New Christ Church leadership 'optimistic'

New Christ Church leadership 'optimistic'

LINCOLN - Recognizing both the challenges facing Christ Episcopal Church and the strength of its parishioners, the Rev. Elizabeth Habecker has taken the lead in getting the Episcopal congregation back on its feet.

Habecker, who came out of retirement in January to take the part-time job on Lonsdale Avenue, said she has a history of helping struggling churches. The goal, she said, is to get the church to a place where they can hire a full-time rector, a position that has not been filled since parishioners voted in 2011 to not merge with Emmanuel Church in Cumberland.

"The best thing I could do for them is for them not to need me here," she said. "My role is to help them get to that place."

A New Jersey native, Habecker was one of the first 100 women to be ordained into the Episcopal church when it was first allowed in 1977. She was a young mother working as an English teacher at the time, but she said she had always had an interest in the church, so she enrolled in seminary school in New York City.

After being ordained in Portland, Maine, she worked for two years at a church on the state's Sebago Lake. Then, after returning to New Jersey to run a congregation, she moved to southern California, where she worked for 20 years.

Then she retired, heading back to the East Coast to settle in Bristol. But Habecker, who has three children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild, said she just "wasn't very good" at retirement.

Now, 36 years after being ordained, she has found a home at Christ Church, where she said she has been impressed with the strength and enthusiasm of the congregation during a time when she said 80 percent of churches in the United States are struggling to keep up with rising costs.

But because "money issues are depressing," she said, "Instead of getting trapped in 'how much does it cost,' we have to be motivated and energized by the possibilities."

She compared the church to a small business, where patrons can get personal attention that brings them back even if the item costs a bit more than a big box store.

Upcoming expenditures include replacing the roof on the parish hall, she said. There have been no developments in the area of stained glass windows, which have been reported to need restoration, she said, adding that she does not think they would be removed unless the use of the building changes.

"I tend to be optimistic," she said, adding that "a new face who enjoys the history, but isn't part of that history, might be able to be a different voice."

When the mills closed, the town did not fold, Habecker said, adding it is "in the DNA of this area" to "pick it up and find a way to move forward."

"They're in good shape," she said of the church. "They have a wonderful, big-hearted congregation. Those kind of people care about their future and want to honor their past. That's what's going to make it succeed."