The Rev. Jeffrey Mello
Rector, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
A parish priest for over fourteen years, I currently serve as Rector of St. Paul’s in Brookline, MA. St. Paul’s is a joy-filled, thriving community seeking to follow Christ and live out our faith in meaningful ways for the sake of God’s dream for the world.
For ten years I was blessed to serve as Regional Dean, providing care and support to fifteen congregations and chaplaincies and their clergy. I am currently Co-Convenor of the Brookline Interfaith Clergy Association and a mentor in the diocesan program for newly ordained clergy.
Prior to St Paul’s, I served as the Assistant Rector at Christ Church Cambridge, overseeing youth and young adult ministry, and as adjunct faculty of Episcopal Divinity School.
Before ordination, I worked at Massachusetts General Hospital as a Clinical Social Worker in the Addiction Psychiatry Unit. I received my Master of Social Work from Simmons University following many years working with at-risk youth and young adults. I received my Master of Divinity from Episcopal Divinity School, with a concentration in Liturgics.
Born and raised in Cranston, RI, my home parish was the Church of the Transfiguration. I spent eighteen years at the Diocesan Camp and Conference Center; first as a camper and eventually as director of the day camp in downtown Providence.
My husband, Paul, and I met in 1992. Paul is the founder and Artistic Producing Director of SpeakEasy Stage Company, a professional theater company in Boston, and on the faculty of The Boston Conservatory at Berklee College of Music. We have a 21 year-old son who is a junior in college studying education.
I enjoy running, attending the theater, traveling with my family and taking Beginner Spanish classes. I am also well-known for my love of coffee and chocolate.
How does your relationship with Jesus shape your priestly ministry?
Over the altar at the summer camp where I spent most of my childhood, there hangs an oxen yoke. Over the yoke is painted Jesus’ words, “My yoke fits well” from Matthew’s Gospel (11:30). This yoke has served as a primary image for my relationship with Jesus, but also as the model for my ministry as a priest in Christ’s Church.
I spent enough time staring at that yoke, imagining Jesus on one side and me on the other, that it has become the first image that comes to me when I wonder where God is in my life. Beside me is where I look for Jesus. When I struggle, I expect to see him there, pulling the burdens of my life with me. “We’ve got this,” Jesus says to me, and slips the yoke over his head.
This image is also how I try to live out my priesthood. Waking up each day to serve the Church in Christ’s Name requires a willingness to come alongside Jesus, slip my neck into the yoke next to his. “We’ve got this,” he says again. “My yoke fits well.”
So, too, the yoke serves as a metaphor for how I minister as a priest in the Church. I long to come alongside those with whom God calls me to be priest as a fellow pilgrim on the journey, sharing in the work with an abiding presence. Whether offering the sacraments of the church or embodying the sacramental presence of the church itself, I try to point the children of God to Jesus so that they might hear his invitation, “Come to me.”
This “coming alongside” is how I am a priest both in the church and in the larger community. I am always seeking those who long for someone to join in the work of bringing about God’s dream for the world alongside them. From racial justice to feeding ministries to programs for our youth and young adults, my posture remains as a partner in the shared work of God.
My greatest hope is that, when someone is searching for the church’s presence in their lives, they might look next to them and find Christ there. I pray that they may see the Church, them and Christ, bound together. Bound together in mutual love, we’ve got this.
Have you ever committed to—and created—an environment of racial healing, justice, and reconciliation? Tell us about it.
As a 53 year old white male rector of a predominantly white congregation, I have a particular role to play in creating an environment of racial healing, justice and reconciliation. To be the best ally and accomplice in the work I can be, I must listen, center, amplify, get out of the way, and put my body where my mouth is.
I listen. I listen with intention to the experiences and wisdom of Black, Indigenous, Asian, Latinx and other people of color in the congregation, the community and the larger church. Before I rush to “do” what I think needs doing, I listen for what it is the people most directly affected tell me is needed and how best to respond.
I center. Too often, the voices of marginalized communities are silenced or co-opted. I work to make sure these voices are centered in the community; at the altar, in the pulpit, at the vestry meeting and in the adult formation events.
I amplify. I work to use my position to amplify the wisdom and experiences of the multiple voices and experiences from which I am learning. From the books we use (and not just the ones about racial justice!) to Adult Formation programs and sermon illustrations, I approach each as an opportunity for centering and amplification.
I get out of the way. Like much of parish ministry, creating an environment for racial healing, justice and reconciliation often means getting out of the way of those who are skilled, willing and able to lead the way. Like listening, getting out of the way means making sure that those who desire to lead in these efforts have the resources they need and my full support.
I put my body where my mouth is. Though I never seem to be everywhere I would like to be as often as I would like to be there, I have shown up when and where I can; in the streets, at the State House and at town events, bringing the local church into the public square.
We have done the book groups, and we will do more. We have run two Sacred Ground groups, and will run more. We established a Racial Justice Ministry to make the work central to who we are; a lens for all our work, rather than simply a program we offer. But these ministries are not ends in and of themselves. They are pieces serving a larger whole meant to change not just what we do as church, but who we are as followers of Jesus Christ.
We need to be clear about why we are committing ourselves and our communities to this work. If the desired outcome is more bodies of color in our seats, or checking off a list of “should dos,” we are missing the mark. Racial justice, healing and reconciliation work is not a membership development program. It is the transformation of God’s people for the bringing about of God’s Dream for this world.
Please describe a time when you played a leadership role in advancing ministry with young adults (ages 18–39)?
One of the many blessings of being located in a college town like Boston is to be surrounded, in large numbers, by young adults. College students, graduate students, fellows and residents at the local hospitals and young families make up a significant percentage of the congregation at St. Paul’s. It is a great joy to see them step through the red doors for the first time, seeking something they still believe the church has to offer. It is an act of courage, and we make a great mistake if we don’t see each one as an individual who needs the church to meet them where they are every bit as much as we believe God does.
Working with 18-39 year olds means the usual ways of getting integrated into a church community need to be examined. As a transient community moving for school, first jobs, and larger apartments to accommodate growing families means that waiting for the “natural” process of getting integrated into the community doesn’t work. Waiting five or ten years (or longer!) before offering opportunities for leadership won’t work. We need to be open and flexible, creating multiple “doors” into the community and providing ways to connect, participate deeply and take on leadership quickly.
Shortly after I arrived at St. Paul’s, we created an ongoing ministry for young adults. However, like any other program or ministry we offer, these social gatherings are meant to augment and support the integration of those who participate into the larger life of the parish. 18-39 year olds are a part of who we are, not a specialized and siloed program we run.
18-39 year olds are visible in every area of parish life at St. Paul’s. We have multiple members of the vestry in this age group, which sometimes means they can’t complete full terms before life takes them in a new direction. They are represented in our worship leadership. Everyone, no matter who they are, ought to be able to see themselves represented in worship on a regular basis. In my twelve years at St. Paul’s, we have sponsored six individuals for ordained ministry. Four of the six have been under 39. I have also had the distinct blessing to mentor and supervise five staff members under 39, all of whom have gone on to major leadership roles in the church.
Young adults have so much to teach the church about how we might create communities that are genuine, open, flexible and able to meet the needs of those who seek what it is the church has to offer. It does, however, require that hospitality and welcome is not about “them” coming to “be like us,” but the church saying, “Welcome! How might we be changed by your presence with us? What can you teach us? What new community might God be calling us to create and recreate together?”
Based on your reading of our Diocesan profile, what excites you most about leading in ECCT, and why?
The Episcopal Church in Connecticut has done a great deal of work getting to the place where you are now. You have been, as you say in your profile, receptive to change in the Land of Steady Habits, you have reorganized and restructured striving to better meet the needs of the vast diversity of the Diocese. The work you have been about has brought you to a new day, with new hopes, new clarity and new needs in your Bishop.
There is much in your profile that has me excited about the prospect of being your next Bishop Diocesan. The phrase that leapt off the page for me, though, was when you said you were seeking a Bishop who would “unleash our passion for Jesus Christ.” What a fantastic vision!
Whether that is in our shared work for racial justice, healing and reconciliation, in ministry with young adults, creating new leadership models, collaborating among parishes or the health and equitable use of Diocesan financial resources, all of these initiatives are meant to serve the higher purpose of making the Good News of God in Christ known in every corner of the Diocese.
This pandemic has brought us to a place in which many are rightfully questioning whether the old ways of doing things will work, or if they should. What a great time for the Church to ask the same questions! The struggles we face as a Church are real, but so are the areas of health, vitality, growth, experimentation, and collaboration.
Your mission priorities, as evidenced not only by your profile, but by resolutions you have passed at recent conventions, demonstrate to me that you have everything you need to be the church God needs you to be in this time. You are asking good questions and dreaming exciting dreams. What you seek now is a leader who will come alongside you as Bishop and Chief Pastor to aid you in getting the work done.
What would unleashing your passion for Jesus Christ look like where you are? How would your surrounding community know? Tertullian, a North African theologian from the late second/early third century wrote that the early Christians stood out in their community simply because of how they acted with one another. “See how they love one another” he imagined them saying of the early followers of Jesus.
Imagine your community, your neighborhood, your clergy group, your college campus looking at you, gathered with your siblings from the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. How would they see your passion for Jesus Christ being unleashed? What do you need to make that happen?
The thought of coming alongside you to ask these questions; to dream new answers and support you in making those longings real has me thinking that perhaps God is inviting us to wonder and work together.
What would make you a great Bishop Diocesan? Please share with us the gifts you would bring to this calling.
Who are you? What do you sense is holding you back from being all of who it is God made you to be, and needs you to be in this world? This is the first question I have for anyone who comes to St. Paul’s. Then I wonder with them how I and the larger community might be able to support them in their journey and growth in their relationship with God. This is the same approach I would bring as Bishop.
In my final evaluation for Postulancy, my Discernment Committee wrote, “Jeff has a pastoral heart.” While this was written almost twenty years ago now, it remains as true today as it ever was. Everything I do as a priest is done through a pastoral lens. The ultimate goal of any interaction I have is the reconciliation of God and God’s people. My greatest joy is listening to the stories of God’s people, lay and ordained. I love to listen for how God might be moving in their lives and offering whatever I have at my disposal for their continued growth in the love of, and service to, God.
A Bishop Diocesan needs to see everything they do as serving that purpose. Skillful administration, financial acumen, pastoral presence, preaching, chairing meetings, all of these parts of a Bishop Diocesan’s work are pieces of what it means to be a Bishop and Chief Pastor” to the people God has called them to serve.
The gifts I hear colleagues and parishioners reflect back to me when considering a call to the episcopacy are my pastoral presence, my passion for the Gospel, my love of the church, my creativity and openness to change and growth, my endless curiosity and my sense of joy in the work.
Fourteen years in parish ministry and over ten as a regional Dean taught me the skill to see each person, priest and community in front of me as unique. They are the teachers on the topic of their life, their struggles, their longings and their hopes for the future. A Bishop Diocesan is well-served to remember the same is true of the congregations, chaplaincies and ministries in their care. No two parishioners need the same thing from their priest. No two congregations need the same thing from their Diocese, or their Bishop. I hear God asking me to share what I have learned in my years of parish and diocesan ministry with a community in search of the radical justice, reconciliation, mercy, love and hope that is God in Christ. And I hear God asking me if the Diocese of Connecticut might just be that community.