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All Saints' Episcopal picks a new rector

Special to the Union Leader

July 09. 2014 9:49PM

The Rev. William "Bill" Petersen joins the All Saints' Episcopal Church in Wolfeboro as its new rector next month. He will deliver his first liturgy at the church on Aug. 3. (COURTESY)

WOLFEBORO — The All Saints’ Episcopal Church has named the Rev. William “Bill” Petersen as its new rector.

Petersen, 51, will begin his tenure as rector on Aug. 1, and will deliver his first liturgy on Sunday, Aug. 3.

In taking the position, Petersen accepts the call from The All Saints’ Episcopal Church Vestry, through Rt. Bishop A. Robert Hirschfeld.

According to church officials, Petersen was presented to the vestry with the unanimous support of the All Saints’ Search Committee.

“Bill is a blessing who comes to us through an unanticipated pathway. He is a servant leader nurtured and ordained in the Lutheran tradition and currently serving a Lutheran parish in East Hartford, Conn. The Spirit works in marvelous ways,” said Lee White, senior warden of All Saints’.

Petersen has deep roots in New Hampshire. His first career was in the hospitality industry, where he worked in both food service and hotel management and then became an educator.

“This is a second career for me. Although I had been active in church all my life, I knew I was being called to do something in terms of being guided by God and others in ministry,” Petersen said in a telephone interview this week.

He and his wife, Kay, have put their house in Connecticut up for sale and are in the middle of packing and seeking housing in Wolfeboro.

When he was in his 40s, Petersen started inquiring into obtaining some sort of position within the diocese where he could use his extensive skills in hospitality and as an educator.

“In the course of a week I had three people, who knew I was looking for a position within the church, say the same thing.” Essentially, all three individuals, including a pastor, a woman Petersen had worked with, and Petersen’s mom, posed the question: “Have you ever considered becoming a pastor?”

“That was the door opening,’’ he said.

Petersen describes the situation as him ducking the baseball bat God was swinging to get his attention. This time, he heard the call.

Petersen graduated from Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia Seminary in 2010.

Earlier in the decade, he taught at Southern New Hampshire University and was dean of the School of Hospitality from 2001 to 2006.

While working in New Hampshire, Petersen served as a member of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce Regional Marketing Task Force and Tourism Committee, board member of the New Hampshire Philharmonic, chairperson of the State of New Hampshire Advisory Council on Travel and Tourism, and board member of the Southern New Hampshire Convention & Visitors Bureau.

In addition, Petersen co-founded Granite State Ambassadors, Inc., and is currently chairman emeritus.

He currently serves as pastor of Faith Lutheran Church, an ethnically diverse congregation in East Hartford, Conn. The parish owns the building and property outright, a feature that allowed the church to open its doors to other faiths and groups of people in need.

“One thing we were called to and started praying for was for God to send up more people. So God, who has a sense of humor, sent us more people. We went from hosting four Twelve Step groups’ meetings a week (including Alcoholics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous) to 12. And we share space with three other faith communities,” he said.

“We’ve become a model for sharing our space as an asset. We have purposely not charged anything to anybody. Sharing space has been a huge part of our ministry,” he said. Members of an Indian Christian Fellowship, a Pentacostal Church with an African immigrant congregation, and a Spanish-speaking Baptist congregation share space at the church.

Petersen said he wasn’t really looking for a new call.

“I was happy where I am,” he said.

Then he read about the call for a new rector at All Saints’ and, with a long-term goal or returning to New Hampshire, he and his wife reviewed the information and prayed.

“It was intriguing. We said, ‘Let’s see where this leads.’ ”

Ultimately, both Petersen and church leaders found a good fit. With his ministry rooted in the Lutheran tradition, Petersen doesn’t expect the liturgy will change at All Saints’.

“As unusual as it is to have someone from another denomination come to service — most interdenominational service opportunities have been for interim assignments — there’s something exciting about having foot in both worlds (Lutheran and Episcopalian),” he said.

Both denominations value the liturgy the same way, with similar core of service.

Unlike leaders in the corporate world, Petersen does not have a long list of goals from upper management. His “job,” he said, is to serve and love people.

“The role of rector is to preach and administer the sacraments. The real easy part of job description is to love the people. That’s it.’’

In addition to providing Baptisms, Communion and Liturgy, his role includes offering pastoral care and encouragement to all the social justice and ministry programs at All Saints’, which he describes as very active.

And how will his background in hospitality may come in handy in Wolfeboro, the acclaimed oldest summer resort in America?

“I think hospitality is one of those gifts that is hard to teach but can be encouraged. The challenge for church is, for so long we’ve thought the churches’ role is to welcome people in. But we live in world where God is already out there in the community, where people are waiting for us to share God’s love outside of walls of church.

“Hospitality is about providing space for people to be authentically who they are,” he said. “A space can be that place, but it’s really about love, about accepting and loving and meeting people. Jesus did his ministry outside the temple, ministering to tax collectors, cheats, people with poor reputations,” he said, adding one doesn’t need status to deserve God’s love.

“We’re all broken and in need of love,” he said.

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