The 50th anniversary of Woodstock was celebrated this summer, and it brought back memories for the Rev. Kerry Kesey. She celebrated her third birthday with her family at Woodstock.
Her fondest recollections are playing in the mud, a puppet show, and seeing a woman outside a trailer with long, black hair. Much later she learned that the woman was Joan Baez.
Kesey remembers her family moving around while living in a bus during her early childhood. Her father was a cousin of Ken Kesey, author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” and was part of Kesey’s Merry Pranksters.
When Kesey turned 5 and was ready for kindergarten, her folks finally moved into a house in Eugene, Oregon. Even though her childhood seems unusual, she realizes that it was also a fascinating journey.
“I always loved school,” she said. “School was a safe place and people knew me there.”
She also remembers attending church when she was 8 years old, when she first felt the call to become a Christian minister. Once she finished high school, Kesey enrolled at Northwest Christian University to pursue a bachelor’s degree in science, church society and family.
While living in St. Helens, Oregon, Kesey hoped to be able to use her gifts in the church. To her surprise, she was told, she couldn’t. So she applied to study at a theological seminary.
“Ordination in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) requires a master of divinity degree,” she said. “The degree usually consists of 90 semester hours and it takes three to four years to complete it. During seminary most serve as student ministers, solo pastor of a small church or youth ministers. I served as a solo pastor and as associate minister.”
Today, Kesey is head pastor of Englewood Christian Church in Yakima. Prior to her move to Eastern Washington, she spent time pastoring churches in Kansas, Kirkland, Washington, and Oahu, Hawaii.
When asked how many female head pastors are serving in greater Yakima, she said, “I currently only know two including myself.” She admits that joining a church that has never had a female pastor can be difficult.
“I have been the first woman minister in every church I’ve served! When you’re the first woman to serve as its pastor, that alone is a big change,” she said. Kesey’s rule of thumb has become, “Don’t make any major changes during the first year.”
As a head pastor, Kesey wears many hats. She counsels church members, participates in meetings, funerals and weddings and prepares sermons. But every day includes surprises.
“A typical week for me involves some pastoral care, such as visiting someone in the hospital or assisted living, planning worship, studying, leading, and more,” she said.
And this list doesn’t include learning about her community. “As a minister, it’s also part of my call to be present in the community. In my case, I joined Downtown Rotary, partnering with other community organizations, and being engaged in helping make our community a better place for everyone,” she said. “As a clergywoman I am very committed in serving on the Clergy Advisory Board for Planned Parenthood and the Yakima Association of Faith Communities.”
Kesey is proud of her congregation’s involvement in the community. They provide food packs for needy students at Gilbert Elementary, partner with Rod’s House in hosting the “Young Adult Winter Shelter,” and host monthly dinners for Camp Hope.
Congregants also partner with La Casa Hogar to offer citizenship classes, and serve as volunteers for the Yakima Rotary Food Bank.
“They are an incredibly vital group of people who are open minded, loving, engaged in the community in many ways … and also lots of fun,” she said, describing her Englewood Christian congregation.
Now, having lived in Eastern Washington for several years, she finds time to enjoy outdoor recreation such as hiking, kayaking and exploring. She also spends time with her two grown children and her granddaughter.
Kesey acknowledges that she had an unusual upbringing, but finds satisfaction in where life led her. “I used to cringe at my hippie family and was mortified at the pictures of me that would turn up from time to time, like the one in the Woodstock movie, and because of the 50th anniversary of Woodstock in the PBS Documentary,” she said. “Now I appreciate my unique childhood and very unique family.
“Hippies were about peace and love so maybe it isn’t as big a leap from that to ministry, as folks would think!”