LYNN — When Rev. Jane Gould came to St. Stephen’s Memorial Episcopal Church in 2000, she walked into a dysfunctional parish.
Her predecessor, a married man who had been pastor for nearly a decade, left suddenly and without saying goodbye when an affair with a parishioner was revealed.
“It had been a traumatic time for the congregation because of the sexual misconduct,” she said.
Today, parishioners say the parish in much better shape and Gould, 61, is moving to California to be closer to her children and take on a new role as a pastor in Long Beach.
“In 2000, the Bishop was seeking someone who would continue the longstanding tradition of being a force for social justice, but also had the skills to rebuild the congregation,” she said.
Over the next three years, Gould said she and the 200-member church engaged in what she called truth telling.
“It became clear that congregations where misconduct happens are ones with histories of keeping secrets,” she said. “We told our history in depth and looked at where there had been betrayals of trust by clergy which so often relate to sex, money, or racism.”
Much of Gould’s early time was spent rebuilding trust among the congregation and implementing systems of transparency in the church’s finances and administration, she said.
By the third year, she was able regain the trust and start building a new future together, she said. Together, the church created youth programs, summer camps, opened a food pantry, and helped operate My Brother’s Table, which calls itself the largest soup kitchen on the North Shore, and launched a service for immigrants from the Congo.
Before coming to Lynn, Gould, a Washington D.C. native, served six years as chaplain at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Cherish Casey, who met Gould two years ago through their work at Essex County Community Organization, a network of congregations and nonprofits on the North Shore, said the pastor will be missed.
“We will miss her understanding of Lynn’s political forces and her wisdom connecting the Bible with what’s happening in our community,” she said. “She was a moral voice for change.”
Rabbi Margie Klein Ronkin said Gould had her hands in everything and was one of the most strategic, smart and compassionate people she’s ever met.
“Whenever there was a crisis and we needed a ritual quickly she would whip up a litany in short order,” she said.
Tim and Deborah Potter, longtime parishioners, said they will miss Gould’s enthusiasm and hard work.
“We already miss her get up and go,” said Deborah Potter. “She always made you feel empowered with the spirit to do anything you wanted to do.”
Tim Potter, who will assist in finding a new pastor, said Gould cannot be replaced.
“We can’t fill her shoes, no one who will be able to do what she did in the years she served,” he said. “We will have to find multiple ways of doing what she did, a new priest will help, but we will need lay leaders to step up and take on some of the things she did.”