The Rev. Margaret Hoit Sammons and her husband, the Rev. Gregory P. Sammons, co-rectors at St. Michael’s in the Hills Episcopal Church in Ottawa Hills, will retire Sunday.
The Blade/Jetta Fraser
The Revs. Margaret and Gregory Sammons—Pastors Peg and Greg, as some call them—are retiring as co-rectors of St. Michael's in the Hills Episcopal Church, and the worship service Sunday at 9:45 a.m. at the church, 4718 Brittany Rd., is their farewell from the pulpit.
“We're going to be preaching together, which we have very seldom done," Pastor Peg said. The gospel is 'Jesus called the fishermen' and I think it will be a thank you for the privilege of fishing with [the congregation] these 20 years. Also we'll be doing some reflection on the year past and we'll see where that leads.”
Life is leading the pastors into grandparenthood. First they'll help care for two children, 2 and 3 1/2, being adopted by their older daughter. But the Sammons grandparents will only be there for the short term. “We're going to move to Ann Arbor at the end of September because our younger daughter is expecting in June, so our cup runneth over. Definitely it feels like a call,” Pastor Greg said.
Their call to minister at St. Michael's came when they were serving a church in the Detroit area. “We were called [to Toledo] initially with Greg as rector and I as associate and on a part-time basis,” Pastor Peg said.
“Essentially we had really functioned as equal partners, splitting things, passing things back and forth [since the beginning],” Pastor Greg said.
The change to full-time as co-rectors was a surprise, given on the 25th anniversary of the Rev. Peg's ordination. She was the first woman to be ordained a priest in the diocese of Western Michigan, in 1978. The Church approved ordaining women to the priesthood in 1976,and there was controversy in the Church over the change.
The Episcopal Church has had other controversies over their years as priests, a major one being the Church's welcoming lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. The election of the Rev. Eugene Robinson, a gay man, to be bishop in New Hampshire in 2001 was a particular marker.
“The Church was journeying along with American society, and the Episcopal Church found itself out on a limb a little bit ahead of society," the Rev. Greg said. "Where we were in 2003 looks pretty much right in the center of where the country is now, so I feel a certain sense of pride looking back that the church took that chance at the time.”
The Sammonses took a chance on each other in seminary, where they met. Mr. Sammons, now 63, was a year ahead of the future Mrs. Sammons, now 65. Their early years of priesthood, marriage, and parenthood were in Massachusetts. They didn't serve in the same church until they went to Michigan, and they were there for 10 years. “Loved it, raised our kids into junior high, elementary school age, and then realized we really couldn't stay there forever,” Pastor Greg said. They found St. Michael's in Toledo.
St. Michael's had been seeking clergy who could add energy to the youth ministry, it wanted more outreach into the community, “and they wanted stewardship, which has to do with growing the budget and inspiring people to give to the church so that the church's reach can be greater,” Pastor Greg said.
The reach has included building three Habitat for Humanity homes, many mission trips, and other community involvement. There was also construction at the church, giving dedicated classroom space so Sunday school no longer was in a big room with accordion dividers.
The building project “was always about the mission of the church. It was never about bricks and mortar, and, frankly, it was one of the most inspiring periods,” Pastor Greg said. “It felt like all the cylinders were running and leadership stepped forward, and it was a graceful vision for what might be.”
When they began their ministry in Toledo, “we moved in the wintertime of 1993,” Pastor Greg said. “We moved just before Christmas, and it seemed right as we were thinking about the end of our ministry here that we round out the season and go through Christmas again, which was a great privilege to enjoy that with the congregation.”
What they leave behind, Pastor Greg said, is “a joint legacy. Clergy cannot do anything unless a congregation is ready to pool their gifts and resources and energy, but one important thing that happened early on was we changed the church schedule on Sunday morning, which doesn't sound like much, but that really is kind of a sea change for a congregation. We changed it so that children could worship and then everybody could leave worship and go to education.”
The changing nature of Sundays--children's sports and school requirements on Sundays, for example--is a challenge to churches. "How can we both instill a greater sense of the importance of Sunday morning for the parents,” the Rev. Greg said, “and also how is the church going to shift its ministry so it can adapt to the culture that has changed.”
“That's going to be a real challenge for this and a lot of churches going forward,” the Rev. Peg said.
As Peg and Greg Sammons go forward, they'll wear their clerical collars much less, but “neither one of us is ready to hang up our stoles.” They'll be ready to fill in for other ministers when needed. “And we do have another involvement in the diocese of Ohio that we expect to stay connected to,” Pastor Greg said.
“Our diocese has a companion relationship with the diocese of Tanga in Tanzania,” Pastor Peg said. "We've been asked to be the cochairs of the Tanga task force for the diocese. We're going to be responsible for continuing that relationship and helping it to evolve in whatever way it does.”