In 2011, Rev. Yejide Peters became the 20th Rector in the 156-year history of All Saints Episcopal Church in Briarcliff Manor, NY. Rev. Peters is a New York City native who most recently served as Associate Rector of Saint Stephen’s in Richmond, Virg. one of the largest Episcopal churches on the East Coast. She is a graduate of Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, the University of Michigan and Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University. After college, she worked with homeless families as a National Service Volunteer with AmeriCorps, and says that changed the course of her life, opening a new world of faith and ministry. (Source: http://northernwestchester.lohudblogs.com/tag/rev-yejide-peters)
Rev. Peters and I grew up together in East Harlem, and I consider her one of my oldest and dearest friends. I wanted to include a woman of faith in this project, especially now that Camilla is beginning to ask questions about faith. It is a true honor to have Rev. Peters contribute to Advice For My Daughter.
What does it mean to you to have dedicated your life to your faith?
Yes, I have dedicated my life to faith and helping others find theirs. As an Episcopal priest, I spend my days teaching and encouraging. Of course, on Sundays I preach and celebrate the Eucharist. But really, I have found that God is the center of my life and that part of my job as a human being is help others find God in their lives. The long and short of it is, I was a young adult and had some hard times. I found that the church was a place where I felt accepted, encouraged, and loved. I wanted to share that gift with other people. I certainly found this to be the joy of my life. I feel very lucky, well, I guess we church people say blessed, to find my true calling as a human being.
What skills and characteristics are helpful in your role as Rector? What helps you be successful?
Success for a priest is defined differently. You don't set out to be a success in the same way as other professions. But having compassion for others and for yourself. Being willing to learn. It's very intimidating to speak to others about God. It's kind of a big subject that none of us know much about at all.
And being able to accept that you could be wrong about things, because you are talking about some things and someone that is not completely knowable. So, I think you live a life of seeking and hoping and sharing with other people. And I think curiosity and compassion and openness are a huge part of what makes someone a good priest.
Do you have advice for someone pursuing this career?
I think it's really important to have good people in your life. They don't have to be religious professionals, but should have found meaning in the story of Jesus. Because those people are really important in helping you discover where you fit into all that. Trying to figure it out on your own is really quite difficult. So, finding that community, that place to grow is really important. If you think you have a yearning for this, test it out. Find a place where you can begin to have a ministry or a way of reaching out to other people. See if it continues to grow inside your heart. It's never wasted to question your vocation. I'd encourage you to do it.
(Such important advice given the nature of this project.)
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I think what I enjoy most about my life is walking with people while they have their journey. It might sound cheesy but . . . I'm not Iyanla Vanzant or Oprah. I'm just an ordinary human being living my life, but I get to see people having incredible experiences of God, reconnection, healing, and reconciliation. I'm 100% sure I wouldn't be privy to that if I didn't do the things that I do, if I wasn't the person I am in their lives, and if they didn't feel they could share that with me. I see this almost weekly, and if I'm very lucky, daily. I'm grateful for that. I'm also grateful for the way it makes me open my eyes and wonder about the many things I don't know about the people I pass on the street and wonder, "What's their story? How are they living their lives?" My work makes me sensitive to that, and I deeply love that part of my life.
What are some challenges you face in this life?
Obviously, there are any number of challenges anyone faces in their life. I'm a Christian in a post-Christian world and I live in a secular part of the United States, so that's a part of my experience. Talking about something that isn't necessarily a part of people's lives. There's lots of projections that go on in terms of how people might understand that. On a personal level, it is a solitary job in many ways. I am with people, but I also have to intentionally cultivate relationships that are different and stand outside of my job and life as a priest. That's important. Even when I'm on a team ministry there are lots of things you do as a priest that you have to feel ok doing on your own. That can be challenging. As an African-American woman, there really are differences in terms of my experiences and those of my white male colleagues. Those are categorically there. We don't live in a bubble. We live in a society. There are some real societal issues: racism, sexism, etc. The point is, those are a part of my life, too. I'm really blessed to have people to walk with me in that, who challenge me and encourage me. This goes back to the idea of community. I don't have to do those things alone. I'm grateful for that. And, I'm excited about what that means for my life as I go forward.
What life motto has helped you in your life and career?
Well, Christopher, I know that you invited me here to have a hypothetical conversation with your daughter, and I'm lucky enough to have met here. She's a wonderful little girl. And I think that if there was a motto that I wish that I had, but I'm glad to try to embrace now is don't be afraid. As a Christian, fear not is such a common refrain in scripture, because a part of being a person is to be frightened of all manner of things. The truth is life can be difficult, but I feel fear is not a place from which we make healthy decisions. I believe in a God that loves us so much, and a God that doesn't stand in fear. There are fearsome things, but letting our souls and hearts be transformed by fear is a tragedy. So, do not be afraid . . . and stand in love is what I would offer to Camilla. What I see in her is a fearless girl with courageous spirit. I hope she will have this throughout her life.
Thank you Reverend Peters for your contribution to Advice for My Daughter.
You can find some of the sermons of Rev. Peters here.