Article Contributed by
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
Jessica Frederick recently completed an internship at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Jamestown, New York. Her life experiences, diverse religious education, and sincere faith are helping parishioners connect, discover, serve, and grow within the broader Jamestown community. How did she develop her global perspective and spirituality? Where did she gain her sustainable gardening skills? Jessica will provide insights through St. Luke’s Many Faces of Faith Interviews.
Where were you born and raised? What church did you attend? Where did you attend college, and was the college affiliated with a denomination? What was your major and minor in college?
Jessica: I attended Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, PA, an evangelical Christian college founded by the Brethren in Christ Church. They emphasize the Gospels, especially Christ’s teachings. Simplicity, peace, justice, and reconciliation as acts of faith reflected their faith.
I majored in Christian ministries and social work. Each discipline fed the other: In-depth understanding of family dynamics expand a pastor’s awareness and compassion. Jesus treated all of God’s children and people with love, compassion, dignity, and forgiveness. These universal values are essential to growing in extraordinary secular and religious life, two sides of the same coin.
What professors and courses stretched your world view and strengthened your faith?
Jessica: My Old Testament professor lived in the occupied Palestinian territories for several years. He applied biblical archeology, ancient Jewish culture, and Jesus’ teachings to today’s life, faith, and socio-political challenges.
You lived in the Holy Land after college. What precipitated this journey? How long were you there? Where did you live?
Jessica: My professor’s stories recounting his years living in the Holy Land (Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories) fascinated me. As a result, I worked with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Palestinian for three years after college. I lived in Hebron (Abraham’s burial place) for one year, and the village of At-Tuwani (a subsistence farming community) for two years.
Describe the Palestine subsistence farming community. What challenges did they face? Did the Muslim community surprise you in any way?
The farming community in the village of At-Tuwani was, in many ways, similar to Western New York agricultural communities. Generations of Palestinians loved and worked the land and were committed to their families, farms, way of life, and communities.
As all farmers know, rural life isn’t easy, but Palestinians are uniquely challenged. Israeli soldiers and settlers arrested or attacked Palestinian shepherds and farmers as they worked their land. Israeli settlers frequently cut down olive groves nurtured by generations of Palestinians.
Palestinian Muslims taught me what it meant to follow Christ’s most challenging principles. Despite daily assaults and aggressions by Israelis, Palestinians were committed to nonviolent resistance in response to a hostile occupation. By not returning violence for violence, they taught me how to love one’s enemies. They mirrored the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights movement within their cultural context.
Palestinian farmers inspired you. Can you explain this?
Our Palestinian partners modeled character and integrity. Their faith formed their personalities, lives, and social behaviors. I wondered if their roots in the essence and beauty of the land and their agricultural focus and discipline also cultivated these remarkable people. I wanted to emulate them.
What attracted you to the land you purchased? What type of farming business do you operate? What are your duties?
After returning home, my husband and I fell in love with a home and land, and we started a sustainable vegetable farm with a few beehives in Sherman. My work includes planning and managing the business, beekeeping, planting, weeding, and harvesting.
How and when did you first connect to the Episcopal Church?
After returning to the US, I visited the Episcopal Church in Mayville. The priest’s sermon described an image from that week’s news: a Syrian man holding the body of his dead son and weeping. This atrocity occurred during the Arab Spring, as Syrians organized against the Assad regime. The priest explained this Syrian father as the embodiment of the image of God on Good Friday, the day Jesus died. This image also applies to the grieving image of God today, as humans harm and kill each other. During this sermon, I felt immediately at home, in a church that articulated the Gospel and human condition powerfully applied to twenty-first-century life.
When and how did you connect to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Jamestown, New York? What were your first impressions?
I am in the process of becoming an Episcopal priest; the bishop assigned me to intern at St. Luke’s. My first impression was that the church welcomes a diverse congregation; from different socio-economic classes, sexual orientations, a range of political party affiliations. Catholics, charismatics, traditional Protestants, and spiritual seekers are all welcome! St. Luke’s connects a remarkable variety of people to God’s love and empowers them to serve and grow.
The following is what I love about the Episcopal church: It is simultaneously Catholic and Protestant, with traditions broad enough to embrace diverse thought and Christian practice. St. Luke’s is rooted in the past, which helps us to navigate the complexities of the present, and gives us hope and courage to work for a better future for ourselves and our communities.
What is the best advice or challenge you have ever received?
One of my professors would often state: “Babies of faith say, ‘God will provide.’ Heroes of faith say, ‘Live or die, I am in the hands of God.'” This challenges me every day.
What St. Luke’s programs touch your heart the most?
I am passionate about “faith formation,” ranging from children’s programs and youth ministries, and from adult Christian education programs to various Eucharist services. I am eager to help people of every age, grow in their humanity and faith. As we grow spiritually in the light of God, we are empowered to serve all of Creation.
What advice would you give those yearning for higher spirituality?
Rumi, the Sufi poet, said, “What you seek is seeking you.” And, of course, Jesus said, “Seek, and you will find.” Joining a faith community of some form empowers us to seek. From my experience, the Episcopal church does not provide all the answers but encourages parishioners to explore and question. Searching, with those on a similar path, offers a more exciting and delightful journey.