The Rev. Anne West loves her role as chaplain at Blue Ridge School in Dyke, where she’s served since 2015, but when a position opened at Grace Episcopal Church in Stanardsville last fall she felt called to apply for it, as well.
West has done this before, serving at a boarding school previously before going back into private church preaching before going back to a boarding school at Blue Ridge School.
“What typically happens to me is I start missing my traditional Christian faith community,” West said. “It’s just a whole different thing for a priest being in a community that chooses to get up on Sunday mornings and looks forward to church and worshiping.”
The role as part-time vicar of Grace makes it possible for West to serve both of her loves— boarding school life and traditional church worship.
“I love boarding school life,” said West, who also serves as freshman hall parent. “I love the challenge of just helping the boys succeed.”
Blue Ridge School has students from all across the country, but also from 17 other countries, according to its website, which makes West’s job different than a traditional religious role.
Students attend chapel twice a week, she noted.
“My job there is reminding the boys that they’re loved by God, however they see God,” she said.
West, who grew up in a small town in West Virginia, has been an Episcopal priest since 1989 but calls herself a “cradle Episcopalian,” having grown up in the religion.
“I like liturgy. I like service to have a rhythm to it. I like participation by the congregation,” she said. “And I think there’s a potential for good things to happen at Grace.”
Blue Ridge School Headmaster William “Trip” Darrin went on the interview with West and she said he saw it too.
West said as the head of the community service group at Blue Ridge School she’s encouraged the kids to cook meals and serve to the parishioners at Grace.
“The real potential and I think Mr. Darrin saw this, is that this community will become more aware and get to know the boys,” West said. “I think the interchange is really good. I have an aging congregation. We have some boys who are very musically talented and I’ve been inviting them to services on Sundays to play. It’s been really wonderful for me and it’s given me a nice community to be part of.”
She said a lot of ministers are facing the challenge of encouraging younger people and families into the fold.
“Younger people, generally speaking, are not finding the need to be a part of the institutional church,” she said. “In some ways I get it, busy lives, it’s a personal testimony for me to recognize that I need that. Of course I hunger for younger couples, especially couples with children, would have a clearer sense of how important a faith community can really be. And helpful it is.”
One time she really notices how helpful a church community can be is when there is a death in a family.
“You see how much peace comes to you through that community during those tough times,” she said. West said church is more than just another obligation. “So many times we think of church as another thing we have to do instead of something that can really us with all the other obligations in our lives,” she said. “It can help us find a better since of peace and better sense of direction.”
She noted that Grace’s congregation is quite active in the community, and hopes to see it continue to grow.
“I think Grace wants to grow and I’m really proud of them. A lot of churches will think there is no potential for them because they’re aging, but not Grace,” she said. “Some work at the GRACE thrift shop, some work with Feeding Greene, some play bingo at Grace Health and Rehab, Ron Morris helps spearhead the Youth Development Council; I have parishioners who are really engaged in the community and I think that’s fabulous.”
Students from Blue Ridge School will tutor with the Youth Development Council on Tuesdays. West said she hopes the interchange between the school and church continues. She said she believes many different types of people can find a home at Grace.
“I feel like [the Episcopal faith] is a broad welcoming community. We do believe everyone is worthy and a loving child of God and I love that,” West said. “Everybody gets through their spiritual journey in their own way and I try to be respectful.”
Grace Episcopal Church is at 97 Main St. in Stanardsville with Sunday service at 9:30 a.m. Sundays. For more information, call (434) 985-7716 or visit gracechurchstanardsville.org. For more information about Blue Ridge School, visit www.blueridgeschool.com.