When Reverend Ashley Freeman accepted the call to St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, he knew it would be memorable because it was his first rectorship where he would lead a church and school, and his own children were of age. school and would grow up in Zachary.
The years beginning with 2016 brought a historic flood with extensive damage to church structures, a difficult pandemic, a series of hurricanes, and all those things that Freeman had been waiting for to make Zachary’s life and work memorable.
“It was my first call as rector of a church,” he said. “My first calling from seminary was to serve as an associate priest of Trinity in Baton Rouge, which is how I found myself in the Baton Rouge area.”
Freeman proved old enough to give sage advice, but young enough to quickly roll up his sleeves in the community. He seemed to be on call with many of his peers at Zachary. He gave blessings in the park to children starting a new school year and was a regular at Blessing of the Pets events, once blessing a bright orange snake in a Main Street parking lot.
Being available inside and outside the walls of his church led him to be chaplain to Zachary’s fire and police departments. When disaster struck nearby parishes, he and a group of Zachary’s benefactors sent “57 Feet of Love” in the form of tractor-trailers loaded with food and supplies. “He served everyone in many different situations,” AC Gayle said of the pastor who was not his pastor.
Freeman said he was grateful for such a wide range of experiences at this point in his ministry and career.
“St. Patrick has been a very good home for me,” he said. “It has been a very good calling for me, and this church and this community have supported me and allowed me to play a role among them. It is truly an experience that has helped shape and train me in a way that I believe equips me to move into my next calling.
The next call will be Canon Ordinary of the Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast. It’s a mouthful, but Freeman humbly said he would work directly for a bishop and provide leadership and support to churches and clergy in the diocese.
It’s a homecoming in many ways. The office is in Pensacola, Florida, but he and his family will live near his hometown of Fairhope, Alabama.
The Freeman family will always have strong ties to Zachary, including Zachary High, where his wife taught and his two sons graduated. He, his wife and their daughter will travel to Alabama while his sons continue to work and attend college in their adopted home of Louisiana.
St. Patrick’s senior manager Edgar Cage echoed the sentiment that a lot of life and experience was crammed into Freeman’s time in Zachary. “I feel like over the past six years the church and I personally have come full circle,” Cage said. “I was chairman of the search committee that called him up and now I’m senior manager as he leaves.”
And while Cage admits the years haven’t been easy, he thinks the congregation has been lucky to weather the storm. “We didn’t realize the challenges we would be facing – the 2016 flood, some financial issues from the damage – and then COVID was really like the icing on the cake,” he said. “Despite all these trials and tribulations, we have survived with our faith and belief in God’s guidance. And there couldn’t have been a better person to be able here at St. Patrick’s to guide and guide us through it all.
Cage noted the roles Freeman played in the community and said the congregation is a stronger body because she followed his lead in lending a helping hand. “We helped people through Father Ashley’s passion and love for our neighbors in Houston, for the homeless, and during hurricanes and floods,” he said. “Even though we had been through some things ourselves, we reached out and helped others. I will be eternally grateful and blessed for Father Ashley’s friendship with him, our spiritual shepherd who has led us out of the valley of darkness into now, an age of life.