Noelle York-Simmons: “Just a Priest”

Noelle York-Simmons

Noelle York-Simmons ’03 M.Div. is senior associate rector at All Saints Episcopal Church in Atlanta. With a background in photography, she is poised to embark on a Lilly Endowment-funded summer sabbatical project: she plans to photograph people’s hands taking communion. A mother of two, she is also a runner: in July she will enter the San Francisco marathon.

Gifts and Callings: While I understand the “stained-glass ceiling,” the limits that women face in church leadership, i don’t identify myself as a “woman priest.” I’m just a priest. I don’t perceive my gender as a special gift or calling, because I’ve never known a church without female leadership. I grew up with the gift of a family and a church that opened to me a limitless world. i didn’t know until college that the episcopal church didn’t always have women priests! I recognize I’m able to follow this vocation because of the incredibly powerful work that women did before me, women who had to wage nasty battles just to prove themselves as human beings. I am deeply grateful for their work and grateful that because of that work, it is not necessary for me to prove myself as worthy despite my gender.

The Hands of Christ: Serving the Eucharist, it’s a privilege to me to put the body of Christ in people’s hands. i love that moment. And over the years I’ve gotten to know people’s hands – bejeweled hands, or arthritic hands, or scarred. I think about how people after communion leave the church and become the hands of Christ in the world. I wanted to explore that more fully. So, with my family, I’ll visit episcopal parishes across the Southeast, take pictures, hear people’s stories, learn what they do with the “hands of Christ” in their daily lives.

Terrifying, Wonderful: I love to preach. i love the practice of crafting a sermon, of discovering my own theology as i write. the wordsmithing that comes along with writing a palatable sermon is a delicious challenge. The words I‘ve wrestled with on the page take on an even greater weight when they leave my mouth. It is terrifying and wonderful every time.

Self-Care: The church is a holy, sustaining, and life-giving place, but for clergy it can also be exhausting and frustrating even amidst the blessings. Having children has really driven home my seminary-acquired lessons about self- care. if i do not take care of myself, no one else will; i need to be well not only for my parish, but for my family. Since becoming a mother, i have found it even more important to identify my boundaries and know when they are fluid and when they are impermeable.