DANVERS — The Rev. Thea Keith-Lucas, one of the two outgoing priests at All Saints Episcopal Church of the North Shore, will soon take up campus ministry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, where she will coordinate a forum on how technology and scientific discovery affects us all.
With the recent merger of Calvary Episcopal Church on Cherry Street in Danvers and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Washington Street in Peabody, the rectors of both churches are moving on so a new priest chosen by the combined congregation can take over, said Keith-Lucas, 36. The new congregation is worshipping in the Danvers church building.
Keith-Lucas’ next calling will be at MIT, where she will work in a joint Lutheran-Episcopal ministry with a Lutheran chaplain.
At MIT, the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, with support from MIT, sponsors the Technology and Culture Forum, which features events focused on how technology affects our lives and “shapes our ethical choices,” said Keith-Lucas, who will run this series of events.
A recent program focused on the use of remote-control-drone technology, Keith-Lucas said, and a forum in the spring will look at climate change and questions surrounding how it’s viewed.
“My role is to work with faculty at MIT who are on the Steering Committee for Technology and Culture and ask them: ‘What are the conversations in your field? What’s happening next? What questions does that bring up for you, and who can speak to those questions?’”
In this role, she’ll sit down with some brilliant minds and ask these thinkers about their discoveries: “What does it mean to you, and what does it mean for the world?”
And while she will not be dealing with the needs of a congregation in a town, a Catholic chaplain at MIT told her that she will continue with pastoral care, listening to young people and helping them find God’s presence in whatever they are dealing with.
“Whether you are in a parish in Danvers or on campus at MIT, it’s classic people are people,” Keith-Lucas said.
For more than five years, Keith-Lucas led the former Calvary Episcopal, across from Town Hall, before it merged with the Peabody church. This was the first time that she led a church, after being an assistant at Trinity Church in Randolph.
Keith-Lucas was raised in a small town, Sewanee, Tenn., where her father, Timothy Keith-Lucas, teaches as a professor at The University of the South, an Episcopal school known as Sewanee.
“I don’t think there is a more Episcopalian place than Sewanee, Tenn.,” Keith-Lucas said.
In her younger years, it was not her desire to become an Episcopal priest. She attended Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and was a religious studies major.
A turning point came in college, when her grandfather, Alan Keith-Lucas, died. He was active in the National Association for Christians and Social Work and was a professor of social work.
“It was the first time a person really close to me died, and the feeling that I needed to be back in church was really connected to his legacy and what he stood for in my life and so many people’s lives,” Keith-Lucas said.
The Episcopal church next to campus had a woman deacon serving at the altar, and she felt life in the church could be her calling, but it took time for her to decide.
She studied religion at Harvard University in graduate school, considered becoming a curator of religious art and artifacts, and worked at a museum. In 1997, she met her husband, Jake Montwieler, while attending a small parish in Allston. The church had a strong tradition of laypersons being involved in services, and that’s where Keith-Lucas found her voice.
“I was invited to preach and told the story of my faith that day,” Keith-Lucas said, “and just being up there and being able to speak to people from the heart in that way caught my imagination.”
She attended Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge and graduated in 2004, when she was eight months pregnant with her first daughter, Renee Montwieler, who is now 8. Her second son, Dimitri, 5, was born around the time she was interviewing at Calvary Episcopal.
Over the past five years, she learned how to lead a church and guided it through various changes. She even helped start the Perfect Paws Pet Ministry, where pet owners can attend services with their pets and pray for those they’ve lost.
“It’s been a really precious time and a great opportunity to worship in a different way than the classic Sunday morning service, and encounter people who would otherwise would not be members of our congregation,” Keith-Lucas said.
That kind of outreach she hopes to replicate at MIT, where students may not identify with the Lutheran or Episcopal faiths.
“Some of them come because they had a really strong life in the church, whether it’s Lutheran or Episcopal, and they want to be part of the campus ministry,” Keith-Lucas said. “But others grew up in a different background or no religious background at all, and they encounter an event that the ministry is doing or a person who is involved in the ministry, and they are interested to show up for worship.”
Back at All Saints, the Rev. Joyce Caggiano, the former rector at St. Paul’s, is on sabbatical, Keith-Lucas said. In the interim, the Rev. Richard Loring, who worked at the Danvers church for nearly a year before Keith-Lucas took over, starts on a temporary basis starting Feb. 3. The church’s Inter-Parish Council, which has worked on the merger, requested him.
Keith-Lucas said she was excited for the two parishes to merge, even though she knew it meant that she and her counterpart would have to move on.
“Symbolically, emotionally, they (members of the new congregation) need to come together as one congregation, and it helps them to do that if they are all on a level playing field with the priest,” Keith-Lucas said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.