While pursuing a degree in Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Amy Kienzle took a return trip to the very church where she was baptized. Turns out she got more than a walk down memory lane: after becoming deeply involved as a member there, Kienzle completed seminary school in Chicago and started the Park Church Co-Op in Greenpoint. The Church has since attracted a vibrant and artistic membership of its own, as well as offering itself to the surrounding music and arts community currently flourishing in Greenpoint. Whether it’s a service, a film screening or a record release, Kienzle’s influence has firmly placed the congregation as the new neighborhood staple.
How/why did you become involved in your line of work? Because I did not grow up in the church and my family members are not church-goers, the idea that I would become a pastor was not on the radar until partway through my college years at New York University. I had been pursuing a BA in Medieval and Renaissance Studies with an emphasis in art history, when I decided to return to the Lutheran Church where I was baptized as a baby. It was strange the way going to church felt so familiar to me; it felt like something had been missing in my life. I became a regular attender and got involved in volunteering at the community supper and teaching Sunday School. My relationships deepened and people started asking if I had considered becoming a pastor. It turns out I had thought about what it would be like to lead worship and take on the role of leader. When I could no longer ignore the internal and external voices encouraging me into the ministry, I relented and went to seminary in Chicago. My first church was in Michigan in the midst of the Arab community of Dearborn, and three and a half years ago I returned home to New York to start this new ministry called the Park Church Co-op in Greenpoint.
Tell us a little bit about your present work, the Cliffs Notes version of your day to day and what is at stake. I am what is called a Mission Developer pastor, which means that I am charged with casting vision and growing a Lutheran ministry that serves my community. Greenpoint is growing and changing, with many artists and musicians calling the neighborhood home. We provide a place for them to offer their gifts and passions to the people of our community. What I enjoy about my work is that each day is different, but it usually involves networking with and talking to a variety of people, from parents at the school to newcomers to the neighborhood. What is at stake for me is the opportunity to share the love of God with the people of Greenpoint and providing a place where genuine community is found.
What do you find most fulling about your work? The most fulfilling part of my work is in developing relationships with people. I am privileged to have people trust me enough to share some of their most personal struggles and joys. I consider it a great honor and I hold these moments as sacred. To truly become the community’s pastor is my greatest hope for my future work.
What is your proudest achievement with this work and what is your greatest challenge? My proudest achievement is to see how our church community has grown organically to be a vibrant place where all are truly welcome. The small seeds we have planted have begun to blossom in cooperative sharing of resources and talents to fulfill our mission in the neighborhood. I am lucky to have so many talented people connected with the Park Church Co-op. The challenges come in how to create a community that is safe and sustainable. Each person has their own expectations and self interests that they bring with them. My job in part is to manage those expectations and interests toward fulfilling a vision that we have cast. Sometimes that means having to put boundaries in place and say the difficult thing for the sake of the greater good.
What do you hope changes or improves (or continues!) in your field in the future? My hope for the church (as a whole, not just the Park Church Co-op) is that it continues to support vibrant ministry that is relevant to our changing communities. I hope that others find spiritual renewal and nurture through the Christian faith as I first did. I hope that the church is able to communicate how we have failed to really welcome all people, and to express our desire to meet people where they are. And through my work I hope that some of the skepticism about the church will be transformed into curiosity and appreciation for how churches make a difference in our communities.
Who would you nominate for this list? I would nominate Concetta Abbate, who is a young, talented musician in Brooklyn. She is creative and ambitious and knows what she wants for herself professionally. She offers music programming to children in Greenpoint, and is passionate about sharing the gift of the arts with as many people as possible.