Rev. Jay Berry
- Cherry Hill, NJ
St. Mark's Lutheran Church, in Oaklyn, NJ
What brings you joy in your ministry?
I love making connections with people, hearing their stories and getting to know each other. I love preaching and liturgy. I wouldn't say that I'm a "liturgy-geek" but I really do enjoy the beauty of our liturgical traditions.
I love most styles of music - but especially love when a musician preaches using the talent that God has given as a gift.
Who inspires you in ministry or seminary?
I remember a priest from the Catholic school that I attended as a child - before my mother re-married. Fr. Bergman was a tall, lanky man who loved the Gospel of Jesus Christ. At the time we were living with my mom's mother in Saratoga Springs. My grandmother would invite Fr. Bergman to dinner from time to time, and he would share stories that connected to the Gospel. It was as though he was preaching (I suppose he was) right there at our dinner table. I wanted to be like Fr. Bergman ... because he seemed to love serving God and God's church so passionately.
Today, I am inspired by the inclusivity that so much of the church is embracing. I go to LTSP and I am so impressed with the professors and staff. LTSP is an environment that embodies being Reconciled in Christ.
What are your interests outside of ministry?
I love RV camping. Before going to seminary, my partner and I owned a "5th Wheeler" at an RV park on Lake Ontario in upstate NY. Perhaps one day we'll be able to enjoy camping again.
I love traveling - especially on cruise ships. These seem to be the most economical and convenient modes of travel ... and the food is often incredible.
Best meal you've ever eaten?
There are so many - I love food! If I were to name one meal, I guess it would be at a restaurant on Cape Cod on Thanksgiving Day. We went to the same restaurant each Thanksgiving for 4 or 5 years. The turkey dinner was delicious and when you left, they would hand each person a white paper bag with a turkey sandwich and a piece of pumpkin pie in it. Everybody got leftovers ... it was wonderful.
I was the middle child of three children. My parents divorced when I was quite young and my mom remarried and the twins came along soon after. I then became the second oldest. I graduated from a very small high school (class included only 46 people). I went to school for music ... I was a voice major. Unfortunately, my mom and step-father felt that this was a poor choice and therefore would not help financially. It took me a while, but I did make it.
I worked in the insurance field for over 30 years. One of my favorite positions was as a benefits project manager in a human resources department.
I was raised as a Roman Catholic, and as a child wanted to be a priest. After my mother re-married we moved to my step-father's farm. Going to church was very difficult - my parents did not go to church - and taking me to the village was apparently not a welcome chore.
I married a girl from my high school when I was 21 - she was 18. We were quite happy - although I knew there was something that just didn't seem to hit the target for me. We later divorced when I came out. I have never looked back. I still hold a deep affection for my ex-wife, although it has been more than 30 years since we've seen each other.
I sang in many churches - but the very last paid church singing job was a Lutheran church. One of my best friends from college invited me to audition for the tenor soloist position. After I started, I realized that this church offered something I had been missing for a good number of years - people who accepted me for who I was.
I became quite active in the church, serving on Council and a myriad of committees. I felt the call to service from the Holy Spirit - and talked to the Assistant to the Bishop (Marie Jerge), who is now the Bishop of the Upstate NY Synod. This was about 20 years ago and well before the 2009 decision to allow for gay ordination. Prior to that decision, since ordained ministry was not an option for me, I grieved that I could not respond to God's call. It never made sense to me that I felt God working so hard to get my attention, but giving me no way to respond. The 2009 decision changed my life - and in 2011 I entered into the Candidacy process.
On February 15, 2013, I married my partner, Charlie in Syracuse NY. We had a lovely church wedding surrounded by our friends.
Did you always want to be clergy?
Wow - I guess I answered that in my bio section.