At Christ Church, Georgetown, the congregation is getting ready to launch a year-long bicentennial celebration (the church was organized in November of 1817). The Rev. Timothy A. R. Cole, rector, is reflecting on this milestone. He believes that it is important to give thanks for the life and ministry of the last 200 years and figure out how the church community should lay the foundation for the next 200 years.
“People have got so many good ideas,” he said. “We are set to express gratitude, build community and inspire growth.”
Cole, 57, has only been in the Georgetown neighborhood since September of last year, but he is aware of the history that pervades the walls of the parish surrounding him. As a Scottish Episcopalian, he sees a similarity between Scottish Episcopal and American Episcopal liturgies. He showed a framed illustration of three Scottish Episcopal bishops in Aberdeen at the ordination of Samuel Seabury, the first American Episcopal bishop, in 1784, a time when tensions between America and the Church of England were strong.
Items are interspersed throughout his office, reflecting a very full life. A visitor can see mementos from Kenya and Sierra Leone. On Cole’s desk, a wooden plaque from Africa displays his name and academic qualifications.
Cole sees his life in three phases. The first one began when he served as a parish priest in Scotland for 10 years. Then he felt drawn to serve in the British Army as a chaplain from 1995 until 2016. The third and current phase is one where he seeks to set down roots after moving around for 21 years.
At each stage of his life’s journey, Cole said he has found three important things: a sense of God’s purpose, which means feeling called to step out in faith and do something new; a sense of challenge and adventure; and last, but not least, relationship.
What was challenging, though, about moving to Christ Church was the realization of what he would be giving up. In the British Army, Cole reached a senior position as assistant chaplain general, even served as an honorary chaplain to the Queen of England. “It was a big decision to come here,” he said.
Cole finds himself leading what he describes as “a vibrant, living community.” He also noticed how the congregation at Christ Church is filled with people who have either done something, are doing something or are about to do something of international significance.
Cole also appreciates how Democrats and Republicans can come together and shake hands with each other. This ability to get along with one other, regardless of political affiliation, is one of the facets that he believes defines Christ Church today. He also sees the parish as a large lantern tower — a lighthouse that shines a beacon of reason and faith — and the church as a field hospital for those who seek healing and restoration.
As Cole thinks about the future of Christ Church, he notes the strengths of the parish as it is, which include an adult forum that offers a very high level of theological education and a choir that celebrates the rich tradition of Anglican music. He also sees the congregation he leads as “a warm, affectionate and welcoming community” that wants to reach out and engage with people whose lives are currently outside of the life of the church. “It is a real blessing and honor to be rector here,” he said.