Former church volunteer returns as its newest rector

LAWRENCE — Sixteen years ago, Matt Zimmerman was making calls for St. Margaret's Episcopal Church.

Now he calls it home.

The Rev. Zimmerman is the church's newest rector — a fun twist of fate for a man who before the priesthood was calling as many people as possible to solicit visitors in the church's infancy.

"If I remember correctly, we called virtually everybody in Lawrence and asked if they had a church home," said Zimmerman, 54. "And if they said yes we said, 'That's great.' And if they said no, we said, 'Well, we're starting a new Episcopal church. Would you be interesting in coming?' "

Because of his work and the work of others in the early 1990s, St. Margaret's had more than 200 people at its first service. By 1997 it had moved to its current location, 5700 W. Sixth St.

Two years ago, the church lost the man who led it there — its last rector, the Rev. Darrel Proffitt, who left for Katy, Texas, in 2007 after heeding a call to the Houston suburb.

When St. Margaret's was ready to pick his replacement, it gave Texas a call back — Bastrop, Texas, to be exact — and rang up the man who had once picked up the phone on the church's behalf.

Zimmerman's first Sunday was Sept. 13.

Having family here made him an interesting candidate when St. Margaret's needed someone to lead the congregation out of a two-year period without a permanent rector after having the same leader, Proffitt, for 10 years. The church lost members and was constantly tested, said Randy Ham, the junior warden of the church's vestry, which takes care of the business side of things at St. Margaret's.

"We held it together and got us through a very difficult time in what is now the church's history," he said. "We started a new chapter, and I guess you could title it 'Father Matt's arrival." '

While the church averages about 180 people on any given Sunday, 240 were on hand for Zimmerman's first Mass.