock. “It was such an incredible gift. It really was an unforgettable weekend.”
The new priest admitted to choking back tears that morning.
“I wasn’t prepared for the level of emotion in the room. I had a small amount of trouble making it through the Eucharistic prayer without my voice breaking,” he said. “It was really quite something.”
Rev Babcock and Mr Winer returned to Newtown that evening. Then on Sunday, December 22, Rev Babcock celebrated his first Eucharist at Trinity Episcopal Church.
“Again, a lot of emotion filled that space,” he shared. “People were very happy to share in that moment as well.
“They’ve done this a few times, and I think it’s such a joyful time each time a church celebrates a new priest,” he added.
A Long Path To Discernment
Rev Babcock arrived at Trinity Episcopal Church last year. He began his ministry in Newtown on Sunday, August 4.
He was raised in central Louisiana and graduated from Louisiana Tech University in 2007, earning a BS in Agricultural Business. Following undergraduate studies, he moved to North Carolina. His southern accent regularly sneaks into conversations.
Rev Babcock looks back on a rewarding career in commodities trading, risk management, finance, and banking.
“I was a commodities trader, so I worked with large farmers and agricultural companies in eastern North Carolina,” he said December 27. “That was what I was doing right up until the week before I moved to Yale Divinity School and started my seminary training.”
What began as volunteer service in a food pantry led to a rediscovery of the presence of God through the fruits of a community with a shared vision to live the Gospel, he said.
“I began working in a food pantry and soup kitchen in that parish,” he said. After he was there for some time, he said, a small group of people approached him.
“They came to me and they said they thought that maybe there was something more to my work in the church,” he said. After initially responding with disbelief, that conversation later led to Babcock’s “second career, as a divinity student,” he said, laughing.
“I found myself beginning to wonder,” he admitted. “Here I was, with a great job, and I felt fulfilled by my work. But I began to recognize that I had this longing to spend more time in the local parish. I began filling my hours outside work time with more church obligations and functions.”
Fortunately, his former employer allowed him, according to Rev Babcock, to build that time into his schedule, while remaining within his contract. His “path to discernment,” he says, lasted just over eight years.
“I began to realize that I longed to spend more time in the place that wasn’t paying me, and not the place that was paying the bills,” he said. “That was the moment that I agreed to begin having some intentional conversations.”
“I spent a year having these conversations with Father Bob Hudak, who was at the time the rector of St Paul’s,” he said.
Rev Babcock moved to New Haven in 2016. He graduated in 2019 from Yale Divinity School, having earned a Master of Divinity degree. He also earned a diploma in Anglican Studies from Berkeley Divinity School.
He and Mr Winer moved to Newtown last summer; they were married in September.
The couple lives in the curate’s home on Schoolhouse Hill Road owned by Trinity. In good weather, the commute to work is about a 1,900-foot walk, door to door. En route he passes the Main Street house, also owned by Trinity Church, where Rev Montgomery and her husband live.
Trinity’s new curate will be working with the Trinity youth confirmation class, older youth formation, in ministry with families and children, as well as preaching.
Trinity Episcopal Church is at 36 Main Street. Call 203-426-9070 or visit trinitynewtownct.org for additional information.