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N.J.A. Humphrey

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I was born in 1973 and am a priest in the Episcopal Church, currently serving as vicar and scholar-in-residence at St. Paul’s, K St., in the Diocese of Washington, a relatively traditional Anglo-Catholic parish with parishioners of all theological viewpoints, including the most reactionary conservative and knee-jerk liberal ones. I served St. Paul’s as curate from the feast of the Translation of the Image of Our Lady of Walsingham, 2005 until Trinity Sunday, 2010, when I was instituted in my new position as parochial vicar, sharing delegated authority with the rector and having oversight of various initiatives. I have been married since 2004; we have two children, a daughter, born on the Feast of the Epiphany, 2007 and a son, born on St. Swithun’s Day, 2009.

I am the son of a former fundamentalist preacher. I grew up in an Independent Fundamental Churches of America congregation in Riverside, California, and attended evangelical Christian schools from preschool through high school. My K-8 years were spent in the school operated by the church my father pastored.

I escaped from high school early, enrolling at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, in January 1991, at the age of 17. In my sophomore year, I was asked to lead the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship on campus. Having no desire or inclination to enter into pastoral leadership, I resisted until a Baptist friend suggested I spend the summer in a monastery. My paternal grandfather had been an Episcopalian, so I looked into staying with an Episcopal order of monks in New York state, but was rebuffed. I was welcomed, however, by the Roman Catholic Benedictine monks of Mt. Saviour Monastery in Elmira, New York. That summer I turned 19; three days after my birthday I met an Episcopal bishop on retreat at that monastery who invited me, in conversation, to explore the Episcopal Church. The bishop, then of Chicago, was Frank Griswold, later presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.

I returned to Annapolis where I joined St. Anne’s Church. I was confirmed that winter. At Easter of that year, a young transitional deacon pulled me aside and asked if I was thinking of becoming a priest. I had been, but had not told anyone, and wondered what gave me away. I began to meet with her to discern a vocation. That same year, I made my first confession to the curate of St. Paul’s, K St., where I attended on Prayer Book Holy Days when possible. I also joined the fellowship of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

I was discouraged in my desire to explore whether I had a vocation for ordained ministry by the priest who served as canon for ordination of the Diocese of Maryland, who pointed out that young clergy were nearly non-existent (I was 20 by then), and that in any event the bishop had just retired and the process was put on hold. Nevertheless, encouraged by many people, I decided I would pursue academic theology but leave the door open for future ordination, and without diocesan approval, enrolled at Yale Divinity School and its Episcopal affiliate, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. I turned 21 a month before classes began. I decided to pursue an M.Div., but not to do CPE or take the GOEs as I figured I had already been presumptuous enough to think that God might be calling me to priesthood without formal approval.

I was the youngest student in the school for two years. I focused on Greek patristics and graduated second in my class. I received a prize for the best paper in theology at Yale and was awarded a fellowship given by the faculty to the graduating student most suited to undertake doctoral studies.

I was an alternate for a Fulbright to Magdalen College, Oxford, but when the funding did not materialize, I took this as a sign that I was not called to pursue doctoral studies at that time. So I decided to move back to Maryland to explore a call to the priestly vocation.

I worked for two years in the admissions office at St. John’s College, attending St. Anne’s and being sponsored by that parish for ordination in the Diocese of Maryland. During this time I conceived of the idea of a collection of essays on the formation and ministry of GenX priests and partnered with the nascent young clergy organization that had been founded by four seminary friends, Gathering The NeXt Generation. The book, Gathering The NeXt Generation: Essays on the Formation and Ministry of GenX Priests, was published by Morehouse in 2000 and made its debut at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Denver that summer.

In the middle of my ordination process, during which I was delayed due to my youth, I was called as lay chaplain to the Washington Episcopal School in Bethesda, Maryland, in the Diocese of Washington, a nursery through 8th grade day school, where I also taught religion to every student in the school. After two years, the Bishop of Maryland was ready to ordain me, but insisted I accept a job in my home Diocese of Maryland. Accordingly, I accepted a call as curate and later also religion teacher at Saint James Parish and Academy, Monkton, Maryland.

I served for four years as curate in the parish and religion teacher to 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students in the academy, during which time I was introduced by a clergy couple in the diocese to the woman who would become my wife, who sang in the choir of a parish in Baltimore. We were engaged on New Year’s Day, 2004, and married that fall.

The plan after that was to go to Cambridge for a Ph.D., but funding was difficult to obtain and the timing just didn’t seem right. My wife was commuting for her job an average of three hours a day from Baltimore to Washington, D.C. Providentially, the curacy at St. Paul’s, K St., came open, I applied, and was called on the Feast of Our Lady of Walsingham (October 15) of 2005.

During Eastertide, 2006, I spent several weeks in residence at Westcott House, Cambridge under the direction of the late Rev. Prof. Daniel W. Hardy, whom I had counted on to supervise doctoral research in conflict and Anglican ecclesiology. I began my blog, Communion in Conflict, in July 2006 as a way to continue my research efforts. A group blog, The Seminar on Conflict Ecclesiology, now on something of permanent hiatus, was a venture in conversation stemming from Communion in Conflict.

This autobiography has necessarily omitted many exciting tales of suffering and triumph, but hopefully serves as a sufficient introduction. I am honored to be a part of the team at Covenant, and hope to contribute a thoroughly moderate voice to the conversations here. As a graduate of St. John’s, Annapolis, which has only seminar-style classes, I thrive on dialogue and welcome copious comments on anything I post.

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