Q&A with St. Michael’s rector Rev. Dr. Ellen Sloan
Rev. Dr. Ellen Sloan is friendly and easy going. She is the new rector at St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church. Rev. Dr. Sloan appears eager to make a positive spiritual imprint on the island community.
Where did you grow up?
Born in Massachusetts, spend childhood summers on Cape Cod – moved to Exeter, N.H. when I was 12.
What brought you to Sanibel?
The Vestry of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church called me as its new Rector last May and I began work here on Sept. 1. Their Search Committee had spent over a year in the search process.
What do you appreciate most about living on the islands?
The gracious, energetic people of St. Michael’s parish who focus on reaching out to those in need. The environmental consciousness of people living on Sanibel who work at being good stewards of this beautiful place.
We know you recently became the new rector at St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church. We also hear you are the church’s first female spiritual leader. How significant is this for you?
First female Rector since the church began in 1958. Less significant for me than for the church itself.
Women have been ordained in the Episcopal Church now since 1975. More importantly for St. Michael’s is that it found a Rector who met the criterion the parish was looking for – man or woman – the Search Committee knew well the pastoral, liturgical, spiritual, and emotional needs of the parishioners and sought to find that in the right leadership. I feel very blessed to have been called here.
What inspired you to become a woman of the cloth?
As I reflect on this, my inspiration came from a life of experiences that kept drawing me closer and closer to Christ and his message of the Gospel. I spent a long time searching for meaning in my 20s and 30s – lived and worked in Venezuela and then in The Netherlands – completing my PhD and becoming a professor in Connecticut – studying other religions – all pieces of the search for where God was calling me. My mentors along the way were my mother and a Franciscan priest who listened, guided, and affirmed my search.
I began my discernment for the priesthood in the early 1990s and it was the first time I felt total spiritual peace and calmness – that I had finally opened myself up enough to listen to where God’s Spirit was calling me to be. The journey continues and it invigorates my whole life.
What goals do you have for St. Michael’s?
My leadership style is not to set “my” goals for St. Michael’s. Our mission/vision is of course the Gospel message of Christ and our goals flow from that. One of the most important goals for St. Michael’s is its goal of outreach to the needy in Lee County and a large percentage of our budget continues to focus on that. That is a primary responsibility for anyone walking the Gospel.
How can people bring spirituality into their everyday lives?
Of course with prayer (however each individual does that) but also by seeing the sacred in the ordinary – seeing God in Christ at work among us, in the creation around us, in friends and family but especially in the stranger we may meet. Sometimes in our hurried lives, we miss seeing the sacredness in the ordinary, daily routines.
How do you make your sermons relevant to every day living?
My sermons are always Biblically based and it’s clear that the Bible is filled with the same joys and sufferings as we experience in the 21st century. Whether it’s a story of deliverance from danger or a time of violence in the Old Testament; whether it’s a story of Christ helping people to understand his message of love for one another in the New Testament, there is always a present-day component of relevancy for people in the pews. The tears and joy in their own lives or the suffering continuing in our world is a necessary part of the sermon and people need that relevancy to grow, be challenged, and to reach out beyond them.
What do you think are the greatest
challenges people have in connecting with their spiritual side or God today?
The spiritual challenges in our world today are immense – but they were immense 2000 years ago when Christ was preaching his message to love one another. We’re still working at and I find most people thirsting to know God and how to deepen their spirituality.
What was your first reaction when you saw the church’s
popular treasure – Noah’s Ark Thrift Shop?
In awe of the parish’s commitment to work long hours in efforts to turn Noah’s Ark treasures into real aid to those in need – not only in Lee County but around the world. The parish’s commitment to outreach is incredible!
When you are not taking care of church duties what do you do for leisure?
I love to kayak and sail but haven’t found time yet! Play the piano, speed walk, quilt.
What is something people would be
surprised to learn about you?
I lived and worked in Venezuela in my late 20s.
What is your family life like?
I have a wonderful, loving husband who listens and supports my life as a priest. Our children and grandchildren are well and happy and are anxious to visit Sanibel. Hoping to enroll our three grandsons in the Sanibel Sea School next summer!
You seem pretty happy and at peace with yourself and the world. What do you attribute your serenity to?
My inner peace and serenity is due to the fact that Christ and the Gospel message is finally the priority in my life – not the letters after my name, nor the job titles of the past, nor who I know or how much I can accomplish. God in Christ was always in my life (I was blessed to be taught for 12 years by nuns and priests and they established a firm foundation of religion and spirituality as did my mother’s deep faith.)
However, it took me years of experience, living with other cultures, deep prayer and spiritual reflection to come to the conclusion that my thirst for meaning and happiness was really my search for God and I have found that in trying to walk the life of Jesus Christ. Do I stumble? Of course, we all do. But the Spirit of God is always there to lift me up and begin again.