January 3, 2006

Rev. Hamilton To Retire

Donald Cavanaugh
Palm Beach County Editor


Reverend William E. Hamilton, 65, of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Lake Worth will retire on Jan. 1 after 19 years as rector. His final Eucharist will be New Year’s Eve at 6 P.M.

On Dec. 10, at the Saturday evening service, Fr. Hamilton was designated Chaplain Emeritus by Integrity Palm Beach, the gay and lesbian organization of the Episcopal church which Hamilton had welcomed into St. Andrew’s in 2001. “This was an “appropriate sendoff by an appreciative congregation,” said Canon Richard Nolan who, as retired priest in residence and chaplain to Integrity, has worked with the rector for the past several years.

Born Dec. 16, 1940 in Philadelphia, the second in a family of four children, Hamilton was raised as a Baptist in Delmar, Delaware. He joined the Episcopal church in Delmar when he and his wife had moved back there after their first child was born.

Before entering the Episcopal priesthood, Hamilton had worked for the city of Salisbury, Maryland for ten years in wastewater treatment. “I was 33 with three children when I started seminary,” he said. “I was ordained under the old man’s canon. I was successful in my work in water pollution and I passed some tests and was able to get into the seminary.” He graduated with a licentiate from the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Lexington, KY.

Hamilton’s first parish was St. Michaels in Lexington, KY where he served as a deacon. During that time he drove 150 miles every other week to assist a parish in Pikesville that had no priest. Upon ordination he accepted the position at that parish where he stayed for over four years. He had two other positions in Kentucky before moving to Florida.

Hamilton’s wife, Charlotte, is a legal secretary. They have three children and seven grandchildren. “Charlotte has been very supportive throughout my ministry,” said Hamilton. “When I felt called to be a priest she said ‘I’ll support you the best I can but I’m not the priest. You are.’ We’ve lived that way ever since. She’s been very supportive. She’s not big on going to women’s groups or leading bible studies or things like that but she’s been there to hold me at nighttime when I come home.”

Over the years Hamilton has been involved in a number of community projects. He served on a board in Pikesville to help start a halfway house for AA in Eastern Kentucky. In Florida, he served on the JFK Hospital board for six years. “I think that the greatest thing is that I’ve been allowed to try to make a difference and I thank God for those parishioners who have contributed to the welfare of the church to allow me to do that.”

After retirement Hamilton plans to do some volunteer work particularly with hospice. He and his wife plan to stay in Lake Worth area to be near their grandchildren.

Hamilton credits his success as a priest to his willingness to listen. Early in my priesthood I got the reputation that I would talk to anybody who had any kind of problems for whatever reason. Not that I was an authority. I’d just hear them. In a short period of time I got the reputation that if you had an addiction problem or any problem I’d be willing to listen and that’s what I do. I listen. ”

His openness to people led him to welcome the Integrity group to St. Andrews in 2001. The parish had been looking for someone to conduct a Saturday night service. One of the parishioners told Hamilton about Canon Nolan and the Integrity group. “I wanted to start another service on Saturday night to reach more people and I stuck my neck out,” he said. But not without some anger in the parish,” he said. Six families left.

Hamilton has had experience dealing with issues of homosexuality from early in his career as well as from a personal perspective. A close friend or family member is gay. However, he declined to identify the relationship or the individual because “I’ve taken some flak from other members of the family because that person had never really given permission.”

He had studied the Christian teaching about homosexuality during seminary and had observed homosexuality in a jail where he worked for a while. He had listened to gay parishioners who had been hurt by attitudes and comments from other parishioner so he was sensitive to many of the issues faced by gay people.

However, when his personal experience presented itself, “I was a long time coming to a personal understanding of it,” he said. It probably caused me to be very sympathetic to the cause when it came here. ”

“It took a lot of books. A lot of time. A lot of prayer. I guess what capped it off for me is to know that the scriptures are not as against homosexuality as what most Christians believe they are. They interpret those passages a lot different than I do today. I really believe in our baptismal covenant – our promise that we’re going to strive to respect the dignity of all mankind. I don’t have to take part in what people do but I have to respect what they do.

“So that’s just about where I’m at with it. I don’t necessarily agree with everything that Integrity does and says. We’ve been very fortunate at St. Andrews. We’ve not had anybody really militant. I think most of the people who come there want to worship and be accepted. They’re not interested in stirring up battles and wave a flag. They’re just interested in being accepted by the church and our Lord Jesus Christ and I’m called to open our doors and my arms to them. I don’t know what else I can do. ”


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