Rector’s move to St. Nicholas took much prayer

St. Nicholas Episcopal Church has a new rector. He is the Rev. Jeff Jackson, 30, formerly of Skidaway Island, Ga., where for three years he served as assistant rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on Skidaway, just south of Savannah. He is the second priest to serve the eight-year-old congregation. He follows the Rev. Beverley McEachern, who died of cancer in 2007, and the interim priest, the Rev. Tom Jones.

Jackson said he wasn’t looking to move.

“I was very comfortable here,” Jackson said via phone Tuesday from the Savannah area.

A 2003 graduate of The Viginia Theological Seminary in suburban Washington, D.C., Jackson had the opportunity to lead St. Peter’s solo for a few months last year. His boss and rector, the Rev. Sam Buice of St. Peter’s, fell off a ladder in August 2007. Buice broke both of his heels and Jackson led the 600-member congregation while Buice recuperated.

“I had to take the wheel and drive the ship. That was a turning point. Before, I had not been interested in being a rector. It built my confidence,” Jackson said. Buice later suggested he start looking for his own church. Jackson put feelers out in the Diocese of Georgia, which covers roughly the lower half of the state, and the Diocese of Atlanta, which is the top half. The Atlanta diocese also takes in Columbus to the south.

St. Nicholas was the first opportunity to turn up for him.

“I really liked everybody and I had all these ideas,” said Jackson, who would later withdraw his name for consideration because, he said, “I never thought of myself living on that side of the state.” Jackson’s home parish is the Church of Our Savior in Martinez, a bedroom community of Augusta.

After interviewing other candidates, Sue Halmrast, St. Nicholas’ senior warden (or chief lay leader) of the vestry called Jackson again.

“She said, ‘Would you be willing to reconsider and talk to the vestry?’ I did and maybe that was my big sign. I fell in love with the vestry, and a lot of things became clear.”

Jackson is married to Molly Jackson. They have two children: a son, Tai, who’s 4; a daughter, Bronwyn, 2; and their third child is due in February.

The priest said his passion lies in children’s and youth ministry. He’s intrigued that St. Nicholas is the closest congregation to Harris County High School. Both are off Ga. 116, just west of Hamilton.

Since McEachern’s death, St. Nicholas’ interim priest, the Rev. Tom Jones, has led services most Sundays. Jones retired in 2004 as rector of Trinity Episcopal in Columbus. He’s pleased with St. Nicholas’ selection.

“He exudes enthusiasm and is easy to be with. He is warm and friendly and very comfortable with himself. I think we will find people naturally gravitate to him,” Jones said.

Jackson said he listened closely to the ways the congregation spoke of McEachern. “From the outside, that can be a real sticky situation — ‘How much is she revered?’ I wanted to know where they were in the process of grief. They spoke of her in a revered way, and she’s part of their DNA, but it wasn’t, ‘Oh my gosh, we can’t do anything without Beverley.’ ”

Jeff Jackson is a 2000 graduate of Berry College in Rome, Ga. His first official Sunday is Nov. 16 but he and his family will worship amid the congregation this Sunday. The service begins at 10:30 a.m.