Lake Twp.: Elizabeth “Beth” Frank describes her journey from lawyer to Episcopal priest as resembling a path one of the characters in the syndicated comic strip The Family Circus follows along a thick, dotted line.
“It’s like when the mom sends Billy to get sugar and you see these dotted lines that show his path through the neighborhood and how he stops at various places — like the teeter-totter to play — and how he eventually gets back with the sugar. That’s sort of my journey to the priesthood,” said Frank, 54. “I’ve made some stops on my way to the priesthood, but God has used each of those stops to prepare me for my destination.”
On Friday, Frank, an Akron native, was ordained at New Life Episcopal Church and will serve as priest-in-charge. She began serving the parish as a deacon in June and became deacon-in-charge two months later, after the Rev. Patricia Hanen retired as pastor.
Since being at the church, Frank and the parishioners have had an opportunity to get acquainted. She likes what she has seen so far, and so do many of the parishioners.
“She’s very open-minded and very responsive to the needs of the parish. She seems to be dedicated to New Life and seems to care a lot,” said Toni Miller, who has been a member since the parish was established via a merger of the former St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Akron’s Firestone Park area and St. Michael’s and All Angels in the Uniontown area of Lake Township.
Miller designed and made the white stole with an applique landscape that Frank wore during her ordination and a blue one — adorned with crystals and embroidered with her ordinations date — that was presented by the parish as an ordination gift.
Larry Mackey, senior warden (akin to a congregation president) at the parish said Frank is expected to serve as priest-in-charge for about 18 months before the congregation makes a decision about whether she will become the pastor. He said the transition period will be time for parishioners and Frank to get to know each other better.
“We are a congregation that is very active and caring. We are very friendly and like to reach out to our neighbors, and Beth has embraced that,” Mackey said. “Everybody’s excited. She’s tweaking and adjusting some things to fit her style, but she likes who we are as a congregation.”
Frank completed her Master of Divinity studies in May at Bexley Hall Seminary in Columbus. Her path to the seminary began about eight years ago at a retreat, where she had gone to pray and reflect about whether she should continue her work with the federal government — seven years as a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice and as a trial attorney and director of enforcement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
“When I finished the retreat, it was crystal clear that I had done what I could do and it was time for me to do something else and time for someone else to come into the office of enforcement at HUD,” Frank said. “I loved working in fair housing, but I had done what I could do.”
After working with a life coach, Frank saw an ad in the newspaper for a regional director for the Special Olympics in Fairfax, Va.
I looked at it and thought, ‘This could be fun.’ And I got the job,” said Frank, who spent five years directing and monitoring Special Olympics programs in Northern Virginia.
While working with Special Olympics, she found time to get more involved in ministries at her church.
“I started doing things differently because I wasn’t as rushed because of my work schedule. I didn’t have the time restraints and became more open to the spirit,” Frank said.
In March 2006, Frank saw something in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington’s newsletter about the discernment session for the priesthood being closed.
“I immediately thought: ‘There goes that!’ and paused and asked myself, ‘There goes what?’ That’s when I realized that I had, at least subconsciously, been thinking about the priesthood. The calling had been there before I knew it was there,” Frank said.
After conferring with the rector (pastor) at her home parish — St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square (Washington, D.C.) — she decided to take a course at Wesley Theological Seminary as a special student. When the diocesan discernment process opened again, she signed up and served an internship at Grace Episcopal Church in the Georgetown district of the nation’s capital.
Frank subsequently enrolled at Bexley Hall and completed a 10-week internship at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Mount Vernon, where she served as an unordained interim, while the parish searched for a pastor.
She earned her juris doctorate at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland and served as editor-in-chief of the Journal International Law from 1987 to 1988. She worked as a law clerk in the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Houston.
Frank completed studies for her undergraduate degree in history at Princeton University, where she also earned a certificate in East Asian studies — something she used as an English teacher in Beijing and as a business consultant in China, before going to law school.
“I’ve been blessed with a variety of experiences, and there are so many people who are a part of my journey,” Frank said. “I couldn’t be luckier than to end up at this parish.
“It’s a wonderful place with people who are serious about their faith and want to have fun. Our ministries and faith are nourished and fed on Sunday morning, but it doesn’t end there,” she said. “New Life is our launching pad to go out into the world and be the hands and feet of God.”
New Life is located at 13118 Church St., Lake Township. More information can be found at www.ComeToNewLife.org or by calling 330-699-3554.