image above: Since being ordained to the transitional diaconate on December 1, 2018, the Rev. Deacon John Rohde has been serving at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Marcellus, New York under the direction of the parish rector, the Rev. Steven Moore. Rohde will be ordained to the priesthood in a service this Saturday, December 14th at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Syracuse.
Will you be at St. Paul’s Church in downtown Syracuse this Saturday to welcome our diocese’s newest priest?
Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe will ordain the Rev. Deacon John Rohde to the Priesthood on December 14th at 11:00 a.m. We interviewed John over email as he prepares for his new ministry as a priest in the Diocese of Central New York. Please keep him especially in your prayers this week, along with all our clergy and all those discerning a call to ordained ministry.
Can you tell us about your background?
I was born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1962 and baptized at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral soon after. Our family relocated to Syracuse, (where my father was from) when I was a toddler. I have two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary Lynn and we’re all 11 months apart—and very close.
As a child my family attended Calvary Church and Grace Church in Syracuse. I attended Syracuse City Schools, and being musically inclined, I attended the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam where I earned a BM in Music Education. From there I taught instrumental music in Syracuse for 5 years, then I got out of teaching and lived and played in Los Angeles and New York City. While in New York I earned an MA in Jazz Performance from the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College.
In the mid-nineties I relocated back to Syracuse where I have played professionally and taught music since. It was on the bandstand where I met a great singer, Andrea Miceli, who would one day become my wife.
Having been “un-churched” from my late teens through my 30’s, I felt a push to engage a tradition and visited what was then St. Paul’s Cathedral around 2000. I knew instantly I was home. My involvement steadily and consistently increased and I first started to engage a discernment to ordained ministry about 14 years ago. I describe the final decision to quit my job, enter the discernment process and attend Seminary as “as no longer being able to say no to the Holy Spirit.” I earned my M. Div. in May of ’18 from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. I was ordained a transitional Deacon about a year ago and have been serving at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Marcellus since then.
When you began discerning a call to ordained ministry, you were in the midst of a great career as a professional musician. How have your artistic and priestly vocations influenced each other?
Well, in the most basic sense that they are not separate from each other. I have sensed for a long time that being a musician, playing and teaching, is certainly a ministry. So, let me do some shameless name dropping here – I’ve played for Aretha Franklin a handful of times. We always get a set list which she will deviate from, in some part of the show. The first time we played it, it caught us by surprise. She sits down at the piano and launches into a long Gospel medley. And I remember thinking, “You can do that? You can just go from secular tunes to sacred, just like that? Without a heads up? Or transition?” That’s one of the many times I’ve been reminded that the divide between sacred and secular is a false one. Done the right way, with the right intent—it’s all sacred.
Where have you been serving since your ordination as a transitional deacon? Where have you glimpsed God in that ministry?
I’ve been serving at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Marcellus for the past year. The church is right in the village, and the community both within the church and in the village is close-knit. The average Sunday attendance is in the low fifties. It’s a lovely place with lovely people and a great priest in Steve Moore. I’ve been preaching at least twice a month, and doing regular ‘Deacon’ duties, like proclaiming the Gospel, setting the table and distributing Holy Communion. I’ve also offered some adult formation opportunities, including a weekly lectionary Bible study.
The bible study has become one of the highlights of my week. There are usually anywhere from four to eight of us gathered, and the group has developed a sense of trust that enables everyone to see and share where the stories we read are reflected in their lives and the lives of loved ones. I believe that the sharing of stories is, in itself, a sacred act.
What’s next? Where will you be serving following your ordination to the priesthood?
I’ll begin my priestly ministry serving with the good folks of Christ Episcopal Church in Jordan, New York. I’m looking forward to spending my first Christmas as a priest in their midst.
Is there a particular part of the diocese’s draft vision, mission, and rule of life that you feel most called to engage in your ordained priestly ministry?
I’m moved by all of them, but would say particularly so by the rule of life. A rule of life has been very important in my own prayer life and spiritual well-being. I think there are people in our churches (and outside of our churches) that are hungry for a rule—discipline and intentional spiritual practices. It will be a gift and a blessing to help them along that path.
Do you have a favorite story or moment from ministry in the past year to share?
Sure, one that happens every week. Putting the Host in the hands of children. Talk about a “God” moment, to see these beautiful kids, kneeling, with their little hands reaching up, and putting the Body of Christ in their hands…it gets me EVERY time.