We are so excited to welcome Neal McGowan to St. John the Divine where he will serve as associate rector and will focus on ministry to young families. This Sunday, May 22, Neal will preach at the 9:15 am Awesome Worship service, 11:15 am Church service, and the 5 pm Chapel service. You are also invited to meet him and his family and enjoy ice cream in the Julia Garden during the 10:15 am Sunday school hour.
Neal answered a few questions so that you can start to get to know him.
- What called you to ministry? I did not sense a call to ordained ministry until I was out of college, recently married, a brand-new Episcopalian, and at the ordination of a priest who I felt unfit for ministry! During the ordination I remember thinking, is this what God wants for me? I was teaching English and history at a boarding school in East Texas at the time, and this initial sense of call was confirmed as I found that while I loved teaching, I was increasingly less interested in the material I was covering, and more interested in those aspects of being a teacher that look more like pastoral care. I found that I kept wanting to talk about Jesus. The students I taught were primarily Asian students with little to no experience of Christianity, and I kept noticing that when we would have the occasional off-topic conversation about the Bible, Jesus, or the Christian faith, I felt like I was fully alive. Finally, I got to know a godly Episcopal priest, and his example of lived-out ministry that was authentic and sacramental helped me imagine what this vocation could be like. I have no regrets, and I am so grateful that God called me to this life.
- Tell us about your family. I am married to Jennifer McGowan (going on 12 years of marriage this May) and we have two children: Elizabeth, who is 4, and Thomas, who is 18 months. Jennifer and I met in college and got married soon after. For years she worked with a non-profit called Mercy Ships which provided free surgical treatment in port cities in West Africa. She also worked for a little while at a wine shop in Austin, so if you need recommendations for good wine, she is quite helpful. For the past few years, she has been with the kids working harder than I ever will! We love to travel, cook, and we watch too much British television. Elizabeth loves My Little Pony, Moana, stories (both reading and telling), and playing outside. Thomas is the jolly one in the family, and he has powers of destruction (so Elizabeth says).
- What do you think young families are looking for and how can the Church best connect with them? I think young families are looking for what all of us are looking for: to be a part of a community that accepts them, loves them, and enables them to grow into the full stature of Christ. What young families are really looking for is grace. Having young children is not always easy, and to know that there is forgiveness even in your foibles in parenting and marriage is huge. The Church can best help young families by showing them that grace in a lot of practical ways. Meal trains for new parents, a church culture that is not easily offended when children are noisy in services, parenting and marriage classes that are practical, and training on spiritual practices to integrate our faith in the home are all ways the Church can connect with young families. There is a lot of judgment on parents, and especially on moms for how they are raising their children. The sheer number of contradictory self-help books on parenting is overwhelming and can make you feel like the task is impossible. The Church can be a community that is not marked by judgment but grace and sees its youngest (and loudest) members as essential parts of the community.
- What excites you most about coming to St. John the Divine? As part of the interview process, Leigh introduced us to a number of people in the parish. We met staff, vestry members, members of the young adult community, and some young families. Jennifer and I were so impressed by everyone we met. So, I am most excited about serving the people of St. John the Divine. It is the people who make a parish, and who make being a priest the best job in the world. I am excited to get to know you more and to grow together as disciples of Jesus.