A Conversation with the Rev. Sheresa Simpson-Rice

The Rev. Sheresa Simpson-Rice joined the Minnesota Conference April 6 as the Interim Associate Conference Minister. She is providing care and nurture for our churches in the northern half of the state and managing search and calls. She is working virtually for the time being from her home in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.

So, what’s it like to start a new job virtually, in the middle of a pandemic?
Strange! I’m getting to know people quickly but I really am missing being able to be in churches. Clergy and lay people have been emailing notes of welcome and I am immensely grateful for their hospitality in the midst of quarantine, with lots of problems that demand their attention. I’ll look forward to that time when I can meet people in person. But I was impressed by how clergy and churches are adapting.

What did you do your first week?
I joined two clergy clusters, which was really interesting. I did some MESA and database training. But perhaps the thing that stuck with me most was the weekly call with chaplains. They are on the front lines of this coronavirus pandemic. It was an emotional and truly spirit-filled space, and I just so appreciated being part of it.

Tell us a little about your background.
I grew up in Pennsylvania and between the ages of 10 and my mid 20s, I really didn’t have anything to do with church. I feel that puts me in a unique position to understand the “nones” (people with no religious affiliation). I quit college for a time to be a nanny in Connecticut but I returned to Pennsylvania to finish my degree. My sister, ten years younger, begged me to help with her church youth group. They couldn’t find anybody to do it so I said I would. I still wasn’t attending church, however, so the pastor gently suggested that it might be nice if I came. Then the church needed a delegate to attend the conference’s annual meeting, so I did that, too. I was intrigued by the difference, theologically, between my church and the conference. My participation in church life grew from there. It was about that time, when I was contemplating my career focus, that my mother advised me to “go where you are happiest.” And I realized that I liked spending time at church—the community, the mission work, and especially Sunday school.

I approached my minister at the time and she told me, “You need to be really serious about this if this is what you want.” She wasn’t exactly encouraging! But as I look back on all of this, I think it was an interesting way God called me to this work. Like many, I’m prone to saying, “Oh, I don’t have the skills to do that” but each step was incremental, like a fishing line was cast in front of me and I was reeled in, a little bit at a time.

Where did your path from seminary lead?
I earned my Master of Divinity from Lancaster Theological Seminary in 2005, and I’m now completing my Doctor of Ministry there as well. I spent three years as a mental health professional providing school-based and individual therapy, as that felt like my call at the time. But then, gradually, I felt a call to pastoral ministry and I served three years in a part-time capacity in a loving congregation in East Berlin, Pennsylvania. I then got ordained and moved to another congregation in East Berlin, where I learned a great deal about churches working through challenging times. After three years there, I left the cornfields and moved to the small city of Middletown, Ohio. It was really a fantastic four years in a wonderful church and community. The clergy in that city were deeply engaged with community leaders and I was blessed with a great opportunity to be part of that work. But my husband’s job brought us back to Pennsylvania last year

Outside of work, what do you like to do?
I love to bake and I’m a cinephile. I absolutely love movies. I have to admit that working on my doctorate has left me less time for reading, but I do love to read. My husband and I have a son who is married and lives in Houston. And we adore our dog Lola, a 60-pound mix of boxer, German Shepherd and some other stuff. In other words, a mutt! My husband and I are fans of a show on Food Network, “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” We have visited many of the featured eating establishments all over the country when we travel and we are looking forward to exploring many of Minnesota’s restaurants that were featured on the show, especially one in Duluth.

The Conference extends a warm welcome to Sheresa. She can be reached at sheresar@uccmn.org or 717-318-6865.