The School of Theology Service Award recognizes Episcopal clergy or laypersons who have exhibited distinguished service to The Episcopal Church. We have, in particular, sought to highlight clergy or laypersons who have made a significant difference in transforming unjust structures and promoting peace and reconciliation in their communities, as well as honoring those who have deployed parish resources to sustain and renew the life of the earth. This year’s recipient has made extraordinary contributions in both of these categories.
It is a privilege to present this year’s Service Award to the Rev. Robert Jemonde Taylor.
Since 2012, the Reverend Jemonde Taylor has served as the eleventh rector of Saint Ambrose Episcopal Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, a historically African-American parish. It is located in the Walnut Creek Wetland floodplain where Raleigh released raw sewage for 70 years, and which the city used as an unofficial garbage-dumping site for decades.
Nearly 30 years ago, St. Ambrose helped found an environmental non-profit, Partners for Environmental Justice (PEJ) and partnered with Raleigh to create an environmental education center. Father Taylor has led the congregation through a capital campaign that made significant improvements in the sustainability and accessibility of the church buildings, emphasizing ecological improvements including: low emissivity (Low-E) glass on the stained glass windows; new increased efficiency heating and cooling systems; ADA compliant bathroom renovations and plumbing using 80% less water; a filtered water fountain decreasing bottled water consumption; LED light panels; and a 550-square-foot rain garden. The campaign also included a new prayer garden and columbarium with two rain gardens and 2,000 gallon rainwater cisterns for dripline irrigation.
The Episcopal Church awarded Saint Ambrose its largest Creation Care Grant for a new program called the Healing Pod consisting of a podcast concerning environmental racism and the church’s response; an ADA-compliant, permeable, and Ethiopian-inspired labyrinth; and therapeutic gardens to address the community’s mental and emotional health. The North Carolina Council of Churches recently awarded the church a grant to support the Healing Pod.
Father Taylor is a member of the following environmental and community groups: chair of the Raleigh Stormwater Management Advisory Commission (SMAC), with responsibility for a $12MM budget; treasurer of the Walnut Creek Stakeholders; the Walnut Creek Wetland Community Project; $1MM Walnut Creek Park Expansion Advisory Council; and Duke Cancer Institute Community Advisory Council. He is part of a five-member research team that received a $400,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to work on a documentary film on Race, Church, and Theological Practices.
He is a lecturer in both the College of Forestry and the College of Engineering at North Carolina State. He also lectures at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He presented at the Kresge Foundation US Water Alliance Conference in Troy, Michigan. Father Taylor led his congregation as a founding member of ONE Wake, a new community power organization, that challenged one of the largest developers in the southeast in zoning 150 acres on Walnut Creek by demanding green stormwater infrastructure and low-impact development to prevent community flooding. This group worked with the developer to initiate a $2.5MM grant matching fund to help mitigate flooding at six flood prone sites downstream.
Father Taylor holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from North Carolina State University and an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in robotics and vehicle design from Stanford University. Before entering seminary, he worked as an automotive performance and design engineer for Michelin Tire Company. He earned his M.Div. from the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in New York City in 2009. Prior to arriving at Saint Ambrose, he served as a priest at Saint Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Dallas, Texas. Father Taylor and his wife, Kierson Leigh Taylor, are the proud parents of two children.