Katherine Stanford ’08 M.Div.
B.A. Yale University 1984
M.F.A. American Conservatory Theater
Even after the whirlwind of graduation, I can’t believe it’s over. Four years ago I returned to Yale after a long break in my academic career. I’d left Yale College with a degree in English with Theater Studies and headed off to drama school in San Francisco. One acting career and two small children later, God’s whispers grew louder until I could no longer ignore the call to ministry. So I returned to New Haven.
It felt to me like an odd transition to make, from professional actor to ordained clergy. But friends and peers from both my theater and church communities kept pointing out the similarities, which go well beyond being comfortable in the pulpit. Providing pastoral care requires the empathy and ability to step outside oneself that actors draw on in bringing roles to life. Good preaching, like good performing, calls for creativity as well as understanding your audience — or congregation. And responsible biblical exegesis demands the kind of close textual work also necessary for interpreting Shakespeare.
I was surprised to discover that my new YDS classmates hailed from a wide variety of disciplines, including music, dance, speech writing, public speaking, politics, and even theater. During my second year when the Women’s Center staged Eve Ensler’s acclaimed piece, The Vagina Monologues, aimed at raising awareness about global violence against women and girls, students with acting backgrounds came out of the woodwork to perform the play in Marquand Chapel, myself included. A new production mounted the following year featured three fabulous women faculty members as well. I think this was one of the greatest gifts YDS offered me: the opportunity to study and reflect and worship — and create — with students and faculty from diverse backgrounds and faith traditions.
In the classroom, in chapel, in working against violence or other injustices, all of us from so many walks of life came together. So many people made an indelible impression on my heart, soul, and mind. But I give special thanks for the wisdom, compassion, guidance, and gifts of Carolyn Sharp, Kristen Leslie, Tom Troeger, and Dale Peterson. I hope I can model their leadership, passion for justice — and humor — in my life and ministry. Each of them helped me to wrestle with what it means to serve the church today — especially when there is no monolithic “church” and no consensus on how we experience “today.” I’ve learned that there are no immutable answers. But I’m far better equipped to ask the questions that will challenge and nurture the faith communities I’ll serve.
Practicing ministry as a student is over. Now it’s time to re-enter the world beyond the Quad, where I’ll serve as a parish pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA). In my ministry I look forward to combining my passions for teaching and preaching with my career in theater. After all, according to Harvard theologian Harvey Cox, Jesus did far more than tell parables — he enacted the Good News in a kind of roving street theater, in order to shake people up. YDS has done a powerful job of shaking up my beliefs, of opening my heart, of challenging my mind, of inspiring me to step out onto a new stage to perform the work of ministry.