Equal Access to Beauty – an interview with Judy Steers
Reverend Judy Steers graduated from CCS in 1994 with one of the last cohorts to experience the fulltime 3-year program in Toronto. As part of her studies she took theology courses at Toronto School of Theology, engaged in field work including time with L’Arche communities in Canada and India, and participated in formal academic classes and learning circles at CCS. Since that graduating she has supported the Centre for Christian Studies by encouraging others to attend and acting as a sounding board to various CCS committees, particularly offering an Anglican perspective and valuing active lay leadership. She is grateful for the formation that was a part of her education with CCS. “The legacy in my [CCS] learning has been that it was both practical and reflective. If it had been just absorbing facts as information, it would not have given me the skills to keep learning in my various roles since that time. With CCS’ strong focus on how to do self-directed learning, I was able to then identify where the gaps were as I approached new hurdles in ministry, and figure out how I was going to learn what was needed in each situation.”
Marcie Gibson recently had the pleasure to connect with Judy, to ask what she’s up to and where ministry is taking her these days.
After Judy graduated from CCS, she worked as part of a L’Arche community north of Toronto, for about 6 years. She was then approached by Huron College in London, ON, to resource and develop their pilot ‘Ask and Imagine’ youth theology program. What started as a small experiment, grew into a 15-year endeavor of formation programs with youth, young adults, and youth ministry leader; including theatre projects, research and writing, and national Anglican youth events. In the midst of this, Judy also worked for the national office of the Anglican Church of Canada in Youth Initiatives, taught at Huron College, and completed her MA in Theology, with a focus on science and theology.
In 2017, she accepted the challenge of a 4-month intentional interim position at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC. Through that time, she was re-immersed in congregational ministry and felt called to live that out in her home Diocese of Niagara. When she returned from Vancouver, she applied for ordination.
In October 2019 in Hamilton, ON, Judy was ordained a transitional deacon and will, God-willing, be ordained a priest on February 23rd, 2020. When asked, “Why now?” Judy replied, “I have felt called to ordination many times in my life, at 15, 30, 50, and now – but now is the right time for me to live out ministry in this way. It is a way of my life continuing to be fruitful.” Judy continues to uphold the cornerstone of congregational ministry as the ministry exercised by lay people – a priesthood of all believers; in teaching, in pastoral care, in organization and leadership, among others. Her own lay ministry has been exercised in many different forums, which now inform her diaconal and priestly ministry being rooted in a particular community.
Judy balances ministry between a ½ time position as Assistant Curate with Church of St John the Evangelist in Elora, ON, and a ½ time position as Partner and Program Animator with Five Oaks Education and Retreat Centre in Paris, ON, while living with her family in Guelph, ON.
At Five Oaks she works with various interfaith partners to receive and develop program proposals and help them coordinate on-site programming. One example was the recent program, Healing and Wellness: Spiritual Wholeness in Light and Shadow, with past-UCC-moderator David Giuliano, and Dr. Amira Ayad (Muslim natural health practitioner and academic). Judy appreciates the opportunity to engage deep conversations with interfaith and intercultural partners, while growing more deeply into rootedness within her own traditions. She asserts that her faith is strengthened by walking with others in their faith; seeing the parallels and diversity of practice.
As an Assistant Curate in Elora, Judy leads worship, study group, preaches, and participates in the spiritual leadership of the community. She appreciates the opportunity to be rooted in an ongoing community rather than being event or task-focused, and to help clarify and amplify the community’s story. She brings particular skills and passion in spiritual care and social justice, and sees the connections therein.
Judy identifies her call to priestly ministry by way of being a deacon in the process of formation for the priesthood. She finds herself living more and more into a spiritual care role, not only through her official ministry duties, but in every fabric of her life. Ministry is not just about claiming or living into a particular story, such as the story of Jesus Christ, but asking, “What are the stories that shape our identity, and how do we lift those up in the world?” It is a process of helping people claim their stories, live into their stories, and know themselves as beloved, chosen, connected – and a child of God.
Increasingly, this is a part of herself she carries everywhere, sometime in ways that surprise her. She experiences an invitation to take on a particular role in the community, and this has opened up conversations and space for meaning-making. “You find yourself being a priest in places where one is not specifically identified as a priest or called by name.” For example, as a coordinating member of the Rainbow Chorus, an LGBT choir in Guelph, Judy is often called upon to offer words of reflection. At choir practice last November, they wanted to mark Trans Day of Remembrance, so she invited choir members to light candles while singing a meditative song “In the Midst of Hate, I Choose Love”. The simple ritual helped people articulate their story and the meaning of that moment. Most people in that context wouldn’t have called the ritual a sacrament, but her words helped them express what it was they were feeling and wrestling to understand.
Judy seeks to provide ways for people to nurture Spirit in their lives. She is adamant that the church is not the sole purveyor of spiritual experience, but is one important avenue to “equal access to beauty, inspiration, and hope.”
In living out this approach to ministry, Judy appreciates the reflectiveness, critical analysis, and group process skills she learned at CCS, some 25 years ago. Forever still asking the questions, “Why are we doing this? What are the parameters needed for our goals?” has brought depth and integrity to her liturgical practice, scriptural interpretation, and social justice endeavors. As she says, “You have to have good process, not just good content.” Judy credits her mother in exemplifying extraordinary facilitation and group leadership skills, but it was CCS that introduced her to the theories and practice, so that she could learn to do so herself.
We wish her well in her evolving ministry roles and identity, and are grateful to Judy’s witness in the world as a grad of CCS.