A 31-year-old woman priest will head the largest church in the Washington Episcopal Diocese for the next year.
The Rev. Noreen Suriner was formally installed Sunday as priest-in-charge of St. Columbia's Episcopal Church at Albemarle and 42nd streets NW. She will serve while the congregation searches for a successor to the Rev. William Swing, who is suffragan bishop-elect of the Diocese of California. Swing preached his farewell sermon Sunday.
Suriner, who was ordained to the priesthood two years ago, has served at the church for two years as a seminarian and three years as full-time staff member. She has been associate rector with Swing for the last year.
John Womack, senior warden at Columbia's, said the 1,600-member parish is "assessing the life of the church as part of a year-long process in finding a successor to Swing.
For the next two Sundays, the entire congregation will participate in a parish evaluation. The results of this study will be developed into a comprehensive parish profile of "who we as the parish of St. Columbia's think we are, where we are, what our hopes are," Womack said.
This information will be made available to clergy interested in applying for the St. Columbia's position.
"As you know, we have a surplus of clergy in the Episcopal Church," he said. "Even the smaller parishes tell us they are getting 140 to 150 applicants (for the position as rector). We expect we may get as many as 200, 250." St. Columba's is not only the largest but also one of the most lively parishes in the diocese.
Applicants will be screened by the congregation's search committee. "We'll weed it down to 12 to 15 strong candidates," Womack said. The candidates will then be visited and evaluated in their home churches and areas.
The top five or six will be invited to St. Columba's for the final screening.
Womack said the detailed and time-consuming process was used by St. Columba's 10 years ago to find Swing.
Despite her role in the parish for the coming year, Suriner will not be a candidate to succeed Swing.
"I declared myself out of it," she said in an interview this week. "I want this to be a good year." Tensions arising out of assistant pastor's seeking the top job in a congregation are often a cause of church dissension.
Suriner said that at St. Columba's the classic problem of what do you call a woman priest hasn't developed. In that congregation, she said, "they just call all of us by our first names, although there are a couple of people who call me 'Father.' It's not a putdown; they feel it has always been a title of respect and they apply it to me as well as to Bill [Swing] and the others." CAPTION: Picture, The Rev. Noreen Suriner helps departing pastor, the Rev. William Swing, Celebrate his final communion. By Joel Richardson - The Washington Post