Pastor Amy Kienzle was called as pastor of Messiah and St. John's, Brooklyn on June 2. She began in mid-August.
Welcome to the Metro New York Synod! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up on Long Island, in Lindenhurst. My home church is St. John’s. But I had been away from the church for a long time until I was in college. I–independent of my family—went back to church and started to feel a call to ministry. I ended up going to the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) for seminary. I had gone to New York University for my undergrad and I wanted another interesting city. I wanted to go to a Lutheran seminary because I had no idea what it meant to be Lutheran.
Where did the beginning of your ministry take you?
I did my internship in Michigan. When I took my first call, going back to Michigan was my first choice. Part of the reason I wanted to be there was because of the companion synod relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. I had gone on a travel seminar at LSTC that really opened my eyes to what’s going on in Israel and Palestine.
I took my first call at Christus Victor in Dearborn Heights. That’s where there’s the largest concentration of Arab people outside the Middle East. I tried to do interfaith ministry. I spoke at the mosque. I tried to break down some ignorance people had about Muslim people moving in. I spent six years there. In the midst of my call—in 2011—I went to Palestine as an ecumenical accompanier. I was a human rights worker on the ground in Hebron for three months. Normally you wouldn’t do something like that in the middle of a call, but I convinced them to let me go. I hoped the congregation would be more interested and invested if they knew that their pastor was going.
Then I was discerning whether it was time to move for a few years. I felt my gifts had outgrown the parish and I needed a new experience to challenge myself.
How does it feel to be back?
It’s good. Of course I miss my supportive colleagues and friends from Michigan. But I have friends here and my family all still lives in Lindenhurst. I missed holidays for the past six years, so I’m looking forward to being able to spend Christmas with them.
I missed New York in a lot of ways. I missed the city, and Detroit wasn’t the same. It’s definitely different to be living in a vibrant area where people are in the street. In Michigan, nobody’s in the street, they’re all driving their cars! Here you can just walk down the street and meet people.
Tell us about the congregations you’re serving.
St. John’s and Messiah Lutheran Churches in Greenpoint have over 100 years of ministry together. They have a rich history but have become disconnected from the community around them. The community is exciting—artists and musicians and CSAs. I met so many people in my first six weeks. I’m excited about the potential that’s there.
What’s a typical day like for you?
I don’t know if there is a typical day. I have two days a week as office hours, one at one church and one at the other, when I take care of the bulletins and make phone calls. I’ve been trying to spend a lot of my time out in the community. I have met with the principal of a nearby school, met with the borough president, been to police precinct meeting, met with local Reformed church leaders, had coffee with the precept of the Episcopal church—all so that I can learn about what the community’s like and what the needs are.
How do you deal with challenges in the parish?
I try to be a non-anxious presence. I rely on colleagues for support and advice in many ways. I try and listen to what people are saying but not feel like I have to do whatever they say. I try to be emotionally mature so I can evaluate the situation.
I really try to keep time for myself which I think is important for all pastors. I’ll work hard, but I keep my day off.
Where do you find joy in ministry?
The joy comes in the community. There are great people in the church and I feel called to the congregations, but really my joy comes from meeting people who have different ways of looking at faith or spirituality. I find a sense of joy in connecting with people who want to do something creative or build community.