A priest travels the path less taken

PHOTO PROVIDEDThe Rt. Rev. William Love, Bishop of Albany, (left) presents a certificate recognizing Father Tom Higman's ordination as a priest in the Episcopal Church. Higman serves as the associate priest at Trinity Episcopal Church in Plattsburgh.

PLATTSBURGH – It's been quite a journey from Catholic priest to Episcopal priest for the the Rev. Thomas Higman.

“It's a journey of openness,” Higman, associate pastor at Trinity Episcopal Church in Plattsburgh, said.

“It's a journey of humility. It's not easy for any person.

“It's a journey of discovery that God has plans that are beyond our wildest dreams and can never stop listening to where the Lord is leading because he will take you to places that you never dreamed possible but are where you are supposed to be, where you are meant to be.”

FROM CARTHAGE TO PHILLY

Higman was raised Catholic and attended St. James Church in Carthage.

Growing up, he was involved in the Boy Scouts of America and youth groups.

He was a typical teen and attended both junior and senior prom.

The networker volunteered at a local nursing home, then later worked there as a receptionist and assistant activities director.

While Higman balanced his studies and part-time work, he considered the vocation to priesthood to be particularly interesting.

“But before all of that it was just a calling from God to serve his people,” he said.

“That's the ground of all of this is that call from God is still very active in my life. To be able to pursue that call, but in a new way, in a different way, was the guiding force in my decision.”

Higman graduated from Carthage High School in the Class of 2004 and in the fall entered St. Charles Seminary in Philadelphia, Pa.

“It was interesting,” he said.

“I was coming out of the North Country, out of a very small community and moving to the City of Philadelphia.

“Obviously moving from a very rural small, community like Carthage, which is smaller than Plattsburgh of course, and all of a sudden moving to the City of Brotherly Love.”

Higman felt like a small fish in a big urban pond.

The experience of the seminary itself was different than other college experiences.

“We lived right there,” he said.

“We are right there. We took all of our classes right there, and the day was marked with times of prayer. And of course, it was all men. The seminary was all men. The atmosphere was different.”

NORTH COUNTRY BOUND

Higman spent eight years studying at St. Charles Seminary, where he he received a BA in philosophy and a master's of Divinity Degree.

“I was ordained a deacon in 2011 and ultimately ordained a Catholic priest in 2012,” he said.

“In 2012, I received my first assignment, and I was stationed in Malone as the parochial vicar there.”

For two years, he was at St. André Bessette Church.

Then, he served two years at St. Bernard's Church in Saranac Lake.

His last assignment was administrator at St. Edmund's Church in Ellenburg and St. Bernard's Church in Lyon Mountain.

NOT SO SPLENDID ISOLATION

During his time in Ellenburg and Lyon Mountain, Higman began to struggle with his rural environs.

“Happily serving as a priest, but at the end of the day going home to an empty house really began to work at me and to work on me,” he said.

“I'm really, by nature, described by anyone as a people person. I function well with people. I love working with families.”

Higman's fond memories surfaced of his own childhood, his family, the example of his mom and dad.

“That I hold in the highest regard,” he said.

“And realizing not that I had made a mistake by any stretch of the imagination, I think that's important to remember is that I don't consider any of this time that's led up to the present now to be a mistake.

“But that it's all been a part of God's plan unfolding for my life throughout this whole time."

BREAKING AWAY

The past three years, Higman has worked full-time at St. Joseph's Addiction, Treatment and Recovery Center in Saranac Lake.

His leave of absence from active priestly ministry in the Diocese of Ogdensburg began in November 2017.

Higman had a conversation with the Most Rev. Terry R. LaValley, Bishop of Ogdensburg.

“I shared with him the struggles I was having and the desire I had to take a step away from active ministry to discern further what it is that the Lord was doing in my life,” he said.

Bishop LaValley granted him a six-months leave of absence during which time he started working at St. Joseph's.

“While considering what life looks like and where God was leading and bringing my life at the time,” he said.

“I get to the end of the six months, and I tell the Bishop that I had decided to continue in this fashion and that at this time I don't want to return to priestly ministry in the Diocese of Ogdensburg.”

MARRIAGE VOWS

Higman married his wife, Lynn, on Feb. 2, 2020 (02/02/2020).

They had met when he was an active priest and became friends while collaborating on youth ministries, programs, retreat work.

They remained friends after he left the priesthood and stayed in contact.

“She and I discovered there could be more to our relationship, so like any normal couple trying to develop a healthy relationship we began taking those steps,” he said.

Higman proposed on Easter Sunday 2019 in Ocean City, N.J.

CALLING REVISITED

Working and married, Higman expressed the need to continue to be a faithful person, to continue somehow serving God and the Church.

Encouraging friends asked, have you considered another denomination?

Have you considered serving in a church that would allow you to be married, and allowed you to have a family and would allow you to be a priest at the same time?

“I always laugh and say that if I had scripted this story 10 years previous, I probably would not have written it this way,” he said.

“I am of the firm belief that this was not my story to begin with.”

In 2019, Higman began an inquiry with the Episcopal Diocese of Albany and spoke with a priest there and ultimately, the Rt. Rev. William Love, Bishop of Albany.

“About the possibilities of what this would look like, if this was even possible,” Higman said.

“They told me it was, but I think they rightly allowed me adequate time to explore my faith practice in the Episcopal Church before they accepted me as a priest in the Episcopal Church.”

That journey began in 2019 and Tuesday, Higman was received as a priest in the Episcopal Church for the Diocese of Albany.

“They have an allowance if you are ordained in another faith tradition, they follow a process that they can receive the ordination that I have already received and recognize it as valid,” Higman said.

“As a result, it could allow me to function as a priest in the Diocese of Albany.”

TRINITY TRIAL

Bishop Love assigned him to Trinity Episcopal Church to be mentored by the Very Rev. David Ousley.

“He allowed me to get right involved in the life of parish,” Higman said.

“He invited me to participate in the parish vestry meetings. He allowed me as an intern to preach. So, he and I alternated Sundays in the season of Advent as I kind of got my feet wet again.”

During his and Ousley's weekly conversations, they talked about the possibility of asking Bishop Love to receive Higman's orders sooner than his six-month assignment to Trinity from October 2020 to Easter 2021.

“He said it was based on my preaching, the way they observed me interacting with the people of Trinity, and their almost immediate warm embrace of myself and my family that he recommended to the Bishop that we do this early,” he said.

On Tuesday, Bishop Love bestowed the title of associate priest on Higman.

UNCONDITIONAL LOVE

Higman's parents have always been an anchor of realism for him.

“They asked probably all of the questions that a good parent would ask to just make sure I was seeing all sides of this and carefully consider my decisions,” he said.

“A long time ago my parents said to me, 'We just want you to be happy.' I believe that to be true.

“Their desire in wanting for their children to be happy was their ultimate goal in life and they would always want to help and facilitate that by helping their sons.”

He and his brother, Michael, were given the freedom to decide the course of their lives.

“They stuck to that throughout all of this,” Higman said.

“They never wavered in that. Their support would always be lent to what would truly make us happy in this life.”

'WARM EMBRACE'

COVID-19 buffered his entry into Trinity's parish.

Higman didn't have the advantages of fellowships, social hours and other events where he could shake hands after church.

“All of that is changed, now of course, but yet the faith is still strong and their warm embrace, without even being able to see a smile behind the mask sometimes, they've realized it's there," he said.

"And, they've embraced that and I cannot thank them enough for their warm embrace of me and my family and Father Dave Ousley's warm embrace as well.”

Email Robin Caudell:

rcaudell@pressrepublican.com

Twitter:@RobinCaudell

 

 

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