Born in February and baptized as close to St. Patrick’s Day as possible, I was given the name JoAnn Kennedy Slater; Kennedy was my Mother’s maiden name, and the middle name given to both me and my younger sister, Patricia. JoAnn is homage to my father John, as John in Latin looks a lot like JoAnn.
Raised Irish Catholic, attended Catholic schools, and worked for the Roman Catholic church in many professional capacities as teacher, professor, administrator, musician, lay minister, what ever they would let me do in service to God and the kingdom I was there. Then in 1987 at the Christmas Eve mid-night mass I was intellectually and emotionally overwhelmed with the visible imbalance, inequity, and disparity, witnessed to by those who were serving at the altar. I left that night knowing I would not ever go back; so that next day, Christmas morning, I went to an Episcopal Church where a friend attended, who was always inviting me to worship with the tease, “We baptize and ordain our women.” I am still young so the rest is not history, yet.
When I was ordained a priest on December 18th, 1994; I publicly promised, made a vow, to proclaim by word and deed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to fashion my life in accordance with its precepts. I am to love and serve the people among whom I work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor. I am to preach, to declare God’s forgiveness to penitent sinners, to pronounce God’s blessing, to share in the administration of Holy Baptism and in the celebration of the mysteries of the Eucharist, and to perform the other ministrations entrusted to me. I read and sit with these ordination vows about once a month. Some months are easier than others, as you will notice there are no provisions in this promise concerning cold boilers in December, leaking roofs in April, or crashing computers containing all the Vestry minutes and financial files for the past three years. These divine mysteries are revealed to all clergy who serve in any parish ministry.
I have had the privilege to live my ordination vows and promises in service to the gracious good people of St. Luke’s since September of 2001. I am their 23rd Rector, and the first woman to serve as their rector. These vows continue on page 532 in The Book of Common Prayer: I promised to respect and be guided by the pastoral direction of my Bishop, Bishop Gibbs; this is often a delight and a gift that puts me in the service of the greater church. I am presently a Trustee of the Diocese (till 2013) and have served on the Commission on Ministry, Diocesan Council, and other opportunities, as well as assist on committees at the Annual Diocesan Convention. I promised to be diligent in reading and study of the Holy Scriptures, seeking all knowledge of such things to make me a stronger and more able minister; to learn and to study, and travel through history and far away places that will make me a better preacher and teacher. I love this part! Thank You Jesus!
Since I started first grade I have never missed a semester being in school either as student or teacher. I am adjunct faculty at Siena Heights University (1990 to present) and my most recent degree is from the University of Michigan Law School, graduated 2001. My undergraduate (Purdue 1974) and graduate studies( DePaul 1975, Chicago Theological Seminary 1990) are all in Philosophy and Theology, disciplines that create, recognize and support relationships of all kinds; the law degree gives me the skills to identify all the minutia and variables present and possible in those relationships. (And in our congregation there are so many years of earned wisdom, thousands of credit hours, and many graduate degrees; I secretly believe we are one of the smartest parishes in the Diocese!) The ordination vows continue on with promises that I will endeavor to make the reconciling love of Christ be known and available to all. And at St. Luke’s our refrain, tag line, recurring invitation is, “All are welcome. Really!”
In every sermon I am intentional to name the diversities that God has blessed us with and that no matter the age, race, sexuality, abilities, nationality, we are all welcome at God’s table, here at St. Luke’s. The reconciliation comes with healing the broken trust; trusting the love of Jesus that tells us there is more than enough, and trusting Jesus, ourselves, and one another that we are enough. Really! The next promise requires me to be a faithful pastor, and work together with parish leadership and my fellow ministers to build up the family of God. I am comfortable with leadership, and my energy for leadership comes from the congregation; we share a vision of the family of God as a healthy household, not a hierarchical family system.
My understanding of pastoral direction comes mostly from the works of Ed. Friedman. I try to always be what he describes as the non-anxious presence, so as my sister often says, “You can’t possibly know what is going on, you’re not upset!” The last two promises are more personal in nature. I promised to pattern my life in accordance with the teachings of Christ as a wholesome example, and I promised to persevere in prayer, privately and publicly. To daily exercise my body and my mind and my spirit is the challenge; Morning Prayer on the treadmill is cumbersome to say the least. In my BCP I keep an updated parish directory and twice a day I intentionally pray for the parish and all our concerns. The Sunday morning public worship is for me the best part of the week; everyone gathered, the choir, the children in and out of church school, the coffee hour, the entire morning bustling with the energy and urgency of Good News, and the abundance of God’s table. And I would be remiss if I did not mention the gorgeous stained glass windows and the pulpit; St. Luke’s has a magnificent pulpit. So, as priest and Rector, I invite you to come and hear the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
All are welcome, really!
The Rev. Dr. JoAnn Kennedy Slater, J.D. 23rd Rector of St. Luke’s in Ypsilanti