How A Louisiana Native Went Around the World and Back To Plant A Church
by Matthew Swab
With his affable personality and genuine nature, it is easy to imagine Fr. Jarrett Fontenot leading a congregation, both from the pulpit and through daily life. As a bi-vocational priest, he jokes that I am catching him during his “transition between identities.” Indeed, as our conversation concludes I can hear the background noise has shifted from the sound of children kissing Daddy goodbye to the buzz of a busy office.
Jarrett is the rector of Holy Cross Anglican in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a 50-person parish that meets for Sunday worship in a Cadillac dealership overlooking the interstate. The location is not ideal, but the parish has exciting plans for the future. Jarrett is also a call center manager for The National Center for Disaster Fraud at Louisiana State University (LSU). The Center was established after Hurricane Katrina and processes calls from across the country before routing them to the appropriate federal agencies. Our conversation is a week after Hurricane Harvey and just days before Irma is expected to hit Florida. He is busy, but does not hesitate to make time for me.
A Louisiana native, Jarrett came to faith as a teenager in a non-denominational Bible church. Throughout his college years at LSU, he engaged with various evangelical traditions as his faith grew and deepened. During that time, he met his wife, Elizabeth, through Campus Crusade. While finishing a Masters Degree in Public Administration and Non-profit Management, he felt a call to seminary. And so, at the age of 26, he and Elizabeth moved from Louisiana to Massachusetts to attend Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
While in Massachusetts, Jarrett and Elizabeth attended an Anglican church in the midst of moving into what would become the Anglican Church in North America. The transparency, respect, and grace with which the leaders of the church handled the transition was eye-opening and inspiring for the Fontenots, deepening their affinity for Anglicanism.
Upon graduating from Gordon-Conwell, they made a daring move to pursue a three-year program with a hospital in the United Arab Emirates. Elizabeth used her skills as a nurse while Jarrett employed his talents in administration. During that time, they helped to plant St. Timothy’s in Al Ain, a mission plant of St. Andrews in Abu Dhabi. Through that work, Jarrett realized his call to the pastorate. When their time with the hospital was cut short, they returned to Baton Rouge with a new calling in their hearts and a baby boy in their arms!
Jarrett was ordained to the priesthood in June 2013, but their church in Louisiana had closed in May 2013. He recalls thinking, “This is not the way you’re supposed to do this!” Eight months later, he received a phone call. An Episcopal priest asked for help moving his parish to the Anglican Church in North America. Though it was not what he had anticipated, Jarrett agreed and they began the hard work of re-planting the congregation as Holy Cross Anglican.
In December 2015, Jarrett took on the role of head rector at Holy Cross and, even after almost two years, he humbly admits there is a constant sense of wondering, “How should we do this? Are we going about it the right way?” Having re-planted a congregation, there is a challenge to respect and honor the existing parish while also stepping forward into the future to establish a clear vision for the ministry.
Throughout our conversation, he refers to the “Kingdom perspective” that he strives to maintain. There are times when the needs of a family surpass what he or his parish can support. Rather than simply turn them away, though, he directs them to another ministry equipped to serve them. He does this by intentionally connecting with healthy churches throughout the community. Every other week, he meets with pastors from another denomination to discuss both personal and parish needs. They keep one another accountable and, through their relationships, better serve the community of Baton Rouge.
That is why he is so excited about the future of Holy Cross. They have been given an opportunity to move to a new, more accessible location that puts them in the middle of several diverse neighborhoods. As they consider the possibility of this new location, they are already talking to and listening to the people of the community to determine how they can best serve them.
With such changes on the horizon and with encouragement from his Bishop, Jarrett hopes to go full-time as rector in the near future. He realizes, however, that moving out of bi- vocational ministry will require planning, patience, and several years to prepare. The possibility of these changes presents wonderful and exciting potential for Holy Cross Anglican. While Jarrett knows it may be a long process, he has learned to be patient and wait on the Lord to build His Church.