YORK HARBOR, Maine — The Rev. Calvin Sanborn said when he was considering his call to the priesthood, “one theme came up over and over again — that my call to be a parent is as strong as my call to be a priest. The discernment committee said, ‘You will always feel that pull.’”
Now, said the outgoing rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church, it is time to be with his family and set aside for the moment his priestly path. After serving the congregation for seven years, Sanborn’s last Sunday with St. George’s was Oct. 28.
“I love this church. I love doing the work we have been called to do and I love doing that in the context of a community that wants to do the work together,” he said. “But it’s clear that my attention needs to be focused on my family right now.”
Sanborn and his husband, Dr. Daniel Summers, a pediatrician practicing in North Andover, Massachusetts, have adopted four children, including two preschoolers who were diagnosed with autism at a very young age.
“As is the case for many parents, we were somewhat shocked and anxious about what that meant for them, and what that meant for our family,” he said.
The Boston Children’s Hospital recommended a “full-time applied behavioral analysis program” for years 0-3. “Thankfully, we have medical insurance that was able to cover us tapping into a private school in Portsmouth” to provide those services for the two children, who are now 4. One of the keystones of this program is that professionals are constantly collecting and analyzing data on children “to determine how they are learning in a variety of domains.”
When the children were 3 year olds and aged out of the school, they approached a woman who had been the day care provider for one of their older children, who “took a leap of faith” and accepted them. “We were excited about the prospect. We wanted them to have the opportunity to be with typically developing peers” and the Portsmouth school was able to continue to provide one-to-one support in the classroom, as well as data gathering.
When the preschool ended in June, Sanborn said he took a sabbatical for the summer. “I was home with my kids, and enjoying a lot of time with my family. Then August came around and two things happened.”
The data gathered by the Portsmouth program, which continued through the summer, “clearly indicated that the children had really benefited from the care and consistency I was able to provide this summer.” Days later, they met with state child development services workers, and learned that the children had been referred to a specialized school in Saco for children with autism.
“We’re very glad about it. It’s a good environment for them to be in for the next year. But all told, it means traveling three hours a day,” he said. When combined with the data analysis, he said, it was clear that he would need to make a choice.
He said as early as a year ago, he let the church leadership know “the reality we were facing as a family — juggling attending to the needs of the children and managing work. We all agreed we’d be open about that and keep talking.”
Meanwhile, the past several years have been busy ones for the church as well. Just as the children were being diagnosed, the church was embarking on a $1.2 million capital campaign to raise funds to, among other things, convert the basement into a child care center that would be open to low-income children.
“I came to St. George’s because in their profile eight years ago, they said they wanted to be of service to others. I felt drawn to lead a congregation that wanted to be servants for God. And this church has embraced that mission wholeheartedly,” he said.
The church also offers programming to the community, created a fund that is donated to “community partners” such as York Community Service Association, cosponsors programs with the York Art Association, and serves as the local distribution point for End 68 Hours of Hunger.
Sanborn also worked with recently retired Rev. Anna Copeland of First Parish Church and Rev. Effie McAvoy of the United Methodist Church of York and Ogunquit to offer a series on race last winter. And St. George’s held a community vigil following the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Florida.
He said he and church leaders explored various possibilities about how their relationship could remain intact, including hiring a full-time assistant. “Because we dearly love our work together. It’s been synergistic. But when we got to the end of the summer, I told them that’s not going to be the path I can take.”
For now, he is not making any plans for entering back into ministry. “I adore my incredibly amazing, smart, beautiful children. And I want to be the very best dad I can be and give them every possible steppingstone to set them up with a life that is fulfilling,” he said. “They are my first priority now.”
Follow the Bangor Daily News on Facebook for the latest Maine news.