By David F. Rooney
Ever since she first heard God’s call as an eight-year-old in Nova Scotia, Heather Hamlin Gravells has wanted to be a priest. Persistent, devout and trusting, she persevered and is now set to be inducted as the new parish priest at St. Peter’s Anglican Church.
“I knew I was going to be a priest from a very young age — eight,” she said in an interview on Wednesday. “But I was 20 before I acted on it. I knew this was the life for me. I have always felt the Church was home.”
It should be a good fit. the good Rev. Heather is an open, hard-working woman who is married with children and some ideas she’d like to try to improve attendance at Sunday Masses and, in general, raise the profile of the church within the community.
“I love God and I enjoy helping people on their own spiritual journeys discover that even at their loneliest they are not alone,” she said.
But Rev. Gravells knows it won’t be a cake walk. Like every other member of the local clergy she works within a society and culture that appears to place a higher premium on materialism than on the life of the spirit.
“It’s the people my age who don’t go to church and the 70- and 80-year-olds who do go are left asking, ‘Where are they?'” the 37-year-old said. “The Church was described by Wendy Fletcher (dean of the Vancouver School of Theology) during a recent conference as being at low tide. We need to look outside the box for solutions.”
And there are, she believes, solutions. First you have to accept the people you meet as they are. If you’re going to be a priest today you have to be flexible and grounded and you have to be yourself.
“Right now it’s enough for me to meet people and find ways to fit into the community,” Rev. Gravells said. “In the New Year I’m going to look for volunteers to help with a program that tells children there are other people in the community besides their families who love them.”
Helping children boost their self-esteem may be part of the solution needed at St. Peter’s, whose active parishioners are mostly between 50 and 80. So, too, may getting out in the community. She was quickly pressed into serving on the Mountain View School PAC, sings with the Community Choir and might yet find her way into a band as a clarinetist.
But the Rev. Gravells is nothing if not flexible and persistent — she must be. She has two young sons — David and Michael — and a husband, Christopher, whom she loves very much and who is finishing his studies as an anthropologist.
“The balance between the ministry and your family life is… interesting,” she said. “There’s a real dynamic there. Fortunately, I have the most understanding husband in the world.”
If you would like to meet Rev. Heather Hamlin Gravells you can do so on Thanksgiving Day, Monday, Oct. 12, when she holds an open house and house blessing at the St. Peter’s Parish Manse, 614 Second Street West, between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.
She is also being formally inducted as the parish priest on Oct. 25 at 7 p.m.