In college, the Rev. Robert Hendrickson III would have called his relationship with religion complicated.
He was no longer the boy his grandmother says rode his bike to church with a water bottle, intent on baptizing his stuffed animals with stolen holy water. And he was not yet the man poised to become the new rector of St. Philip’s in the Hills Episcopal Church in August.
Hendrickson’s mother and sister died when he was a child. Although he had previously imagined a future in ministry, the loss made him angry at God. He even considered himself an atheist for a time.
But his wife, Karrie Cummings Hendrickson, grew up Methodist and pressed her husband to attend church. He did “to preserve domestic tranquility.”
“She kept pulling me back, and her love communicated something of God’s love to me and kept me involved,” he said.
And because of that, he will move to Tucson in mid-July with his wife and two sons to fill the position at St. Philip’s that the Rev. Canon John Kitagawa vacated last summer.
Kitagawa had served at the parish for 14 years before announcing his retirement last year. In the following months, the parish’s two assistants to the rector also resigned, for unrelated reasons.
With around 2,000 members, St. Philip’s in the Hills Episcopal Church at 4440 N. Campbell Ave. is the largest in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, said Sue Agnew, the director of communications for the parish.
And not only can Hendrickson connect with those who who might be angry at God, but he also has a another perspective many other Episcopal church leaders do not.
At 39, Hendrickson is younger than the average rector, said the Rev. Canon Frank Clark, the interim rector and search consultant for the parish.
And that’s probably a good thing.
“I think in all mainline denominations, there has been an aging of clergy populations,” Clark said. “My theory is that generally, the age of the clergy and family often attracts people of the same life phase.”
Hendrickson agrees. And at the very least, he gets what young families go through just to make it through a week. Karrie also works — remotely, as a researcher for Yale-New Haven Hospital.
“When people lament, ‘I wish we had more young families in the church,’ I now understand the complexity of the schedule,” the new rector said. He and his wife adopted Nikolas, 5, and Brayden, 2, in August 2015. “I also think that having children and a family, it grounds you in a certain way so you take your work seriously but can’t take yourself too seriously.”
Before pursuing a career in ministry, Hendrickson worked in New York City as communications director for Brooks Brothers. In the move to Tucson, he leaves behind his position as sub-dean at St. John’s Cathedral in Denver, where he worked for three years.
Some of his work there included managing cathedral staff and administration, finances and missions.
Hendrickson was one of 10 who submitted applications to the parish’s search committee. The vestry then interviewed three candidates.
Hendrickson stood out in part for his “joy in his faith and his joy in acting out that faith,” said vestry senior warden Alison Lee.
A Western history buff, Hendrickson had visited Tombstone but never Tucson. In describing the Old Pueblo to his wife after his visit to St. Philip’s he called it a place of “fierce beauty. You’re moving to a place where all of nature is trying to kill you, but it’s beautiful at the same time.”
Hendrickson recently wrote the book “Yearning: Authentic Transformation, Young Adults, and the Church.” He has two additional books in the works.
“He has the ministerial skills but is a very bright guy and personable,” Clark said. “He was able to catch the vision of St. Philip’s.”
The church’s emphasis on social justice and pastoral care resonated with Hendrickson.
“I would love for St. Philip’s to be filled with the kind of Christians people don’t know exist anymore,” he said. “(Christians) who are compassionate and courageous and stand for the promises of the Bible.”
Contact reporter Johanna Willett at email@example.com or 573-4357. On Twitter: @JohannaWillett