“I just fell in love with being at a parish and working with regular people,” says Rev. Justin McIntosh, rector of Leeds Episcopal Church since 2011.
It may be that people have to sacrifice something to help somebody else. What a novel concept. That’s what it means to love.
The Episcopal priest went to a Warrenton Town Council public hearing this month on a proposed 14-bed addiction recovery center in downtown to listen, learn and offer silent support.
But the powerful testimony that night from recovering addicts and those who lost family and friends to drug overdoses moved him to address the council, recalls Rev. Justin McIntosh, rector of Leeds Episcopal Church between Hume and Markham in Northern Fauquier.
“I felt this strong calling of the spirit to get up and speak, because I wanted to highlight what I think is the essence of community, which is love,” says Rev. McIntosh, who has served as Leeds Episcopal’s rector since 2011.
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Citing zoning and the comprehensive plan, the council voted, 7-0, to deny Richmond-based McShin Foundation’s special permit request to operate a 28-day, overnight addiction recovery center at 30 John Marshall St.
Most of the opposition came from nearby businesses and commercial building owners concerned about the proposal’s effects related to employee and customer safety, property values and the ability to rent space next to what they consider an undesirable use.
“A lot of the discussion (during the public hearing) seemed to be about what is in my particular interest or the interest of my business,” says Rev. McIntosh, a 34-year-old McLean native. “And I wanted to invite both the town council and the people there to look at it perhaps from a different point of view.”
Drug and alcohol addiction has affected the 200-member parish and his family, he told the council and audience on Jan. 9.
“We lost a 30-year-old parishioner” in 2017 “who overdosed” on heroin “who was living in our community. There was nothing for him in this community.”
As a minister, he often witnesses the ravages of addiction, Rev. McIntosh told the council.
For those and other reasons, he believes McShin’s proposal would be “a benefit to this community.”
Rev. McIntosh also talked about the essence of sacrifice that night.
“It may be that people have to sacrifice something to help somebody else,” Rev. McIntosh told the council. “What a novel concept. That’s what it means to love. Life is not always about what’s beneficial to me, what is in my interest.
“Love is about looking out for the interests of others and helping other people.”
Leeds Episcopal has established a “working group” to deal with addiction among parishioners and the community.
Rev. McIntosh found his “calling” in a roundabout way.
As a College of William and Mary freshman in 2001, he took an introduction to religion course to satisfy a core requirement to graduate.
“At the time of the 9-11 attacks, we were studying Islam,” Rev. McIntosh says. “I realized that religion was important and was shaping things that were going on in our world — geopolitical events — and I was interested in learning more.”
So he began to focus his studies on religion and philosophy.
“Philosophy encouraged me to ask those big questions: What is the purpose of my life? What is truth? Why am I here?”
After getting a bachelor’s degree in religious studies and history, he enrolled in the Yale Divinity School. That experience and subsequent internships convinced him that he wanted to work in a parish.
“I just fell in love with being at a parish and working with regular people, to try to help them grow in their relationship with God and to become authentic Christians,” Rev. McIntosh explains.
• Age: 34
• Home: Near Markham.
• Work: Rector, Leeds Episcopal Church, near Markham, 2011-present; associate rector, St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, McLean, 2009-2011.
• Education: Master’s degree, Yale Divinity School, 2009; bachelor’s, religious studies and history, College of William and Mary, 2005; McLean High School, 2001.
• Family: Wife Elena; three children, ages 22 months to 6 years old.
• Why do you do the job?
I am a priest because I believe that God has called me to this ministry in the world. My greatest joy as a priest is sharing the “Good News” of Jesus Christ with others. I do this through preaching, through leading worship and through living out the love of Christ in our community and beyond.
Being a priest means leading others to a life worth living — a life grounded in the love of God and neighbor. There is no better vocation.
• How long have you lived in Fauquier?
About five years.
• Why do you live here?
I live right across the street (in rectory) from my place of employment, which is certainly a benefit.
Fauquier is such a wonderful place. One thing I really appreciate about it is the strong sense of community — that people care for one another, are involved in one another’s lives in a way that seems deeper and more authentic than what I’ve experienced in Northern Virginia suburbs.
• How do you describe this county?
Again a strong sense of community. This is also a county that has a mixture of different kinds of people at different places in their lives, which is what I like about it and is one of its strengths.
The views, the land, the stars, the sunrises are just exquisitely beautiful. I feel in this area a real sense of God’s presence in creation and through creation.
• What would you change about Fauquier?
I’d like to see it more integrated as a community, particularly along racial lines and a little bit more supportive of development in a smart and thoughtful way.
I am totally supportive of the idea of maintaining the landscape, the rural character of the area. I don’t think Fauquier County should go the way of Fairfax and Loudoun.
But I do think we want to continue to be open to new businesses, new ideas and make sure that we’re really having a good balance between both of those things.
• What do you do for fun?
Hiking with my family, if we can get away. I like to go to the WARF (Warrenton Aquatic Recreation Facility) to swim; read and discuss books. I have a group of two other clergy that I meet with regularly and we discuss texts together and ideas in our ministry.
• What’s your favorite place in Fauquier?
My front porch. I’m so blessed to be where I am. The rectory sits on top of hill, and the view is so amazing with the rolling hills and the cows. I remember one summer night I was sitting out there, and there must have been thousands of fireflies all around.
It’s just such a pleasant, peaceful, spiritually rich place.
• What will Fauquier be like in 10 years?
Probably similar to how it is today. There may be some additional restaurants and shops in Marshall. I think it will continue to be an increasingly diverse community. I don’t necessarily mean racially or multi-ethically. But I think we’ll continue to see people who are not from this area move in. And so you’ll maybe have fewer people that have long-standing ties to this community.
• Favorite TV show?
“The Vicar of Dibley.”
• Favorite movie?
The Sean Connery James Bond movies.
• Favorite book?
“An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding” by David Hume.
• Favorite vacation spot?
Ocean Isle Beach, N.C.
• Favorite food?
• What is the best advice you have ever received? From whom?
My father. On many occasions, he has emphasized the importance of listening to your children and simply being present in their lives. What matters most is not the activities they participate in, or the trips they go on, or the things they have. What matters most is that they have a loving connection with their parents. I can’t say that I always live up to this ideal, but it is one that I call to mind often and try to live out.
• Who’s your hero and why?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian who resisted the rise of Nazism and ended up paying for it with his life and was executed in 1945. He inspires me because of his stand against evil and things that are opposed to God and the flourishing of humanity and has inspired me to work towards making our world a better place and to bring the love of God to our world.
• What would you do if you won $5 million in the lottery?
I think I’d probably give it all away. I don’t need any money. I’ve been blessed in so many ways already — blessed with a supportive upbringing with a lot of financial resources. I have a life right now that is comfortable.
I’d give it to ministries that are making a difference in our world helping people.
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