The Power of the People: 2015 Parliament of World Religions

If I’ve learned one thing over these many years of working on social justice issues it’s that no one person holds the solution. It’s the power of people – the more diverse the better – that forces change. In the blog post below, our partner – and friend – Sandy Whidley from Associated Ministries writes about  her “epiphany of sorts” at The Parliament of World Religions.

Hey Sandy, I’m in!

-Lisa Gustaveson, Program Manager

Spiritual Expansion: A Life-Changing Conference

Sandy Windley and Tibetan Buddhist Monks of Drepung Gomang Monastery

Sandy Windley with Tibetan Buddhist Monks of Drepung Gomang Monastery

By Sandy Windley, originally published on 11/13/15 by Associated Ministries

10,000 people representing 80 countries and 50 faith traditions…all under one roof for five days (five days of sheer bliss for me!).  The Parliament of World Religions holds its interfaith conference once every 6 years or so, this years’ gathering being held in Salt Lake City.  Their mission:  “The Parliament of the World’s Religions was created to cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities and foster their engagement with the world and its guiding institutions in order to achieve a just, peaceful and sustainable world.”  Over the course of the conference, people of faith from all corners of the globe discussed and explored topics around Income Inequality, War/Hate/Violence, Climate Change and Emerging Leaders.  This conference included the first ever Inaugural Women’s Assembly, presenting speakers and dialogues around women’s issues around the globe.AdobeStock_42684509-[Converted]

Speakers, presentations and conversations in the hallways and over langar lunch all pointed to one question:  how can people of faith create the change that is needed in the world, working TOGETHER to achieve better and sustainable living for all beings on the planet?  The earth and the beings living on it are at a crucial point in time.  Change must happen, and people have to work together, in harmony, to bring change to fruition.

Being in community with 10,000 diverse peoples over the course of five days, a moment arrived (an epiphany of sorts) when I realized with all my heart that it was true…we really could do this.  We really could stand arm in arm, differences embraced, and stand up as one people to do what is right and imperative.  The power of an individual’s good intention and action is amazing, but standing together, bringing our unique perspectives and energies, now that is where the momentum for global change lives.  Start at home in your local communities, embracing all diversity and faith traditions, and expand that love and momentum outward.

To be among 10,000 people from 80 countries and 50 faith traditions, and to feel the amount of love between people and their willingness and desire to learn more about one another and how our traditions can work together to create a better world…words can’t even explain it.  Eutopia…that’s what comes to mind.  I received a little piece, a little insight, into what this world could be like.  That it’s do-able.  Really do-able.  With work, persistence, truth, honor…and faith.  I’m in.  Are you?

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Holding the Paradox: The Band-Aid and the Long Haul

Margeby Margie Quinn

Margie is a native of Nashville, Tennessee and  graduate of the University of Georgia. After graduating with a Women’s Studies/French degree, Margie moved to Seattle to begin a one-year “Justice Leadership Program” through the United Church of Christ (UCC) church.

Margie made many happy when she decided to stay with us in the Pacific Northwest after completing her program. She is now the Program Manager for Facing Homelessness, a national effort to build a new awareness about our relationship with homelessness. She also manages Homeless in Seattle, a local effort to raise awareness for those living without shelter and other basic needs through the sharing of photos and personal stories that highlight their beauty.

This is Margie’s second post for our blog. Her first, The Power of Interruption: A Call for Advocacy  remains one of the most popular posts on our site.


We are a verb-heavy generation. Helping, doing, serving, saving. “We are not human beings, we are human doings!” we shout, determined to accomplish it all. So naturally when I took a job at Facing Homelessness in the fall, I prepared for an active role, one that would allow me to help people in need every day and see them benefit from our work.

Our organization began from a Facebook project, Homeless in Seattle. While we have reached outside of this community to do other projects, we still use our Facebook page as our main awareness-raising and people-helping machine.

Here is how our Facebook page works. Every week, we post photographs and stories of people in need with the intention of showing the beauty of people experiencing homelessness in Seattle. We then invite our community of over 17,000 people to help these individuals by providing them with a tent, a pair of boots, or even a month’s rent to get them through a rough spot.

It is a rewarding feeling to post about someone in need and, within two hours, see that need filled by a number of caring people. The phrases that ring through my head are, “Instant gratification!” “Wow, that was fast!” “We did it! One down, 3,771 to go!” While I want to honor how quickly our community comes forward with compassion, I have to admit that my “fix-it” mentality is a slippery slope.

It’s tricky, this fix-it game. I can become so overjoyed when we help someone that I close the book on their story, assuming that they are now on an upward trajectory toward healing and hope. I know, I know. Total Millennial. But it takes a lot to fight against that part of me that longs for the happy ending, every time.

I met a man in the fall who changed the way I see homelessness. Let’s call him Jim. Jim would come to our office almost every day and help me sort donations or hand out socks to people on the street. Despite being homeless himself, Jim was diligent about doing street outreach with us in his spare time. We made a post about Jim a few months into knowing him, just announcing what a beautiful person he is. He’s a got a big heart.

A few months ago, Jim called our office and told us that he had gotten into housing. He would be moving from his shelter that weekend and couldn’t wait. He was elated and so were we.

I can’t explain the joy I felt the day Jim got housing. Enthusiasm, relief, victory. Jim had become a close friend of ours and his success felt personal in a new way for me.

What I couldn’t have known at the time is that Jim’s mental illness and psychological issues would not go away as soon as he got housing. In fact, as Jim transitioned into a single room in a big building, I started to hear from him less and less. He would send emails sporadically, saying that he was going out of town for a few weeks or that he couldn’t come by the office. Clearly, Jim was going through something and I couldn’t help him.

Here is what I am trying to say: I want the happy ending. I want to know that Jim gets better and stays better. I want to know that Jim is a happier man now. And so do many of our Facebook friends. When people drop off donations in our office, they ask about many of the people with whom we post. “How is she doing? Did she make it to that recovery appointment?” “How is he doing? Is he back on his feet yet?” I love it when my answer is a positive one, and it often is. But in the times when I have to say, “I don’t know, we haven’t seen him in a while,” or “He is back on the street,” I feel heartbreak.

Craig-3xWe talk about local minister Craig Rennebohm (pictured left) a lot in our office. Craig did street ministry in Seattle for a number of years and introduced a new way of helping people, in which you recognize that you yourself need help, too. He calls it Companioning. (read our 2012 post about Craig’s work here and  learn more about the Mental Health Chaplaincy here.

Companioning is not fixing. It is walking with someone through their suffering. Companioning is not telling someone what to do. It’s listening deeply to their wants and needs.

Companioning is not giving someone a dollar and wishing them luck. It’s showing up in someone’s life, time and time again, to bear witness to their existence and humanity.

This is the paradox, isn’t it? It’s finding how to celebrate the small victories and the acts of kindness pouring forth without forgetting the slow work of God. Because sometimes, God’s work is slow. Real slow.

Lately I’m trying to hold the paradox: The beautiful, quick fixes that our community provides for people in need with the slower, deeper process of walking with someone experiencing homelessness. There is no right or wrong here. Both the Band-Aid and the friendship are necessary in changing someone. But more importantly, both are necessary in changing ourselves.

♥ To join the Homeless in Seattle community visit their Facebook page.

♥ Want to start a movement in your community? Learn more at Facing Homelessness.

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Keeping Perspective - Children playing at UMC Riverton in Tukwila

Keeping Perspective: The Super Bowl’s Lessons for Our Community

As Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day comes to a close in Olympia, we’d like to share some words of wisdom from Rev. Jan Bolerjack. Jan draws a great parallel between a team suffering a sudden, disastrous loss in football and individuals encountering unexpected hardships in life. Just as Seattle fans have stuck behind the Seahawks after their Super Bowl loss, Jan urges us to continue to support those in our community who find themselves suddenly homeless and without a support system. One way you can show your support is by attending Interfaith Advocacy Day this Thursday, February 19th, in Olympia (register here), or if you can’t make it, call or write to your legislators about the issues that matter to you and make your voice heard! Find your legislative district and legislators here and call the legislative hotline to leave a brief message: 800.562.6000. Read on!

Rev. Jan Bolerjack. Photo creidit: Joshua Trujillo, Seattle PI

Rev. Jan Bolerjack. Photo creidit: Joshua Trujillo, Seattle PI

By Rev. Jan Bolerjack, originally posted 2/16/15 on the UMC’s Pacific Northwest Conference site

Wasn’t that Super Bowl a heartbreaker? We had such hope and it seemed to be falling into place and then… a simple play, a pass, into the wrong hands. And it was over. We lost. We went silent. Baffled by one coaches call. You could almost hear a gasp from the whole Pacific Northwest –WHAT was that? How could things go so wrong so quickly?

But it was just a game.

And yet this is a common experience in life. You get everything in order but something unexpected comes along and interrupts the flow. In life, it may be a sudden illness, or loss of job, or relationship breakup, or an unexpected expense and kaboom life turns into turmoil.

This is the story I hear over and over from families that become suddenly homeless.

  • A carefully prepared for move across the country for a promised job but upon arrival – no job = homeless.
  • Or a broken down car for a family already just getting by financially and suddenly no way to get to work = fired = homeless.
  • Or the middle class home in the suburbs suddenly filled with water as the nearby water main breaks – no flood insurance – house is lost = homeless.
  • Or a woman decides to leave an abusive marriage, children in tow, no money, no home, no support system = homeless.

Sometimes it is the fault of someone – like a bad play being called – but a fault that usually wouldn’t cause much disruption. And now it has lead to a big (and public) loss. Sometimes no finger of fault can be pointed and yet disaster has struck.

Maybe there is something to be learned here. We saw the fans still show up to support the Seahawks. There was still a crowd to greet them when they arrived home. The 12th Man (and woman and child) could see beyond the bad call to the sensational season, to the many good calls, to the humanity of the players and their hard work. We can follow the personal stories to see the good to the community that can come from their fame and their pride.

In the same way as a community we need to continue to rally behind those who have “lost” in our world. Those who have lost homes, families, friends, livelihood, purpose, faith,…  locally and globally. We need to listen to their stories, honor their lives and work to give them dignity and hope.

Life is not a game but maybe we can learn from the one that was played large on February 1st.

Rev. Jan Bolerjack serve as the pastor of the Riverton Park United Methodist Church in Tukwila, Washington.

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Food with Spirit -Urban agriculture meets service to others with new program launched by SU students and staff

Food With Spirit: Seattle University Students Grow Food for the Homeless

Our SU students are doing some exciting things here in our First Hill neighborhood. Read below to learn how students have combined shared concerns for sustainability and social justice to serve those experiencing homelessness in our city. (Reblogged from

St. James Cathedral Kitchen Garden

St. James Cathedral Kitchen Garden, started in Spring 2014

February 2, 2015 — Seattle University students delivered 40 boxes of homegrown produce through spring, summer and fall of 2014 to feed the homeless at St. James Cathedral Kitchen in Seattle. The students grew the food right in the university’s neighborhood as part of a campus initiative called “Food With Spirit.”

“This is a great example of urban farming and how much food you can grow in such a small space,” says Karen Price, Seattle University’s campus sustainability manager.

Janice Murphy, Seattle University’s integrated pest management coordinator, was instrumental in launching the program. While attending a meeting of Food and Faith, an interreligious group, Murphy was inspired to learn that  various faith groups were growing and serving food to neighbors in need. “I felt we could do more in that direction at Seattle University, that we had the ability to contribute in a meaningful and organized way,” she says.

Murphy began talking to some students about growing food to serve the poor. About a dozen joined the effort under the umbrella of the university’s Sustainable Student Action club. With Murphy serving as adviser, the group partnered with the Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability and Campus Ministry, which helped connect the students to the meal program at St. James.

Starting small, the first batch of vegetables was grown in community garden plots on campus in spring and early summer and given to St. James. Meanwhile, Murphy was approached by a neighborhood organization with a small plot of land it was looking to develop into a community garden. It turned out to be a perfect fit, and students constructed four raised beds there. Outside of the new garden, students also worked to build raised beds for others in the community.

Murphy calls the Food With Spirit initiative “a small but very positive action in a complex world. With food security and justice a global issue, one of the cornerstones of sustainability is an investment in urban agriculture. For college-age students, in particular, this is important work. It’s a tool for teaching others, a springboard for rethinking broken food systems, and an incubator for inventive ideas about food security for future generations.”

For student Chris Johnstone, the most rewarding part of the project  is “seeing people getting excited about growing food. I have heard so many people say, ‘Wow, what I put into the ground is actually growing like magic!'” [Source: Seattle University]

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Cupped Hands, Sea water - Give me Water to Drink

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

By Mark Taylor, Ph.D., Professor and Director of Worship, Seattle University School ofTheology and Ministry

For over a century now, Christians around the world have set aside January 18 to 25 as a week of special gatherings and prayers that the God-given unity of the church become more visible. Collaborating with the Church Council of Greater Seattle, the Archdiocese of Seattle, and its Protestant and Anglican partners, Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry celebrates the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity with special morning services on campus, daily written reflections posted to the Worship and Liturgy blog, and a grand region-wide worship service (this year at Plymouth Congregational Church in Seattle from 7:00-8:30pm on Thursday, January 22).

The unity of the Christian churches is sometimes most apparent when they work together for peace, justice, and human dignity. At the same time, the needs of the poor and marginalized around the world call out urgently to Christians of every sort. So, the Week of Prayer comes as an annual challenge to us to put our faith into action, together as children of one God.

Resources for the 2015 Week of Prayer were created by the churches of Brazil acting together.  They chose the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 as a focus. Recall that story:  Jesus is a foreigner in Samaria who arrives tired and thirsty.  He needs help and asks for water. The Samaritan woman is in her own land; the well belongs to her people, to her tradition. She owns the bucket and she is the one who has access to the water. But she is also thirsty. They meet and their encounter offers an unexpected opportunity for both of them. Jesus does not cease to be Jewish because he drinks from the water offered by the Samaritan woman. The Samaritan woman remains who she is while embracing Jesus’ way. Even today, when we recognize that all people have reciprocal needs, our lives become richer and more generous.

This story and its key line: “Give me water to drink,” calls us to ethical action – because we need each other!

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Walking In Their Footsteps: A poverty simulation’s call to solidarity


Two participants assess their family’s resources and try to plan next steps. When pushed into “survival mode”, people living in poverty often experience a toxic stress that can lead to poor decision-making,

Participating in a Poverty Simulation Workshop can be emotionally draining and surprisingly stressful. Living a simulated month in poverty means experiencing the feelings of inadequacy and anxiety that come from not being able to provide for your family, secure necessary resources and services, or cope with and plan for life’s challenges. Justin Almeida, a student in the chaplaincy track of the School of Theology & Ministry’s M.Div program, recently encountered some of these troubling feelings and experiences from “the other side of the table” as a volunteer in a poverty workshop for JustFaith graduates. He reflects on the experience below.

SU’s Faith & Family Homelessness Project team has to date facilitated or helped facilitate 8 Poverty Simulation Workshops with such various partners as the Muslim Association of Puget Sound, Tacoma Housing Authority, Puyallup Church of the Nazarene, and many more. (For more information about what the workshop consists of, read the “About” section at the end of this post.)

Just-Faith-Poverty-Workshop---Bank and Supermarket

Waiting in line… People in poverty often spend a good portion of their time shuttling from agency to agency, trying to get services and resources that may or may not be available.

By Justin Almeida

I’ve never personally experienced poverty. It’s an obstacle that inherently separates me from people living on the margins. I’d like to think I’m in solidarity with the poor because of the way I vote, the money I donate and the time I volunteer. I’ve built houses in Mexico, volunteered at food banks, and even served two and a half years in the Peace Corps in Romania. I’ve spoken with people living with dirt floors and tin roofs and have shared meals with families with no running water or electricity. I even work at a peace and justice non-profit organization. But I’ve never lived on the margins.

Eviction notice - poverty simulation

Some families are evicted from their homes over the course of the simulation.

Which is why participation in the poverty simulation offered by Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry made a difference. It brought me one step closer to personally understanding the stigma, barriers, and hurdles people on the margins face on a daily basis just to have access to food, shelter and healthcare. I was reminded that our “welfare” system is a punitive one, punishing people for needing help.

I played a small part; a day care provider. However, I was forced to turn people away because of overcrowding, funding, and health issues. Participants needed a safe place for their children in order to go to work and pay their bills. I wasn’t able to help everybody, even though I wanted to. I watched as participants became increasingly frustrated with their experience. In the end, everyone had a small glimpse into what daily life is like for our brothers and sisters without food, shelter or resources.

Justin Almeida, who played the role of a childcare provider, shares reflections on his experience with the rest of the participants at the JustFaith Poverty Immersion Workshop

Justin Almeida, who played the role of a childcare provider, shares reflections on his experience with the rest of the participants at the JustFaith Poverty Immersion Workshop

Afterwards, we unpacked the experience. There were plenty of opinions on how to “fix” the welfare system. Two comments stood out. One participant mentioned that when we give to the poor, we should ask their forgiveness. It is the poor and marginalized who have been failed by our society and system and we’re all part of the problem. Another person said we need to stop judging people for being poor; we need to change our system to make it easier for people to get the help they need. As much as possible, we should eliminate the piles of paperwork, agency signatures, hoops and rules we make people go through. Sure, some people might take advantage of the system, but how many more people would be helped and brought back into self-sufficiency.

These opinions made me rethink my behavior. I’ve never thought of asking a person for forgiveness when I hand them a dollar outside a supermarket. But it makes sense. By asking for their forgiveness and blessing, I’m reaffirming their inherent worth and dignity by treating them with respect; I’m asking them for something only they can give. And I need to stop caring how they ended up being homeless. It’s not my place to judge and I’m not qualified to ask.

All I know is that as a man of faith, it’s my responsibility to respond with compassion. This is the hard truth of faith; this is where conversion of the heart takes place. When we stop punishing and start forgiving. When we stop blaming and start helping. When we treat our neighbor as ourselves. This is why I’m grateful for having been able to participate in the poverty simulation. It reminded me yet again of the humanity of the poor, allowing me, if only for a brief moment, to walk in their footsteps. That is where solidarity begins.

Justin AlmeidaJustin Almeida is a Unitarian Universalist graduate student studying chaplaincy at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry. He is the Operations Manager for the Intercommunity Peace & Justice Center (, a Seattle-based human and environmental rights non-profit. In his spare time, you can find him blogging about faith, spirituality, peace & justice, and life in Seattle at


Families wait in line for services at the JustFaith Poverty Simulation.

About the Poverty Immersion Workshop

The Poverty Simulation (or Poverty Immersion Workshop) developed by Missouri’sAssociation for Community Action, typically involves up to 88 participants who assume the roles of 26 different families facing poverty, and 20 volunteer “staffers” who fill the roles of community agencies and organizations who serve them (e.g. bank, DSHS, supermarket, pawnshop, police officer, homeless shelter, etc.) The families represent a variety of experience: some are newly unemployed or recently deserted by the “breadwinner,” others are homeless, recipients of TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families),  senior citizens receiving Disability or Retirement, or grandparents raising their grandchildren. The task of the “families” is to provide for basic necessities and shelter during the course of four 15-minute “weeks.” Throughout the simulation and during a post-simulation reflection and group-share, participants and volunteers are called on to examine their preconceptions and understanding of poverty in America and then reflect on how their experience during the simulation has impacted their views and future actions.

If you’re interested in hosting or participating in a Poverty Immersion Workshop, Contact Us for more information!

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No Room at the Inn? One Pastor’s Mission to Provide for the Vulnerable in her Community

People often ask us how we stay hopeful while doing the work we do – so many thousands in our communities are experiencing homelessness and the problem can seem insurmountable.

Reverend Jan Bolerjack is one of those who keeps us hoping.

Jan has been quietly doing the work and walking the talk for many years. Earlier this month, Jan received one of two Gertrude Apel Pioneering spirit awards from the Greater Church Council of Seattle, a special honor given to individuals and organizations who have modelled a faith-filled compassion with justice and demonstrated a “talent for fostering cooperation and getting things done.”

Jan Bolerjack, Mark Horvath and Catherine Hinrichsen -Tent City 3 at Riverside UMC in Tukwila, WA

Rev. Jan Bolerjack (center) with Mark Horvath and Catherine Hinrichsen visiting Tent City 3 at Riverside Park UMC in Tukwila, WA

The Church Council recognized her work in this way:

The Rev. Jan Bolerjack lives her vision to “see with the eyes of Christ” as the Senior Pastor of Riverton Park United Methodist Church in Tukwila. Offering the “sanctuary” of her church means presiding over community dinners, a food bank twice a week, creating shelter space both inside and outside the church building, tutoring children and accompanying them on outings. Seeing airport workers lining up at the food bank moved her to be the leading spokesperson for the effort to increase SeaTac’s minimum wage for hospitality and transportation workers to $15/hour. As she said to the Seattle Times, “There’s such a ripple effect right down to the kids . . . I see so many parents at the end of their rope, just trying to cope, to hold things together.” For her ministry of restorative healing and social justice, borne out in a love of people and hope for the future, the Church Council of Greater Seattle is proud to honor Rev. Bolerjack with the Gertrude Apel Pioneering Spirit Award.


Children playing in their new home in one of the Sunday School rooms at Riverside Park UMC

Jan is currently hosting several families in housing on the church property and in rooms for religious education in the church building itself. Under her guidance, Riverton Park UMC recently hosted Tent City 3 and is active in serving homeless and needy families in the larger community of Tukwila, which has a frighteningly high proportion of homeless children. In the 2012-2013 school year, 305 students enrolled in Tukwila public schools were homeless – over 10% of the districts’ student population, compared to 2,370 homeless students in Seattle Public Schools during the same period – or roughly 4.5% of that district’s population. (This data was collected by WASEH, the Washington Alliance for Students Experiencing Homelessness; you can find more student and family homelessness data here on our site.)

Jan interacts with families that make up these statistics every day and she relates one of these stories below.

By Rev. Jan Bolerjack

It had been a long day and I was tired, so shortly after 9 pm I slipped into my comfy pajamas and set out to relax in front of some mindless TV. It wasn’t long before I heard a knock on my front door. Oh please, can’t I just be done for the day? My parsonage is on the church property so it isn’t unusual to get visitors at all hours of the day. Usually it is about a plugged toilet at the church or a suspicious car in the parking lot.

This time, it was the police.

Two badged, blue-suited, armed giants stood before me as I somewhat hesitantly stood before them in my pink pajamas. They didn’t seem to notice my embarrassment because they launched into their concern. It seems that they had discovered a family sitting on the curb at the Homeland Security Office , which is located within our city limits.

The family, although speaking in very limited English, managed to communicate to the officers that they had been evicted from their home in Kent and the Sheriff had driven them to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) building and suggested they wait there until the next morning. The police had come to my door hoping that there would be space in my church building for this family to find shelter and safety for the night.

“It’s a family of eight, including an infant,” they told me.

“Of course,” I said, knowing that I already had two homeless families that had come to us the week prior staying in the Sunday School rooms.

Bed at Riverside UMC - Providing Shelter to Homeless Families

A child’s bed in one of the Sunday School rooms at Riverside Park UMC

I could, of course, give this new family floor space in the social hall. We could dig up extra blankets and pillows, find some food, and offer a welcome. While the officers went back to ICE to pick up the family, I got dressed and rushed over to the church building. I gathered the blankets, moved some tables and waited for their arrival. My building groundskeeper and security manager also pitched in. We found some cup of noodles, bread, juice, crackers and cookies in the Food Pantry to share with them.  And soon they arrived. The police officers showed great concern and compassion as they dropped them off, asking several times if there was anything else we needed to get them through the night. “No,” I assured them. We had become well practiced in receiving families at all hours of the day.

As they left, I said, “How could we, the church of Jesus Christ, ever say to a homeless and desperate family that there was no room at the inn?” Haven’t we learned that, maybe, in that leftover, unused space, God may be born?

What a joy it was to see this refugee family find a temporary home with us. I thank God for the work of my community that works to receive and care for the homeless.

Rev. Jan Bolerjack is currently Senior Pastor of Riverton Park United Methodist and has been serving in ministry for 22 years. With a background in nursing and education, she is now pursuing a Doctor of Ministry here at the Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry.

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