Could you share a bit about your route to Sewanee? You had a long career in marketing before moving to the Mountain in 2004 to begin studying for your M.Div. What made you choose Sewanee for your formation, and what brought you back here as an administrative leader?
For many years, I did not give serious thought to a ministry vocation as an option for me, despite feeling strongly drawn to it. This was especially true during the time when I only knew of a few female clergy in the Episcopal Church, and not any black female clergy. So, I settled in to my work in the corporate business world, and I genuinely did enjoy it. I often recognized that ministry opportunities arose unexpectedly through my secular work, and I was grateful for all such opportunities. At the same time, I was deeply involved at my local parish and in my diocese. Eventually I realized the greater joy I was experiencing in the work I did for the church.
While I was visiting a friend’s church one Sunday, I heard a transformative sermon about vocation that was given by their guest female minister. That sermon spoke powerfully to me. I later had a conversation with my priest about it, and also began seeing a spiritual director. Following numerous affirming conversations with family and friends, I entered the formal discernment process in the Episcopal Church. After several years of discernment, and with the support of many, I took a huge leap of faith and left my business career to attend seminary.
Regarding my choice to attend Sewanee for seminary, that is a decision that is difficult to explain. I had previously visited a different seminary, and was sure that is where I would go. I actually knew very little about Sewanee at the time, but I had been told by several people that they thought I would probably not like it here. However, this advice made me wonder why they would say that, so I decided to come to campus for a visit to “rule Sewanee out.” On the first day of my visit, several things went wrong and I was quickly convinced that indeed I would not like it here. But later in the visit, I began to have a strong sense that Sewanee was exactly where I needed to be. I give credit to the Holy Spirit for my change of heart, because nothing spectacular happened that I can identify that would cause me to suddenly be so firm in my decision to apply to study here. But it was the right decision for me. I loved being at Sewanee as a seminarian. I loved the rhythm of worship, and I made some lifelong friends. I have never regretted my decision to attend Sewanee for seminary.
Following my ordination to the priesthood, I enjoyed parish ministry for several years in my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. In addition, I taught religion classes as an adjunct at a local community college. I also earned a Doctor of Ministry with a concentration in Transformative Leadership at Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School.
When the position I now hold became available, I was grateful to be able to return as an administrator. I fondly remembered the beautiful surroundings, and all that comes with being in a small, vibrant college town. I looked forward to being back in the place where I was formed, with an opportunity to help in the formation of others. Ultimately, I came back to Sewanee because I had the passion and gifts for the job.
What are some of your goals as Associate Dean for Community Life? Have you been able to integrate your marketing and management experiences into your current role?
My goals as Associate Dean for Community Life include assisting students with their formation for ministry, by (1) reaching out to them before they even move to the Mountain, (2) facilitating their transition and orientation to Sewanee, (3) providing pastoral support and connecting them with vital resources while they are students, and then (4) helping them with deployment when it is time for them to graduate.
I enjoy all aspects of being a priest and an administrator in a seminary setting. I feel like my work here is an extension of the parish ministry that I also loved. In addition to my primary goals, I try to stay abreast of churchwide developments and trends that may assist students in their formation as church leaders. I believe that my current job is greatly informed by all of my previous life and work experiences, including my time in marketing and management. Skills I developed previously are transferable to my current duties, and I can see them being used daily as I complete my various tasks.
What is your hope for the Church right now?
Ideally, I wish the church could be an authentic representation of the body of Christ, and of God’s unconditional love. Unfortunately, the church has disappointed many, and even greatly harmed some. It has not always demonstrated the love that the world is so desperately seeking. Many people have stopped attending. My hope is that the church will become a safe place for all people, and an inclusive space where all individuals can find deep connection and belonging through relationships with each other as they grow in relationship with God and creation. My hope is that members of the church will lead the way towards building stronger communities and making greater strides towards living into our Baptismal Covenant.
This month is Women's History Month, and February was Black History Month. Is there another woman and/or an African-American theologian whose voice you'd like to lift up and share?
There are several notable women that I now count as “sheroes.” But the one I will lift up as inspiring to me is the Rev. Anna Pauline “Pauli” Murray, who was the first African American woman to be ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church. Despite a challenging childhood, and a young adulthood that was marked by numerous barriers and setbacks, Pauli Murray achieved extraordinary academic and professional success. She was a poet, a writer, an activist. She was a community organizer, and a lawyer. She was an elected official, and a college professor.
She often had righteous anger over the injustices she encountered and the limitations placed on her because she was black and female. She found that she was even oppressed in church. She challenged her church’s vestry to remove barriers that kept them from treating women and men equally. Then to assist the vestry’s deliberations, she combed the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church and discovered that there was no language which specifically prohibited the ordination of women as priests. This groundbreaking work helped to lay the foundation for women’s ordination.
In 1974, Pauli attended the historic ordination of the first women ordained in the Episcopal Church, a group known as the Philadelphia Eleven. Regarding that momentous ordination, I read that Pauli said, “This ordination was historic in more than one respect. It took place in a church in the heart of Philadelphia’s ghetto, a negro congregation was the host. So, symbolically, ‘the rejected’ opened their arms to ‘the rejected.’” Pauli recognized the intersectionality of race and gender inequality.
Three years later, Pauli herself was ordained, and when she celebrated her first Eucharist, it was the first to be celebrated by any woman, ever, in the state of North Carolina.
I admire Pauli Murray’s courage and perseverance, and I believe she had a significant impact on the Episcopal Church. Representation matters. I will forever be grateful for Pauli’s life and witness. She was an extraordinary, pioneering, trailblazing woman with gifts galore.