The path to becoming an Episcopal priest is a deliberate and well-trod route that thousands have followed.

Kerry Mansir’s route started in a different spiritual location, followed a different map and took in different experiences.

None of that mattered on Saturday, Jan. 20, when the Rev. Kerry Mansir was ordained as a priest at Christ Church Episcopal in Gardiner — the first ordination in the church in about four decades and the first ordination of a woman that anyone can remember since Gardiner’s oldest church was the first parish to join the Diocese of Maine in 1820. It’s also where the first bishop of the Maine diocese is buried.

“I was teary-eyed. I have been a participant in many ordinations in my 35 years,” said the Rev. Stephen Muncie, the priest in charge at Christ Church. “This one felt sort of exceedingly joyful and deeply moving. We all had some tears, and it was due to Kerry.”

Mansir, 41, grew up in the South, where church is an important part of life, attending both Baptist and Methodist churches.

“I never felt called to the ministry,” Mansir, 41, said before Saturday’s ordination ceremony.

She never knew many women who were serving as ministers. Across the range of churches that identify as Methodist and Baptist, some, like the United Methodist Church, ordain women and some like Southern Baptist Convention, do not.

At Centre College in Kentucky, a small, independent liberal arts school, Mansir became an Episcopalian.

“I chose the Episcopal Church, I wasn’t raised in it,” she said. “It has a strong sense of justice work and being present in the community. An extension of that is that all people are God’s beloved. God doesn’t care what sexual orientation or gender you are.”

But perhaps just as important in her journey is that she took a religion course, and she was hooked.

“I just loved it,” she said.

It defined the educational course she would follow; she wanted to be a professor, and she wanted to teach religion at the college level.

From Kentucky, she moved to Massachusetts and enrolled in the Harvard Divinity School. About halfway through her program, she had second thoughts.

“I thought about teaching not college, but maybe middle school. I wasn’t sure,” she said. To earn money in school Mansir was a nanny. She lived with a United Church of Christ pastor and her children, and she was able to get a first-hand look at how the woman balanced being a minister and a mother.

“And at that point,” she said, “I started thinking about being called to serve.”

While she intended to shift her purpose, Mansir’s route took a bit of a turn.

She met, fell in love and married Jeff Mansir, a native Mainer, and they settled in Maine.

After some consideration, she started taking courses at the Bangor Theological Seminary while it was still open, to pursue her calling.

But after about a year, it was clear she needed to stop taking classes and get a job. She took a position with Jobs for Maine Graduates, and did a middle school program, working with kids who had barriers to education.

Mansir and her husband had three children, and after the third, she stayed home with the kids.

After a couple of years, Mansir said she started working as the education coordinator at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Yarmouth, and she started thinking once again about ordination.

The process of becoming a priest includes periods of discernment, a sort of group-think, about joining a priesthood. It’s not a solo process; the candidate and a team of people consider whether the candidate ought to be a priest.

“They want people to put in a lot of time to think about it,” she said. “I decided this is what I wanted to do, and they decided I should do it.”

Because of her varied background, her divinity degree, and the additional classes she had taken, a program was created for her to complete the requirements for becoming a priest, including a period as a hospital chaplain at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, where she learned about pastoral care.

She had her interview with church officials in the fall of 2015, and she was ordained as a deacon in the church the following summer.

“As priests, we choose where we want to work, and it was really important to me to do local ministry in the community I know,” she said.

That community is Gardiner, where her family has lived since 2003, just a block from the church.

“The diocese will fund an internship, so it will pay my salary for a year,” she said. “I am fortunate they were willing to fund it.”

With this arrangement, she has the opportunity to work with Muncie, who is an experienced priest. It’s not yet clear what will happen when the internship ends.

“We’re figuring it out. Steve and I could both stay on, and the church would pick up the salary,” Mansir said.

She and Muncie and church officials are in discernment about it.

At Saturday’s ordination, Christ Church was packed with friends, family and Episcopal clergy, about 130 in all.

The consecration of a priest is an ancient rite, which includes robust singing and joyful spirits, he said.

“As is the custom,” Muncie said, “the bishop presides and priests come from across the region.”

The congregation sings “Come Holy Spirit,” Muncie said.

After a moment of silence, Mansir kneeled before the Bishop Stephen Lane. The priests gathered around her, laying a hand on her shoulder or laying a hand on the shoulder of the priest in front of him or her.

Lane said a prayer of consecration, setting her aside as a priest.

“The tradition is that after all this happens, she is vested as a priest,” Muncie said.

Her husband and children vested her by putting a red chasuble — the outer layer of vestments that priests wear — on her as well as a stole.

“Then the bishop presents her with a Bible as the symbol of her authority to proclaim the word of God,” Muncie said.

Muncie said Mansir is a committed, servant-minded Christian and she brings to her service the experience she has gained.

“What makes her wise is that she’s humble enough to know that we all share this human life together, and nobody has all the answers,” he said. “And she’s attentive enough to walk with other people as they seek their own path in life.”

Since she came, he said, the church has had increased outreach and education, more worship opportunities and community activities.

“I feel good about it,” Mansir said of her changing status. “This is a great community and people have been supportive. And there has been a lot of support from other priests in the diocese who have walked (this) path, particularly those with family and balancing family and ministry.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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