When Reverend Karen Campbell arrived at Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor last year, she came with an honesty and eagerness to serve her new congregation and her faith. After leading a congregation in New England for several years, the move was a significant one for this latecomer to the role of religious leadership. As she explains, when she first heard about her new congregation, “I didn’t know where the Hamptons were.” Now casual walks through Sag Harbor bring greetings from friends and neighbors. And leisure time spent walking her dog in the nearby dog park have helped convince Campbell that the East End has a small-town magic all its own.
One of the first things Campbell saw upon coming here was a parade for local soldier Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter, who had fallen in battle in 2008, and it really touched something in her. “And I thought, ‘this is really a small town.’ I was really moved by that.”
Campbell’s decision to join the clergy came after many years as an Air Force wife and mom. “I felt a real calling and a real longing,” she explains. She spent many years taking classes and traveling from her then-home in New England in order to attend a church in another state to satisfy certain requirements for her ordination, always with great support from her husband of 44 years. Despite her late decision to become a religious leader, it’s clear that her belief in her faith rings very strongly today. She eagerly detailed some of the main tenets behind the liberal part of Episcopal belief today from her office next to the church.
“The Episcopal Church likes to say it is the via media,” Campbell says, explaining that this Latin phrase refers to a type of middle of the road approach to life and faith. “It carries an umbrella big enough that everyone falls under it.” This means that Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor welcomes those who might not find a home in another faith tradition—for example, homosexual couples. The liberal aspects of the religion particularly matter for Campbell, as some more conservative elements of the Episcopal Church do not even today look with favor upon females in the pulpit. For Campbell, this type of liberal diversity is something that makes her flock that much greater.
“It’s the most diverse congregation I’ve ever worshiped with,” she says, describing the Easter service that saw 150 people from many different racial and ethnic groups. “It was so joyous to me. This is what I think the Kingdom of God looks like.”
Seeking to engage with local clergy, Reverend Campbell has already started getting involved in interfaith work here. “We meet on Wednesday mornings [for scripture studies] at the Candy Kitchen [in Bridgehampton].” Along with other Christian ministers and Rabbi Morris of Temple Adas Israel—also in Sag Harbor—Campbell enjoys looking at religious texts from many different perspectives. “That’s one of the things I love about the Episcopal Church,” she says, “You don’t have to check your brain at the door.”
Looking ahead, the looks forward to getting her congregation involved in more good works in the community through social action and volunteering. But alongside that lofty goal, she gets to enjoy all the pleasures of the East End.
Concluding our conversation with a chuckle, Campbell opens up about one of the things she has loved the most about moving to Sag Harbor: “LT Burger has the onion rings of my childhood. They are just the best things.”
Under the leadership of Campbell, Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor is likely to move into a period of greater service and fellowship. Check out the concert to benefit their pipe organ fund featuring Americana family band Edna’s Kin on Sunday, September 29 at 2 p.m. The band will also be playing a special mass with Reverend Campbell that morning.