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From Hollywood to Springfield

Rev. Peter Ackerman is new rector at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church.

In May, St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Springfield welcomed a new permanent rector, Rev. Peter Ackerman. Ackerman was previously assistant rector at Immanuel Church on the Hill, where he served under Margaret Ann Faeth for many years.

Ackerman, born and raised in Southern California, is the son of the late producer Harry Ackerman (“Bewitched,” “Dennis the Menace”) and actress Elinor Donahue (“Father Knows Best,” “The Andy Griffith Show”).

Ackerman said in his early career he “followed in [Donahue’s] footsteps and thought of being an actor” but it didn’t “pan out.” He also tried producing, and in the early 1980s worked on TV commercials, music videos and was an assistant to a producer of the television series “Friends” for two seasons.

Ackerman said when the Hollywood life didn’t work out, he “decided that there was something else out there.” He then began the process of becoming a priest.

Ackerman said the Diocese of Los Angeles, of which he was a member at the time, sent him to Virginia to study and earn his Master in Divinity in order to become ordained, at the Virginia Theological Seminary.

“They paid to move my family and me here,” Ackerman said. He then chose to stay in the Northern Virginia area for a church.

According to Mary Johnson, chair of the search committee at St. Christopher’s, the church surveyed the parish to find out what constituents wanted in a new rector. “They told us what was important to them [which were] leading worship in joyful manner, strong pastoral care skills–as well as his or her sermon,” Johnson said.

After reading the job profile, Ackerman said he felt “they were talking about me, so I put my name in the hat.” Additionally, he had heard that St. Christopher’s was a healthy parish. Similar to Immanuel Church on the Hill, the parish had few dysfunctional problems, something that he told himself he would always look for in choosing a job.

Ackerman, his wife, and their two children also reside in Northern Virginia. Ackerman said one of his children goes to high school in Alexandria; so staying in the area was also a priority.

Ackerman and the rest of the applicants then went through an extensive application process, which Ackerman said included questionnaires, interviews, meetings and being watched at their current parishes.

“They wanted somebody who was enthusiastic, who was good with people pastorally, good listener, had joy when celebrating Eucharist,” Ackerman said.

Johnson said Ackerman was “great match in all of those areas.”

As the final chosen rector, his job will include “leading the congregation spiritually on Sundays, ministering to people s individual needs, working with church board as Vestry in making decisions about parish,” Ackerman said.

Ackerman and Johnson said a priority for the parish right now is to grow membership.

“[The congregation] tends to skew older, which is great on one hand but on the other hand it’s always good to have younger folks there to take over,” Ackerman said. “I hope my personality helps me attract more people into doing that.”

Aside from membership growth, Ackerman said he has few goals for the parish. He said that once he enters the community and does the stuff a priest does, he has no doubt God will reveal to him what needs to be done. “There’s no big agenda,” he said.

“He’s an excellent pastor and a really good preacher,” said Frank Wade, Episcopal priest and member of Immanuel Church on the Hill where Ackerman served as assistant rector for four years. “He’s very outgoing and full of stories” because of his background in the entertainment industry.

Wade said Ackerman’s role and responsibilities at Immanuel trained him very well for the position on which he’s about to embark.

Ackerman said it will be a challenge getting adjusted to being the only priest rather than being the second in line. “Going from a church where I was one of two priests, had a rector who was the head priest above me, to a church who only has one priest and it’s me, No trading off — it’s all me.”

St. Christopher’s celebrates mass on Sundays, at 7:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., and on Wednesdays, at 9:30 a.m. The first Wednesday of every month is a 7:30 p.m. healing Eucharist.