There’s a New Priest in Town in Beach Haven

‘Parson Carson’ Now Rector of Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church
By RICK MELLERUP | Jul 03, 2019
Supplied Photo

Beach Haven — I joked with the Rev. Dr. Caroline Carson, a.k.a. “Parson Carson,” the newly installed rector of Beach Haven’s Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents, that she had stolen my intended lede for this story about her.

Her short bio, published on the church’s website, said she was originally from Charleston, S.C., had attended seminary at the Sewanee School of Theology at the University of the South in Tennessee, and that her most recent home had been in New Orleans. So I assumed she would have a southern accent, making her stand out in the Queen City.

She doesn’t – a testament to the old saw about what assuming can do to “you and me.”

“Don’t worry,” she told me, “I’ll stand out enough riding my bike with my hair and skin color.”

True enough. Carson looks like she’s just gotten off the boat from County Cork, not New Orleans Parish, what with her reddish blonde hair and milky skin. So she’s quickly going to become a well-known figure on Long Beach Island.

And she is a most interesting figure indeed, with quite the resumé.

She earned her bachelor of arts degree in music education at the University of South Carolina, which I jokingly called “the other USC.” Carson has a sense of humor and replied, “That’s why we call it THE University of South Carolina.” She earned her master’s at Atlanta’s Emory University and returned to THE USC for her doctorate. Now, thanks to Sewanee, she has a master of divinity degree to boot.

Carson spent many years teaching music at all levels, from the University of New Orleans to private lessons. Her specialty, she said, was teaching other music teachers – “I taught student teachers to teach their students.” She also served as director of music at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in the Big Easy, as president of the Louisiana chapter of the American Choral Directors Association and as an assistant with the New Orleans Civic Association Symphony, a community orchestra founded in the 1940s made up of local volunteer musicians who provide “great, live classical music for area audiences regardless of their ability to pay.”

She also traveled extensively – she talked a long time about her trip to Pakistan.

And talk about interesting hobbies: Carson is a National Aeronautics and Space Administration Solar System Ambassador!

NASA Solar System Ambassadors are volunteers who communicate the science and excitement of NASA’s space exploration missions and discoveries in their communities. Carson, for example, said she loves telling young students how they can become astronauts. Ambassadors are required to host and report on at least four community-based events per year.

The new priest was excited to hear of the many opportunities that Ocean County would provide her to set up such events, thanks to the Beach Haven Library, the Ocean County Library System and the local schools. Note: it will be interesting to hear her the first time she reads Eucharistic Prayer C from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer in her services, the one often referred to as the “Star Trek” prayer because it includes the line “At your (God’s) command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.”

Carson obviously has kept herself very busy during her entire lifetime. But all the time she felt a calling to the priesthood.

“I’ve always felt a very strong call to the ministry,” she said, “a very strong calling many times in my life. But after 12 to 15 years of teaching I felt like it was getting close to the right time. Some people’s calling is a big event. With me it was over time.”

Carson had spent much time with many denominations, directing many a church’s choir. But she was a “cradle” Episcopalian, born into the religion, so when the calling became too much to ignore, she remained true to her roots.

After graduating from seminary, she had to decide what to do next in her new, mid-life career. Normally, she said, new seminary grads would be sent to a large parish to serve as a curate, an assistant to a rector, also known as a parish priest. Or, they might become a “priest in charge,” a temporary short-term position filled after a parish has lost its rector due to a move, retirement, death or misconduct. But, Carson said, “my diocese was rather small.” In other words, it didn’t have many parishes large enough to require a curate, and there weren’t that many openings for a priest in charge.

Luckily the Episcopal Church USA regularly lists job openings of all sorts on its website, including ministerial opportunities all around the country.

“I applied everywhere, all across the U.S. and missions abroad,” said Carson. But she did have a preference.

“I grew up in beach country, so I did apply for about a dozen beach communities.”

She visited Beach Haven in May for an interview and immediately fell in love with the place. Well, not immediately, she said, because she drove in around midnight. But she stayed at the Engleside Inn, and upon waking and seeing the beach and town, she knew it was the place for her.

“This place is gorgeous,” she said, talking about the beach, the town and the Holy Innocents’ grounds, including the church itself, its gardens, columbarium (a resting place for burial urns) and rectory.

Carson has quickly fallen in love with the church’s congregation as well, which she praised for its welcoming attitude.

One member of the parish’s discernment committee, charged with interviewing the four finalists for the position, said its members fell in love with her as well when they met with her.

Carson was formally ordained as an Episcopal priest last week and officiated at her first services in Beach Haven on Sunday morning. So she had a very busy week moving, being ordained, preparing her sermon, etc. But the energetic Carson rattled off a list of plans when being interviewed that included exploring the Island, meeting more of its people and getting to know Southern Ocean County’s other clergy in true ecumenical fashion. Another goal is to spend more time on the beach, which, given her complexion, seems like begging for trouble.

“I’ll spend most of my time there in the early morning and evening,” she admitted.

I told her the best way to enjoy the beach in the off-season is to share walks with a dog. Knowing she has a cat, Bluebell, I suggested she ask her pet’s permission before adopting one. From the tone of her voice – Carson’s, not Bluebell’s – you could tell she will consider the possibility.

Yes, Carson has been, and will be, plenty busy. But you know what? She’s happy.

“I’m the happiest I’ve ever been right now,” she proclaimed.

Carson is off to a nice start on LBI.

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