Driving across the country from Atlanta, Ga., to become the new rector at Emmanuel Episcopal Church on Mercer Island took more than two weeks for Rev. William Hunt Priest and his family. Such a drive would normally take less than a week, but the Priests visited friends and relatives on the way, and places such as Yellowstone National Park and Flathead Lake, Mont.
After a long process of interviews and paperwork, concluding with travel between Mercer Island and Newnan, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, Emmanuel Episcopal’s search committee — the Call Commission — chose Priest as the church’s next reverend.
Priest preached his first sermon at Emmanuel Episcopal on June 22.
“We’re really excited. In some ways, it’s unexpected — it’s a long way from home,” said Priest, 44, who was raised in Mount Stirling, Ky., and has lived in the South for all of his life. “But as the opportunity presented itself, the more intriguing it became.”
He described the selection process as a dance: he was available, and Emmanuel Episcopal continued to show interest.
The Call Commission started searching for a new rector in January 2007, several months after the Rev. Rendall Gardener moved on to another Episcopal church in California. In the meantime, the church had an interim rector from West Seattle, Dr. Rev. Charles Ridge.
The commission created a profile of Emmanuel Episcopal and listed the desired qualities of a candidate, then advertised in Episcopal trade magazines and a database of priests, attempting to make a match. After sifting through 41 candidates, Emmanuel Episcopal found their man and rented a home for him on the Island.
Bruce Lee, the co-chair of the search committee, said that he is elated to have Priest as the new rector. “It was clearly not just us doing the work in this — the Holy Spirit was moving in this one,” he said. “Hunt’s youth and his great family — his wife, Lisa, and their son, Will — make it the right fit.”
One of the vestry board members, Burt Johnson, agreed that Priest is a perfect match. “We’re very excited to have him and his family, so things couldn’t be better,” said Johnson. “Everything turned out just right.”
Priest was one of two candidates recommended by the diocese bishop in Olympia, Greg Rickel. He comes from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Newnan, Ga., where he was ordained as an associate three years ago. He had not always intended, however, to become a rector.
After majoring in English for his undergraduate degree, Priest began a career in advertising. He became a copywriter and worked for Delta. But by the time he was 35, he began to rethink his direction.
“I had this nagging feeling that I wanted to be a priest,” he said. “I always felt this call to be a priest, since I was 14 or 15.”
Before Priest could attend seminary, however, his ‘call’ to ordained ministry — giving the sacraments, preaching, pastoral care — had to be confirmed. He had to answer an important question: What would being ordained enable you to do that you cannot already do as a baptized member of the church?
“It was important for me to have people asking me tough questions about [ordination], so I really got a stronger sense that it was the sort of work I was called to do,” said Priest, who has been a Christian since his childhood and views his faith as a lifelong journey.
After he was approved by his denomination for pursuing ordination, he attended the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas, for three years and graduated with a Master of Divinity.
Now that he has joined Emmanuel Episcopal, he plans to “just listen” for the next six months, becoming familiar with what goes on at the church, in addition to presiding and preaching at Sunday services.
“The things going well — we’re going to continue to support,” he said, noting the Christian formation programs as an example, as he believes that “the church should form Christ-like people.”
Priest also wants Emmanuel to be a spiritual resource and a place of prayer for Islanders and those “who are looking for a spiritual home and a way to deepen their spiritual journeys.”