Maybe it is her short, spiky hair, or the cigarettes, which she gives to the men repairing the wiring in her Brooklyn apartment. Maybe it is because she swears. For whatever reason, the Rev. Ann Kansfield does not fit the stereotype of a minister.
Not that she is worried about meeting anyone’s expectations for what a clergywoman should say or do.
“We shouldn’t have to hide ourselves or worry about being judged,” Ms. Kansfield, who ministers at the Greenpoint Reformed Church, said.
In her newest ministry, that self-assuredness is likely to serve her well. Ms. Kansfield, 39, is to be sworn in on Tuesday as a chaplain of the New York Fire Department, the first female chaplain and the first openly gay chaplain in a department that for decades resisted efforts to diversify its ranks.
A civil rights lawsuit that led to oversight by a federal court and to a settlement with the city last year has prompted changes in recruiting and led to an increase in the number of blacks and Hispanics graduating from the Fire Academy.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat who took office last year, and his fire commissioner, Daniel A. Nigro, back the efforts, but the city faces a long road in remaking the department to be more representative of New York.
Ms. Kansfield is familiar with the sort of institutional resistance that long marked the Fire Department. The New York branch of the Reformed Church in America would not ordain her, despite her being deemed “fit for ministry” by her seminary professors. She was instead ordained through the United Church of Christ. (Because the two denominations recognize each other’s clergy members, she is able to preach in the Reformed Church.)
The Fire Department currently has seven chaplains — six of them Christian and one Jewish. Ms. Kansfield will be the eighth. Chaplains perform a variety of services: They provide counseling to firefighters and department personnel; they perform blessings and invocations; and they assist with notifying families in the rare instances when a firefighter is killed in the line of duty.
The chaplains, who receive a starting salary of about $20,000, work part time and are on call a few days a week. They wear the uniform of a chief, with special brass to signify their chaplaincy, and are issued emergency lights and sirens for their cars — in Ms. Kansfield’s case, a silver Toyota Prius.
When Ms. Kansfield, who comes from a family of firefighters, joins the department, she will be one of three Protestant ministers serving a force that has been predominantly Catholic, which is not unfamiliar.
“My whole ministry has been in environments that don’t look like me,” she said. “I live in a predominantly Catholic neighborhood — their faith is not like mine, and they don’t look like me. But that doesn’t mean I won’t have a ministry with them.”
Ms. Kansfield’s ease around all kinds of people is hard to miss. She joked with Freddy, one of the men doing electrical work at her apartment above the church, about whether he knew how to drive while handing him the keys to her car and her credit card, so he could go buy wallboard.
In a sermon last month, she told the 30 or so congregants seated in the dark pews of her small chapel that they would fail in their efforts to live free of sin.
“If you fail, and when you fail, God will forgive you,” she said. “God will say, ‘You are my beloved.’ ”
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SOURCE: The New York Times