Pastor Grace Interview

May 2022

The editors of our Wider Circle Times newsletter conducted an email interview for the May 2022 edition. They provided the questions and Pastor Grace graciously answered them. It is a wonderful addition to our newsletter and to our website. Thank you, Pastor Grace!

Please share a little about yourself.

Pastoring is technically my third career. My first was as an actor and my second was in media relations and as a speechwriter for politicians. All three have something crucial in common: they tell stories that make people see the world differently… stories that create greater empathy, understanding, and broader perspective. Plus, all of them rely on my skills as a writer and an historian. If I could do anything other than what I already do, it would be to write books, largely midrash (a Jewish custom of expanding upon biblical stories) but also speculative futurism and one or two theological texts.

What is your job as pastor/minister at New Paltz UMC?

Being a pastor means wearing a lot of different hats, some obvious, and some less so.  I say with both humor and sincerity that my goal is to work myself out of a job. I want everyone to have enough knowledge and biblical understanding to make the Bible come alive for them. My primary jobs are to equip people with the tools to foster their faith development and bear witness through example to the ways in which my faith informs my priorities as Christian.

Our Bishop is very clear that clergy are appointed to serve a community through and with a congregation. I take that very seriously – I am the resident theologian, but we as a congregation are in ministry together. I try hard to balance my direct care of our congregation with our call to care for the needs of those around us together.

What do you do?  What occupies most of your time?  What does a day in the life of a pastor/minister at New Paltz UMC look like?

Every day is different in the life of a pastor, which is one of many things I love about what I do. Here’s an overview of a sample week:

On Monday I spend some of my time catching up on the emails I may have not been as diligent about on Saturday and Sunday. I also review the scripture for the next week while my last sermon is still fresh in my mind. I do this so that I can better tell a continuously unfolding story from week to week. I likely start gathering up materials and resources to use as conversation partners for my sermon. I meet with the Board of Methodist Federation for Social Action, too. Monday is also the day that I try to not have regularly scheduled for things that may come up unexpectedly.

On Tuesday I start more serious note taking for my sermon. I meet each week with the clergy from the Lutheran and Episcopal churches on Tuesdays, to plan joint offerings together, to talk about the lectionary for the week, and to dream together. Tuesday is often a bible or justice study day for us, so I am either making sure I am ready for the evenings class, or sometimes writing a new study for us.

Wednesdays Lee and I pick hymns and I film hymn-a-long, and we may have Taize. This is also a night when I may have community meetings (I am on several community boards as a part of my witness beyond the walls of the church).

Thursdays I try to ensure I have a complete draft of my sermon. I meet with the clergy of our cooperative parish every other Thursday, which will be increasingly important. I often meet with Karen Seyfert as lay leader Thursday mornings as well. If we do not have Ad Council, I am likely at an Ulster County Human Rights Commission meeting or possibly a Town Board or Police Commission meeting.

Fridays I try to spend catching up on things undone and spend several hours driving my kids to meet their dad for the weekend. This seems like a good place to talk about the ‘expect the unexpected’ of ministry, which is often the best part. I am often called upon to officiate at funerals, sometimes have people show up at the house or church. Because of my work on anti-racism I am sometimes called upon to speak or lead classes for other clergy. I am also a member of the Conference Intercultural Development Inventory Team. No two days are the same, but every day in ministry is full of purpose.

What is a favorite, go to, grounding scripture? Why?

Luke 1:46-55, The Magnificat. I have a deep love for Mary. The odds are not in her favor in her life, not at all. What she lacks in material wealth and security she makes up for in clear sight, passion, and a steadfast belief that God can change everything, and might use us to do so. It is because Mary is vulnerable in so many ways that she is able to see the injustices around her – the problems with society are personal for Mary. Mary could spend her time lamenting, but she doesn’t she casts a vision, a conviction. She does not shy away from problems. She just refuses to be defined by obstacles when she can be defined by God. I seek to be like Mary, and often when I feel at a loss, this scripture is a wellspring of strength and possibility for me.

What is your favorite hymn? Why?

If I have to pick one, and it has to be a church hymn, then it would have to be The Canticle of the Turning. I suppose this makes me consistent, since the lyrics have a lot in common with the Magnificat!

What do you do for fun?

My days are pretty full, so there isn’t a lot of downtime. When I can, I love to travel. I love music, especially with lots of guitars and a good beat. I wish I had more time to write for fun, or academically, for that matter. I love it when my house is full of people and laughter, so cooking and entertaining are joys for me. I listen to a lot of audiobooks, since I can entertain my brain while I do the more mundane bits of life like laundry and dishes. If you really can’t find me, I may be off in the woods in a big, dirty Jeep.

What would you like people in the NPUMC community to know?

These are exciting times to be in ministry together, and this is a community that is good at saying ‘yes.’ This is the most exciting time in ministry, probably in over a century. If there is something you are passionate about, a need that you see, a joy that you would like to enlarge, speak up! More than ever, being a Christian is going to need to be a way of life not a type of worship and I’m very blessed to live in these times with each of you.