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This interview happened on October 1, 2019 with Doug Bowen-Bailey talking with Rev. Kathy Nelson. This is the first episode of Peace Church’s podcast, “Peace in a Pod,” a series of conversations with members and friends of Peace United Church of Christ exploring their spiritual journeys and efforts to live out Peace’s mission of praising God, following in the way of Jesus, and building the beloved community.

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Podcast Transcript

Doug >> Welcome to “Peace in a Pod”.

My name is Doug Bowen Bailey and I am part of a team who will be talking with members and friends of Peace United Church of Christ in Duluth Minnesota exploring some of their spiritual and faith journeys. We look forward to the insights shared and hope that you will find something to inspire you and help you feel connected to Peace Church’s efforts to praise God, live in the way of Jesus and build the Beloved Community.

Welcome to our first episode of “Peace in a Pod.” We wanted to start off with the first episode with talking with Pastor Kathy Nelson. She just announced this past week to the congregation in church that she has plans to retire in December of 2020. And so we thought it’d be a great opportunity to talk with her a little bit about her, you know, experience as a pastor here at peace Church, and her spiritual journey that brought her to this place. So thanks, Kathy, for being a part of this. So the first question – We actually are kind of starting off with a question that Krista Tippett who is the person who has the “On Being” podcast asks all her guests. She asks people to talk about the spiritual background of their childhood. So I’m wondering if you could share a little bit about what was your growing up years like and how that formed your faith?

Kathy>> I’m unusual in the United Church of Christ in that I actually grew up in a United Church of Christ congregation. So I grew up always going to church in St. Louis Park at Union Congregational United Church of Christ and had a great experience of church. Wednesday night activities, youth group. I also had a female associate pastor. So I grew up with a woman as a pastor who was really my mentor. Grew up going on church canoe trips. Actually the first time I ever went in the Boundary Waters, it was with a church youth the trip and we did that – Went out of Sawbill. I still remember that and did a one-mile portage for my very first portage – into Beth Lake I think it was. But so learned to love the outdoors through church. And after that experience then went on to work for camps and outfitters and so that was formative for me. And also having a woman for a pastor.

So I can’t imagine life without growing up in the United Church of Christ and the liberal perspective that it brought. So this was just a normal to me.

I also after college went and served for a year with the United Church of Christ in their youth services program so as a one-year volunteer service learner and again, sent me to St. Louis where I worked in the inner-city in youth programming with kids in the inner city. So it’s been so formative for me to be part of the United Church of Christ.

Doug>> So can you talk a little bit about what brought you to Peace Church?

Kathy>> Yep, it was a job. It was the best ‘cause I remember I had been an associate pastor for six years at that point and was having a little bit of a rough go of it and a conference minister said to me, “It’s time. If you don’t want to be an associate pastor for the rest of your life you need to get a solo position.”

And so I talked it over with my husband at the time, was Tim – he’s still my husband but at the time, was a police officer and we looked at places that were open and he said he could see himself living in Duluth. So when I had applied for this position, not really thinking it would be a possibility but it turned out the search committee had — of nine [members], seven had kids who were about to enter confirmation. I love kids so I think that really helped me get the job because I was pretty young at the time. This was in my early thirties – 31 or 32 – so it was just a great opportunity to come and serve this congregation and Tim then came he worked briefly for the Superior Police Department and then went on and got his master’s in Social Work at UMD and it’s been a great transition for both of us. Not without little bumps but really good.

Doug>> That’s great. Well, one of the parts of our mission at Peace Church is living the way of Jesus. So one of the questions we’re thinking about is what what are some of them – what’s one way that you’re kind of trying to live that out and living the way of Jesus?

Kathy>> I just think of his outreach and inclusivity. And I love this job in part because you never know who’s gonna walk in the door today. And it often it’s people who have been marginalized in some ways and have needs just need to talk, need to grab a cup of coffee, and we have gas vouchers. So it could help with some gas…. I think the openness to this congregation to all kinds of people. I love my work at the county jail with the women there. I’ve been doing that for twenty-five years leading Bible study, but really we just talk about the scriptures that I have to preach on in the coming week and get their insights. And I learn as much from them as they do from me. But I love the commitment of this place to social justice and everything that so many people are doing, I’m just so inspired. As I like to say, “There go my people. I’m trying to keep up.” And I really mean that. It’s amazing to me the way people are walking the faith and live in the way of Jesus together.

Doug>> Yeah, I know that I personally really appreciate the connection you have at the jail and the way that you bring that to the community. So I’m wondering – you know kind of part of that helps me feel connected. So I’m wondering what are the ways that you feel part, you personally feel part of a connected spiritual community?

Kathy>> I think in worship here for me. It’s both individual and the corporate. I need corporate worship. I need to be in worship with other people and I think being in worship here and just being able to sing with other people is so important. Sharing leadership with Jim [Pospisil] and Nathan [Holst] and others is such a blessing because it’s really a creative act that we do together and with the people of God. Because you never know what’s gonna happen on Sunday morning. I love all the kids in worship. I love that being connected to a big community of people that are trying to follow in this way of Jesus.

Personal prayer, though, is also important. I’m so grateful for the centering prayer group that meets at church. But I don’t get there, but I try to make centering prayer part of my daily practice. The Stillspeaking daily devotional, I start every day with that and I really – If people haven’t had a chance to go and get the Stillspeaking daily devotional, it is a great way to start your day. Just a scripture, a story and then a prayer, every day in your inbox, in your email, it’s great.

Doug>> Yeah, we can include a link to that in the in the podcast too. So thinking about that, I read those as well, and they’re sometimes you know, really focused things and they’re sometimes kind of wrestling with big questions. So wondering what what are the big questions that you’re thinking about these days?

Kathy>> I think climate change, for all of us, has been – how – what do we do. And I have been so inspired by our climate justice team, used to be the FEET team and their activity. Watching Lisa Fitzpatrick organize for the city to declare a climate emergency has been inspiring, but still feeling like, Oh my God, is it too late? I think our adult form speakers this fall have been amazing, again around climate justice, but listening to them really say we have very little time. What are we gonna do? And one of them speaking about the need to really consider nuclear and it was like, “Wow.” So saying, “Okay, that might have to be an option for us.” So I think climate justice is one of the big questions right now.

I think racial inequality and the dismantling – the work of the dismantling racism team is huge as we continue to look. It doesn’t seem like we’re making a lot of progress. So how do we keep working on that issue with people of color and letting them lead but following in real meaningful ways. So and I think we have an opportunity with the hundredth anniversary of the lynching coming up and working with Clayton, Jackson, McGhie. I’m saddened lately I know I just found out Tracie Gibson, the pastor at St. Mark’s AME has been reassigned. She has been fabulous to work with so now whoever comes next, we will forge a new relationship, and grieving that she’s no longer part of that congregation. Whoever comes will be good too, but I really liked working with her.

Doug>> Yeah, well, that kind of brings up another question I’ve been thinking about is that, you know, you are obviously the pastor for Peace Church but you’re also out in the community and so you are an important person, not just for Peace Church, but for the community as a whole. So can you talk a little bit about your community connections and what that means for you?

Kathy>> In the congregation, I think, because I’ve been here 28 years and most people never have that kind of tenure and Peace, because Peace Church really does try to be a light on the hill and open and inclusive and really working hard on justice issues, I think that people feel like this is a safe space. So you get called for things that other people might not be called for. Like Friday, I helped to create, really the Life House staff led… A young man Chaz from their community been part of their life house community for five years, but really struggled with mental health and depression. He took his life in September and so last Friday, we had a memorial service ‘cause he’s estranged from his family. And so Life House had really become his family. And so wanting to have a way to remember that young man, the staff called me in and said, “Help us plan something.” And just sitting with them and listening to their stories, it was very clear what we needed to do. Chaz had been part of their candlemaking industry and he had been a market – director of marketing. He had made candles and they had a beautiful candle he had made. So we took that candle, lit it and then kids just got up. I bought tea lights and they lit candles and told stories about Chaz. And then we had pizza because he loved pizza so it’s just being available when those needs pop up. And I think the community feels like, “Oh, we could call peace ‘cause they’ll show up.” And that’s really what it’s about knowing that if someone from the community calls, the church says, “Yeah of course you go. Of course you show up.” It’s the same thing at Chum. Having done a lot of memorial services for folks down at Chum, but because we’re there every other Wednesday making breakfast or at Damiano making lunch. So it’s it’s mostly about showing up and knowing that you’re gonna show up and people trust you.

Doug >> So another podcast I listened to, “Code Switch,” they ask this question: what’s bringing you life, what’s bringing you hope these days? So I’m curious, you talked about climate justice as being one of the things that seems like kind of clouds on the horizon. And so in the midst of that, what’s bringing you life and hope these days?

Kathy >> The youth. Oh my gosh, it was such a blessing to spend a week with them in Denver and I think that’s one of the things I’ll miss the most when I retire – one that I will miss the most – is just hanging out with youth because they ask really good questions. They’re really insightful and I get my hope from them. We have amazing — I think you can’t come here on Sunday morning and not have hope because the amount of kids and babies in the back. And parents, dads walking their babies in the narthex ‘cause the kids are talking. It’s just the kids and their concerns and their actions like being at the Climate Youth March and seeing a lot of our kids there. It’s like that brings me hope, our youth.

Doug>> You talked before about the Stillspeaking devotions. Are there any other resources that you would recommend people to look into as part of their own spiritual journeys?

Kathy>> I think reading Bible. I love the Bible study we do here on Wednesday nights at 6 cause we really just bring our lives to the text. So I really like that, but taking time to read as much – you know, if you do have time to read. I’ve been reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson in preparation for the Clayton, Jackson, McGhie event. Just trying to read stuff as much as you can. Reading Braiding Sweetgrass, you know, so that’s what I love about this church. People always have a good suggestion for reading. So – and taking time for prayer. Swimming, exercise, I love my swim twice a week. that’s a prayer time.

Doug>> Any other final thoughts that you would have, that you want to share here?

Kathy >> Being part of a community. I’m like I can’t imagine life without this place. So I’m just starting to get my head around that. And this people. So be part of a group because we’re all just walking each other home.

Doug >> Yeah, walking each other home. Well, yeah, it will be, I think, for all of us in the congregation, as you are wrapping your head around not being here, we also had that challenge of wrapping our head around you not being here. so I’m grateful that you were willing to take some time to share your thoughts and what — all that you have shared with this community over the years. So thanks again for being a part of this.

Kathy >> Thank you. It’s been a blessing.

Doug >> Thank you for listening to Peace in a Pod. Thank you to Rev. Kathy Nelson for sharing her thoughts and to the Spiritual Journey team for their guidance. The music was composed by Steve Horner and performed by Nathan Holst on violin and Jim Pospisil on piano. If you are interested in learning more about Peace United Church of Christ, visit our website at We wish you the best on your own spiritual journey and hope that you, too, may find peace.