The path to being a priest has been a long time in the making for Rector Donna Jean Kiessling, but it was a journey worth working towards. Rector Kiessling, 49, started her first fulltime job as a priest in April of 2012 at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Smyrna; she was ordained as a priest in 2007.
Kiessling took a few minutes recently to talk with the Sun-Times about why she decided to choose this career path and what she enjoys about living in Smyrna.
Q Why did you want to become a rector?
A I came from a very dysfunctional family so I spent my life up through my 20s just trying to survive on a daily basis. I didn't really articulate a career until I was 25 years old. Then I was encouraged to ponder that if I could do any career I wanted with no limitations what would it be. My answer was to be a priest. At that time I didn't have a bachelor's degree and seminary took three years for a Master's in Divinity, so it seemed impossible. But I had a friend tell me if I really wanted it and was willing to work towards it that eventually I would get there. So I first articulated that I wanted to be a priest in 1989 and was ordained in 2007 so it was a long journey but I did eventually make it.
Q What made you come to that decision?
A I was really asked to contemplate if I could do anything I wanted what was it that I really loved doing? When I became an adult, I was very active in the church and I loved the church. I had been seeking God for many years from my teenage years up to age 25. I didn't actually encounter God until I was 25. My relationship with God has grown since then. The church was just something that I loved; it was my passion. I think one of the greatest gifts in life is to be able to do your passion as a profession.
So in the meantime as I was working towards my masters, I had a secular career which was in business. I managed a 401(k) plans for a French manufacturing company and I worked for that company for 25 years. I quit there March 31, 2012 to be here the next day.
Q What is your favorite part of the job?
A I enjoy preaching and interacting with the parishioners. I like being a pastor journeying on a spiritual level with the families of the parish.
Another great aspect that I enjoy is that I've experienced a lot of healing in my life, and so I really believe that God can do tremendous things in people's lives in terms of healing and making them whole. I like helping people to achieve greater wholeness and healing. I think we all get wounded going through life. I think that's pretty difficult to not be wounded given the number of people and the economic circumstances and all that.
Q What is the most challenging aspect?
A I think the most challenging is accepting my human limitations in not being able to meet people's needs as they would like. Many people have needs that are far greater than I can meet and so in many situations the most I can do is just be present. The challenge would be the frustration of not being able to do more.
Q What has the community response been like in the year that you've been here?
A Absolutely superb. We get along great. They're a very loving congregation; they enjoy worshipping here and being active here so it has a family setting. They've been very welcoming and very loving.
Q What do you like about being in Smyrna?
A Well Smyrna took a little bit of an adjustment because I actually grew up around the King of Prussia area. Smyrna is much slower, but I've grown to enjoy slowing down a little bit. I enjoy not having to travel as much in my day-to-day work as I had in my previous occupation. I enjoy the fact that I can get to the beach as well as to Wilmington in a reasonable amount of time. I like being in the middle of the state so I can pretty much get to anyplace in Delaware pretty easily. There are a lot of different things to do.
I'm a first-time homeowner so I'm really enjoying my house. Where I lived near King of Prussia houses were much too expensive. In Delaware I'm able to afford my own house. And I enjoy the small-town setting. I just recently joined the Rotary Club to get to know the different businesses and get involved in the community.
Q What made you want to apply to St. Peter's here in Smyrna?
A It was the size of the parish that I wanted to be a rector. I loved their mission statement of 'offering hospitality, hope, and healing.' I liked the area and I liked the people. I liked them, and they liked me. Generally part of the interview process is they come to the parish where you are to hear you preach and to watch you lead a worship service. Each side gets to spend time with each other to make sure you like each other. I was installed as rector in September so there's a couple month period where you each get to know each other to make sure it's a good fit for you and the parish.
Q Is there anything else you'd like to add?
A I think what I try to focus on as a priest is the love of God and God's desire to try and have a personal relationship with each person and just the importance of the fact that I think God can make a difference in people's lives. There's a lot of decline in churches today and attendance. I think where the church can be relevant for people is helping them in their connection with God and then learning how to utilize the wisdom that God can give them in their daily decision-making. I seek to preach a message that's relevant to where people are in their lives and that has a message they can use when they walk out of the church. I think that's really important to do.
Email Jennifer Dailey at firstname.lastname@example.org.