As the Rev. Vicki D. Zust begins her tenure as the 7th rector of Saint Mark’s, the past seems prologue to the future.
Central Ohio is where Vicki grew up and heard the call to become an Episcopalian priest. It is where she served her early years as a priest. Vicki grew up Episcopalian in Westerville, graduating from Westerville South High School. She majored in elementary education and physics, with a minor in history, at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, OH. After attending Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, Evanston, IL, she began her priestly service in 1997 as assistant rector at St. Alban’s in Bexley and a year later became rector of Trinity Episcopal in Newark. She later served five years as Canon to the Ordinary for the Diocese of Southern Ohio, before answering a call in 2009 to become rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal in Williamsville, NY, where she remained until being called to Saint Mark’s.
She talked about the priesthood and Saint Mark’s in a recent conversation.
What led you into the priesthood?
VICKI: I was the youth minister at St. Peter’s in Delaware during the whole time I was in college. I thought maybe being a priest was something I would explore later. But God’s call never went away; God was annoying me, is how I like to say it. I went to the rector at St. Peters and said that I think God was calling me to be a priest. She laughed and said ‘What took you so long.’
Why do you enjoy being a priest?
VICKI: There is so much about being a parish priest that is so wonderful; it’s hard to pick one thing. You get to be a part of so many people’s lives. It’s not just the big things, baptisms, weddings and so forth. It’s all the other parts of their lives; I get to watch children grow up; I get to hear what people are concerned about. I get to teach a wide variety of ages, children, teen-agers, adults. Parish priests are the last people to be generalists, in the way other professionals had been in the past.
How did you find out about Saint Mark’s opening?
VICKI: To be perfectly honest, I don’t entirely remember. But at the time Saint Mark’s posted its (rector-search) profile, I was helping a couple of priest friends move. I stumbled across it and said, ‘Wow.’
Why was the parish attractive to you?
VICKI: As I read the profile, what emerges is a congregation that is active and engaged and is ready for the next step but isn’t quite sure what the next step is. That’s a time in a congregation’s life that I find really exciting, that together we can determine what to do in the next five or six years. And I watched some of the livestreamed services and that’s what tipped it for me, how you all lived into worship and being a community during the pandemic. And, of course, it is home. My parents are deceased but my brother and his wife and family live in Hilliard. And I have aunts and cousins and college friends who live in the Columbus area.
You’re still learning about Saint Mark’s, but what ideas are bubbling in your head?
VICKI: There are a couple of things. I’m very excited about how many people are involved in the ministries of Saint Mark’s, and how varied the ministries are. The question is, who do we want to be in five years and how do we reach out and invite people who would be interested in the kind of community Saint Mark’s is? And how do we find places for the new people to plug in? I have a few ideas but I want to spend a little time to listen to people. I want to listen before I talk. I want to hear from people who have been involved in Saint Mark’s a long time or a little time. So that’s what I’m going to do this fall, hopefully hear people. And of course, everything we do is determined by COVID; what we can do is going to be determined by progress, of lack thereof, against the pandemic.
What are the hallmarks of a successful parish?
VICKI: Success in a parish is hard to define, but there are a couple of things every vibrant parish has in common. The hallmark of vibrant parishes is that the people in the parish feel some ownership in the life of the congregation. They feel like if something is to happen, they need to be a part of it. Second is that the congregation is connected to its community, so they are a part of the community around them. The way we used to say that is that if the congregation closed, the community around it would miss it. And the third thing is that the congregation includes and welcomes new people to get involved. That there are opportunities for them to join in and get involved. And it seems like Saint Mark’s has all three of those elements.