A new horizon

Arkansan finds new home as associate priest in London

James Russell “Russ” Snapp, former sub-dean of Little Rock’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, has moved to London where he is serving as an associate priest in the Benefice of Upper Tooting. The Arkansas native, who moved to England last year, lives walking distance from Southwark Cathedral (shown).
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Frank E. Lockwood)
James Russell “Russ” Snapp, former sub-dean of Little Rock’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, has moved to London where he is serving as an associate priest in the Benefice of Upper Tooting. The Arkansas native, who moved to England last year, lives walking distance from Southwark Cathedral (shown). (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Frank E. Lockwood)

LONDON -- After serving as an Episcopal priest in the Natural State, James Russell "Russ" Snapp is now tending to souls in a city of 8.8 million.

The Arkansas native moved to the United Kingdom in April 2022 after working, most recently, as sub-dean of Trinity Cathedral in Little Rock.

These days, he's serving as associate priest in the Benefice of Upper Tooting, which includes both Holy Trinity Church and St. Augustine's Church.

The area is roughly five miles south of Buckingham Palace and three miles east of Wimbledon's Centre Court.

Since both congregations share a vicar, extra hands are helpful on Sunday mornings and throughout the week.

Jane Milligan, a reader and longtime member at Holy Trinity, said the parish was happy to put the American newcomer to work.

"He did the first service with us the last Sunday in March and then we threw him into the deep end for Holy Week," she said recently.

Snapp, 64, preached and presided on Palm Sunday at St. Augustine's.

On Easter Sunday, he presided over the Eucharist at Holy Trinity, preaching the sermon and sprinkling (also known as esperging) worshippers with Holy Water, a reminder of their baptisms.

He smiled widely as he recited the liturgy and sang the paschal hymns, welcoming worshippers as they approached the altar to receive Communion.

After the dismissal, he stayed around and received feedback, most of it positive, from congregants, as they savored post-worship tea and biscuits.

"We're grateful to have someone who is so nice, who fits in so well," Milligan said as other parishioners milled about.

The arrangement, thus far, is going well.

"We really like Russ. It's lovely to have a different voice, a different personality, different skills to bring to the team here," she said.

Jean Cooper, a church warden at Holy Trinity, said Snapp is a good match for the two parishes.

"He's very friendly. He's very open," she said. "He'll fit in very well with our congregations."

Although Snapp is a recent immigrant, "this feels like home in a lot of ways," he said. "I've been an Anglophile since I was a teenager."

The Episcopal Church traces its roots to the Church of England and was formed following the Revolutionary War.

Snapp was raised a Methodist in Walnut Ridge, but his grandmother, who grew up in Newport, had been an Episcopalian.

"I was 13 or 14 before I ever went to an Episcopal Church," he said.

But he loved what he encountered there, he said.

"I just took to it," he said. "It has all these deep historical ties, it has this beautiful liturgy, and yet it is Catholic but not Roman," he said.

"I went to Sewanee, the University of the South, which is Episcopalian, because I was drawn to all this," he said.

Before long, he was needing a passport.

"My first trip to England was in 1979, when I was 20 years old," he said.


"Our choir from the university ... came over and toured all around England, singing Evensong in churches and cathedrals, so I had developed this sense of real connection, loving the history, loving this particular variant of Christianity and just old places, old things," he said.

After graduating from Sewanee, he attended graduate school at Harvard University.

During his studies, he traveled to London in 1985 to research British policy toward American Indians and the South.

After earning a master's degree and Ph.D. from the Ivy League school, he became a history professor at Davidson College in North Carolina, teaching courses on Colonial America, the Revolutionary War era and other topics.

On a sabbatical from teaching in 1992, he returned yet again to England.

"I was here for about 2½ months and, during that time, I met another man that I developed a relationship with, and it's kind of kept going for 30 years," Snapp said.

Snapp and Christoper Marsden, who met each other at a lecture on early American history during that sabbatical, will celebrate their first anniversary as civil partners on Tuesday.


Given the geographical distance during the first three decades, the relationship had its challenges, Snapp noted.

With an ocean in between them, "we've been back and forth and back and forth for many years," he said.

The couple now live in the London borough of Southwark, south of the River Thames, in a flat overflowing with books and in easy walking distance from London Bridge, Shakespeare's Globe theatre and the 72-story Shard.

Snapp said he didn't feel the call to the ministry until he was about 40.

"I went to seminary in New York, and then I was ordained in December of '03 to the diaconate and then June of '04 to the priesthood in Siloam Springs."

He would go on to serve stints in Newport, Helena, Memphis and Little Rock as well, before taking early retirement at age 62 and moving to London.

Snapp arrived just in time for Queen Elizabeth's platinum jubilee in June and was there in September when she died. Like roughly 250,000 others, he stood in the queue that snaked along the Thames, standing for hours so that he could file past the coffin. He was also able to participate in some of the activities surrounding the coronation of King Charles III earlier this month.


After the service at Holy Trinity, Marsden, who recently retired as senior archivist at the Victoria and Albert Museum, said Snapp is well-suited for churchwork.

"He is excellent at liturgy, at theology, at preaching and the intellectual side of ministry. That's part of it. But he's a great natural with people [as well]," Marsden, 60, said.

"He's very open, very friendly, a great listener, so on the pastoral level, he's also an excellent priest. I think he can provide a lot of what a church like this needs," he said.

It took awhile for Snapp to get church assignments in his adopted country. He had to complete criminal background checks in both countries and receive permission to officiate in the Diocese of Southwark.

Although Snapp lives in a new nation now, "I'll never lose connections with America," the expatriate said. "Every day I'm conscious of the fact that in the morning, America's not up yet."

He still owns a condominium in downtown Little Rock.

And in July, he'll have a chance to hobnob with a busload of Arkansans without leaving London. The Trinity Cathedral choir is scheduled to be in residence at Southwark Cathedral in July, he said.


The 1928 Book of Common Prayer, which guided worship early in Snapp's spiritual journey, was replaced in 1979. And the church has evolved over the years, but some things remain unchanged, he said.

"We're still about the gospel. The ancient message of God's love in Christ and God's continuing action through the Holy Spirit," he said.

"The gospel is our hope. It ... makes sense of this crazy world and this crazy existence that we're in and it proclaims good triumphing over evil, light over darkness," he said.

With the gospel, "there's meaning there. There's hope there. There's life there -- life in all its fullness," he added.

  photo  James Russell “Russ” Snapp speaks with a parishoner at Holy Trinity Church in Upper Tooting on Easter Sunday. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Frank E. Lockwood)

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