You could say the Rev. Elizabeth "Beth" Frank gave up the law, to follow the prophets.
On Dec. 6, Frank became the priest-in-charge at New Life Episcopal Church at 13118 Church Ave. NW.
For Frank, the assignment is part of a journey that has stretched as far as Beijing, where the Akron native taught English after graduating from Princeton University; to the federal courts, where she practiced law on behalf of the United States for more than 15 years.
As a newly-minted college graduate, Frank's love of travel landed her in China in 1981.
"China was re-opening to the West," she said, noting that her students were the first college class not required by the government to work in the countryside after graduating.
In 1983, Frank moved to Hong Kong, where she took a job for three years with a marketing firm. But her love of the law drew her home. She attended Case Western Reserve University School of Law, where she was editor of the Journal of Interntional Law.
LOVE OF LAW
"I thought I was going to do international business law, but I fell in love with constitutional and legislative law," she said.
Frank landed a one-year clerkship with Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge John R. Brown in 1989, after which she joined the enforcement division of the department of Housing and Urban Development; followed by service with the Department of Justice's commercial litigation division, where she was represented the U.S. in Winstar: 120 litigation cases that were connected to the collapse of the savings and loan industry.
"I consider that my military service," she said with a laugh. "It was rugged, hard work, and a lot of it. There was a lot of stress. They were complex, multi-million-dollar cases. ... I went for the litigation experience, but I didn't love it."
Frank returned to HUD, where she became acting director of enforcement — but something was different.
"I realized it was time for a change," she said, "But I didn't know what it was."
She signed up for a spiritual retreat.
"By the end of the retreat, it wasn't clear what I was going to do, but it was clear that it was time to move on," she said. "I worked with a life coach, and over time, I realized I wasn't going to practice law anymore."
Instead, Frank took a job as a regional director for the Special Olympics.
"It was a huge pay cut, but it was something I wanted to do" she explained. "It opened up time and space for me to do different things. I found that while I didn't take on more ministries at my church, I was doing them differently. They became richer experiences.
Page 2 of 3 - One day Frank was asked if she had ever considered seminary. Her initial response, she said, was an adamant "no," but a magazine article about the Episcopal Church's "discernment" process for ministry caught her attention.
She spent the next few months in contemplation, and then in consultation with her rector, who urged her to take a class at Wesley Theological Seminary.
"Slowly but surely," she said, "the sense of call kept emerging."
Under the Episcopal denomination, a church must confirm a person's call to ministry. Frank undertook a one-year internship at a church in Georgetown.
"It was a huge, tiring process for me, but there was a comfort level," she said. "Not that it's easy, but that it makes sense. As in, when you get there, you wanna be there."
During the process, she contacted the bishop of Ohio, which led to her enrollment in Bexley Hall Seminary in Columbus, where she graduated in 2013. In 2012, Frank served a 10-week internship at a church in Mount Vernon, Ohio.
Frank came to New Life last June, where she served as a Deacon-in-Charge until her ordination into the priesthood. She said she sees her role as "helping people to understand their faith in a new ways; helping them to find their gifts and encourage and equip them."
"You don't leave your faith behind when you leave the church," she said. "We take it with us. Faith is action as well as a verb and a noun."
"I'm very excited about Beth being at New Life," said longtime member M.J. Maling. "I think she is incredibly knowledgeable about the faith, and she has such a fun personality and sense of humor. I think she is a very spiritual person who deeply wants to help people find the peace and the responsibility of having a close relationship with God."
"I'm truly blessed," Frank said, "I've had that comfort level since I've been at New Life."
Frank said her past experience comes in handy.
"Even though I've done a lot of things to get to this path, there are skills I've learned along the way," she said. "Attorneys use oral and written communications a great deal. As a trial attorney, you have to be ready for the unexpected in court. Churches are not much different. In Special Olympics, I learned what it's like to work with volunteers and lift up their gifts and honor their gifts, and express gratitude for their time. I don't think we can thank people enough."
Frank said her work in fair housing and civil rights also gave her an understanding of the struggles of the disenfranchised.
"That's a very important role for the church, what it means to 'love your neighbor,' " she said.
Page 3 of 3 - Franks, who does missionary work in Liberia and Belize, said she not only loves travel, but has learned from it.
"There's a lot of goodness in the world," she said. "There are people who will help you. If we're never vulnerable, we miss out on seeing things. God calls us to take risks, and not fear losing things. One of the hardest things I did was leaving HUD and taking that pay cut, but I didn't lose anything. The people I wanted to stay close to, I did. I really wasn't giving up much at all."
"I think she is going to lead us into even more giving in our communities and into deeper spiritual lives," Maling said.
"I never had the sense that 'I shouldn't have left," Frank said. "I never had the sense that I wasn't where I was supposed to be."
Reach Charita at 330-580-8313 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @cgoshayREP