Going to St. John’s Episcopal Church service on a Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m. in Georgetown means that there will be the traditional accoutrements of an Episcopal Church service – songs to sing, a sermon to listen to and the serving of the Eucharist.
However, after the procession ends, the Rector of this specific church, the Rev. Gini Gerbasi, welcomes the congregants in a way that sounds different – instead of being formulaic, her welcome sounds like it comes from deep within.
Gerbasi seems tailored for the role of an Episcopal priest, but if you ask her, she says that she had a lot of doubts about pursuing a religious vocation – she had a career working in criminal defense and public policy. She had this thought that she should consider going to seminary, but wasn’t thrilled about the idea of being a lawyer for the Episcopal Church. Eventually, she figured out that instead of envisioning herself as a lawyer for the Episcopal Church, she found herself on a quiet day at St. Alban’s Church seeing mental images of herself as a priest. This was hard for her to accept for quite a while.
“I didn’t picture myself as a priest,” she said.
She said that she swears, leans towards irreverence, and didn’t really attend Sunday school as a child, but decided to be open to the possibility of being a priest – on her terms. Gerbasi said that she doesn’t see herself as a polished priest, nor does she wish to be one.
Gerbasi grew up in a family where her father, a Princeton University graduate, and her stay-at-home mother created a home environment where she didn’t go to church regularly, though she was baptized in an Episcopal Church when she was young.
“We believed in God, but we were too intellectual for that,” she said.
Her father’s brother and her wife, though, were very religious Christians whom she nicknamed “All Jesus all the time channel” and “the God squad,” and gave her her first Bible, which she read in her bedroom without telling anyone in her family about it.
“Books were books. Novels were novels. The Bible was none of those things,” she said.
Her parents are happy that she is a priest and ask themselves how they could have missed that possibility for their daughter. Gerbasi’s husband, Joe, however, who was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, was not thrilled, but then saw how dedicated she was towards her seminary assignments.
“He has since come around and is a huge supporter of mine,” she said.
Gerbasi thinks that women priests have a lot to offer, that they’re caring, loving, approachable and make people feel safe, traits that are noticed right away. Strong responses occur during weddings and funerals, which can include tears and hugging.
“I represent something they never thought they were missing,” she said.
Being a Rector at St. John’s is also an opportunity for Gerbasi to apply her creative energies towards fulfilling the vision she has for her parish, which to be kind of like a community center and being essential to the community, but with the added dimension of what a life of faith can do. She wants to reach out to people who have previously felt wounded in some way by the church they knew, people who don’t find church life relevant in their lives and people who don’t have the time for church.
“Our doors are open,” she said.