“We live in hope,” Reverend Leandra Lambert said. Born in Brooklyn to an immigrant family from Curacao in the Caribbean, the new curate of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in East Hampton, Lambert, sat down with The Independent last week. She was asked what the word “curate” means. “It is one of those fancy church words for assistant,” she answered, laughing gently.
Her family attended church regularly when she was growing up. “I attended St. Mark’s Day School, an Episcopal School in Crown Heights, Brooklyn,” she said. “From there, I went to prep school in Southern Virginia before my undergraduate and graduate studies at Wellesley College.” She studied abroad in Greece at a time when that country’s economic crisis was at its worst. She found herself asking spiritual questions.
Politically minded and active, Lambert spent a summer at the Episcopal Church office of government relations in Washington, DC, where she worked on immigration and refugee policy matters. She was exploring “life at the intersection of faith and politics.”
She then decided to attend Harvard Divinity School. “I figured out my first year that I was asking much larger questions. I wanted to know more about my life and what is the purpose? What is God calling me to do?” She began discussing her feelings with people who knew her well, including professors, classmates, and family members. It was through their input that she found her calling. “Yes, you are interested in religion and politics, but you really have a heart for the ministry,” she was told by loved ones.
The responsibility of being a newly ordained priest “is very daunting. There is an expectation that you are always going to be there with your parishioners and walk with them through those sublime moments of human existence,” she said. “That, in and of itself, is also a gift because I recognized my own limitations. So much of what I do is dependent on the Holy Spirit to come and to show up and to be present with me and with people, and to see how is it that we are experiencing God in our lives. And to feel empowered to tell that story to other people.”
She was assigned to East Hampton by Bishop Lawrence Provenzano. Why does she think she was assigned to East Hampton, in particular? “I don’t have an exact answer to that question. I think the longer I am here, and the more that I engage, not just with the parish here at St. Luke’s and at St. Peter’s but also with the broader community, then I will have a better sense of exactly why,” she said.
God will show her the way, she said, adding that Father Dennis Brunelle “has a good reputation as being a faithful servant to God, and a good mentor to new priests and new clergy. I am delighted and honored to be working alongside him.”
Lambert gave her first sermons at St. Luke’s and at St. Peter’s in Springs on August 5. “I focused on a passage from Ephesians in which Paul is writing to the community, encouraging them to walk worthy of their calling. He tells them that they ought to live peaceably, and that we are called to one body, one spirit, one hope in our calling. Part of living in a community and being part of a community is that there are joys and challenges,” she said. “In my time at St. Luke’s, we are going to experience that, but at the heart of who we are, we are one in Christ and that is what we need to work towards.”
The first interview with Lambert took place on the one-year anniversary of the confrontation in Charlottesville. How should one deal with bigotry and hatred? “You name it. Where there is hate, you speak against it. It is as simple as that,” she said.
She was asked about the scandal unfolding in the Catholic Church after the release of a grand jury report in Pennsylvania last week that revealed allegations that possibly thousands of young people had been sexually abused by priests over the years. “My heart aches,” she said. “It’s indefensible. I am not a Roman Catholic, but as Christians, we are all members of the Body of Christ — ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together,’” she said, quoting from Corinthians.
“While God is merciful, God is also just. I think of the words of the prophet Amos: ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-rolling stream.’ The alleged perpetrators and those who had a hand in covering this up need to be held accountable for their actions.”
Lambert recognizes that we live in a deeply divided world. “People appreciate authenticity. President Trump, his presidency is so unusual to how we have understood the American democracy for generations. It is important that we don’t normalize him. And that we don’t normalize his presidency. In situations where we encounter him and people who support what he represents, we need to speak honestly, speak truthfully, and to speak the message of love,” she added.
A curate serves a two-year term. “The curacy is very important because it is a formative time in your growth as a priest,” Lambert said. “You acquire everything that you can in this time. And then you can go off into the world and make your own mistakes and lead a congregation. Ministry is very interesting in that not everyone is specifically in a parish context. There are chaplains, professors, you name it.”
Right now, for her, “It is parish ministry, but that might change. That might change. I approach everything with openness.” She was asked if she was saying, essentially, that the guy upstairs would show her the way. “That’s right,” she said, laughing.
“We live in hope. We know that, as bad as things are right now, this is not the end. It cannot be the end. So, we just do what we can in our part of the world, wherever we find ourselves, to be light, to do good, and, to live love,” she said.