George Sheats of Auburn retired and is following the path to become an Episcopal priest. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — When George Sheats retired last year after years in the food industry, the Auburn man knew exactly what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

And it wasn’t fishing.

“I retired to become an Episcopal priest,” he said.

Now 61, Sheats is on his way — an intern with a final interview with a diocesan committee scheduled for February. If all goes well, he’ll become a transitional deacon, then get ordained as a full priest and find a parish.

It’s a journey that’s taken years and still has some time to go. But his faith, in both God and this unusual retirement path, hasn’t wavered.

“I can … do what I think God asks all of us to do and that’s connect with each other,” he said.

Sheats was raised in Memphis and grew up in the Episcopal church. Faith was always a large part of his life but never part of his career. He spent time in the Army, then spent his career working for Kraft and Nestle, which brought him to Maine.

Sheats’ life changed when he was doing an exit interview for an outgoing employee who said he needed more time with his family and his church. Sheats commiserated and told the employee that he struggled with the same thing. The employee was surprised to learn that Sheats was religious.

“I said, ‘Have I ever done anything that would make you think otherwise?'” Sheats recalled. “(He said) ‘No, but you never said anything to make me think you are.’ That moment sat like a stone on my chest.”

Sheats came to a decision: Things would have to change.

“I was letting my faith inform my life, but I wasn’t letting my faith enlighten my life,” he said. “That’s the path that really started me on a more outward expression of my inward beliefs, and not only doing the things I thought I should be doing but expressing why I was doing them. And engaging in that conversation more with people that I wouldn’t have done in my old world view of ‘We don’t talk about this.’ We should talk about this.”

It took 20 more years for Sheats to move toward the priesthood, first as he considered what he felt called to do, then as he earned his master’s degree in divinity, completed his clinical pastoral education and interned at parishes, including Trinity Episcopal Church in Lewiston and, now, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Waterville.

Now retired and immersed in his faith, Sheats feels more fully himself. Still, he has no regrets that it took him decades to find where he belonged.

“I’m who I am,” he said. “All these things have built to bring me here. If I had done that in my 20s, I would have been a different person. I think I needed a lot more formation, and that’s what my life gave me.”


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