I give thanks for the life of Alice Urbanowicz. Alice was my clergy mentor when I was an intern at New Hope MCC in Santa Rosa.
Alice was an extraordinary person. Her years as a parole officer gave her a commanding presence – she had a clear and unmistakable air of authority. But at the same time, she was also good-natured, funny, and playful. As my colleague Matt Broadbent might say, “She was spiritual, but not sanctimonious.”
I chose to do my internship with Alice because New Hope MCC was the model of what I hoped my ministry would look like: a small church that provided its members with the opportunity to experiment with new forms of liturgy and whose membership was passionately involved in every type of ministry.
New Hope’s culture was not an accident. Alice never forgot the people who had influenced her path as a pastor. I remember her speaking glowingly about Ken Martin, Wendy Foxworth, and Freda Smith. Alice did no less for her congregation. She was continually looking for ways to support people in developing their gifts and talents. In additional to our more traditional morning service, she set up a special evening service to give congregants a chance to try new types of worship. She helped us experiment and explore, and she gave us many opportunities to put our ideas into practice.
It was wonderful to work with Alice, but from the very beginning it was clear that she missed her family in Texas. When Alice decided to return home to them, I knew that she was following the call of her heart. I am particularly grateful for Alice’s relationship with Molly, her spouse and partner. Molly has been amazing these last several years as Alice has experienced significant health challenges. I cannot imagine anyone having a better partner.
The extent of Alice’s influence on my ministry might surprise people. At a first look, it might not seem that we had much in common. My office is remarkably lacking in stuffed frogs, and I have yet to invite any seminarians to my home in order to serve them the world’s best tater tots. But at a deeper level, I hope my ministry reflects what I learned from Alice: to see people’s hidden talents, to give them opportunities to explore their gifts, and to help them to express their spirituality with courage, compassion, and joy.