The Rev. Jeffrey Shilling Gill leaves Christ Church with a lasting image from his last week on the job.
It happened at the end of his final Sunday service on Nov. 18. As he started saying his goodbyes to the parish, a group of children surrounded him.
“I realized that all of this sea of children standing around ... for many of them, I’m the only priest they’ve ever known,” he said.
Last week, Gill resigned as rector of Christ Church on Central Street, a position he has held since 2005. He first came to Andover in 1983 as a seminarian for the church, and he returned to be priest in charge in 2002, when the church was facing what may have been its saddest days.
At the time, the parish was still reeling from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks when, two days after Christmas, the church’s newly selected rector died suddenly from a pulmonary illness.
“There was a lot of sadness, deep sadness,” Gill said. “The first task was, really, to be with the parish in their grief and try to help them see the future.”
Within six months, there was talk about opening a new school in Lawrence — Esperanza Academy, a tuition-free all-girls middle school, as it came to be known. Meanwhile, a capital program was launching to renovate the church, and the parish’s leadership was looking at reinventing the church’s Sunday presentation.
“What he brought here was the possibilities we could do,” said Debbie Moskal, Christ Church’s director of communications. “Jeff came with such optimism that we could reach out to not only the people in the parish, but the people outside the parish, whether they were in Lawrence or they lived in some other part of the country or the world.”
The church fufilled the last of the goals Gill set with the delivery and installation of a new organ in September.