Working in a famous cathedral might be an aspiration for some priests, but the Rev. Victoria Sirota felt another calling. Sirota left her position as the canon pastor and vicar of the congregation at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City and became the new priest-in-charge at St. John's Episcopal Church in Yonkers on June 1.
"My heart is in urban ministry and I'm sort of happy getting back to being the priest in charge," said Sirota, who began her ministry at an urban church in Baltimore where she ministered to low-income people facing many inner-city challenges. "I actually asked the (Episcopal) diocese where they could use me," said Sirota, who is married with two children and close to retirement.
St. John's at 1 Hudson St. is near the end of a $1 million repair and renovation project after a 2015 fire at an adjacent business caused extensive smoke and water damage.St. John's is one of the oldest churches in New York and it was the congregation of many of Yonkers' most prominent residents in the early 20th and 19th centuries.
The bishop of the Episcopal diocese will come to St. John's on Nov. 12 for a 10 a.m. service celebrating Sirota's assignment and the church's renovation. Sirota replaces the Rev. John Hamilton, who left St. John's in the spring to move to Mississippi to be with his elderly parents.
Sirota's background is academic and she has a doctorate in music from Boston University. She assumed she would become a tenured music professor before receiving her calling to the priesthood. Sirota said her new, three-year mission in the restored church will be to figure out the needs of the surrounding community. Her challenge will also be recruiting new members, something she did while ministering 10 years in Baltimore.
"There were children in the neighborhood that were terribly at risk," Sirota said of her time in Baltimore. "They came to the free after-school program and they started coming on Sundays and they wanted to be baptized. I baptized 80 people over 10 years, mostly children."
Since her arrival on June 1, Sirota said she's done three funerals for former parishioners. Sirota said the funerals allowed her to meet families with lengthy ties to the church who have told her stories about the church's glory days and beloved former priests. "That's a huge commission to keep that going and to honor what's happened in the past," she said.
Check out the accompanying video on lohud.com: http://lohud.us/2agNV3U