Green may not be an uncommon colour in the house of God, but sitting atop the pastor’s head in a tuft of hair is not a place one would normally expect to find it.
Breaking the mold of what she believes some would normally view as “pious and austere,” Reverend Jennifer Garbin is used to the surprised reaction she gets when people realize she is a pastor.
“I think that when people think about the minister's role or the pastor's role, they do have a very set stereotype in mind,” says Jennifer. “I've heard many, many times, 'you're not like any minister we've ever met, and that's a good thing'. I think it’s the hair,” she laughs.
Jennifer does not have the typical appearance of someone who works for the church, but then a pastor’s job in general is far from typical.
“I think most people think pastors work one hour a week. They see us on Sunday morning and that's what most people think we do,” says Jennifer. “I don't have to be in the office for nine and finish at five. I'm sort of on call 24/7, and it all depends on what happens.”
That hour on Sunday morning is only one of many busy hours Jennifer works every week.
Jennifer pastors both the Milton and Summerville churches, where she preaches the sermons, leads bible study and youth groups, attends meetings, and does other administrative work that goes along with running a church.
Between the two communities, Jennifer looks after about 230 families. This could mean anything from attending weddings and funerals, to house visits.
“I spend a lot of time in people's homes and in hospitals talking to people whenever they're sick or lonely, or their life is falling apart, or someone in their family is ill,” she says. “The biggest part really is pastoral care out in the community.”
Jennifer says she thinks helping people in the community is what being a pastor is all about; teaching people how to use the gifts they have to best help each other, and being a “shepherd to the shepherds.”
“It's surprising how many people go through life without ever really thinking about, 'What is my purpose? What is it I am supposed to be doing? Why am I here?'” says Jennifer. “Part of my job is to help folks get to that point, to walk with them and just be with them so they can experience a deeper sense of self and purpose in the universe.”
Believing one of the most devastating parts of life is thinking no one knows your story, Jennifer says part of her job is allowing those who are lonely, who find themselves merely existing, to share theirs with her.
“I think that when people think about the minister's role or the pastor's role, they do have a very set stereotype in mind. I've heard many, many times, 'You're not like any minister we've ever met, and that's a good thing.' I think it’s the hair” - Pastor Jennifer Garbin
“I think the most rewarding part of my job is to be able to walk with them, and hold their story, so that they know there is somebody out there who wants to know them,” says Jennifer. “Not just in a superficial way, but in a real way. I love hearing about the life that they've led, and giving them the opportunity to reflect back on why these stories are important to them. That's why I do what I do.”
Ministering is something Jennifer says she always felt a calling towards. Growing up in a family that was “very churchy,” Jennifer says she knew this kind of work was what she wanted from the time she was 15.
Although Jennifer felt the call early in her life, it was not something she went after right away. In fact, for about 15 years she traveled the world, met all kinds of people, and did all kinds of work.
“I went off and was a graphic designer for a number of years, I was a secretary, I was an office assistant, I traveled, I owned my own business for about nine years before I came here,” she says. “I think that always in the back of my mind there was this understanding that at some point all of this would come together. And I think it did.”
In 2002 Jennifer attended a church conference in Niagara Falls. After looking around, she says she noticed was no one her age coming up through the ministry. It was at this point she decided to sit down with her husband, and discuss what she had long stored away in the back of her mind.
“I had told him stories of course, how the church in my town worked when I was a kid, and how the pastor's wife was responsible for playing piano, teaching Sunday school, bringing brownies to potluck,” says Jennifer. “I said I don't know that I can put this off any longer. And his response was, 'Well, I guess I better figure out how to make brownies.’”
Jennifer entered seminary school at the University of Toronto for the three-year program. After she graduated in 2006, she came to Liverpool with her husband and two children to begin her first pastorate.
“I think what people have come to understand about me, is that God, Divine, whatever you want to call this creative energy in the universe, uses all kinds of people for all kinds of things,” says Jennifer. “I can't see myself doing much else than this. I'd like to teach one day, but that's way down the road. For these days, this is what I need to be doing.”