PITTSFIELD -- Whenever the Rev. Hannah Anderson, the outgoing rector at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, has looked at the large painting that hangs front and center in the church's Guild Room, she has seen her parish's unique mission embodied in it.
The painting depicts "The Feeding of the 5,000," a selection in the Bible that tells of a miracle Jesus Christ performed when he fed thousands of starving and sick followers with only five loaves of bread and two fish. It's a story about Jesus helping the disadvantaged and the ostracized with a level of selflessness that Anderson said defines both the mission of St. Stephen's and her own spiritual calling.
She said it is all about being a "servant leader," having compassion "for those who live on the margins."
"When I first came to this church, I was drawn to what I called 'the three C's' -- creativity, community and children," Anderson said. "At St. Stephen's, there is a deep compassion and an emphasis on what's going on in the larger community, and I knew that this was the place where I needed to serve."
It's a church community that she has served for the past seven years after coming to the Berkshires from New York City, where she was canon for congregational development within the Diocese of New York. After working over half a decade in Pittsfield, Anderson will bid farewell to St. Stephen's after she leads her final service Sunday morning at 10.
After Sunday, Anderson will prepare for a new
"A new calling came to me," Anderson said. "The bishop asked me to join and work with him in New Hampshire, and I felt this deep sense of joy and spirit that I can do more to continue to meet the needs of people in the world."
Anderson said she sees the move as a mixed blessing. While she is following a calling that runs very deep, she said it is hard to move away from a place that has become her home.
Following tonight's 5 o'clock service, 300 members of her congregation and well-wishers who extend beyond the church will gather at St. Stephen's dining room for a farewell dinner.
"She is just a wonderful person and a gifted rector, and she will be very missed," said Kathy Sulock, the parish administrator at the church. "I feel both honored and blessed to be able to work with her those seven years and I'll miss her greatly."
Sulock has been with the church for 21 years, and said Anderson has been something of a trailblazer. Anderson is not only the first female rector at the church, but she has broadened and deepened St. Stephen's commitment to serving some of the most vulnerable communities in Pittsfield.
Building on the church's service programs like its food pantry that is open to people from all over the city, and its partnership with Berkshire County Arc, a nonprofit that offers support services and career placement to people with developmental disabilities, Anderson has emphasized the role the arts can have on struggling communities.
Herself a painter and collage artist, Anderson brought The Blessing Cup Project with her when she moved to St. Stephen's, expanding on the nonprofit she started that gives teenage mothers the opportunity to create and sell their own ceramic blessing cups.
The program gives women who Anderson said are often overlooked, the chance to express themselves through their art. This dedication to giving a voice to the voiceless, is something that has made Anderson stand out, said Kenneth Singer, executive director of Berkshire County Arc.
"She was able to share a sensitivity to people with disabilities to all of those around her," Singer said.
Singer's co-worker, Rick Hawes, coordinator of BCARC's vocational services, agreed.
"She very quietly does incredible things for this community," Hawes said. "She exemplifies the kind of person she is, she clearly does God's work, and I don't think I've seen many people like her in my lifetime."
Anderson said that when she reflects back on her time at the church, she is grateful for the time she had to "contribute to a vibrant community."
Looking back at the large painting hanging in the Guild Room, Anderson said there is a direct link between spirituality and the art she loves.
"Spirituality and creativity go hand in hand," Anderson said. "I set aside a time in each day to work on my art, and it's been a real symbolic force in my life. I find that a lot of my spirituality comes out of that."