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home : features : people of faith

6/6/2013 10:35:00 AM
Theology grad came home to Church

This spring's crop of graduates at St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry at Albany included Margaret Anderton, an educator who served as a deacon in the Reformed Church in America before reverting to Catholicism.

The parishioner of St. Luke's Church in Schenectady plans on using her new master of divinity degree to serve in pastoral care leadership; she's finishing a residency as an interfaith chaplain at Albany Medical Center. She collaborates with ethics committees, medical staff and patients on end-of-life issues, blesses dying individuals and even baptizes babies in the neonatal intensive care unit.

"You walk with [the families]," Ms. Anderton said. "I'm in awe of some of the people I meet.

"Often, it's a painful situation or a loss," she continued. "There aren't words at a time like that. [Chaplains] bear witness to what people are going through [and] allow people to cry or lament or whatever they need to do, without passing judgment."

Ms. Anderton's career has always involved serving and teaching, whether it was as program director for a YMCA branch, director of safety and health education for an American Red Cross chapter or executive director of Bethesda House, an interfaith ministry to the homeless, disabled and economically disadvantaged in Schenectady.

She headed the latter organization for 14 years, helping it earn non-profit status, expanding it to a $5 million facility and establishing it as the county's leading agency for serving the chronically homeless.

The ministry taught Ms. Anderton about the shared messages of justice, peace and solidarity in all faith traditions: "Respect for the dignity of the human person is really what it's all about."

Ms. Anderton lived on Long Island before moving to Rotterdam at age 10. She was raised Catholic while the changes of the 1960s' Second Vatican Council were beginning to take effect, but she wasn't allowed to attend non-Catholic churches or befriend children of other faiths.

She felt interested in theological issues from a young age. Eventually, her parents gave her permission to join an interfaith youth Bible study.

Ms. Anderton married after college and divorced in less than two years. Partly because she wasn't granted an annulment, she started drifting away from the Church. She married her husband of 25 years, Jack, when she was 27. They joined the First Reformed Church of Schenectady when their two children were toddlers.

With friends in the congregation, "it felt like home," she said.

The church, which emphasized the Bible, sermons and education, also gave her opportunities to explore her questions on faith. Deeply involved in ministries, she was ordained a deacon; along the way, she picked up a lot of knowledge about Catholicism.

Ms. Anderton realized that there's no faith tradition whose followers agree with its every aspect, and that "most people maintain, as adults, a very childlike understanding of their faith tradition." She also gained clarity on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist in the Catholic tradition.

In her Reformed church, communion was served in the form of white bread squares and small cups of grape juice. Though Protestant churches exude a "real sense of fellowship," she said, "there's a sense of reverence to [worship] that I missed."

Ms. Anderton started exploring Catholic Masses when her children were in high school and joined St. Luke's in 2009. She liked the inclusiveness, the traditional feeling and the fact that parishioners quietly knelt in prayer to prepare for Mass.

She started thinking about returning to school and eventually settled on theology as a discipline. A St. Luke's parishioner recommended St. Bernard's, the Diocese's graduate school for theology, and she dove into studies there despite having no career direction.

"The whole trust in God thing - at some point, you have to really do that, not just say you do that," Ms. Anderton said.

She calls the school a well-kept secret. Then again, "What's a best-kept secret is a lot of stuff in the Catholic Church," she said. "If you're someone who's into spirituality and mysticism, it's here."

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