Maggi Dawn to Lead Clergy Retreat, Become Episcopal Church Priest on March 16

On March 16 from 9 a.m. to noon, the Rev. Maggi Dawn — an English theologian, professor, and author — will lead a retreat for clergy at St. Columba’s, Middletown. Through small groups, worship installations, and quiet time, participants will explore biblical stories of wilderness, including Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness and stories about Elijah, Noah and Moses. Clergy can register online.

“Marcel Proust wrote that when we read someone else’s story, we are really reading about ourselves,” Dawn writes. “And all of these biblical wilderness stories act as a lens to read our own lives—our encounter with God, discerning and developing our vocations, how to deal with doubts and regrets, and how to handle life and ministry when God seems far away.”

The retreat will also mark a milestone for Dawn, who has been a Church of England priest for 24 years. During the day in Middletown, she will sign the Oath of Conformity required by Article VIII of the Episcopal Church’s Constitution and become a priest of the Diocese of Rhode Island. Bishop Knisely has named her diocesan theologian of the diocese.

Dawn’s relationship with the Diocese of Rhode Island began when she was associate professor of theology and literature and associate dean of Marquand Chapel at Yale Divinity School from 2011 to 2019. During the pandemic, former students invited her to preach, lead bible studies, and even attend online coffee hours.

“Parishes here were trying out creative ways to keep their worship lively during the pandemic, and although online worship had its limits, one of the unique features was the way it linked people up across the miles,” she said. Once lockdown restrictions eased, Dawn served as resident theologian at Emmanuel Church, Newport.

Having served both at Yale and as principal of St Mary’s College at the University of Durham, England, where she remains a professor in the Department of Theology and Religion, Dawn recognizes distinct strengths in the Church of England and the Episcopal Church.

“The Church of England does certain things beautifully — they are renowned for tradition and ritual, and the choral tradition, for instance,” she says. “One of the most fascinating posts I held was as the chaplain of King’s College, Cambridge, where I learned more about Christmas than I knew possible!

“On the other hand, the Episcopal Church has far more readily found its way to making substantial changes that the Church of England still struggles to reconcile. It’s far easier, for instance, for a woman to have a priestly ministry in the United States. The Church of England ordained women 30 years ago this year, but there are still various provisos in place to ensure that there are parishes that can refuse a woman in Holy Orders. One of the things I enjoy in the States is that I never have to waste any energy justifying my existence, and I can simply get on with the work God has called me to do.”

As diocesan theologian, Dawn will teach, preach and lead occasional programs for laypeople and clergy. “I am so delighted to have been welcomed by the Diocese of Rhode Island into a whole new chapter of ministry!” she says. “It is such a pleasure to have begun working with the clergy, staff, and congregations of the diocese. So far it has been a journey of relationship-building, and I am looking forward to developing this further.”