Martha Dimon says when the Rev. Jeff Jackson left in December after nine years as rector of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in Hamilton, Ga. it was as if members of the congregation went into mourning.
She says the Rev. Christine Belt has “brought us out of that.”
“She is spontaneous joy,” Dimon said.
When her husband got stationed at Fort Benning in April, Belt, a Canadian born Episcopal priest, had no idea she would be end up serving as rector of a local church.
But earlier this month Belt began leading St. Nicholas on an interim basis.
She is eager to get more involved with the church of about 200 adult members.
“I look forward to serving,” she said.
Belt believes an interim ministry is extremely important because transitions and change can be “scary and difficult.”
“Walking with St. Nicholas during this time is a blessing to me,” said Belt who said serving churches on an interim basis just might be something for which she has a calling.
The 40-year-old priest, the mother of a toddler, Owen, believes during the search for a permanent leader the members will establish new insights into the kind of church they want to be and that during this time focus on their faith in God is vital.
Belt is not a complete stranger to the church.
“Christine has been a supply priest for St. Nicholas several times, filling in on Sundays, and now she will be involved in a more full-time capacity. She will be involved in pastoral care, church programs, special services, etc.” said Katherine Johnson a member of the nominating committee searching for Jackson’s replacement.
Johnson is impressed with Belt.
“Christine gives thoughtful and well-prepared sermons. She gives new insight into the gospel. She is warm and energetic. She has a good sense of humor and can laugh at her own foibles, which is a very important quality,” Johnson said.
Beth Brown is another member of the nominating committee. She said it likely will take nine months to a year to find a full-time rector. She is thrilled to have Belt for as long as it takes.
“It is not always an easy process to find an interim. We are very fortunate,” she said.
Brown described Belt as “very energetic”
“She delivers a very inspiring message and has a way of relating scripture to your life,” Brown said.
Dimon is the senior warden at the church, head of the church vestry and was most responsible for hiring Belt.
“It was wonderful to find someone in our own backyard,” Dimon said.
Belt is married to an Army medic, Master Sgt. Joseph Belt. He served in Afghanistan.
The couple came to Fort Benning after being stationed in Hohenfels, Germany.
Originally from Niagra Falls, Ontario, Belt said she never knew her father. Her mother had a problem with alcohol.
“I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks.” she said.
Belt lived in a home atmosphere she described as “constant chaos.”
At 17, she had her own apartment but cared for herself before that.
Without God, her life could have been very different.
Belt said, “Christ saved me from myself.”
“I am so thankful that God had my back even when I didn't know God or see God's presence in my life,” she said.
Belt said she is made whole by God.
“I believed in God my whole life, but committed myself to Christ and began to attend church in 1998,” she said.
She got a degree in psychology from Brock University in Canada. Her senior thesis was on forgiveness.
Belt then got a master of divinity degree with a concentration in restorative justice from Queen’s University in Canada.
Belt, who spent some time as a manager at a Hard Rock Café, had no intention of getting ordained when she went to college.
“I just wanted to study God,” she said.
It was in 2010 that she was ordained as a priest of the Diocese of Ontario, in the Anglican Church of Canada.
Through the years she has served several parishes, worked with various youth groups, and volunteered in prisons.
“I feel a calling to both congregational and community ministry and I have a passion for social justice,” she said.
Belt said she “stands firm in what Jesus taught us.”
Her style can be a little flamboyant. Smiling, she said, “Sometimes, you have to got to be a little weird to reach the marginalized.”
Belt said there is too much fighting among Christians about how they worship, where they worship and in what institution they believe. She wishes Christians would spend more time worrying about being like Christ, loving who he loved, participating in kingdom building through Christ-like service. She wishes the church would stop fighting about everything, to simply start being the hands and feet of Jesus in the world and show that “God is amazing and does amazing things.”
Belt said she is enjoying being in the South.
“I love Jesus and am very grateful for the blessing to serve God as a priest,” she said. “It is my prayer to continue to serve him throughout my time here in Georgia.”