The Rev. Canon Tanya Wallace
Rector, All Saints’ Episcopal Church
South Hadley, MA
The Rev. Canon Tanya Wallace, born and raised in the Connecticut River Valley, is a leader who loves God, follows Jesus, listens deeply, loves boldly, welcomes radically, leans into transformational conflict, strives for justice, builds up communities and individuals in faith, and is convinced that anything is possible when we dream with God.
A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, she completed the Bachelor of Arts degree cum laude in Women’s Studies and Religion. Before seminary she was a social worker with vulnerable populations in Washington, DC and northern New Jersey. In 2000, she graduated from the Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, earning a Master of Divinity with a concentration in Religion and Education; upon graduation, she was awarded the Maxwell Fellowship for Highest Promise of Excellence in Parish Ministry. After serving at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields, the Church of the Ascension, and as Adjunct Professor at Union Theological Seminary (all in New York City), she was called to be Canon Educator at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Burlington, VT. In Vermont, Canon Wallace served on Cathedral Chapter and the Executive Committee of Diocesan Council, chaired the Commission on Ministry, and was elected Clergy Deputy to General Convention.
Canon Wallace became Rector of All Saints’ Church, South Hadley, in 2009, and Founding Director of the Lawrence House Service Corps in 2014. In Western Massachusetts she has served as President of the Standing Committee, Vice President of the Diocesan Council, Safe Church Officer and President of the Disciplinary Board, Dean of the Franklin-Hampshire Clericus, and Chair of the General Convention deputation. She is a consultant in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, and recently served an elected term on the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church.
With her spouse of 23 years, their 17-year-old daughter, and Aussie puppy, she enjoys pilgrimage, snorkeling, knitting, photography, and being a field hockey mom.
How does your relationship with Jesus shape your priestly ministry?
Jesus’ call to Peter in John 21 has always drawn me in. Peter, having three times denied Jesus, now is asked to pledge his love three times, symbolically wiping away the three times Peter denied, but also in that devotion he is redirected and transformed. Peter, do you love me?, Jesus asks. Peter replies fervently, yes, Lord, you know I love you. Jesus doesn’t respond in the gospel to Peter’s words of devotion by saying “Oh, good – I love you too, Peter.” No – he says tend my lambs. Do something. Feed my sheep. Follow me. Love in the gospels is not merely a sentimental feeling, but an action word, a profound call to participate in creating the kingdom of God on earth, right where we are.
Jesus’ love, as demonstrated to Peter, is a profound call to DO something — here, to be a leader who tends to the followers of Jesus. Love, Jesus says over and over, is to be demonstrated in the way we live our lives. If that kind of love is present among the disciples, Jesus seems to say, then they will be recognized as his disciples, even after he is no longer physically present among them. And if that kind of love is present among us, then we will be recognized as his disciples, too. We are thus transformed, as was Peter. As a priest I am privileged to walk with others as they — and I, all of us together — grow into the fullness of who God is calling us to be.
I knew instinctively, even when very young, that “being anything you want to be when you grow up” needed to include loving Jesus and making the world a better place. As adults we call that intersection of our passion and the world’s need vocation. Being a follower of Jesus is the vocation I follow in my priestly ministry — a ministry of being (presence) and doing (action). We are not called simply to build lovely buildings and liturgies and then to tell people “come and see.” We are called together to worship, be forgiven and fed, challenged, healed, and strengthened, and then from there, together to move into the world to “go and be.”
My relationship with Jesus looks like that. Through Jesus I am drawn in by that call to transformation; I am sustained by the worship, forgiveness, feeding, challenge, healing, community; I am strengthened to be a follower of Jesus and to tend his sheep; I am inspired to join the Jesus movement that, as our Presiding Bishop says, “transforms the world from the nightmare it is for so many, into the dream that God intends for us.” As followers of Jesus and siblings in Christ, this is our vocation; the love of Jesus transforms us to be Christ’s hands and heart in this world.
Have you ever committed to—and created—an environment of racial healing, justice, and reconciliation? Tell us about it.
Leadership of Lawrence House, the intentional Christian community of young adults that I founded, has allowed the intentional creation of cross-cultural communities of young adults. An early year included a white woman whose parents had both died and was exploring becoming a nun, a black lesbian poet from the deep south, a transgender Indonesian international student who was passionate about the environment, a white working-class midwestern Republican Bible scholar, a white former foster child who aged out of the system and struggled with mental health, a gay, latino, undocumented man who wanted to be an educator but ultimately was deported to Mexico, and a Korean woman with no family in the US who was led to Uganda to work for international peace. These are people we intentionally recruited for the program; these are people whose lives were changed by living together for a year.
The challenges that arose from this cross-cultural experience included creating a common starting point for building community (beloved of God), learning to listen deeply to each other’s lived experiences, naming and confronting the sin of racism and other -isms, bridging the initial disconnect between this community and the much less diverse sponsoring parish, and supporting each individual in their own challenges in a world that doesn’t yet fully treasure who they are. It was a year of pain and growth, of tears and support, of loss and deep meaning.
The parish’s work toward building an environment of racial healing, justice, and reconciliation has grown from that transformational year. Since then we have continued to recruit intentionally diverse communities, but also gone deep into the work of what it means to be an increasingly diverse community of faith. We created an ongoing group, Community of Support and Accountability (COSA), in which parishioners check in regularly about their own racial justice work, bring their questions and frustrations, and challenge each other to keep engaging the work on personal, local, and national levels. We have taken the lead in organizing ecumenical vigils in the center of town, proclaiming that black lives indeed matter and that we are committed to loving all our neighbors; those vigils have continued every week for almost two years. We have engaged Sacred Ground circles, with shared leadership trained through COSA, to learn more about the sin of white supremacy and what we can do to address it. We have intentionally sought out and hired persons of color whenever possible, and learned what it means to change preexisting systems to make that possible. I established Freedomtide in the parish, a liturgical period between Juneteenth and the Fourth of July, during which our worship themes explore what freedom truly means in the context of our church’s challenging history and our commitment to be followers of Jesus.
Over the years we have come to understand the work of racial healing, the necessity of racial justice, and the power of racial reconciliation not as something we just learn about or respond to, but as essential to who we are as followers of Jesus, called to love our neighbor as ourself, and called to change the systems that perpetuate anything less than God’s beloved community.
Please describe a time when you played a leadership role in advancing ministry with young adults (ages 18–39)?
Early in my current tenure, the parish proclaimed as one of its core values: “we believe that to be truly welcoming is to be open to being changed by the other.” While they claimed to be welcoming in my initial interview, I had experienced them to be nice — happy to have people come and look, think, and worship like they did. So together we leaned into what it would mean to be truly welcoming — meeting people where they are, open to how they look and think and worship. Founded as a campus ministry, young adult ministry was the reason the congregation had been planted on that particular corner of God’s kingdom! We wanted to reestablish an active ministry with young adults, to return to our roots, and so we wrote that core value, and then have worked over the years to make it so. We are now the youngest congregation in the diocese.
Having been a young adult in The Episcopal Church, I knew what it was to want to join and serve, only to have my voice undervalued, and I knew what it felt like to be tokenized. That experience, coupled with the parish’s desire to learn how to be truly welcoming to young adults, led to a years-long journey in which we have played a key role in advancing the ministry with and of young adults, in our parish and well beyond it.
I have created campus and/or young adult ministries in each of the parishes I have served. At All Saints’ Church we created a dinner program called “Come for Supper, Stay to be Fed,” which gathered college students every week for home-cooked meals and deep conversation, raising up its own young adult leaders. We created Midnight Breakfast, a free, no-strings-attached breakfast served in the middle of the night during finals; it became known as a campus tradition not to be missed, and has fed up to 600 students per semester. We then created Lawrence House, an Episcopal Service Corps community for young adults to live in intentional Christian community, serve in local non-profits, and discern how God is calling them to life lives of faithful service. Over the years we have walked with 40 young adults who are now out changing the world.
I have personally mentored 22 people into ordained ministry, and countless others in lay ministry. 17 of the 28 people who are ordained or currently in the process are young adults. Together with our bishop, I helped transform our Commission on Ministry process to be accessible to young adults, allowing for true discernment in the midst of the struggles of transience, underemployment, and debt that often comes with young adulthood.
Working with diverse young adults, the population least likely to be part of church, has taught me that authenticity and risk-taking are essential, that anti-racism work and a commitment to honoring difference must be ongoing, that everyone comes to Jesus differently, and that church needs multiple on-ramps. Young adults are searching for meaning, and with some intentionality The Episcopal Church can be the go-to place to engage with them.
Based on your reading of our Diocesan profile, what excites you most about leading in ECCT, and why?
I read and reread the profile and my heart burned, not unlike the travelers on the road to Emmaus who realized the presence of Jesus walking with them. I am inspired by the work you do, and excited by the questions you are asking. What excites me most? You’re not afraid to dream, and you’re willing to engage in making the dream a reality.
As you say, transition is the new normal, and while transition can be challenging, and scary, when we are intentional about God’s presence in the midst of it, transition can also be life-giving and transformational. I love that you are seeking a bishop to walk alongside you as you dare to dream what church can be, while you strive to increase in welcome, reconciliation, and collaboration. You use the word “collaboration” in various forms throughout the profile, and are honest about some of the growing pains associated with learning to collaborate more and more. Collaborate means “labor together,” and I am inspired by your courage, compassion, and willingness to do the work, together.
I am drawn in to your questions about how global pandemic has changed what it means to be church, and long to bring my experience and questions alongside yours. I am drawn in to your honesty about the challenges of dwindling numbers and financial sustainability, and long to bring my passion for turning challenges into opportunities, and for growing communities of faith. I am drawn in to your honoring of diversity in its many forms throughout the diocese and the challenges of balancing diversity and cohesion, and long to bring my skills and knowledge to partner with you. I am drawn in to your commitment to continue taking the lead in matters of racial reconciliation and social justice, and long to bring my experience building bridges of lasting change.
The ministry statement from my résumé was not edited for The Episcopal Church in Connecticut; it already summarized who I am as a spiritual leader. I am drawn to partnering with you in ministry precisely because of its striking similarities with the spiritual leader you seek: I am a follower of Jesus, a bridge builder, pastor and educator, passionate about growing Christ-centered communities gathered in radical love, sent forth with faithful courage, engaged in building up God’s kingdom of justice and peace.
Representation matters. One of the ways to attract new followers of Jesus is to have visible leadership who look, think, and act differently from what has been the “norm,” to make space for new stirrings of the Holy Spirit. Calling a comparatively young woman of size, married to a woman, with a daughter who is a half-Haitian young woman of color, would be very new for The Episcopal Church in Connecticut. It would also demonstrate that you are serious about taking a concrete and visible step forward in truly embracing being the courageous, inclusive followers of Jesus God is calling you to be. And together, we won’t be able to help but grow and thrive.
What would make you a great Bishop Diocesan? Please share with us the gifts you would bring to this calling.
A cradle Episcopalian, I grew up in the church and have been steeped in its tradition. Throughout my childhood and teen years, it was the place where I learned that the love of God, shared in community, is profound enough to change lives. As a young adult I experienced it as the lifegiving intersection of faith and justice. At 16 I knew that I was being called to serve the church through ordained ministry, and that my vocation was to bridge the love of God and the longing of the world. Now, 21 years into ordained ministry, I’ve come to realize that all of what I have been about is bridge building, which is precisely what draws me to, and prepares me for, ministry as a Bishop Diocesan.
I asked a long-time bishop how he’d summarize episcopal ministry, and after thinking for a moment, he said, “Listening and Leadership.” He’s not wrong. Listening is about meeting people and communities where they are, tending to God’s stirring in their lives, paying attention to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Leadership is about having the knowledge, skill, and courage to foster the vision, organize and oversee, and take strong stands. I have experience with, and am drawn to, all of that. But the word that strikes me most powerfully is the “and” in the middle. A bishop’s ministry is a both-and ministry.
Being a bridge builder is not about being wishy-washy or not taking a stand. It is a powerful stance in the creative middle, that meets people where they are and walks alongside them, calling together seemingly disparate people, ideas, beliefs, perspectives, and practices, and there, in that liminal space where heaven and earth meet, together being transformed to BE church. What the “and” does is help us move from an old model of an all-powerful, princely bishop on top of a vertical structure, to a more Jesus-centered model of bishop in the midst of a horizontal structure, leading in relationship. This is who I am as a leader. As a bridge builder I help communities to grow and thrive in the midst of tradition and innovation, church and world, prayer and action, lack and abundance, small/struggling and large/resourced, rural and urban, pastoral care and prophetic witness, honoring independence and building community, what has been and what could be. And I have experience with faithfully navigating structures to help us do just that.
After years of people saying to me “when you’re a bishop . . .” I no longer laugh it off. I am now old and young enough, experienced and energetic enough, courageous in leadership and unswerving in partnership, a visionary and one who knows how to get things done, and clear enough about God’s movement in my life to understand that they are articulating a truth they see. I am starting to hear it that way, too, trusting God and loving the church and wanting to keep finding the just-right way to offer myself as a bridge builder.