The Block Island Times

Rev. Eileen Lindeman: New vicar at St. Ann’s

By Stephanie Turaj | Sep 17, 2013
Photo by: Kari Curtis Rev. Eileen Lindeman

Before I even met Rev. Eileen Lindeman, the new vicar at St. Ann’s-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, I could tell from the enthusiasm in her voice over the phone that she’s excited to be living and working on Block Island.

That became even more apparent as we settled down in Lindeman’s living room for our Block Island Times interview. I asked her what she’s found especially interesting about Block Island — and she responded with a whole list: the painted rock, the Island Free Library, the ocean (“The Atlantic is so blue,” Lindeman, a former West Coast resident, said), the talent of the cooks at island restaurants, and more.

“I was really attracted to this place. I felt like I was being called to come to Block Island,” said Lindeman, who moved here from near San Francisco in late August and now works part-time as vicar, also known as the priest, of St. Ann’s.

Lindeman’s duties involve leading the Sunday worship services, which begin at 9 a.m. each week and last about an hour. At the service, she leads the prayers, “consecrates the elements” (preparing for the holy communion, Lindeman explained) and she also delivers a sermon. She helps lead a monthly Taizé prayer service, which happens the fourth Wednesday of each month. She also performs weddings, funerals and baptisms — the first Saturday of her job she said she performed renewals of marriage vows for two couples.

Aside from these roles, Lindeman said she really wants to be there for her congregation, and for the community as a whole, regardless of a person’s religious denomination. She said that often people call or visit with specific situations or concerns — sometimes they just want to talk, she said — and she wants to have enough flexible time to be there to accommodate each person. According to Lindeman and Parish Administrator Erica Tonner, for a little over a year, St. Ann’s has had an interim priest who has not lived on the island year-round.

“What we needed was a resident priest,” said Theresa Sisto, the Senior Warden of St. Ann’s, who also served on the search committee for the new vicar. “We desperately needed someone who was here all the time. We had other people inquire, and I myself talked with two other people. We all just came to the conclusion that she [Lindeman] was the perfect one for here. My feelings about that intensify more and more while she is here.”

Sisto spoke warmly of Lindeman’s outgoing personality — when Lindeman visited Block Island during the interview process, Sisto said that she went all over the island meeting and talking with residents.  The search committee at St. Ann’s recommended Lindeman to Rhode Island’s Episcopal Bishop Nicholas Knisely, who made the final decision to select her.

Lindeman grew up in Nebraska — which she said is isolated in the winter, something that she feels will aid her transition into Block Island life. She felt a calling at age 17 to become a priest, but at that time, the Episcopal Church was not ordaining women into the priesthood. Lindeman decided to become a nun, and attended a co-ed Benedictine Monastery in New Mexico. It was there she met and fell in love with her husband, Mitch, of 37 years now — the couple eventually left the monastery to marry. Eileen Lindeman received a Bachelor’s in Liberal Arts from the University of Nebraska and a Master’s of Theology from Creighton University in Nebraska.

After spending many years working in various social service agencies, Lindeman was ordained as a priest in 1996, and she has served as a chaplain for schools, homeless shelters, drug and alcohol centers and several parishes.

Mitch Lindeman currently serves as a vicar in a church near San Francisco, California, where he lives with the couple’s youngest daughter — both plan to move out to Block Island when the time is right. The Lindemans also have two other children, a son and daughter, and an 18-month-old grandson, all of whom currently live on the East Coast, which is why Eileen has chosen to relocate. Eileen Lindeman feels that her past experience in Nebraska, as well as time spent living on an island off San Diego, California will help her love Block Island life.

“I see my role as being one of support in the community,” she said. “I want to listen and see what the people here tell me. I don’t want to come here with a preset agenda of things I want to do. I think the people who live here know what they need.”

She does have some ideas, though. “I like teaching book groups and spirituality groups,” she said. “If the congregation agrees, I’d like to start a prayer group, a women’s group and some adult education classes.” She said she wants to keep any events or groups she plans open to the community-at-large in addition to St. Ann’s congregation.

The congregation at Saint Ann’s is what Lindeman refers to as “family-sized,” meaning there are under 50 people at Sunday services. “I want us to be a happy family,” she said. “I hope that St. Ann’s will become a place where people can experience a deep sense of God’s love. When God is present in people’s lives, there is a joy. If we really love each other, it’s something you can’t just get anywhere.”

The church service, referred to as a liturgy, is a combination of sermon, prayer, song and the communion. In her Sunday sermons Lindeman aims to reflect the sense of love and joy she references above. “I like to offer different points of view and have people think. I don’t like to be predictable so that people can’t participate,” she said. And to this point, she quoted poet Emily Dickenson: “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.”

To prepare for her sermons, Lindeman said she often pulls inspiration from over 20 books, and from poets, too. In Lindeman’s living room — located in the Saint Ann’s building, the next room over from the church sanctuary itself — there are piles of books and papers with notes scribbled on them scattered everywhere. Her love of reading is very clear, as throughout our interview, Lindeman interjects with, “Have you read this book? You’d love it!”

“I brought 18 boxes of books with me,” she said, adding that she also uses her electronic reader, a Kindle, quite frequently. “I think a book is good if you get at least one thing from it.”

Preparing a sermon is a week-long process. For this coming Sunday, Sept. 15, she said she’s playing with many different ideas. She is planning to tell a parable about Jesus and a lost sheep. “If Jesus goes searching for one sheep, that leaves 99 sheep that aren’t being watched,” she said, which then poses a question how to be a good shepherd. “A good shepherd is someone that has to be a good person when no one is watching,” she said. But then Lindeman laughed and said that her sermon might be totally different from what she just described.

“I hope people let the Sunday service just wash over them, and that they realize that they’re part of an ongoing dialogue,” she said. “I hope they let just whatever touches them happen, and they begin to listen to that. That’s how God communicates.”

Lindeman encourages the Block Island community to reach out to her. Her cell phone is (650) 207-1315.

This article has been amended from the version that appeared in print on Friday, Sept. 13. The print version incorrectly listed the period of time that there was interim priest at St. Ann's. Correctly stated, there was an interim priest for a little over a year. It was incorrectly listed as four years.

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