On September 1, Reverend Brooks Cato joined the clergy at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in Hamilton, New York where he now preaches at the 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Sunday services. Father Cato was born and raised in Harrison, Arkansas, a small town in the north central part of state. For his last two years of high school he attended United Will College, an international boarding school that has campuses all over the United States. Before earning his undergraduate degree at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, he took a gap year to teach English and learn about sustainable community development in Thailand. He then attended seminary at Sewanee: The University of the South where he began preaching. St. Thomas’ is his third church since being officially ordained three years ago.
Reverend Cato’s first church was in the Mississippi Delta in Arkansas. He then transitioned to a larger church in Little Rock, Arkansas where he spent two years. Although serving 315 people on Sundays allowed the reverend to develop many relationships with churchgoers, creating a depth in those relationships proved difficult. When looking for a new church, Cato sought a smaller church where he could become close with his congregation.
“Hamilton is similar [to the church in the Mississippi Delta] in that it’s small and there’s a lot of agriculture, but that’s about where the similarities end. When you talk to people about Hamilton they don’t talk about why it was great in the 50’s they talk about why it’s going to be great in five years,” Cato said.
The job search process for priests requires only that they obtain permission from their bishop to look outside of their parish. Cato likened it to using an online dating website, in that priests and parishes both create profiles in order to ensure compatible matches. Cato’s wife, Becca Cato took in interest in St. Thomas’ before he did. When the deadline for applicants neared, Cato finally submitted his resume. Things truly began to fall into place during his phone interview, but up until Cato and his wife visited Hamilton over fourth of July weekend, he was uncertain about moving to New York from the south.
“Coming from Arkansas and spending most of my life in the south I just kept thinking, I can’t move to New York. I know what New York is about. So I’m standing there on the village green watching the parade go by and I have that little nagging voice in the back of my head saying ‘this has been great, but…’ and then turning the corner was this line of a dozen refurbished John Deere tractors and I thought, alright these are my people,” Cato said.
Of course not everyone in the congregation drives a tractor, and Reverend Cato spoke of his theology in order to explain the significance of diversity in the church. A typical hour-long Sunday service consists of scripture reading, an eight to fifteen minute sermon, recitation or reading of one of the historical creeds, and communion. The Reverend stated that their church practices an open-door policy to all members of the community, no matter their background.
“Not only is anyone welcome at any stage in their journey but they’re invited. Not that we want to teach them something, but that we think they have something to teach us,” Cato said.