Happy July Ordiversaries! I am super excited about the RevGal kicking off this month’s party: the ever-fabulous Kentina Washington-Leaphart!
*Tell us a bit about your journey into ministry.
I began my formal journey into ministry in 2009. At that time, I had been working in the insurance industry since graduating from college. While I had been successful in my career, as cliche as it sounds I knew that something was missing. The church where I was a member had a very robust Christian Education program. I gobbled up any and every class when my schedule would allow for it and I found spiritual and intellectual rigor exciting. Graduate school was heavily on my mind, but I felt pigeonholed due to the demands of my job and single-parenting a toddler. I was fairly certain that I wanted to go to seminary to more deeply explore my burgeoning interest in theology, but I also knew that I had no desire to pastor. Up to that point, my only knowledge about seminary was that it was a training ground for those who felt called to pastor churches. It wasn’t until meeting a new friend in one of my Christian Ed classes – a seminary trained writer and editor for a Christian publisher – that my understanding of what was possible in ministry via theological education was expanded. Later that year, I was let go from my job (one of the best things that ever happened to me) and that ending became the catalyst for my new beginning and some of the happiest years of my life. I enrolled in seminary the following spring and I was off to the races! In the last 11 years, my ministry career has included two student-pastorates in UMC and Presbyterian churches, 4 units of Clinical Pastoral Education (an internship and a residency), full-time chaplaincy roles in hospitals, hospice, and a retirement community, work as a program director at a faith-based sexual health, reproductive justice, and LGBTQ inclusion advocacy organization, and now, freelance preaching, teaching, and writing.
*What is something you remember from your ordination?
I was ordained alongside my wife, the Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart in Kansas City, MO on July 20, 2018 during The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries (TFAM) biannual leadership conference. I remember that day being one of nervousness, excitement, expectancy, and joy! It was such an honor to have holy hands laid on us by Bishop Yvette Flunder, a woman-prophet who has been such a source of support, encouragement, and delight for us, both individually and as a couple and to also be surrounded by the hedge of protection of the bishops and other key leaders within TFAM. I wore a rainbow stole that was gifted to me by a former supervisor, also a queer clergywoman. The stole Naomi wore was one that I’d commissioned to be created for her by a queer-affirming artisan. We were surrounded by so much love and generosity and affirmation and tear of joy and smiles as wide as the sea! It was a wonderful day!
*What have been some surprises in your ministry thus far?
After I left my role as a chaplain at a retirement community, I was surprised by how much my ministry to and with older adults had deeply impacted me. I had returned to work in the pastoral care department at that facility unexpectedly after several other job prospects in different chaplaincy settings fell through. Having completed a seminary field placement there 3 years earlier, I thought that I knew what to expect and, if I’m honest, I wasn’t sure that it was the right fit for me anymore. While I was very “openhearted,” I also knew that healthcare chaplaincy was where I wanted to be, but the doors kept closing. After a chance conversation with the director of pastoral care while I was on-site for pulpit supply, I applied and was offered the job. While I’d always said that I’d never be a pastor, being a chaplain for that retirement community afforded me experiences that the transitory nature of the hospital did not: longer term pastoral care relationships with residents and their families, ongoing religious education via leading Bible studies, leadership of multifaith holiday services, and officiating at funerals and memorial services, all activities that I know are part-and-parcel for those who are leaders in local congregations. While I have since moved on to other roles in ministry, I think of my “Seasoned Saints” often and I am keenly aware of the particular sensitivities that I have toward the concerns of older adults after working so closely with them.
*We used to use the phrase “what’s saving my life today” as a way to try to talk about things that helped us keep our SELVES, if you will, in the midst of all that is going on in ministry in this world. What helps you keep sight of your SELF, to stay grounded, through all the ups and downs of life these days?
Boundaries between work and my personal life have always been very important to me. My first and most important ministry is myself/the Spirit within me, followed closely by my relationship with my family and friends. Nurturing and caring for all those relationships is primary; I cannot show up fully or well in any vocational work if those connections are out of alignment, so I carve out time every single day devoted to taking care of home. What is saving my life these days? Flowers. Growing them. Arranging them as spiritual practice. Giving them away. Taking my dog for long walks. Grilling food and having “happy hour” on the patio with my wife. Learning to listen more deeply to my daughter and all of her teenage highs and lows. Facetime phone dates with friends. Ordering stacks of books from indie booksellers. Composting and visiting farmer’s market and participating in CSAs. Binge-watching TV series. Cool breezes on hot days.
*What advice would you give to people being ordained this month?
My ordination was for me the culmination of years of a posture of openheartedness to the call of the Spirit on my life. I remember during my first few months of seminary, I felt like the odd woman out surrounded by so many of my wonderful classmates who were preparing to serve in churches full time. I knew that full-time parish ministry wasn’t my call, but I wasn’t sure what my call would be. I just knew that I was open. And it is from that place I tried to do the work my soul must have, to quote the late Rev. Dr. Katie Cannon. Being open meant listening to stories around me of other clergy – particularly, women clergy- who had gone before me and made a way. I owe my introduction to the possibilities of seminary to my friend, author Katara Washington Patton. I owe my introduction to chaplaincy to the Rev. Dr. Ann Rosewall, my seminary’s former Director of Vocational Formation, a former chaplain, and a mother. I owe my introduction to my role in faith-based advocacy to my wife who encouraged me to take a chance on applying for a position that was completely new for me. I owe my current role as freelance writer to people like the Rev. Martha Spong who’ve invited me to share my gifts via the written word and then spoken my name in other rooms where they think my gifts should be heard as well.
I say all of that to say that, 2 years post-ordination, my life looks very different than it did then. My ordination was both a culmination of one journey and a beginning of a new chapter. It was an affirmation of my labor, my gifts, my vision, and my dedication up to that point, and it was a call to be open to my “what’s next.” My advice to anyone being ordained this month is to remain openhearted. Where you are today may not be where you will end up a year or two from now – theologically, vocationally, spiritually – and that is ok, actually it’s good! The last few months for sure have taught (or re-taught) all of us about the need for dexterity, creativity, and deep listening: to our hopes, our dreams (realized and deferred), our fears, our sorrows, our joys. Ordination to me is akin to a wedding: it’s a fantastic day, an important day, but it is only one day. Ordination like a wedding is a fantastic day, an important day but it is only one day that recognizes months or years of building the foundation for a lifetime of commitment . Enjoy your day for all that it is and harness the bevy of emotions you feel from that day to propel you to an uncertain but blessedly assured future.
Thank you so much, Kentina! Your story is beautiful, your advice is inspiring, and we would all do well to follow your lead on openheartedness and boundary keeping and having big-picture perspective. Thank you for your ministry, and may there be many more years for the world to know your gifts!
How about you, friends? What’s saving your life these days? What surprises have you encountered in ministry so far? Share your ordination and ministry stories in the comments, so we can celebrate with you!
Rev. Teri Peterson is a minister in the Church of Scotland, living on the west coast with her cat and an amazing view. She serves on the Board of RevGalBlogPals, and she loves a good party. #enneagram7
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