Cooking up a new adventure

Sunday, December 9, 2012
Christ Episcopal Church pastor the Rev. Bob Towner is retiring after 12 years in Cape Girardeau and 40 years with the Episcopal Church. Towner isn't stopping serving others though, he plans to spend the first year of his retirement as a cook at the MacLeod Center on the island of Iona in Scotland. (ADAM VOGLER)

The Rev. Bob Towner of Christ Episcopal Church in Cape Girardeau has spent 40 years working in ministry.

Later this month he will retire. But for about the first year, retirement will mean serving as a cook at the MacLeod Center in Iona, Scotland.

"It is difficult to leave a wonderful congregation and community, but I am very excited for where I'm going," Towner said.

After finishing his service in Scotland, Towner will return to Cape Girardeau.

Last year, he was on sabbatical and spent six weeks on the island of Iona to discover his spiritual roots.

According to Towner, Iona is rich with Christian history. In the second century, Iona served as an operating base for Irish monks and their mission work in Scotland and northern England. Towner said the island is filled with historic abbeys and cemeteries where kings are buried.

Iona is a favorite destination for pilgrims who want to grow deeper in their faith. Towner described it as a "powerful place, that was rough and cold but gorgeous. Everyday, I would see a rainbow over the sea."

Towner will use his ministry experience to provide food and hospitality for guests and pilgrims at the MacLeod Center. Hospitality has always been a major part of Towner's ministry with Christ Episcopal Church.

"Food pulls people together," Towner said. "God always sealed the covenants with his people with a meal."

Christ Episcopal Church runs a food pantry, started an artisan baking co-op, and serves monthly community meals for people in the neighborhood.

"The congregation has always been generous and hardworking," Towner said. "They don't want to fight. They have looked at who they want to serve an asked, 'Where does God have us?' instead of taking each other's inventory."

Towner said he has enjoyed ministering in the community.

"Every day I was eager to go to work. I love the church, university, town and neighborhood," Towner said. "The people in the congregation are big-hearted. We discovered it works if you remember what Jesus said, to love God and love your neighbor."

According to Towner, the church has experienced great relationships with other Christian churches, other faiths and the neighborhood.

Under Towner's leadership, Christ Episcopal Church expanded its current building and purchased and restored two other nearby buildings to expand their neighborhood ministry.

The church hosts seven Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, two Narcotics Anonymous meetings, a nonreligious Neighborhood Connections group and a yearly block party, among other events.

"The church has really become an island of recovery," Towner said. "I've heard it said that a vocation is God's calling where your passion meets the world's needs. That's why this works. Our church has been passionate about impacting lives and offering sanctuary."

Towner was invited to Cape Girardeau while he was ministering at a large church in Iowa. He said as a youth he had a positive experience with the Episcopal Church.

While in college, Towner said he became an agnostic and atheist. But he always had a love for the church, and later found himself drawn back to the faith and a place where people were called together to come and make a difference.

"The church is called to the least and the lost, the little and the least," Towner said. "We can expect to meet God there. When we find him where we least expect, we'll find it is a blessing to be a blessing."

Towner's last service is scheduled for Christmas Day. A reception to recognize his retirement will be held Jan. 6. at Christ Episcopal Church, 101 N. Fountain St.

apicar@semissourian.com

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