Growing up in a fundamentalist church in Suffolk, Virginia, where only men can lead worship, Christina R. Walker-Morin never envisioned going to seminary.
Because she had been taught that women were not allowed to become church leaders, she had aspirations, as a teen and young adult, of being a coach, doctor, lawyer or teacher. Never a minister.
“My faith tradition also taught that being gay was a sin,” Ms. Walker-Morin said.
Yet a calling to help others, grounded in her personal faith and the need to share God’s love and light, has always been with her, she says.
“Upon realizing my sexual orientation, I struggled for years to reconcile my faith and sexuality,” she said. “It was not until I found a United Church of Christ while living in Nashville, Tennessee, that I truly realized there was a place where I could be authentically me and have faith.”
Reverend Tina, as congregation members call her, has now been senior minister at First Church Sandwich, UCC for just over a year. To find her, the church search committee spent 18 months reviewing 60 applicants for the job.
“After our first Skype interview with Reverend Tina, the whole committee looked at one another and said, ‘Wow,’” said Susan L. Cochrane, who was a member of that committee.
“We couldn’t be happier,” Ms. Cochrane said of their new minister. “She is easygoing, and she has such a calming presence.”
Ms. Walker-Morin, 38, who lives in Forestdale with her wife of 10 years, Tracy L. Morin, said she wanted to come to Sandwich. “because there is so much happening in First Church.”
“I like how much the church does outside of the church building within the greater community,” she said.
Her vision is to become even more connected to the town, she said.
Thursdays from 9 to 10:30 AM, for example, Reverend Tina can be found at Beth’s Bakery on Jarves Street having coffee with anyone who wants to stop by to sit with her.
“It supports a local business, and has been a real success,” she said. “There are regulars who come.”
Rev. Tina’s sermons are streamed live on Facebook (“a great way to get us outside the walls of the church, electronically,” she said), and she has now posted on Facebook that people can ask her for prayer requests, as a way of connecting with others outside the church membership.
The second Wednesday of the month at 7 PM, Rev. Tina hosts “Faith on Tap” at the local British Beer Company. “We do this to try to bring spirituality to the community,” she said.
Asked how she would define “spirituality,” Rev. Tina said she believes it to be a broad concept which has room for many different perspectives. “In general, a connection to something better than yourself,” she said.
During the Faith on Tap meetings, which draw a dozen or more people, there is no formal religious practice, she said.
Rather, the group reads a “devotional,” and then has a discussion around such topics as “What we can do for the wildfires in Australia; personal issues around change; what is going on with the politics of the country; how to connect with one another; how to deal with failure… Nothing is off-limits,” she said.
Rev. Tina’s biography on the church website notes the extensive work she has done at the Weymouth Food Pantry and as a member of Partakers Prison Education. It also mentions her passion for working with marginalized populations and the elderly.
“My inclination to work with those experiencing homelessness and the elderly stem from my passion to ‘see people.’”
Her close relationship with her grandmothers sparked her interest in the elderly, she said, when she noticed that they were sometimes ignored by society. She wanted to change that.
The same feeling translated into her work with people experiencing homelessness. “My passion is about recognizing our common humanity and inherent worth,” she said.
“She is so engaged; so real,” Diane M. Ranney, who has been a member of First Church Sandwich for 42 years, said of their new minister. “Reverend Tina is all about forward movement. She has so much energy, and she really cares that the church be all that it can be—a vital, caring, passionate part of the community.”
“I would say it’s going very well,” church moderator Edward J. Brabazon said of Reverend Tina’s tenure.
“It is very important to go slowly and let the pastor get to know the congregation and let the congregation get to know the pastor. It’s important to develop trust on both sides, and we have been doing that,” he said.
Ms. Cochrane said it can be hard for a new minister to come into a large congregation of strong-minded people, where everyone has a say. “She’s done really, really, well.”
“We were in a holding pattern, and she is a real breath of fresh air. She taught us that we can do things and learn things to change the thought-patterns we had held for so many years,” Ms. Ranney said. “She is the best thing that could have happened to our church.”
“I really love her,” Ms. Ranney said. “She has helped me, personally. As a leader, she is a little bit of a thing, but she is mighty.”
When asked what the word God brings to mind, Ms. Walker-Morin said that the first thing that always comes to mind for her is the scripture from 1 John 4:7-8: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God… God is love.”
“I grew up thinking that God was a judge who constantly scrutinized my actions,” she said. “Now I see God as a companion who wants me to move in the best direction and is always present, guiding me along the way.”
Asked if she had a “felt sense” of her calling, Rev. Tina said that one of her strongest moments of revelation was when she remembered that the reason her mother named her Christina was because she wanted one of her children to have the word “Christ” in her name.
“When I remembered this,” she said, “a feeling of pure joy and excitement filled my soul. I felt a warm energy run through my body, and it was then that I knew for sure that God was calling me to ministry.”
“Everything she does, she does from a place of faith,” Ms. Ranney said. “People recognize that. She is not a hypocrite about anything. She has so much enthusiasm, but with good sense.”
Citing Rev. Tina’s outreach work with “Here Now Ministries,” founded last year in Hyannis as a place where the “housed and un-housed” can worship together, Ms. Cochrane said, “She has a desire to reach out to people and meet them where they are in their own environment.”
“I think the world of her for many, many reasons,” Ms. Cochrane said. “She is very present.”
Ms. Rannry noted that not everybody in the First Church congregation is happy about the “open and affirming” designation—an official designation within the UCC Church affirming the “full inclusion of gays, lesbians, bisexual, transgender, and non-binary persons in the church’s life and ministry,” a web search states.
“Reverend Tina accepts that,” Ms. Ranney said. “She tells people that if they are coming from a place of fear, she can help them understand that it doesn’t have to be that way. But she never judges anybody.”
“She’s chilled; she doesn’t get upset and doesn’t take things personally,” Ms. Cochrane said.
“What I like is that she relates as well with the kids as she does with the elderly,” said Ms. Cochrane, who is co-director of the Faith Formation Youth Group.
Ms. Ranney said she does not want to miss church because she does not want to miss Rev. Tina’s sermons. “I take notes, and then go home and mull about the sermon,” she said. “I think, how can I make this a part of my life?”
“In her last sermon, Reverend Tina said that everyone has a call to serve in some way,” Ms. Ranney said. “I’m retired, but I have other things I can do. No matter the age, we have something to give.”
“She pays attention to the congregation, the town, and the Cape community at large,” Mr. Brabazon said of Rev. Tina. “She gets involved, she goes to chamber of commerce meetings, she goes to where kids are doing things. The bottom line is she loves people.”
When asked directly about her favorite part of the job, Rev. Tina said, “I love being a part of people’s lives.”