Retiring CT priest cast in upcoming ‘Gilded Age’ HBO series

Jack Gilpin, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in New Milford, has retired as a parish priest, having given his last sermon at the church Sunday.

Jack Gilpin, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in New Milford, has retired as a parish priest, having given his last sermon at the church Sunday.

Lisa Weir / For Hearst Connecticut Media

NEW MILFORD — A beloved member of the New Milford clergy has retired as a priest, but parishioners will still be able to see him on the small screen.

The Rev. Jack Gilpin, who has been rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church since 2012, will be a series regular on the upcoming HBO series “The Gilded Age,” scheduled to premiere in 2021.

Gilpin was tapped to play Church, a butler, in the new drama series from “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes.

The show takes place in 1882, “against the backdrop of the American Gilded Age, a period of immense economic change when huge fortunes were made and lost,” according to the HBO website.

Gilpin has pursued an acting career since the 1980s, and is credited with roles in “Law & Order,” “21,” “Adventureland,” “The Night Of,” and “The Equalizer,” and even voiced a character in the 1998 Disney film “Mulan.”

Last Sunday, Gilpin stood behind the pulpit and shared his last sermon with the New Milford congregation.

The Roxbury resident, who began as priest-in-charge and later became rector, said he has been thinking about retirement for a while and the timing is “right.”

“I think what I will miss most about Jack is, he has a deep spiritual connection,” longtime parishioner Flora Quammie said. “You just feel connected with him.”

She added, “He took very good care of our congregation ... our spiritual needs and he was a friend.”

Jim Rains, clerk of the vestry, the church’s governing body, said Gilpin’s “compassion was always in evidence” and cited his “insightful and thoughtful sermons” and “the importance of nurturing our relationship with God.”

Parishioners also emphasized Gilpin’s drive to be an active participant at the church, where he changed lightbulbs, washed the walls in classrooms and painted whatever needed to painted.

Gilpin said he and his wife, Ann McDonough, will focus more on his acting career and family, especially since they will welcome their first grandchild in December.

“We are excitedly looking forward to that,” he said.

The first interaction many parishioners and community members had with Gilpin was at Paul “Tall Paul” Rake’s funeral. Rake was homeless and was loved in town and at the church.

“This was Jack’s first time delivering the funeral mass, and the solemnity and power that he brought to the service for a homeless man he hadn’t yet had time to meet was startling and unforgettable,” Rains said.

“As so often happened around Jack, one felt the unmistakable presence of the Spirit,” he said.

A few weeks later, and a few days after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Gilpin was ordained at St. John’s.

“No one would have thought it unusual if he had postponed for a few weeks, but as Jack put it at the time, ‘This is what I signed up for,’” Rains said.

Gilpin said although he is stepping away from parish life, he will remain supportive and active in the community life of the Episcopal Diocese.

He said he’ll will miss the relationships with parishioners and his involvement with many community activities, including his seat as chair of the Loaves and Fishes Hospitality House board for the past four years.

Leaving the congregation will be difficult, he said, especially since the Episcopal Diocese requires a priest to create distance between himself or herself and the parish, its parishioners and community life for a year provide an adjustment for the parish to bond with the new priest.

The process to install a new priest is underway, Gilpin said.

“The reward is in the relationships you form and the way the people invite you into their lives,” Gilpin said. “You’re part of their highest highs and their lowest lows, and that is a blessing and privilege that is indescribable.”

Gilpin said when he came aboard at St. John’s, he saw the church as being a place “where the front door was open, where things are happening” and it is a part of the larger community.

“I have always said life isn’t about church, but the church is about life, and that’s what I wanted it to be,” he said, “to be open and breathing and connected to the community.”

To that end, Gilpin became involved with Loaves and Fishes, was present for many town activities and supported the local homeless population.

Quammie acknowledged Gilpin’s activism.

“He was also very involved in the community — that was a passion of his, that wasn’t just the church, that was him,” Quammie said. “He was very community minded.”

The Rev. Alex da Silva Souto, pastor of the New Milford United Methodist Church, described Gilpin as “a model of community engagement.”

“Every project that benefit the community he was somehow involved,” de Silva Souto said. “He was always willing immediately to respond to any other need or project that came up. He was the first one to say, ‘I’ll jump on board.’”

“His faithfulness, commitment to social justice and his love for community is really admirable and he’s going to be missed, sorely missed,” da Silva Souto said. “I wish him the best in his new chapter in life.”