After leading community, Chautauqua’s interim pastor Rev. Natalie Hanson to preach Sunday

The Rev. Natalie Hanson has been a longtime presence at Chautauqua; with her husband, the Rev. James Paul Womack, pastor of Hurlbut Memorial Community United Methodist Church, she’s co-hosted the United Methodist Missionary Vacation Home at Chautauqua for seven years. 

Her ministry is one of community and service, largely tending to her congregation in quiet, graceful moments. This weekend she brings that same spirit to the Institution’s pulpit, as she preaches at the 10:45 a.m. service of worship and sermon Sunday, Aug. 21 in the Amphitheater. 

Her sermon title is “What We Breathe In.”

This summer, Hanson has served as the Institution’s interim senior pastor, following the retirement last December of the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, and before the Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, takes on the stole of senior pastor this fall.

“It has been an absolute privilege to work with Natalie, because she is the leader that we needed for this season,” said Melissa Spas, vice president of religion. “She has a capacity to hold space for others to be themselves, and leads with pastoral care that comes from long experience with chaplaincy.”

Hanson is a clergy member of the United Methodist Church, now retired after 40 years of ministry. Much of that ministry was focused in urban parishes, with eight years serving as a District Superintendent in the Western, then Upper New York Annual Conference.

As interim senior pastor, Hanson has crafted each worship service this season, and has worked closely with every member of the Department of Religion in planning and evaluating each service.

“Her gift for liturgy and worship has shone brightly all summer,” said Mary Lee Talbot, herself a minister in the Presbyterian Church, and morning worship columnist for The Chautauquan Daily. “She has led the worship team with grace.”

Talbot, who has a front-row seat to every service in her work as columnist and frequent participant, said that Hanson’s “grace and warmth in everyday worship, and in times of joy and sorrow, brought worship and the Department of Religion to a renewed place in the Chautauqua season and program.”

Hanson’s work in the past week has been a particular balm, both Spas and Talbot said, following the violent attack on writer Salman Rushdie in the Amphitheater last Friday. 

It was Hanson who ministered through prayers, conversations, hugs, phone calls and text messages, praying at a vigil ceremony in the Hall of Philosophy hours after the attack, leading a private gathering of blessing and anointing in the Amp Saturday night, and again on Sunday morning for the congregation gathered for worship.

“Her instincts, her generosity, in re-orienting after tragedy, are so filled with grace,” Spas said.

Hanson was educated at Wesleyan University and the Harvard Divinity School, and also served as co-convener and worship developer for the Northeast Jurisdiction’s Clergywomen’s Convocation. Her work, Spas said, speaks volumes.

“I want to say very intentionally, as a woman, as a leader in faith-based spaces, you want to have women who have experience leading traditionally male-dominated spaces,” Spas said. “She does it with grace and generosity. And I think it’s a gift that she gives to the Institution, having done beautiful, amazing liturgies and not not seeking the limelight, not seeking that attention herself, although she is deserving of it.”

For Talbot, the level of involvement and care Hanson has brought to her interim pastorship “set the bar for worship at a new level of engagement. As someone who is at worship every time, I found myself more engaged in actual worship than I have in years.”

Maureen Rovegno, director of the Department of Religion, shared that Hanson has been “more of a blessing to our community this season than words can express.”

“Her prayers, her wisdom, her indefatigable work ethic, her caring, her presence, and her voice have all been exactly what was needed in every category and capacity,” Rovegno said. “She has been there whenever there was need.  We owe her an enormous debt of gratitude.”

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The author Sara Toth

Sara Toth is entering her fifth summer as editor of The Chautauquan Daily and works year-round in Chautauqua Institution’s Department of Education. Previously, she served four years as the Daily’s assistant and then managing editor. An alum of the Daily internship program, she is a native of Pittsburgh(ish), attended Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania, and worked for nearly four years as a reporter in the Baltimore Sun Media Group. She lives in Jamestown with her husband, a photographer, and her Lilac, a cat.