The Very Rev. Kate Moorehead
Dean, St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral
The Very Rev. Kate Moorehead met Jesus at age four at Trinity Church-on-the-Green in New Haven. She was loved and nurtured by that congregation until she was called to the priesthood. After serving as curate at St. John’s in West Hartford, Kate has led three congregations in her twenty-four years of priesthood. Each congregation has grown and found new life with her. Kate loves to walk with people through the joys and sorrows of their lives and believes that it is in community that we find our greatest joy in Christ. Kate is passionate about finding the unique gifts of parishes and has served as a consultant for the Episcopal Church Building Fund, working with Vestries to repurpose their buildings and find their specific vocations in relationship with their neighborhoods. As Dean of St. John’s Cathedral in Jacksonville, Kate has helped to form a non-profit to develop their neighborhood, calling over 40 million dollars in residential investment to the heart of the city. Kate is passionate about preaching, records a podcast, and is the author of eight books, her final book will be published in June. It is called Vital Signs of Faith: Finding Health in your Spiritual Life. When the pandemic hit, Kate felt God calling her to her prayer desk. She began filming a devotion each morning at 6 a.m. meditating on a passage of Scripture from the Daily Office. This practice has become an anchor for her and for many. Kate is the mother of three teenage and young adult sons by a first marriage. She will be married on Sept 10th to Dr. Chris Carroll, a Pediatric Intensive Care doctor who works at Connecticut Children’s Hospital in Hartford (her first kiss from high school!). Kate believes that the Holy Spirit is calling her to return home to Connecticut for the final chapter of her ministry to serve as your Bishop.
How does your relationship with Jesus shape your priestly ministry?
My mother was a concert pianist and she loved practicing the organ in churches. I was four when she was given permission to practice the organ at Trinity Church-on-the-Green in New Haven, Connecticut.
It was evening. My mother turned on the lights in the chancel. I was left free to roam and play in that beautiful church. The setting sun pierced through stained glass windows. I took off my shoes, ran and slid down the marble aisles in my socks. I hid in the pews. I was struck with a presence in that church, a presence so huge and peaceful and loving and strong. I had no words for Jesus, but I knew that someone was there with me that evening. I have never forgotten it.
Since that time, Jesus has been most palpably present for me in the parish church. I was baptized later that year at Trinity. My father suffered from clinical depression and my family life was full of fear that he might not be able to get to work. Church became a place of safety and of refuge for me. There were loving people there, stable grown-ups and kind friends. After twentyfive years in parish ministry, I still feel the same way, that the parish church, despite all our inadequacies and mistakes, is full of Jesus.
When I was twelve, I carried a torch and for the first time and sat behind the altar rail. I watched as people came up for communion and held out their hands: small hands and large, dirty and clean, red fingernails, black skin and brown, wrinkles and shaking hands. Tears started pouring down my face, I was too young to be able to explain why. I saw Christ in those hands. When my parents transferred to Christ Church later that same year, I refused to leave Trinity. I would be confirmed and prepared for ordination from that beloved community.
I have always believed that Jesus can be found in a church when someone who is lost wanders in, when a lonely person finds the altar rail, in the hug of old friends, in prayers, music and the beauty of holiness. Despite our brokenness and our flaws, Jesus is always there. On Sundays, when I look out at the people in the pews, I see Jesus. The congregation may get to look at beautiful stained glass, a cross, flowers, but I get to see the most beautiful view…of Christ in the faces of the faithful.
I traveled to Israel after Seminary. One afternoon, I was kneeling by the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre when I heard a voice. It spoke two words, “Come Inside.” That voice was more joyful than any I have ever heard. I looked up and the line in front of the tomb was gone. So I walked inside. Those two words are exactly what I believe Jesus wants to say to those who wander and are lost, “Come Inside.” Come into these beautiful parish communities and pray with us and find a spiritual home.
Have you ever committed to—and created—an environment of racial healing, justice, and reconciliation? Tell us about it.
I felt called to become the Dean of St. John’s Cathedral in Jacksonville because it was in the heart of a blighted urban core. When gentrification happened in the 1950s and 60’s and most of the working people left downtown, the Cathedral vowed to stay. We birthed non-profits: a large homeless shelter, affordable housing, a nursing home, a medical clinic. We started two schools. But the work that we did contributed to the racial divide, which persisted and even worsened. For the most part, our congregation drove in from 23 zip codes to worship and serve, then left to go to their white suburban neighborhoods.
When I arrived, we did a service of reconciliation with the neighboring black church that began in the height of segregation. Our congregation grew in its diversity. We started the first Arabic Episcopal service in the country and welcomed in refuges from Sudan, Jordan and Egypt. But the racial healing was nowhere near adequate.
My congregation is one of the most diverse in the Diocese but we still have such a long way to go. I am a member of the Union of Black Episcopalians. My congregation studies the Sacred Ground Curriculum. We strive each day to work for justice and racial healing, but, like so many white Episcopalians, the more that I study and pray, the more deeply convicted I am that we have not yet discovered all that God wills for us to do. We have only just begun the journey.
Our neighborhood that was once so blighted is now being reborn. We have birthed a new nonprofit that focuses solely on urban planning and development. We have enticed developers to invest over 40 million dollars in residential apartments that will be built in the next three years, the majority of them are affordable housing. We are seeing not only racial but also socio-economic diversity that is truly exciting. We just planted 60 trees.
In the time of the Reformation, the church awoke to its greed and sinfulness in selling indulgences and amassing great wealth. The Episcopal Church is in a similar period of awakening to the grave and systemic sin of racism and our colonialist past. There is so much more to be done.
My great grandfather, Hiram Bingham, was a famous explorer and a professor at Yale. He is credited with “discovering” Machu Pichu, the ancient Inca city, but indigenous people were already living there. Hiram Bingham not only claimed to have discovered a land that was inhabited but took artifacts for Yale, the majority of them were later returned, thank God. In response to his greed, we his descendants have given the land that he amassed in Connecticut to the Nature Conservancy. It will be left as God made it forever. But I feel that all the work I have done is nothing more than a drop in the ocean of what needs to be accomplished in the future. We have only just begun.
Please describe a time when you played a leadership role in advancing ministry with young adults (ages 18–39)?
In order to reach young adults, we must be willing to experiment and offer many doors, many points of entry into the community of the church.
I began my priesthood as a curate at St. John’s Church in West Hartford. There, under the guidance of the Rev Joe Pace, I created a young mothers group. I was struggling through my first pregnancy and learning how to care for my baby, so I needed this group as much as they needed me. We met weekly to support and care for one another and I made sure the nursery was staffed well so that they could have a moment for themselves. That group helped shape me as a mother.
The first church in which I was a Rector grew rapidly and was full of young families. I became passionate about spending dedicated time with parents whose children were about to be baptized. I challenged them to understand the significance of the vows of baptism. I was clear that I expected them to attend church with their children, to pledge and to serve. And in turn, we discussed the fact that this community would shape their children’s lives in ways no school or soccer team ever could.
However, so many of the young adults that have been drawn into churches where I serve are single and have no plans to start families. They come because they are searching for meaning, hungry for silence. They come because they are gay and alienated or shunned by the churches in which they were raised. They come with no religious affiliation because they joined our Green Spirits group and love to hike. They come through our bookstore or because we teach homeless to become chefs and waiters and they come to eat at our restaurant. They come because we exhibit art or they come to a music event. They come because we invite them to sing or paint or bake and they stay because they find love in community. We are constantly working to open many doors, many new ways of inviting them into community.
Young adults, like people of all ages, are looking for ways to care for themselves spiritually. They are hungry for spiritual disciplines but most of all for belonging. One young man comes every Wednesday night just to eat supper with us, so that he can tell us how his first job is going.
The recovery movement is a ripe and fertile ground for the love of Christ. As these young people learn the twelve steps and to turn their lives over to a higher power, they are often drawn into spiritual practices and then the life of the church.
I have probably reached the most young people through videos, podcasts and social media. Each morning, I film a 5-6 minute devotion based on a daily reading from the lectionary. About 600 people watch every day, many of them young adults. Some have come to the Cathedral.
In order to reach the young, we need many points of entry, many ministries that reach beyond our walls. But, most importantly, from the moment they walk into our lives, we must let them know that they are home.
Based on your reading of our Diocesan profile, what excites you most about leading in ECCT, and why?
Your Diocesan profile is full of honesty, integrity and wisdom. It is clear that you know who you are and where your challenges lie. Your Diocese has not only articulated the pain of the past and the challenges that lie ahead, but you have begun to address them in exciting ways. What is needed next is someone to ignite a fire of the Holy Spirit, to move within these new structures and call people into the church. You have laid the foundation for new vision.
The Diocese of Connecticut has created flexible and versatile models of church. From the Regions, to the Ministry Networks, to new the Commons in Meriden, you are poised to grow with new structures of gathering and new invitations into community. Your website is clear, the details articulated well, the legal structures intact and solid. It is clear that your former Bishop and Diocesan leadership had great gifts for structure, accountability and reimagining.
You state that you want a Bishop who is a “champion of spiritual wellness.” That is who I am. I am about to publish my eighth book which is called Find It: The Vital Signs of the Spiritual Life. I am convinced that the spiritual nourishment and wellbeing of our people and our parishes lie at the heart of what God is calling us to address. We have become weary, starved for silence and struggling with declining numbers. The shame of awakening to the racism of our past and present, the pandemic, and the loss of liturgical awareness and practice have left us a bit lost and afraid. We must regroup and return to the basic practices of the faith, anchor ourselves in the simple acts of daily prayer, small group support and eucharist. From this heartbeat, all else will come. The Holy Spirit is poised and ready to lead us into a new age. You have already established great vehicles for support, learning and leadership. Now we must nurture the individuals who will populate those structures.
Jesus wandered into the desert immediately after his baptism. He would not begin his ministry until he had mastered his prayer life, heard the voice of darkness and come to know the landscape of his own mind. We too must anchor ourselves in prayer and practice and unabashedly commit ourselves to these vital signs of the spiritual life. Racial healing, environmental stewardship and growth will all flow from this heartbeat of wellness.
A Bishop is sometimes referred to as Pastor Pastorum. As chief pastor, the Bishop must nurture, lift up and empower all who minister, all who are baptized and especially those called to ordained service. I would work diligently to meet with every clergy person, Vestry member and leader. I would listen and pray, working towards establishing trust so that together we can discern the work of the Holy Spirit. The structure is laid in your Diocese. Excellent work has been done. I would come to nurture and inspire so that, within those well laid out structures, we could allow the Holy Spirit to fill and transform us.
Lastly, I am excited about serving as your Bishop because I am one of you. The deep cultural ties of place and history bind me to Connecticut. I believe that, as one of you who has traveled far and learned much, I can return with the wisdom of my experience and inspire new growth.
What would make you a great Bishop Diocesan? Please share with us the gifts you would bring to this calling.
I have been asked to run for Bishop of various Dioceses for about ten years, but, until recently, I did not think I was called to serve God in this way. As a preacher and a writer, I thought I should remain in a large pulpit for the rest of my career.
Things began to change about four years ago. We were working with the Episcopal Church Building Fund to purchase the city block across the street from my Cathedral. The deal was so successful and the growth so remarkable that ECBF asked me if I would work as a consultant, assisting Vestries with strategic planning and urban development.
I consulted with my first Vestry and realized that I had something to offer. I loved hearing the stories of these faithful people, their particular struggles. I was moved by their devotion to Jesus and how they were trying to do the work of justice in their respective cities. I saw that I could listen, pray and guide them. My perspective was really helpful to them. It felt, simply, like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.
In March of 2023, the Cathedral where I serve will be hosting The Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes. Churches from all over the country will be coming to Jacksonville to see what we have been doing, particularly the ways we are using our historic building (such as launching a Masters Degree in Architecture program this spring with University of Florida), our urban development non-profit, our art studio and more. I am becoming more and more passionate about helping churches grow and thrive.
As a preacher and a writer, I believe that I am called to inspire people and then nurture them as they do the work of Jesus. I take great joy in watching laity or clergy discover the work that God is calling them to do. I am gifted at helping people realize what Jesus is already doing in their lives and tap into the great gifts that they have already been given. I am an innovator, and I am not afraid to try new things. It is time for us to learn to dance with the Holy Spirit once more.
Over the years, the House of Bishops has become populated with my colleagues and friends. I could add to that group and help guide the church on the national level. Many of them have asked me when I will be coming among them. As we re-imagine church, I could be a voice among them.
I am fulfilled in my current position as Dean, but there is this strange pull that I feel when I pray, a pull to Connecticut. It seems that God wants me to come home. I was born and raised in New Haven. Perhaps God is calling me to the very place that nurtured me as a child. What a better way to say thank you than to end my career in the place that raised me and serve the church where I first ran and slid down the aisles in my socks. It may be that God is calling me home.
I have fallen in love with my first kiss from high school. He is a doctor who is thriving in a hospital in Hartford. We are to be married in September 2022. He is willing to move to Florida, but I wonder if this was just another wonderful way that God dancing is with me, to call me home to serve as your Bishop.