Fly-tier priest ready to try retirement

The Rev. Elizabeth Page Rogers of the St. John's Episcopal Church in Niantic conducts a service last Sunday. Rogers is retiring after 12 years.
The Rev. Elizabeth Page Rogers of the St. John's Episcopal Church in Niantic conducts a service last Sunday. Rogers is retiring after 12 years. Tim Martin/The Day Buy Photo

East Lyme - Page Rogers is in a class of her own.

One of the first female Episcopal priests ordained after the church started allowing the ordination of women in 1976, Rogers is also highly acclaimed in another male-dominated world: fly fishing.

She's a recognized fly-tier, and her designs are sold at L.L.Bean and Orvis. But the demands of leading St. John Episcopal Church in Niantic have been such that it's been years since she's designed any new flies.

Today, Rogers will retire after 12 years, leaving behind a church she said is finally in great shape after lengthy facilities repairs. She plans to take some time for herself, to fish, to enjoy her second home in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., to make prayer beads, and to hang out with her chihuahua mix, Bitsy.

"This'll be the restoration of balance for me," Rogers, 58, said earlier this week in her office.

It's the right time in her life to retire, Rogers said. She has some health issues to tend and an aging mother with whom she wants to spend time.

"I really felt that my work here was completed and that the church would really benefit from a new leader," she said. "I also think it's really good to leave when things are going well, and people can say 'thank you' rather than 'thank God you're leaving.'"

Members of her congregation said they'll miss Rogers' sermons and skills running the church. When they said goodbye to her last Sunday at a retirement party, they were truly saying goodbye - the Episcopal church requires priests to sever ties with the congregation they're leaving behind.

"She's really supposed to back off so that the new person coming in doesn't feel like she is still a presence in the congregation," said Judy Cook, the church's former senior warden.

"I'm just tremendously going to miss her sermons, and her energy, and her ability to listen to people," Cook said. "She really motivates people. She's always looking to engage everyone and get everyone involved as best she can. She encourages people to help out and to tap into their resources that maybe they don't even know they had."

Rogers enrolled at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale in 1977, just one year after the Episcopal church began allowing the ordination of women. A Durham native, Rogers attended high school in Cheshire with, coincidentally, East Lyme First Selectman Paul Formica. She served in various parishes throughout Connecticut before coming to Niantic in December 1999.

Among other things, Rogers has been instrumental in building up the youth programs, said Richard Miller, the church's senior warden.

"With Page, her pastoral care and what she has done to get the programs for the young people is just fantastic," Miller said. "She took what was basically a Sunday school, and she got everybody on board into a plan that's called J2A, which is called 'Journey to Adulthood.' It takes the kids up to adulthood, actually. We've got some kids that, even though they're in college, when they come back, they're all still friends with the younger kids who were (here) with them."

When Rogers first arrived, there were 37 leaks in the roof; when it rained, there were pails all over the church, she said. Between 2005 and 2009, Rogers led a capital campaign to raise $500,000 to "deal with three decades of deferred maintenance."

The church wrapped up the campaign just this month.

John Anthony, the church's organist and a music professor at Connecticut College, said that besides being a "very good administrator," Rogers delivered thoughtful, and thought-provoking, sermons.

Especially memorable were her homilies at funerals, he said. "She always knew how to say just the right thing," Anthony said.

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