Prospective Caribbean-American priest a shining example

Rev. Leandra Lambert of the St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church on Hawthorne, Brooklyn.
Photo by Nelson A. King

A young, prospective Episcopal priest in Brooklyn, of Caribbean parentage, is preaching the right word as she sets a shining and welcoming example to both youth and adults in the community.

The Rev. Leandra Lambert, 29, a transitional deacon — transitioning into the priesthood — at St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church on Hawthorne Street, will be ordained as a full-fledged priest on Sept. 15. The ordination will take place at The Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City, Long Island.

Rev. Lambert — whose parents, Leandra “Virginia” Baptiste and Joseph Lambert, hail from Bogles, Carriacou, the larger of Grenada’s two sister isles— was ordained as a deacon March 1 at St. Gabriel’s.

As a deacon, Rev. Lambert assists with the liturgy and preaches monthly to the faithful at St. Gabriel’s, whose congregants are predominantly Caribbean.

“Part of what we do as a church or a community is that we plant seeds,” Rev. Lambert said recently in an exclusive Caribbean Life interview at the church. “I do believe God has a funny way of speaking to us or through us.

“My ministry is about living a life that’s worthy of my calling in the church, and God will do the rest,” added Rev. Lambert, who was born in Crown Heights, and grew up in East Flatbush — both in Brooklyn. “Not everybody can or should be a priest. We’re called to something. To me, it’s ordained ministry.

“But if we provide the young people with a framework to know God, they’ll be able to discern for themselves what that call for their life is,” she continued. “Priest[hood] is really a calling; it’s a devotion. It isn’t anything I just, one day, decided to do. It’s a process.”

Though her Christian principles were molded, from a very young age, in the Episcopal Church — at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church on Avenue D in Brooklyn — Rev. Lambert said the process of pursuing the ministry actually began after her first year in the graduate program at Harvard University.

“I felt God was calling me to do something more and [showing me] what a meaningful life can look like,” she said. “I spoke with people on campus — fellow students, professors — and people in my personal life (my friends, my family), then switched to Divinity.”

Rev. Lambert graduated from Harvard University’s Divinity School with a Master of Divinity (M. Div.) degree in 2015. Her master’s thesis was on “Sign, Symbol and Sacrament: Eucharistic Ethics and the Israel-Palestine Conflict.”

“And that ended up being a better fit for me,” added Rev. Lambert, who had initially thought of pursuing a Master of Arts (MA), with concentration in religion, ethics and politics.

Prior to pursing her master’s degree, Rev. Lambert said she had attended Wellesley College in Massachusetts, graduating in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in classical civilization and political science, and pursued a semester of studies in Greece a year earlier through the college’s Study Abroad Program.

In Greece, she said, her interest in politics and the church’s role heightened.

“You’re seeing human suffering in a very jarring way and wondered why the church [was] not saying anything,” she said. “Why [was] the Greek Orthodox Church not involved? The priests are considered civil servants.

“That was something I felt very strongly about,” she added. “I thought religious leaders had a responsibility, because Jesus Christ spent his life preaching out on behalf of those who are marginalized on the side of power.

“From that experience, I wasn’t sure what to do,” said Rev. Lambert, who was among “engaged visitors” tear-gassed during Greece’s deteriorating economic plight. “So, towards the end of my senior year, a friend of mine encouraged me to apply to Divinity School.

“And I was asking questions about the very deep purpose of life, and what to me was a life well-lived, and where I hoped to feel meaning in life,” she said.

Since graduating from Harvard, Rev. Lambert said she has been working full-time as the executive assistant to the director of Anglican relations at Trinity Church Wall Street in lower Manhattan, while serving at St. Gabriel’s. Earlier this year, she received a citation for her “service to the community” from Assemblywoman Diana Richardson, representative for the 43rd Assembly District in Brooklyn, which encompasses parts of Crown Heights, Lefferts Gardens and East Flatbush, among other Brooklyn neighborhoods. Richardson’s parents are immigrants from St. Martin and Aruba.

“People are genuinely interested and hungry for what young people have to say,” said Rev. Lambert about her reception at St. Gabriel’s.

“It’s important [that] young people are true to who they are and who God has called them to be in the church,” she added. “We have a responsibility to nurture the gifts they bring.”

On her message to the world, Rev. Lambert, who was named the “2017 Young Adult of the Year” by the Union of Black Episcopalians, said she wants to continue spreading “the message of the Cross and the Resurrection. “God is always taking dead things and broken things, and bringing something new out of [them],” she added. “And I am very humbled to be called into the ministry in the church.

In response to a question about eventually getting married, Rev. Lambert smiled and simply answered: “If it’s God’s will.” Right now, she added, “all I want to do is to be a faithful servant and worthy of the calling.”

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