Moving from his hometown of Baltimore to the pastoral setting of Lothian was a shock for Bill Ticknor. Assigned there after ordination in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, he had trouble sleeping in the rectory because of the quiet.
How did that 26-year-old urbanite fare in a three-century-old rural parish known for old ways and church suppers? Well enough to stay on for the next 45 years, until reaching mandatory retirement age.
“A year after moving to Lothian, I spent a night in Georgetown and couldn’t sleep because it was so loud,” Ticknor recalls.
Seasons of Change
Much besides his sleeping habits has changed in 45 years. “We had one phone line that we all had to take turns using,” he says. “Anytime it rained or had one flake of snow, that was it: No electricity.”
The congregation at the historic church and the greater Lothian community have all been touched by Ticknor’s ministry and friendship. Father Bill and wife Pamela raised four daughters here, becoming enmeshed in the fabric of the community. He has officiated at baptisms, marriages and burials for several generations of families in Southern Maryland.
As well as “hatching, matching and dispatching,” he has nourished his community.
He led this sleepy parish into “a more vibrant, adventurous and active world, while reaching out to the poor, marginalized and forgotten,” says parishioner Edlu Harper.
“He has been a great spiritual leader for me and has been my mentor,” says Sharon McGlaughlin, a lay minister and member of St. James for 30 years. “He cares about the parish, the history of this church and even people farther out,” McGlaughlin adds.
Four decades of faith leadership means Ticknor has moved through a changing world, as the Episcopal Church has faced the issue of ordaining women and gays, and St. James has performed civil unions and commitment services for LGTBQ couples when other churches would not.
Ticknor led the parish through the controversies without losing his optimistic and calming spirit — always listening, even with those who were angry, but not always agreeing.
“We tried our best to accept people where they were,” Ticknor says. “By God’s grace, we were enabled to welcome everyone.”
Under Ticknor, the congregation has embraced the world beyond the parish. The church has adopted a refugee family from Poland and participated in mission work in South America, Africa and Appalachia. After 9/11, Ticknor led several delegations of parishioners to New York City to serve food.
Here at home, the parish runs the South County Assistance Network food bank and clothing closet, a summer reading camp and addiction recovery programs, as well as hosting Scout troops and a camp for the children of incarcerated parents.
St. James opens its doors to the community with annual feasting traditions such as the Fall Oyster and Country Ham Dinner and Spring Crabcake and Country Ham Dinner. Visitors come from as far away as Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware, partially for the food and partially to visit with the Ticknors.
With a bit of prodding from lay minister Val Hymes and music director Michael Ryan, Ticknor opened the doors of the historic church to a new tradition of singing Handel’s Messiah annually at Christmas, Lent and Easter. Ticknor is always there to greet guests and sing along in what has become a beloved tradition.
“I have been Father Ticknor’s music director for 31 years,” says Ryan, retired as a singer from the President’s Own U.S. Marine Corps Band. “I have watched him lead St. James from a little country church to a large parish with a huge impact on the community.”
The rector has rolled with the punches over the years, navigating both tradition and evolution.
“I have been blessed to have been here,” says Ticknor. “This little community needed some diversity, and I attribute our growth to all the people moving here from Baltimore, the Eastern Shore and Washington, D.C. I find that very healthy.”
He stood up when others did not value diversity.
“I was shocked when a cross was burned in someone’s yard in Deale, an interracial couple,” Ticknor says. “I grew up in a period of integration and racial riots. I saw it firsthand. I just didn’t expect to find that down here. So I talked about it, and I condemned it. The family moved away, but when they did, they made a point to thank me for speaking out.”
Ticknor encouraged and oversaw the construction of a large education building that houses a preschool program as well as weekly church school; a new home for the associate rector; an expanded cemetery; a labyrinth and columbarium; air conditioning in the church, chapel and parish hall; extensive remodeling of the kitchen; and numerous other projects to bring the property into the 21st century.
St. James began as a church for colonists in the 17th century. Through careful study and a knack for storytelling, Ticknor can recite the area’s history back to 1650, including his role in that history. He is a direct descendant of the first Episcopal bishop ordained on American soil, Thomas John Claggett, the seventh rector of St. James’ Parish.
“I distinctly remember when I accepted the call as rector, my mother called me and said, Bill, do you know whose church that is?
“Yes, mother, it’s mine, I said.
“No, Bill, she said. It was the church your fourth great-grandfather was the rector at. I was floored,” says Ticknor.
Ticknor’s first service as the parish’s 32nd rector was on Easter Sunday, April 22, 1973. His last service is April 22, 2018.
The Ticknors will make their new home in Edgewater.
As for the parish that has been Ticknor’s life’s work, music director Ryan says what all hope: “I pray we can build on his amazing legacy.”
Join the parish for a farewell reception Su April 22, 2-5pm, at the church, Rt. 2 and 258, Lothian.