From Saint Paul’s Church, Bantam, Connecticut – The First Two Hundred Years 1797-1997 by Susan W. Pearsall (pages 15-17)
Complete text available at: www.philosophy-religion.org/nolan/episcopal-2.pdf
A Part-Time Vicar
On Feb. 24. 1974. the vestry agreed to the bishop's appointment of St. Paul's first vicar, the Rev. Richard T. Nolan of Bristol. He was a full-time professor of philosophy at Mattatuck Community College in Waterbury and an ordained Episcopal priest. Although he had assisted at several parishes. St. Paul's was his first assignment as pastor.
Father Nolan and the vestry worked out an agreement for a part-time ministry: he would be available to St. Paul's 2.5 days each week and commute from Bristol.
In 1974, there were only about a dozen part-time vicars serving the 183 Episcopal parishes and two college congregations in Connecticut, according to the Rev. Nancy Charles, deployment officer for the diocese. Today there are about 35 congregations served by part-time priests.
The arrangement flourished. The parish developed a strong lay ministry that complemented Father Nolan's pastoral work and improved its financial picture. Since the vicar did not live in the rectory, the vestry sold it. His part-time salary made it possible to hire a parish administrator to oversee day-to-day details.
In a recent conversation from his home in West Palm Beach, Florida, Father Nolan recalled his first meetings with Jim, Dick and David Kilbourn.
"I was just taken with the dedication that the folks had," he said. However, that didn't hide the reality. "The parish was in a survival mode," he said.
About 65 parishioners came to church the first Sunday Father Nolan celebrated mass at St. Paul's. The next Sunday, there were only 20.
"I had the feeling that my ministry might be to close the place," he said. The parish explored the idea of joining with St. Michael's or Trinity Church in Milton, but it never happened. "Things just sort of began to pick up," he said.
In 1979, J. Scott Kilbourn was named the first parish administrator. Later, the position would be held by Alec G. Waters and Laura Turner.
Father Nolan invited other part-time priests to join St. Paul's ministry. The Rev. Elbert B. Hamlin of Litchfield. a psychotherapist, began celebrating mass in 1980. He was later named a liturgical associate, which he delighted in describing as "dessert." The Rev. John R. Kenny. Jr., a deacon and a pharmacist, arrived in 1987. He coordinates pastoral care with Mrs. Turner and organizes all family activities for the parish.
Father Nolan championed the idea of televising St. Paul's Sunday services on Laurel Cablevision. The first show was broadcast on Dec. 14, 1981; it showed the Rt. Rev. Clarence Coleridge's visit to St. Paul's two weeks earlier. Beginning in 1982, Sunday services were taped once a month and broadcast on Monday evenings. In was 1985 before services were televised every Sunday.
By all accounts. Father Nolan's tenure was marked by joy and renewal at St. Paul's. Although holding two jobs put a strain on him, the parish was dear to his heart. In a March, 1984, letter to parishioners following a visit by the Rt. Rev. Arthur E. Walmsley, Father Nolan revealed deep affection for the congregation.
"I'd not be able to maintain my composure, if I tried to tell you what you mean to me," he wrote. "Without the relationships that have developed at St. Paul's during the past decade, the quality of my life would be significantly diminished. I cannot imagine that elsewhere a priest would be encouraged to he himself — a human being— and to live without pious masks and pretensions. I cannot imagine that elsewhere I would have been nurtured so gracefully with such love."
With Father Nolan's attention and improvements, the congregation virtually doubled in size between 1974 and 1984, when membership increased to 150 people.
After 14 years, he felt it was time to leave St. Paul's. Father Nolan described the decision as "anguishing." When he left in 1988, he was pleased that the church did not need an interim pastor. The legacy of his vicarship was that the lay people learned how to keep their church in order when the minister was absent.
Now a retired, assisting priest at the Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, Father Nolan sent his best wishes to St. Paul's for its 200th anniversary.
"I'm convinced St. Paul's will endure, because of that spirit that is there." he said. "It’s obviously been there since 1797."
In the college classes he taught, Father Nolan said he was often asked for proof of God. His reply?
"St. Paul's Church in Bantam. It’s still there despite all the odds."