If you think that all pastors are uptight, judgmental, straight laced, bores, that only shows you never met Reverend Ann Kansfield. I spoke with Ann for an hour and a half and the time seemed to whiz by. She is a great conversationalist with a disarming sense of humor, most of it self-deprecating.
I took careful notes on our conversation, but experienced writer’s block when trying to write about her. Suddenly, I had an aha moment, and realized why. Ann very rarely speaks in first person. She avoids the pronoun I, and invariably shifts from saying I to we. I realized that Ann is one of the least egotistical people I have ever met. Even though she was chosen as the New York Times person of the year in 2016, Ann is the personification of humility. As the old saying goes, “There is no I in team,” and Ann is the consummate team builder.
Her team is made up of all sorts of people and is rapidly growing. While other churches struggle to keep open, The Reformed Church (136 Milton St) struggles to find space for its congregation. Ann has an infectious enthusiasm, especially when she speaks about the members of her congregation and the many good works they do. Perhaps it is that enthusiasm and love of all the people in her congregation that has helped her transform a moribund aging congregation of two dozen or so into a vibrant group of at least a hundred and thirty.
Ann does not focus on egos, but instead focuses on service to the community. She spoke of a social justice trajectory of the church and one of the clearest manifestations of it is the thriving food pantry program, which has about a hundred and fifty clients weekly. When I visited the Milton Street church, the food pantry was a beehive of activity. Ann spoke with real enthusiasm and genuineness about helping people on the margins and she confessed she had no idea that the program would grow so big. It is a place where people can make a difference in the lives of others.
Pastor Kansfield spoke about being a welcoming progressive inclusive voice in the community, but her church is about much more than mere talk. They are a group who define their faith in terms of service to the community. One of the few times I got Ann to use the I pronoun was when she said that she sees herself as a facilitator, helping to match people who want to help with those in need of help. Part of the success of the Reformed Church is that people connect with others and they experience a tangible feeling of making the community a better place.
Ann is the Chaplain to the New York City Fire Department, a job, which often requires her to get out of bed at 4 A.M on a freezing February night and rush to the scene of a fire, but which Pastor Kansfield describes as a dream job.
In a world where people are fed up with ego, narcissism and selfishness, Ann and the Reformed Church are a breath of fresh air. It seems to be a church where not only Pastor Kansfield, but also her entire congregation is shifting pronouns from I to we.