When the Rev. Aimée Eyer-Delevett finished high school she “took a break from the church” and moved to Japan to work for the African National Congress.
The move to Tokyo was a dramatic turn for Eyer-Delevett, who as a child went to an Episcopal day school in Pensacola, Fla.
“I was sure about God, but I wasn’t too sure about church,” Eyer-Delevett recalled on a recent afternoon during an interview at her new parish, All Saints By-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Montecito.
Her journey to Japan to build support for ending apartheid left her with some “existential questions.”
“I learned from my time with the ANC how much harm we can do to people and how evil manifests itself in the world,” Eyer-Delevett told Noozhawk. “How do human beings do this to each other? Where is God in all of this, and what am I supposed to do about this?”
After studying theology in college, at the age of 27, “the light bulb went off,” she said.
Her calling was to become a priest.
“God’s call on my life was to be a source of healing and transformation,” Eyer-Delevett said. “The call to follow Christ is absolutely about entering into the pains of the world and offering a sense of transformation for those who are suffering.”
That calling has led her to All Saints, where she was installed earlier this month as the eighth rector in the church’s 114-year history. She delivered her first sermon to a packed sanctuary on Dec. 7, and more than 300 people attended last week’s children’s Christmas pageant.
She said she feels wholeheartedly embraced by the church community.
“My experience with the people of All Saints has been one of great hospitality and great enthusiasm,” she said. “God is doing something great for us. God has called me to serve this church.”
Eyer-Delevett succeeded the Rev. Jeff Bullock, who stepped down as rector in 2012 after more than a decade in the position.
“This parish has everything it needs, and now they have a leader who is healthy, excited, experienced and called by God to lead them into the next phase,” she said.
Eyer-Delevett has a master’s degree in divinity from Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, where she studied with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. She received a Master of Sacred Theology in Anglican Studies at General Theological Seminary in New York City, and was ordained to the priesthood in December 2004.
At All Saints, Eyer-Delevett hopes to build the children’s ministry, grow the church and help parishioners strengthen their walk with God.
Prior to All Saints, she served as rector for eight years at the Church of the Holy Nativity in Clarendon Hills, Ill., a Chicago suburb.
She worked to revitalize her former church, which she said was “struggling” when she was hired. During her tenure, the parish doubled in size, the children’s ministry exploded and the church’s social justice work in the community grew.
She was not planning to leave, but a bishop in California invited her to consider the opening at All Saints.
“The work I had been called to do at the parish, I was done,” Eyer-Delevett said. “It was an undeniable call.”
She interviewed with All Saints’ lay leaders over the summer and said she felt a “vitality and excitement.” All Saints dispatched search committee members to her church in Illinois to interview parishioners and others. She said she was creatively inspired by the All Saints opportunity.
While Eyer-Delevett is bringing a sense of renewal to All Saints, with that new energy comes some change that is not universally accepted: She is married to her partner of 17 years, Alyson. The couple has a 4-year-old daughter.
Eyer-Delevett said her identity as a gay woman was one of the things that made her rethink the church after high school.
Even though deep down she believed she was called to the ministry, she said she didn’t know if there was a place for her in the church. She wondered if God had “gotten it wrong” with her. A conversation with a priest in Florida convinced her otherwise.
“He said, ‘Aimée, the church needs you,’” she recalled. “I was floored.”
Eyer-Delevett said God’s love is unconditional.
“God’s desire is to know us and love us, and to be in a relationship with us at all costs,” Eyer-Delevett said. “I believe that God calls me to be the most authentic and grace-filled Aimée I can be. God created me to be a unique manifestation of God’s grace in the world.”
Eyer-Delevett said she understands how some people might have concerns.
“My creator made me just the way I am,” she said. “I discover more about the reality of God’s unabiding, unconditional, gentle, challenging love for the world through my relationship with my wife. It’s OK if someone doesn’t understand how I can be gay and a priest. All I can do is strive to be a source of grace, even for people who don’t agree with me.”
Eyer-Delevett is just getting settled at All Saints but is looking forward to great things. She enjoys the community, and like so many other transplants, is in love with Santa Barbara’s beauty.
“I really love being in Santa Barbara,” she said. “I am excited about my ministry at All Saints, but I am also excited about living with my family in this community.”
She said she believes her role in the church is to help people with their journey toward God.
“My job is to send people out of the church fed and ready, and out into the world,” she said.
Eyer-Delevett also hopes to teach and remind people that God loves everyone.
“You don’t have to hide from God,” Eyer-Delevett said. “God already knows the places we struggle. I hope the way I live my life is as a role model for someone else to live a more authentic life.”
She has a plan for the church, but admits that the future could be full of surprises.
“I have my ideas,” she laughed. “My ideas are great. But my ideas aren’t anything compared to God’s ideas.”
Click here to listen to Eyer-Delevett’s Dec. 7 sermon.
— Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.