MERIDEN — St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Catlin Street recently re-opened after the 150-year-old building sustained water damage due to frozen pipes last winter.
Church members returning to the house of worship were also greeted by new rector Mark Byers, who was recently anointed as priest-in-charge, and celebrated his first service on Sept. 2.
Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas appointed Byers as the provisional priest in charge for a term that will last three years before deciding if Byers’ stay at the church will continue.
“It’s early yet, but I keep telling people that things seem to be going really well and we’re all really excited.” Byers said of his first impressions of St. Andrew’s.
For Byers, his latest stop on his journey of faith is another chapter in a book that he never planned to write. He discovered his calling unexpectedly during his undergraduate studies.
“I just was reading scripture for a course and found it was speaking to a lot of things I was concerned about (in) my own life and the world I saw around me,” Byers said. “I started going to church again and I found it really meaningful, and went from there.”
Byers, a Navy veteran who estimates he spent over two years of his life underwater as a submarine mechanic, majored in history at Haverford College after leaving the service. With only a rough plan to teach after college, Byers instead elected to attend Yale Divinity School after a few religion courses piqued his interest.
“I thought it would be a fun couple of years,” he said. “I got there and it ended up being where I figured out where God wanted me to be.”
After completing his courses at divinity school, Byers served at a church on the coast of Connecticut for three years before following a passion for new church development.
That passion took him down to Virginia as a new church developer, before heading west with his wife and infant daughter to start a new church in La Quinta, California. After serving out West for five years, Byers and his wife decided it was time to come home.
“We eventually wanted to get back to the East Coast,” Byers said. “My wife’s from New York and I was kind of an adopted New Englander. We decided to move again and we came back here to Connecticut.”
After seven years at a Thomaston church, Byers now finds himself at Saint Andrew’s, where about 65 people gather on Sunday mornings to worship. Byers estimates the church has 250 to 300 members. Even with overall church attendance down across the country and in Connecticut, Byers believes church can be beneficial now more than ever.
“I think we live in a very anxious and contentious world,” Byers said. “It’s important for Christians to remind ourselves that we’re trying not to be a part of the contentious and the angry, and to treat people differently than the world seems to.”
So, how can Christians help ease the anxiety and contention in today’s society? For an answer, Byers turns to his favorite passage in the Bible, Matthew, which reads “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but not notice the log in your own eye?”
“I just think it's a healthy thing,” Byers said of the passage. “We fix ourselves before we try to fix other people. Maybe there's never an appropriate time to fix other people, but maybe the best thing for the world is to be better people ourselves.”