The Rev. Max Wolf, rector of the Episcopal Parish of All Saints’ Church and St. George’s Chapel, will deliver his final sermon in the Cape Region on Sunday, June 3.
Known throughout the community as simply “Father Max,” he has accepted a position at St. Paul’s Church in Nantucket, Mass., close to his native Rhode Island and family. His brother lives in Nantucket and his mother is in nearby Bristol, R.I. While Father Max looks forward to being closer to family, he admits leaving the area is tough.
“We’ve cried a lot already,” Father Max said, referencing his wife, Olly. “But, it’s time to move on and get out of the way for the next priest to arrive and minister.”
While a canon minister for youth in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, Father Max visited Rehoboth on a church retreat in February 2001.
“I had an exhilarating experience on the beach that night,” he said. “I even wrote a sea shanty and sang it into my phone so I’d remember it.”
The ocean has always been important to him. In his youth, he aspired to be an oceanographer, citing Jacques Cousteau as an idol. He wasn’t actively looking to leave his post in Center City Philadelphia, but the Episcopal Parish needed a new rector. In August 2001, Father Max and his wife moved into the All Saints’ Church rectory on the ocean block of Rehoboth’s Olive Avenue.
Just one month later, he led services following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“The biggest services we’ve had here was the week of 9/11,” Father Max said. “We had services on Sept. 12, and also the Friday afterward when President Bush asked for services. It was standing room only.”
While the number of parishioners and outreach programs has expanded steadily under his leadership, Father Max is most gratified by the welcoming nature of his churches.
“Our greatest accomplishment as a parish is that we’re truly inclusive. It’s a loving church where parishioners feel unconditional love. We welcome people of all political beliefs and social backgrounds. We’re very diverse in terms of race, culture and economics,” he said.
“It’s a great joy for me to see some of the most affluent members of our community kneeling at the altar rail for Holy Communion next to the most humble and even homeless.”
The parish’s numerous community outreach programs include working with The Way Home Prison Ministry, Georgetown’s Crisis House, Camp Arrowhead, and Immanuel Shelter and the Community Resource Center in Rehoboth. An extensive music ministry, open to all, brings local and international performers to the church, including jazz musicians during the Rehoboth Beach Jazz Festival each fall.
Raised a Catholic, Father Max felt the call to priesthood as a boy, but he didn’t answer it because the Catholic Church doesn’t permit married priests. So, he embarked upon a series of careers before joining the Episcopal Church as a young adult. He entered the University of Rhode Island as a botany major before switching to history. While in college, he drove a delivery truck for the Providence Journal newspaper in Rhode Island, where he soon graduated to copy writer. He also worked as a landscape sod buster, harvesting sod for lawns.
“I would hitchhike home covered in mud, and people would still give me rides,” he smiled.
In 1980, with $100 in his pocket and a 4-pound tent slung over his back, he set out on a three-month solo trek, hitchhiking from Los Angeles to Alaska, where he worked at a salmon factory and on a commercial fishing boat. He waited tables in exclusive San Francisco and New York City restaurants, regularly serving celebrities Jimmy Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, Kurt Vonnegut and others. The gourmet knowledge he accumulated led to a high-end wine sales position in New York.
But, his childhood call to the priesthood returned, and he entered seminary at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., receiving his master of divinity degree in 1996. While a student, he also met his future wife.
“My hands were full and she held the door for me,” he said of the Harvard University fundraiser. He slipped a note under her office door, inviting her to dinner, and she finally accepted. “My wife Olly is truly my partner in ministry. She sacrificed her own career to serve the church with me.”
When the Wolfs first moved to Rehoboth, only a few crepe myrtles and scattered shrubs occupied the open clearing between the rectory and church. Over time, the couple created a garden sanctuary, adding rocks found along the coast of their Block Island, R.I. vacation spot, and every year, Olly planted colorful peonies, tulips and daffodils to attract birds and other wildlife. Soon, they will depart for another ocean community with their three rescue cats and Jack Russell terrier, Meatball.
The Rev. Eunice Dunlap will assume Father Max’s responsibilities in the interim and will resume assistant rector duties when a new rector is appointed this summer. After Father Max’s morning sermon June 3, the Rehoboth Beach Concert Band will perform in Olly’s Garden at 2 p.m., followed by a picnic-style farewell reception at 3 p.m.