In rural communities, civic leaders are crucial commodities, as many in Sheridan are realizing with the departure of a local priest, who also served on the town council.
The Sheridan Town Council is looking for a new councilor after Todd Young, who also served as rector of the Episcopal Churches in Sheridan and Virginia City, moved to Grants Pass, Ore.
The town has advertised for a new commissioner around town and as of Monday had only one letter of interest, said mayor Dean Derryberry.
The deadline for letters of interest is Wednesday, Dec. 8, he said.
If only one person expresses interest, then the new councilor could be voted in during the next regular council meeting on Monday, Derryberry said.
If the town has multiple candidates, the process will take longer.
“Myself and a couple other council members will form a selection committee and review the prospects and make a recommendation to the council and go from there,” he said.
The process of replacing Young at Christ Episcopal Church in Sheridan and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Virginia City is a little more complicated.
Young served fulltime at both churches for the last five years, said Rob Hansen, senior warden at Christ Church.
Young was hired with the help of the Episcopal Diocese of Montana. The money used to pay Young was part of a program through the diocese to bring priests to small, rural congregations, Hansen said.
“In our case that helped us bring Todd in because at the time there was roughly five or six active members in each church,” he said.
The hope was that after five years the churches would have grown enough to pay for the priest out of their own coffers, he said.
Both congregations grew as the result of Young’s leadership. In Sheridan, about 25 people attend church on an average Sunday, Hansen said.
However the growth wasn’t enough to pay for a full time priest. So this summer Young agreed to take a position in Grants Pass with St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.
Christ Episcopal Church has made an arrangement with the Rev. Harry Neeley, who is a retired Episcopal priest from Dillon, to provide leadership to the congregation for the next year, Hansen said.
Neeley and his wife Val have been attending church in Sheridan for the past several months and are well known in the community, he said. His willingness to help out will allow things to continue as normal.
“So it just leaves us one service a month in which we will not have a priest, but we will have a deacon and lay people to handle morning prayer services for that fourth Sunday,” Hansen said. “When he agreed to step in, that really stabilized our situation big time and we’ve had no fall out or repercussions of Todd leaving yet.”
The folks at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Virginia City will be looking for the services of supply priests, who are provided by the diocese, said George Grice, senior warden at the church.
During Young’s tenure, St. Paul’s Church grew as well, Grice said. They now have about 10 people attending services each Sunday.
However, both St. Paul’s and Christ Church know that they’ll need to work together to secure another full time priest, he said.
In the meantime, both congregations will continue to hold regular services. For now St. Paul’s Sunday services, whether a full service led by a priest or morning prayers led by laity, will continue to be at 11:30 a.m. However, that time may be changed after December, Grice said.