The Rev. Elizabeth Chace retiring after leading St. Francis Episcopal Church since 2002
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
The Rev. Elizabeth Chace will take her place at the pulpit for the last time on Sunday after leading the congregation at the St. Francis Episcopal Church for just over a decade and a half, but plans on continuing to serve the community after getting her first taste of retirement.
Chace will be giving her last sermon and celebrating Eucharist with parishioners at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, November 10.
She is going to retire after serving the church since 2002, and that decision comes with mixed emotions.
“I’m ready to retire and I’m sad I’m leaving the congregation,” Chace said. “I’ve been here 17 years.”
Chace, age 72, has been working since she was 12 years old. Still in good health, she is looking forward to a change.
“It’s going to be a new experience, so I’m also curious,” she said.
Church doctrine dictates that Chace can no longer be involved with the congregation or conduct ceremonies without being given an express invitation by the next priest.
“The idea is to show respect and give some space and time to the next person to develop relationships,” she said.
Chace was raised in Marion, Massachusetts, a rural community located on Cape Cod. She said it was a similar setting to northern Michigan.
“It’s a lot like up here in the sense that it is a tourist destination or a summer destination for people,” she said.
Chace did not plan on delivering sermons and other services for a career, but was focused on delivering babies.
She attended the State University of New York in Brooklyn and first served as a labor nurse. Chace then went back for graduate studies, and became a certified nurse midwife.
She and her husband, Brian, lived in Needham, Massachusetts. She worked at both jobs in the medical field for 13 years each.
It was then when God intervened in her life.
“I had a spiritual experience of being called,” she said.
A priest asked Chace if she was interested in pursuing a career as a religious leader, and she took a bible history course.
During her time in seminary, the Bishop for the Eastern Diocese for Massachusetts noticed that Chace was more qualified than other candidates for priesthood and decided to mentor her. The Bishop believed Chace would be a good fit in a smaller Diocese.
Around the same time, one of her professors from Grosse Pointe was working with parishioners to start an Episcopal Church in Indian River.
Familiar with Michigan and the Midwest because family members lived or went to college in the state, Chace opted to come and explore her options for a year.
She did her field education at Grace Episcopal Church in Lapeer. She also spent time in northern Michigan.
Chace told church leaders that she would like to lead a small church in a rural area or work with those in need in the inner city.
At that time, she interviewed for a dual assignment to lead the St. Francis Episcopal Church in Grayling and the Saint Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Mio.
Chace was selected for the assignment officially on July 1, 2002, but was requested to lead the parishioners in prayer in Grayling earlier to establish a relationship with the congregation.
During her tenure, Chace saw the St. Francis Thrift Store expand to what it is today, providing jobs to area residents, items for people in need through vouchers, and good used items to others who frequent the store.
Proceeds from sales at the store go to support the adjacent Grace Center, which provides addiction treatment and family and children’s counseling.
Funds generated by the store also go to the Crawford County Community Christian Help Center and Food Pantry, the Crawford County Baby to Toddler Closet, the Grayling Lions Club, River House, the Crawford County Commission on Aging and Senior Center, the free Monday night dinners served at the Michelson Memorial United Methodist Church, and to individuals with emergent needs.
The Grace Center, which is its own 501(c)(3) organization, provides services throughout the Eastern Diocese of Michigan through retreats and summer camps.
“That’s grown in depth as much as it has in numbers,” Chace said.
Chace is also proud the St. Francis Episcopal Church has grown from hosting six meetings a week for Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon, to having 13 meetings a week when groups were told they could no longer hold meetings at other places.
“We’re really glad for the difference that makes for people in the county that are struggling with addictions, and the families that are struggling with them is such a big issue,” she said. “While not solving the problem, it’s a contribution towards healing and prevention down the road.”
Elizabeth and Brian have three adult children and two grandchildren. As she gets acclimated to retirement over a period of time, she plans to volunteer for established community organizations serving Crawford County.
“I know I will really want to do that, in some way that’s flexible so I can spend more time with the grand kids,” Chace said. “We’re not moving and we want to contribute to what’s good in the community and what helps others.”
As she was packing up items from her church office, Chace relished the pictures and graduation invitations she has received from youth who have grown up in the church.
“They’ve gone on to become amazing contributors to society,” she said.
More importantly, Chace said she is proud to have touched the lives of people in a positive way despite various political views and backgrounds.
“In this time of so much division in our country, to see people come together with respect and joy and love and serve others is really hard to put into words, and that peace and joy fills my heart,” she said.
Substitute clergy and laypeople will lead services after Chace is gone. A priest will be brought in to do communion. An interim clergy member will come and help look at the church’s history and potential needs ahead in the future.
Applications will then be taken, interviews will done with parishioners, and the Bishop will make an offer to the next priest.