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By: Karen Newell Young
Congregation bids sad goodbye to longtime rector
“Sure, I’ll talk to you,” Father Christopher Seal said when asked if he wouldn’t mind being interviewed about his retirement after 23 years as rector of Nevada City’s Trinity Church.

“As long as it’s not on the front page,” he said. “I’m shy.”

That remark captures Seal: laid-back, casual, accessible and unassuming. And don’t call him Father—he’s known as Chris.

As leader of the 153-year-old church for more than two decades, Seal has brought together many diverse groups and led the congregation though several small-town storms.

It has paid off in a long, peaceful tenure in church life, which can sometimes be contentious. The congregation, he said, reflects the town in its diversity and quirkiness.

“This is the most unusual place I’ve ever been,” he said. “Everybody has enough self-esteem to be who they are and let others be who they are. And the church is like that. We have all kinds of people in a mixed caldron. When you come through the door you’re recognized as radically equal.

“It’s like a zoo,” he added. “A God’s zoo.”

Seal will be replaced by Father Bradley Helmuth, who was appointed by Bishop Barry L. Beisner to serve as “priest in charge.” Father Helmuth has lived in the area since 1978 and served as the lead spiritual care counselor for Hospice of the Foothills for six and a half years, as well as serving as associate rector at Trinity.

Seal said he and his wife, Gae, are moving to Lake Wildwood, in part for anonymity. He is recognized throughout the city and when he goes to SPD, which is all the time; it’s like a reunion.

“One thing I’ll miss most is that I can’t go to SPD every day to see my friends,” he said. “I consider that the beating heart of Nevada County. They’re my family.”

Trinity’s church is almost as old as Nevada City.

On April 21, 1854, the first Episcopal Church service was held in Nevada City. A group of Episcopalians decided to form a congregation, and a year and a day later, the Parish of the Holy Trinity was formally organized and incorporated.

Today, that church is embedded in the community and is known for its stately New England-style building at the corner of High and Nevada streets.

Seal’s last sermon was Sunday, Aug. 27, following his retirement party the day before. Scores attended the party at Saint Canice Center to pay tribute to him.

“We’re really going to miss him,” said Donna Johnson, who has been a member of Trinity for 22 years. “He’s a spiritual and down-to-earth person.”

Well-wishers and congregants crowded around the priest to express their support.

“It’s going to get very emotional,” warned Joy Perry-Thistle, who has been a member of the church since 1977. “We’re going to really miss him.”

Several said that Seal brought the many factions of the church together, ministering to every pew with tenderness.

“We have different people with different temperaments,” said Tom Ewart, treasurer for Trinity and a member for 24 years. “He’s been successful because he has been able to work with such a diverse group of people.”

Dave Ferrell, deacon at Trinity, said Seal has been able to help both young and old with interpretations of the Bible.

“You know, he’s an excellent teacher,” Ferrell said. “He has helped people understand what happened a long time ago and was written in the Bible and that relates to what is happening today.”

Seal grew up in Long Beach and has traveled and lived in many places. He moved back to California in 1994, settling in Nevada City.

“It was a different place back then,” he said. “There was no homelessness. You didn’t have people living on the street. You didn’t have people camping. There are a lot of different reasons for the homelessness.

“One reason is because it’s a good place to live,” he said. “The Sierra Nevada is like my eco-system. It’s where I’m most comfortable.”

Father Christopher Seal