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Archive for Saturday, August 31, 2002

Trinity Episcopal welcomes rector

August 31, 2002

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The Rev. Jonathon Jensen remembers the first time he went to Episcopal worship services.

"They were (conducted) in Elizabethan English. They used incense, they had a men and boys' choir that sang the Psalms in Latin and they had boxed pews of the old-fashioned kind," said Jensen, 31.

"The sermon lasted 10 minutes  I thought that was the warm-up to the service. It was to the point, clear, relevant and true."

He was 19 and a sophomore in college at the time. He'd grown up without much of a religious background. But he knew, after several years of spiritual seeking, that he'd found a home for himself.

"I never left the Episcopal Church after that," Jensen said.

It was the beginning of a journey of faith that has now led him to Lawrence, where Jensen is the new rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, 1011 Vt.

He will be Trinity Episcopal's first full-time rector in two years. The Rev. Peter Oesterlin served as interim priest during that time. Oesterlin recently left Lawrence for Newton, where he has accepted an assignment as rector.

One of the first things that members of Jensen's new congregation will notice about him is his youth. It's unusual for someone Jensen's age to be chosen to serve as rector of a relatively big church  Trinity Episcopal has about 400 members and a heritage in Lawrence stretching back nearly 150 years.

He's part of a distinct minority.

"There are in America 8,000 active priests in the Episcopal Church. There are 300 of us who are 35 and below," Jensen said.

He knew early on in life, while still in college, that the right spiritual path for him was to become an Episcopal priest.

"I cannot possibly imagine enjoying anything more than being a priest. If you're called to this, it's the most fulfilling thing a person could do. I was very blessed at a young age to figure that out," Jensen said.

Brief transition

Good timing played a role in Jensen's coming to Trinity Episcopal.

The church had been searching for a full-time rector for two years, and Jensen, meanwhile, had been looking for new opportunities to lead a congregation of his own.

He responded to an advertisement for the position that the church had placed on the Internet, and that set the wheels in motion.

At the time Jensen and Trinity Episcopal made contact, he was serving as subdean and canon at Christ Church Cathedral in New Orleans, where he'd been since May 1998.

Before that, Jensen was an assistant priest for two years at St. Francis Church in Potomac, Md.

He attended the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Va., and was ordained in 1996.

Jensen earned his bachelor's in religious studies in 1993 from Transylvania University, a liberal arts school of 1,000 students in Lexington, Ky.

He and his wife, Natalie, 34, will celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary Sept. 14. Natalie Jensen is a native of St. Petersburg in Russia. She formerly taught Russian in Washington, D.C., and worked as an interpreter and translator.

There was little transition time for Jensen in between his last job and his new position at Trinity Episcopal.

"I preached three times Sunday (Aug. 18) at Christ Church Cathedral, went to coffee-hour going-away parties and drove to Memphis with my wife, mother-in-law and an unhappy dog," he said.

On Aug. 19, they drove all the way from Memphis to the Jensens' newly purchased home in Old West Lawrence.

Natalie Jensen's mother, Nelly Tolkacheva, lives with the couple. Tolkacheva, who is retired, was formerly the head of the biochemistry department at Simferopol State University in southern Ukraine.

Coffeehouse regular

Lawrence already feels like the right place to Jensen.

"As soon as I drove into town, I knew this was where I wanted to be. I love the university setting, the downtown church. I like all the diversity  where you have people of all ages with blue hair. As we say in the Episcopal Church: 'All sorts and conditions, gathered together to find God in this place,'" he said.

Jensen is also a big fan of college basketball, thanks to his college days spent in Lexington, where the University of Kentucky's Wildcats are the favorite team.

But he's decided to change his school colors now that he's in Kansas.

"I've already made a commitment to be a Jayhawk fan," Jensen said.

He's likely to soon become a familiar figure in Lawrence.

"You will definitely see me in the coffeehouses around town. Every single one of my sermons has been written in a coffeehouse. I write out my notes on a yellow legal pad, and type them out later," Jensen said.

"I need to go into the midst of the people I'm trying to reach. Plus, I like listening to jazz a lot."

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