Natalie Handy, St. Albans Messenger
ST. ALBANS — At 35, and as the youngest-ever pastor of St. Paul’s Methodist Church, Megan Stowe already has been a minister for more than 10 years.
The second-ever female pastor here spent the last eight working in the capital region of New York State, but always hoped to move with her family to Vermont.
That became a reality with her arrival at St. Paul’s this past July. With her came her young family, an appreciation for small town life, the ability to capitalize on social media, and something more.
The new pastor is working with church members to make the area the destination this summer for more than six dozen young people from across New England who, during missionary service, hope to accomplish good deeds locally.
“I grew up in rural Wyoming, so in some ways it’s really similar to Vermont, and in other ways not. My husband is from New Hampshire, and he always wanted to be in New England. We thought Vermont was the perfect compromise,” she said.
Stowe didn’t always know she wanted to be a minister. While at college, she majored in anthropology and planned on going to grad school to continue those studies. Her goals shifted after she made a mission trip to Moscow, Russia during summer break.
“When I was there, I felt, rather than do church stuff for two weeks in the summer, God was calling me to do it all of the time,” Stowe said.
Stowe said that what she saw as signs from God were constantly pulling her towards the church. After completing her undergraduate work, she got five rejection letters from graduate schools, but received a full scholarship to seminary.
“I was like, OK God, I hear you,” she said.
After attending seminary in Boston and working in New York for eight years, Stowe finally got a call last January that the minister at St. Paul’s UMC was retiring. After waiting 10 years to be in Vermont, Stowe readily accepted.
As a young, female minister, Stowe assumes people make preconceived judgments of her. “People don’t have high expectations, so I’m able to exceed them,” she said. “People assume I’m a high school student,” she said, laughing.
Stowe understands that having a young female minister with a family is out of the ordinary for the church, but has yet to experience any kind of negative response.
“Most typical 35 year olds are not in this situation,” Stowe said. “I’m the age of most people’s kids or grandkids, so there are perks and drawbacks. People want to mother me,” she said.
As the youngest pastor at St. Paul’s UMC, Stowe is also the first to utilize social media for the church. She posts aspects of her sermons throughout the week, and uses Facebook to advertise upcoming events. Not many churches in the area have embraced social media yet, and Stowe believes it helps St. Paul’s to reach people who wouldn’t know they were there otherwise.
St. Paul’s UMC is the largest Methodist Church in Vermont, and is celebrating its 200th anniversary this October. Stowe said a major focus of hers is gearing up for the celebration. She wants to not only look at the past 200 years, but also to the future for the church.
In terms of proposed changes for St. Paul’s, Stowe wants her congregation to be better connected to the community.
“We are already doing a lot, but there’s a lot of need in Franklin County and there’s more we could do,” Stowe said.
St. Paul’s UMC currently connects with the community through holding take-out suppers and rummage sales, in addition to providing food for organizations such as Martha’s Kitchen, the Samaritan House and Laurie’s House.
Encouraging mission work is another way in which Stowe plans to reach out to St. Albans residents in need. For the first time this coming summer, the church will be host to 80 youth and young adults from around New England doing mission work in town, including painting houses, making handicapped ramps and doing yard work for the elderly. In addition, Stowe said they are always finding new ways to engage families in the church through their varying worship services.
Since beginning at the church in July, Stowe said her family is adjusting well to St. Albans. She and her husband have two young boys, and they all appreciate being in a small town.
“We love it here. There’s a lot of family oriented activities in St. Albans, and it feels good to be part of the community,” Stowe explained. “It’s a good fit.”
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Natalie Handy is also the Messenger’s community news editor.