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I didn’t set out toward transformation—it happened slowly. From a run-of-the mill capitalist jerk who spent her young life masquerading as someone she clearly wasn’t, I became a reasonably content married lesbian pastor with a couple of kids and a three-ring circus of a church in a relatively obscure part of Brooklyn. I don’t think I was even aware of the change. But, over time, I’ve grown into this new life, a life I embrace as a gift from God. It’s not a life without its tragedies, pandemics, and young children vomiting in the wee hours, but all of it is part of the gift.

I’m a small-town pastor in a big city. I don’t mean that I come from a small town, I mean there’s a small town sensibility to my life in the city. A sense of community and ordinary moments of grace. I’m surrounded by God’s people, some I’ve known for decades, and others I’ve only just met. We may have vastly different values, but we share a belief that values matter, that they are what build and hold a life together. Discovering and naming those essential guides has been part of what’s led to this transformation.

I didn’t think much about my own personal values until I attended a retreat a few years ago where the leader challenged us to come up with a list. I took the assignment to heart. When I got home, I wrote out my list of values on a whiteboard and then took a picture of it with my phone. Later, at lunch with a friend, I’m not sure what compelled me to share, but in the time between the waiter taking our sandwich orders and returning with the food, I found myself somewhat awkwardly reading aloud phrases like When you’re in a hole, stop digging and Be the brave one. I felt vulnerable, like I was oversharing— a tip-off that those mainstays were deeply personal and said a lot about me and what matters most to me.

My friend seemed intrigued. She wanted to know how I defined those values, where I saw them at play in my life, and what kind of a difference they made. At first, I thought they were just quick ideas, personal notes. But truly naming those things that are essential, good, and true, and intentionally leaning into them, made a huge difference in my life. Several years have gone by and those same values have become my go-to principles to live by. Putting them into practice has been an adventure, a way to live their timeless truths in my everyday life. They have held fast through fires, lost loved ones, fierce winds, and a chaplaincy for first responders during one of the largest early waves of the pandemic in the city.


On Sundays during Lent we’ll be running excerpts of Be the Brave One.

Reprinted with permission from Be the Brave One: Living Your Spiritual Values Out Loud and Other Life Lessons by Ann Kansfield copyright © 2021 Broadleaf Books. 

Ann Kansfield

Ann Kansfield was voted the inauguralNew York TimesNew Yorker of the Year and is the first female and openly gay FDNY chaplain. A graduate of Columbia University, Kansfield followed the Ivy League crowd to Wall Street until 9/11 happened and she realized she wanted more from life. In addition to her FDNY chaplaincy, she serves as co-pastor of the Greenpoint Reformed Church in Brooklyn, New York, with her wife, Rev. Jennifer Aull. 

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