Coming to terms with history, then stepping away

by Clark Groome
Posted 7/23/21

The Rev. Canon Albert J. Ogle has served as the interim rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, for 25 months. When he steps down from that role on Sunday, July 25, it will also mark his retirement after 44 years of active ordained ministry.

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Coming to terms with history, then stepping away

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The Rev. Canon Albert J. Ogle has served as the interim rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, for 25 months. When he steps down from that role on Sunday, July 25, it will also mark his retirement after 44 years of active ordained ministry.

In reflecting on his time at St. Paul’s, Ogle said, “The role of the interim is to try to help the parish come to terms with its history. Part of what you do then is to try to help the congregation begin to imagine what their ministry, their values, and their shared future is going to hold. That takes time.”

The interim period in an Episcopal church occurs when one rector leaves and the congregation prepares for and chooses a new leader. Ogle’s time, according to members of the parish’s vestry, saw St. Paul’s “grow in significant ways. Albert did an exemplary job as interim. He managed the staff well, gave us a wake-up call on the needs of the parish, and provided steady leadership for the parish, vestry and staff.”

“The priest’s job,” Ogle said in a recent interview, “is to speak truth to power. It’s the congregation’s job to fix what needs fixing. The interim [helps] the congregation to reflect where the spirit is calling it with its gifts, its resources, its potential and its problems.”

Ogle’s time at St. Paul’s was different from most because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While things were sometimes difficult or confusing, Ogle said, “a lot of what happened during the last two years was due to the hard work of the volunteers and the staff.

“It was a combination of being open to new, fresh ideas and not being threatened by that [but] allowing the institution to share its treasure in a different way.”

Ogle mentioned several things he was proud happened on his watch. ”First, nobody got COVID from coming to St. Paul’s. The diocese, the vestry and the staff made very good decisions how to manage this unknown.”

Also during his time the parish’s pledge base was increased and “all of the requests from its main programs were fulfilled, including finding $2 million for the [restoration] of the organ.”

None of this would have been possible, he said, without the help of a superb staff. He also noted that “Most of the people who are giving St. Paul’s time and resources are the salt of the earth.”

When asked what the new rector, the Rev. Eric Hungerford, will find when he arrives in Chestnut Hill in August, he said “Eric will find a very loving group of people who are very excited about having a young parent [as the new rector].”

Born in Belfast, Ireland, Ogle, 67, was ordained to the priesthood in the Anglican Church of Ireland in 1978. After serving parishes in Ireland and London he moved to the United States in 1982, becoming an American citizen in 2007.

He served several parishes in California from the mid-1980s until 2014. During that time he focused a lot of his time and energy ministering to those with AIDS in this country and around the world.

After then serving as vicar of St. Peter’s Lithgow in Millbrook, N Y. from October 2014 until May, 2019, Ogle and his husband, Mile Petrov (they were married on Valentine’s Day Eve in 2016), moved to Philadelphia when Petrov started a new job here and just as St. Paul’s was searching for an interim rector.

What’s next?

“Being retired,” Ogle says, “I’m going to be able to spend more time with friends and family, something I have been unable to do for 40 years.” He also plans to travel more and to pursue the painting and writing that he has been undertaking since he was a youngster.

When he visits his brother in Ireland he has a meeting with the National Museum in Dublin. It’s doing an archive of LGBTQ Irish folk. “I’m part of that so they’re going to record my story.”

The LGBT archive at the University of Southern California (USC) wants his materials because of the AIDS and gay and lesbian work he’s done.

According to St. Paul’s Rector’s Warden Ruth Desiderio “A special acknowledgement will be included at July 25th’’s three services (8 a.m., 9  a.m. and 11 a.m.) each of which will be followed by a meet and greet and light refreshments. All are welcome to say ‘thank you’ and ‘Godspeed’ to Albert as he ends his time with us and begins his well-deserved retirement.”

Vestry Member and Parishioners Warden Steve Pearson summed up Ogle’s time at St. Paul’s: “He’s a good man who has served us well and who knows his pastoral stuff.”

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