By John Burton
RED BANK – The Rev. Jacquelyn Rowe, who has recently taken over as rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, has spent her life serving others.
“My heart has always been in community service,” Rowe said. “That was my love and always has been.”
Rowe, who started at the 26 East Sunset Ave. church on Palm Sunday, March 24, came to the congregation after serving as rector for two years at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, 302 Church St., in the Belford section of Middletown.
“It is all about giving,” said the rector whose community group work predates her clergy responsibilities.
In an earlier incarnation, Rowe worked as a public administrator in the Miami-Dade area of Florida, where she advocated for, established and oversaw numerous public programs to help children and families in crisis.
“That was always my love. It always has been,” she said.
One program that was her brainchild involved working with women who wanted to become municipal firefighters – helping train them for the physical and written examinations – at a time when it was almost an exclusively male occupation.
Rowe was married young – at age 18 – had two sons and divorced a few years later. She became intimately aware of the challenges faced by young people who had families to raise and support.
It was the call to help and serve others that eventually led her to the ministry.
“I have always been active in the church,” she said, but “it took me a long time to answer God’s call.”
Ultimately, she answered the call and attended the General Theological Seminary in New York, completing her studies and being ordained on Dec. 21, 1998, which Rowe notes, ironically enough, is St. Thomas Day.
She began her ministry work in Florida and then went to Alabama.
A major portion of her community involvement efforts – especially those associated with the Episcopal Church – stems from what she saw with Hurricane Andrew, which devastated parts of Florida and the South in 1992.
During her last six months at St. Clement’s – on the “wet side” of Belford – some area homes were severely damaged and there was flooding damage due to Super Storm Sandy. Rowe helped residents there and has continued her community outreach when she arrived at St. Thomas.
“It does seem like a major part of my life is helping people deal with disaster,” she said.
While interviewing for the position at St. Thomas, she was “delighted to find out they felt the same way” about how she sees her role and that of the church in this and the surrounding community.
“We, of course, have an opportunity to challenge, to show our love,” she said.
She plans to continue the church’s outreach efforts, locally and in an extended area, to spread a spiritual message and social involvement, “especially for the most vulnerable.”
St. Thomas, founded in December 1891 as St. Thomas Chapel, moved to its current location in 1951. It has a congregation of about 100 active members.
Rowe has replaced the Rev. Terrence Rosheuvel, who retired after 29 years with the church. She is the first woman rector at St. Thomas.
Rowe, who is now a grandmother, sees her role as rector as a “cheerleader, a spiritual guide,” she said, “to where God would have us go.”
Right now she is still learning about the needs of the congregation and community and how she can best use her strengths to help them now and for the long haul.
“We look inside ourselves to see what God has given us and how best to share it,” she said.