Evancho Comes Home

The Rev. Nicholas Evancho, the new priest-in-charge at St. Martin-in-the-Fields on Grand Island, New York, calls both the Diocese of Western New York and the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania home.

Born and raised in Hamburg, New York, just 25 miles from his new parish, Evancho attended Grove City College in Pennsylvania, where he became an Episcopalian at Church of the Epiphany, Grove City. He was sponsored for ordination by that parish, where he also met his wife, Ashley.

After graduating from Grove City in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, Evancho headed to Virginia Theological Seminary, where he earned an M.Div. in 2018. He spent two years as curate in the Diocese of Southern Ohio, but when Bishop Sean Rowe called, he leapt at the chance to come home.

“It was partially my family,” he explains. “I’m the only child, and my parents are both 65 and retiring. But I feel invested in the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania and this project we’ve embarked on. There was a certain draw to get back involved in that.”

Evancho joins a cadre of diocesan partnership leaders who hold degrees from Grove City College, including Bishop Sean Rowe, Northwestern Pennsylvania Chancellor Jim Steadman, and the Very Rev. John Downey, canon theologian. The Episcopal alumni cluster is somewhat unexpected given the college’s evangelical Christian character and conservative social values.

But Evancho says the preponderance of Grove City College Episcopalians is no accident. When he and Ashley were in college, he says, Epiphany, Grove City attracted students who fell outside the college’s norm and served as “the place where people not in sync with the right-leaning mainstream formed a community.” Although the divide between the college and the Episcopal Church has sometimes been deep, Epiphany’s new vicar, the Rev. Patricia Lavery, has had some success in bridging the gap, he says. Last year, Downey preached at an alumni weekend service in the college chapel.

The energy of the diocesan partnership that drew Evancho back home is palpable in Grand Island, he says, despite the pandemic. He was particularly drawn by the fact that, after its rector of 31 years retired, the parish launched a lay-led strategic planning process while searching for a new priest. “They are looking to reinvent for their next chapter,” he says. “They have a lot of energy for figuring out what they want be, and how they want to live into this new dynamic and grow into the new environment they find themselves in.”

Grand Island, a suburb of Buffalo, is growing, and St. Martin-in-the-Field’s has plans for expanding its already-active youth ministry as new families move in.

“The charism that I’ve found is youth outreach,” Evancho says. The youth group has gone on pilgrimages to the Holy Land several times in recent years, and teenage travelers pay for their journey by cleaning the church on the weekends.

It makes a welcome change from serving in congregations where significant endowments and wealthy congregants mean less hands-on support. At his field education parish in D.C., Evancho says, coffee hour was served on silver by waiters, and a university professor was hired to teach adult education classes.

“In those very rich churches, you just do not get the level of lay engagement that you get here,” he says. “There, people expect church to be done to them because they paid for it.

“Here people ask for a task. There’s so much more investment.”

The parish resumes indoor worship this weekend, with services on Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 9 a.m. Reservations are required, and true to the parish’s participatory culture, a cadre of ushers known as the St. Martin’s Safety Angels will be “kind enforcers” of mask wearing and social distance policies. Learn more on the St. Martin-in-the-Fields website.